Jack Myers, author of The Future of Men: Masculinity in the Twenty-First Century and founder of MediaVillage.com discusses the “lean out” or disengagement phenomenon that is happening among young men and the cost to society. Jack shares his thoughts about how why young men are falling behind relative to women in their age group, and what we can do to uplift and support young men. He also discusses how we can shift the cultural narrative to one that is more supportive of a definition of masculinity that goes beyond traditional gender roles.
Jack Myers, founder of MediaVillage.com and author of Hooked Up: A New Generation’s Surprising Take on Sex, Politics and Saving the World, and several other books, is a recognized cultural visionary, award-winning documentary film producer, and advisor to hundreds of leading corporations on media and technology trends. His prescient insights and counsel make him one of the foremost global experts on the impact of technological advances on culture, society, business, advertising, marketing, and human connections. He has been honored with a George Foster Peabody Award and Academy and Emmy Award nominations for Best Documentary Feature.
[Transcript, edited for reading]
Jennifer Brown: Thank you for joining me on The Will to Change. This is Jennifer Brown. My guest today is Jack Myers: founder of MediaVillage and author of ‘The Future of Men: Masculinity in the 21st Century.’ Jack has been honored with a George Foster Peabody Award and Academy and Emmy Award nominations for Best Documentary Feature. Jack, welcome to The Will to Change.
Jack Myers: Thank you Jennifer, good to be with you.
Jennifer Brown: I know when I saw your book, I bought it immediately because it had such an unusual title. It really intrigued me. What drove you to write about men and masculinity in the first place?
Jack Myers: Thanks for asking. Well, there are two answers. The first one is the real answer and the second one is the one I didn’t figure out until after I wrote the book. So the first one is, I had written a prior book called ‘Hooked Up: A New Generation’s Surprising Take on Sex, Politics, and Saving the World,’ which is about the first post-millennial generation and my research about them, and their importance and power because they’re the first generation to grow up with the Internet and mobile devices. I learned in my research how increasingly dominant women are, especially young women: educationally, economically, in families, and in business. I also recognized that there was almost NO data about the implications for men. So I began looking to answer the question that I kept getting asked, ‘What’s happening to young men in this generation?’ and I discovered this lean out generation of young men in their late teens and early 20s who were not being recognized or written about, so I began researching and the book emerged from there.
Jennifer Brown: And it’s such an important book. We’ll get to what you mean by ‘lean out’ a little bit later on, because I think that’s important to talk about, especially in light of what we’ve learned over the last couple of months about our society, and those who feel disenfranchised or without a voice. But I want to go back to your history. I always say everyone has a diversity story – even the white, straight guys – and you happen to be one of those. Can you tell us about the gender roles that you saw up close and personal in your own family from early on, and how that influenced you to see things differently?
Jack Myers: That’s the second realization I had, which was how impactful the way I was parented was on me. My mom started working when I was two years old full time as a bookkeeper. Later, that evolved into working for an accounting firm where, even though she got her degree in accounting and was working as an accountant, she wasn’t allowed to be a CPA because it was a male’s only bastion and women weren’t allowed in. This is in the 1950s and 1960s, and she went on to become one of the lead programmers for the Air Force. My dad was incredibly supportive. It was only recently that I realized that she was the primary wage earner for our family very early in my life, and I never really recognized that.
My dad worked in college administration, and I remember sitting there watching him iron clothes, and not thinking twice about it. He made breakfast for her as she was getting up and getting ready for work. These things were just part of our family life, and it wasn’t until recently that I understood the impact that she’d had on me. She was working when I was very young, and started going to college three nights a week when I was nine, so I didn’t see her much. It’s only recently that I realized how influential my dad was in the context of the support that he gave her without my ever sensing that there was anything different or unusual about that.
Jennifer Brown: She was very unusual. What do you think were the traits that enabled her to succeed at that level at that time in our history? What did you observe in her behavior?
