Hey, let’s reimagine masculinity

It’s possible to imagine protectionist trade and immigration policies boosting blue-collar employment at the margins. But the U.S. can’t stop globalization. If male morale—and the American economy—are ever going to recover, the truth is that the next generation of Homer Simpsons will have to stop searching for outsourced manufacturing jobs and start working toward teaching, nursing, or social-service positions instead. To hasten this transition, schools that train “nurturing professionals” should launch aggressive, male-oriented advertising campaigns and male-to-male recruiting drives that stress technical expertise, career-advancement potential, and beyond-the-bedside opportunities. Community colleges ought to focus on preparing students for the social-sector jobs of the future. Certain institutions might even consider raising their admissions requirements, a tactic that has helped the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing increase its male-applicant pool by 34 percent over the past five years. And the government should fund or incentivize as many of these initiatives as it possibly can.

The shift could prove less wrenching than it sounds, once men are willing to try. Nearly two thirds of the 30 biggest growth occupations require only on-the-job training, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, saving men from the long, expensive process of returning to school. Historically, token men have also had less trouble than token women breaking into a field dominated by the opposite sex—and less trouble finding a niche once they’ve been hired. While women in traditionally male professions suffer predictable forms of discrimination, men in women’s fields actually enjoy “structural advantages” that “tend to enhance their careers”—a kind of glass conveyor belt that carries them into the “more masculine” areas they perceive to be a better fit for their talents, according to a seminal 1992 study. They become gym teachers instead of English teachers; reference librarians instead of children’s librarians; ER nurses instead of pediatric nurses…

On the surface, the New Macho is a paradox, a path to masculinity paved with girly jobs and dirty diapers. Dig a little deeper, however, and it begins to make a lot of sense—not just for men but for everyone. If men embraced parental leave, women would be spared the stigma of the “mommy track”—and the professional penalties (like lower pay) that come along with it. If men were involved fathers, more kids might stay in school, steer clear of crime, and avoid poverty as adults. And if the country achieved gender parity in the workplace—an optimal balance of fully employed men and women—the gross domestic product would grow by as much as 9 percent, according to a recent study by the World Economic Forum.

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