Women’s History Month is celebrated during March every year in the United States, the UK, and Australia in order to commemorate the contributions women have made and to reflect on the adversity faced by women in the past. The month also prompts us to consider women’s current circumstances, so, in some ways, this month is celebratory. Even in the past century, life for women has improved dramatically as feminists bore progress on their backs and began the long, slow process of hacking away at the roots of patriarchy. Unfortunately, sexism and male entitlement remain omnipresent.
Nonetheless, Fox News host Tucker Carlson spent Women’s History Month discussing the plights of men, catalogued in his new Men in America series.
In the first installment, Carlson attempts to debunk the well-established claim that sexism exists by listing the ways men struggle and suffer. “The signs are everywhere,” he says.
“If you’re a middle-aged man, you probably know a peer who has killed himself in recent years… If you’re a parent, you may have noticed that your daughter’s friends seem a little more on the ball than your son’s. They get better grades. They smoke less weed. They go to more prestigious colleges. If you’re an employer, you may have noticed that your female employees show up on time, whereas the young men often don’t. And, of course, if you live in this country, you’ve just seen a horrifying series of mass shootings, far more than we’ve ever had. Women didn’t do that. In every case, the shooter was a man.”
Carlson goes on to discuss the respective longevity of men and women, disciplinary problems in school, disproportionate incarceration rates, and other ways in which men are supposedly failing. Indeed, women are graduating from high school at higher rates than men and earning more doctorate degrees. Men commit the vast majority of crimes, both violent and non-violent, in the US, so, naturally, more men are incarcerated than women. High school boys are twice as likely as high school girls to be diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder, and single, adult males are less likely to own homes than their single, female peers. All of this is true.
Still, Carlson’s lamentations hardly prove his assertions that, “Something ominous is happening to men” and “American men are failing.” The problem is that his gauge of male success seems to rely entirely on the performance of women. Such comparisons may make it easy to assume that men are in dire straits, however, on further examination it is clear that, actually, humans in America are advancing.
High school graduation rates — for both sexes — hit a low point in 1996 after slowly decreasing since they peaked in early 1970s. The 2007-08 school year, however, saw more students complete high school than ever before. Beyond high school, general educational attainment is remarkably higher now than in past years. Many universities have received record application numbers in recent years from aspiring undergraduates, and more students pursue advanced and doctoral degrees now than ever before.
Likewise, an extensive amount of research suggests that humans are actually becoming less violent. Increased communication and global awareness may make this difficult to believe, but crime has decreased significantly in the US. In fact, this trend is being replicated globally.
Longevity is also at an all-time high in the US, though women are generally expected to live longer than men. There are some purely biological explanations for this, but it is also important to consider that extreme risk-taking is heavily integrated into masculinity, and can doom men to premature death. Regardless of the differences between men and women in this instance, however, it is still true that average male life expectancy has increased dramatically over the last one hundred years. In 1900, the average white man was only expected to live to age 47 and the average black man was only expected to live to age 33. Now, they are expected to enjoy 76 and 72 years of life, respectively.
Carlson’s remarks about behavioral issues and higher rates of diagnosis of hyperactivity disorders in young men diverge somewhat from this, since these diagnoses are on the rise. It is important to note, however, that cultural mores and beliefs have dictated psychological practices since the science first began. Historically, psychology has served to advance and entrench sexism. Women who were considered “out of control” by men were subjected to horrific medical malpractices.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, chronicles the mental journey of a woman prescribed the “rest cure,” which discouraged cerebral or physical activity of any kind for extended periods of time — something many women were subjected to. The majority of lobotomies were performed on women, abused in this way due to their supposedly “deviant” behavior. Even today, women are diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder — characterized by “a pattern of excessive attention-seeking emotions, usually beginning in early adulthood” — at four times the rate of men.
Essentially, Carlson ignores the fact that women are disproportionately affected by some illnesses and have been, for much of psychology’s history, treated poorly by psychiatrists and researchers.
In all of these cases, and in the majority of the scenarios outlined in Carlson’s list of grievances, the issue is not “male failure.” In fact, men seem to be improving relative to their past selves (though this, too, may seem hard to believe). The issue, then, is that, in some facets of American life, women are outperforming men. In other words, for Carlson, women doing well equates to men’s failure. And, unfortunately, this sentiment does not seem to be limited to his own reptilian brain.
The first Men in America video posted on the Fox News’ YouTube channel has been viewed over half a million times and has received many thousands of likes and positive comments. Men want to believe all this is true, in order to reinforce their belief that feminism is a dangerous lie. It’s too bad, because if they did consider feminism, they might see that some of these issues — like high suicide rates and behavioral problems — are reinforced by masculinity. Instead, statistics like these are exploited by men to deny the existence of sexism and the harm of gender roles. Carlson himself certainly attempts to do this. However, his very argument against the presence of sexism is simply a reinforcement of it. His argument says that if women outperform men in any way, men are failing, because they are inherently superior to women.
What is more likely is that the reason women are beginning to perform at higher levels than men in some areas is that they are finally being permitted to participate in society more fully.
The fact that we have been enjoying improvements in nearly every respect, as a species, should be celebrated, not bemoaned. There is still lots of work to do, of course. Women still remain objectified and commodified, taken less seriously because of their sex, expected to undertake the majority of child-rearing labour, and are subjected to male violence, among other things. Considering this, the importance of Women’s History Month should be all the more clear: yes, let’s recognize the contributions we have made and successes feminism has achieved, but we can simultaneously understand that our work is not yet complete.
Morgan Amonett is a student living in Ohio.