Jack Myers: I’ll tell you a contemporary story of what differentiates her. She’s 95 years old, living in Texas in an independent living home, 100% intact in her mind, and I’ve been trying to understand blockchain technology, and I’ve shared it with a number of people in my business, which is mostly the media and advertising business, to try and get a sense of its potential impact. What is blockchain? How does it work? I’ve given a book by Don Tapscott on blockchain to a half dozen people. Every one of them – some of the smartest people in my industry – came back and said, ‘I’m having trouble getting past the first two chapters in this book.’ Out of curiosity, I sent it to my mom. She not only finished the book, but began explaining blockchain to me.
Jennifer Brown: Oh my goodness, I love her. I want to meet her.
Jack Myers: Another anecdotal story: When she was working for the Air Force and I was in college, I went home to visit and I remember her coming home one day and complaining about this Colonel who was on her staff. Even though she was a civilian, he worked for her. He wasn’t conforming and so she said, ‘I’ve got to deal with this, it’s just not acceptable.’ And the next day she came home and said, ‘Well I walked right into the General’s office and told the General that he’d better straighten this out right now.’
Jennifer Brown: I love her.
Jack Myers: I doubt anyone else was willing to walk into the General’s office. So this is a role model that I’ve had throughout my life.
Jennifer Brown: You did mention briefly that you saw your dad in a supportive role, and I want to make sure we loop back to that because I think that does feed into your re-definition of masculinity, and dispensing some of the limiting stereotypes about what we think masculinity means. But first, I want to go back. You mentioned that women are becoming more dominant than men. Could you elaborate about what that means for the men who are ‘leaning out’ and disengaging? Are the two linked? I’m curious to learn whether, as one group strengthens, the other group weakens.
Jack Myers: I definitely believe they’re linked. And keep in mind that my focus and research is on this small generation of about 40-million young men and women born in 1990 to 2000, so they’re the youngest of the millennials and the first of the new cohort known as Generation Z. They are the first generation growing up in a world in which the Internet and mobile have always been present. So they’re our first window into future generations, and I believe they’re an exceptional generation from which we can and should learn a great deal if we want to understand the realities that will be confronting our sons and our daughters – in addition to the generation that’s in college, graduating from college, and entering their adult years now.
What I learned in my research is that young men in that generation aspire to be better men, better dads, husbands, lovers, colleagues – even better friends. But as they enter their adult years, they’re also feeling very confused, they’re conflicted, and they’re confronted by these retained influences of the patriarchy, the fraternity, and the old boys’ network. I became concerned as I studied them and saw that, along with this impressive ‘lean in’ generation of young women, we’re creating a ‘lean out’ generation of young men who are caught in the crosshairs of this historic period in which we see such a gender shift.
Jennifer Brown: We were talking before about men becoming more involved in mentoring the younger generation, both women and men, and you said, ‘The last thing I want to do is have older men mentoring younger men if they’re passing along these behaviors.’ How would you describe the behaviors that are so counter to this generation when they enter the workforce?
Jack Myers: The young men in this generation are not their fathers, their grandfathers, or even their older brothers. They’re the first generation of men growing up in a more feminist world. A growing percentage of young men actually believe that gender equality is not only a basic right in reality, but they consider themselves a feminist. And when I was in college we used to say, ‘Trust no one over 30.’ That makes me question whether most men over 30 in the old boys’ network should be the role models who teach young men about masculinity and lead this change.
A negative patriarchy of male dominance has defined what it’s meant for most of these young men to be a real man: to be strong, to be a provider, to be an authority, to be dominant economically, dominant physically, dominant politically, and dominant in relationships, and to have a job. So these patriarchal rules of masculinity have been passed down from generation to generation, and I believe it’s changing. My research shows that it’s changing pretty quickly and pretty dramatically, and I believe it’s our responsibility and in our power to help foster that change with this generation and for future generations of men and women.
Jennifer Brown: When you say ‘lean out,’ are you seeing data that backs that up? Does that mean professionally they’re leaning out, or leaning out of relationships because they’re caught between these worlds with no role models?
Jack Myers: 60% of college students for the last decade are female, and that’s projected to increase over the next decade. 65% of graduate students are female, and even in the medical professions, the STEM professions, the business schools, the numbers are approaching 45% and 50% female today. Economically, young women – childless, single women under 30, are out-earning young men by 20% in major cities and 8% nationally. Unlike prior generations, where women would often leave the workforce to have families, they’re now getting married later in life, having children later in life, and because 50% of women are now either equal or primary wage earners in their home, they’re far more likely to stay in their careers and men are far more likely to become more active caregivers at home – even the primary caregivers at home.
Jennifer Brown: When you look at organizational charts going up the hierarchy, we still see more males at the executive level and on boards. You and I were talking about the story that hit the air waves a week ago relating to a female engineer at Uber, and by the time she left and blogged about it, she was one of six women in an organization of 150 men. You said to me, ‘That’s fixable.’ But that’s the exact opposite of what you’re talking about, which is the ascendancy of women economically and in the family. So what goes wrong? Do you think generational differences will gradually fix this? Or what can companies do to fix this and adjust for the future?
Jack Myers: First of all, Silicon Valley and the companies in Silicon Valley don’t reflect the vast majority of corporations – not just in America, but around the world. And the comment that so many of these companies make that the talent’s not available, it’s not out there, well that is being addressed in the educational system where women are moving through into these careers. The belief that you should not hire a 24-year old or even a 22-year old to do the job that you might typically hire a 35, 40, or even 50-year old man to do, is simply out of step with reality because because this younger generation has grown up with technology. They are far more qualified to enter into companies at a far higher level of responsibility than they might have in the past. That’s number one.
Number two, the challenge with a lot of companies – not just Silicon Valley companies – and hiring young people is that they continue with job development training and retention programs based on outdated models of millennials. This younger generation is the first generation not to enter careers thinking that they’re going to be more successful financially than their parents, and they have good reason to believe that. They’re much more focused on social causes and doing good, and they’re much more focused on gaining experiences in their early jobs rather than building resumes and careers. So whereas 10 years ago the average first job was 18 months, today it’s only nine months. So companies need to recognize that they have to completely alter their talent development teams and organizations. They have to change their training and leadership models. They have to hire younger people to do more senior level jobs in order to fulfill – what should be – their diversity requirements. And they need to develop programs internally that identify talent and find ways to keep them engaged, move them into different experiences, give them three months of paid leave to do something that’s socially redeeming, and really rethink the whole process. This is not just Silicon Valley, this is not just Uber, this is across the corporate world. We’re seeing these types of programs in Sweden, in Norway and, to a lesser degree, in Germany. More importantly, we’re seeing those companies that increase their gender and multi-cultural diversity at both the board and C-suite level outperforming those that do not.
Jennifer Brown: I think it always surprises people to hear these statistics for the first time, but we can actually quantify the level of innovation, the bottom line results, and the prospects for a company.
Jack Myers: My issue in writing about men is, ‘Okay, what are the implications for men?’ What are the implications for white men? This generation is paying the price for decades if not centuries of negative male patriarchy. And we have to find if not a balance, at least we need to recognize these implications and the challenges and struggles that this generation, and the next few generations of young men, are going to be significantly challenged by.
Jennifer Brown: You’re an expert in the media. Are there some role models in the media landscape of the kind of masculinity that you think is healthy? People who can and should be emulated? Companies that are doing this well?
Jack Myers: It’s a great question and unfortunately the media is complicit in advancing a lot of the negative stereotypes of men as sexist and misogynistic, like the traditional beer commercials that show men as a cohort of friends and women as objects who serve them. So many TV sitcoms show men as idiots and buffoons. The most iconic TV dad over the last twenty years has been Homer Simpson.
Jennifer Brown: You’re right.
Jack Myers: And even Homer in his 20 years of life has gone from being a well-meaning idiot to a total buffoon.
Jennifer Brown: Why do you think the media does that? If it’s so obsessed with the cutting edge, theoretically it has to have its finger on the pulse. If it’s really changing, then why do they revert to those stereotypes do you think?
Jack Myers: Well I’m not sure it’s reverting, it’s just recognizing that women represent 80% of the purchasing decision across almost all categories of goods and services. So research in the past shows that these personifications of men actually appeal to women, because it reflects what they consider to be the reality. This is no longer the reality of young men. Just as the women’s movement was extraordinarily successful in advocating for positive role models for women and girls, we can start by advocating for positive media portrayals of men as responsible, caring, competent husbands, sons, fathers, caregivers, teachers, nurses.
Jennifer Brown: Co-workers.
Jack Myers: Secretaries, co-workers. And frankly a number of companies – as you point out – are showing the softer, gentler side of men. Typically, almost unanimously, those commercials show dads with their daughters, but as positive as that is, we also need to start showing dads with their sons.
Jennifer Brown: That’s such a great point. You and I talked about the role of women in welcoming men into the conversation, and you know that we specialize at my company in constructing affinity groups in corporations. We’re well known in that space, and when we talk about allies for women’s networks, we’re focused on male allies. But you say that, these days, it’s irresponsible to not include nonbinary roles in conversation about the roles of men as we advance gender understanding and harmony across the board. I would imagine the young men that you talk about are looking at these traditional constructs and asking, ‘Why are we not being included as a matter of course?’ But you’ve got women who will say, ‘We’re not done talking about women. Why are we focusing on men? They don’t need our focus.’ But I think they actually do need us to focus on them, as we cultivate a healthier conversation around how we define male leaders.
Jack Myers: It’s an interesting challenge for women’s groups. You’re at the forefront of working with companies and organizations for women’s mentoring groups. I was an advocate and formed an organization for women in 2011 called www.WomenAdvancing.org which focuses on dual mentoring and recognizes the generational value of younger women and the need to recognize them as mentors for more senior women, as well as the reverse. As I wrote ‘The Future of Men,’ I began really thinking about your question, because there’s this challenge of not wanting the old boys’ network to take hold of our young men. And so it’s a really interesting dynamic and challenge but I believe it’s one of the most important opportunities for women’s groups within companies and organizations to extend the support systems that they’ve built out for mentoring and dual mentoring of women to young men who join an organization – and to welcome and embrace them as equals because, frankly, where else do they have to turn for guidance?
Jennifer Brown: Right.
Jack Myers: So the challenge for so many women’s groups is creating what they’re calling ‘manbassador’ groups, where men proactively become ambassadors to support women. There’s no such model for taking that in the same direction of women supporting young men. And even supporting more senior men who want to evolve, who want to be more open. It’s one thing to say, ‘You’re a great guy, come and help our women’s organization, support us, contribute to us, mentor us.’ But I think it’s a whole other thing to say, ‘You need mentoring.’
Jennifer Brown: Right.
Jack Myers: ‘We want to mentor you and also teach you how to treat young men in the same way that you would treat a young woman you’re mentoring.’ I mean I think there’s inherent dangers in that also that we need to address, but to recognize that young men need mentoring in some ways more than young women, because young women have the benefit of 50 years of a strong, successful women’s movement that has set them in a healthier direction in their careers, their lives, and in society. Men have had negative role models, negative influences, and see nowhere to turn for support and help as they’re entering their adult years, and as they’re entering their relationships.
I love to compare it to a GPS guide. We know men don’t like to ask for directions, right? But with GPS, it’s perfect, we don’t need to ask for directions anymore. They’re right there in front of us and we can just follow them. Well there’s no GPS guide for life, there’s no GPS guide for careers, and women have the support and help of women’s groups, and men in the past have had the old boys’ network which is, you walk into these old men’s clubs and you see them with the oxygen tanks.
Jennifer Brown: Oh my goodness, that’s true. Not exactly enticing.
Jack Myers: Exactly. So I really believe that we need to develop GPS guides for men and guidelines in the work that’s being done by women’s groups.
Jennifer Brown: That’s a great place to start. What kind of pushback do you get when you talk in this way and say that younger men need a little bit more investment than younger women? Tell us a little bit about the resistance you’ve had to the book.
Jack Myers: Most of them are positive stories.
Jennifer Brown: That’s good.
Jack Myers: Pat Mitchell, who is one of the cofounders of TEDWomen and has a long history of work in the women’s movement, called my book ‘the first book about modern men written for women.’ When women hear the story, and especially when they think about their sons, their boyfriends, their co-workers, they really open up to me and to my message. I had the opportunity to speak at TEDWomen last November and had a very positive reception which I was grateful for. The first natural reaction is, as you said before, ‘What do you mean? We’re not done talking about women, dude. Step away.’
Jennifer Brown: Don’t mansplain it.
Jack Myers: I’ve had more positive success with women’s groups. Men of all ages, but especially young men, when I’ve told them that I’ve written a book about the future of men they say, ‘Oh, that must be a short book.’
Jennifer Brown: Whoa, that speaks volumes, doesn’t it?
Jack Myers: Exactly. We’re walking into a future that’s not for us. You see the backlash in politics today, you see it around the world, you see it in fundamentalist groups across many religions, this backlash against women, and this desire to hold onto the past. And it’s a conflict that we really see manifest in our own political environment in the last few years with the battle on right to life versus choice, the battle on voter repression which targets young people as much as any other group, and we see it in Donald Trump. He’s the personification of the old boys’ network.
Jennifer Brown: In the aftermath of the women’s marches, there are more men getting involved in the conversation than we’ve ever seen. I believe the future will be intersectional. And I know you understand and are passionate about the diversity within the diversity if you will, whether that’s male/female diversity, or it’s LGBTQ, or it’s racial and ethnic diversity. How did you feel after witnessing how many men came to the women’s march and how diverse the marches were? How do you see all of this playing out, and are you encouraged on any level?
Jack Myers: Here are my concerns. Number one, this younger generation is less likely to go out and march than most generations before them because they march online. So it’s really positive that they’re motivated to go out on the streets. But what the marches have not been around are the issues that are relevant to young people and especially to young men, and that is job opportunities. We’re out there on immigration, we’re out there on the environment, we’re out there on pro-choice issues, but the young men I fear are looking and saying, ‘We’re not fully convinced that Donald Trump’s not acting in our best interests’ – as motivated as they may be by the environment, and First Amendment issues, and the socially redeeming types of causes that are so important to them. What’s more important is to be able to have a job, have a sense of independence, and be able to be in a healthy relationships. When you recognize that women are out-educating men and are less likely to be with less-educated men than men are willing to be with less-educated women, you understand why we’re seeing more and more single people, and more women approaching relationships in different ways than they have in the past. So I think we’re really at the cusp of having a huge societal cultural business issue around these realities confronting young men, and they are solvable, they’re easily addressable, all we have to do is acknowledge them. That’s a start. And that’s what my book’s goal was and is, to simply acknowledge this as a reality confronting this generation of men and women. If we don’t address it and respond to it, we’re going to have a generation of young men who are going to fight against the women’s movement, as opposed to what’s more core to their upbringing and their beliefs, which is to support the women’s movement and be advocates for gender equality, pay equality, and all the other things that come with that.
Jennifer Brown: Why do you think it has been so hard to acknowledge that this generation is falling behind? It doesn’t feel like something we talk about all that much, and I know that’s why you wrote your book, which is why it struck me. I know we have biases, and notions about how men will just suck it up and figure it out and so they don’t need help, which is not very humanistic of us regardless of gender, but it’s really harmful to believe that any individual doesn’t need a supportive, healthy environment to flourish. Men have done with so little in terms of that – whether it’s emotional intelligence, or the freedom to have the life that they want, even if it counters the stereotypes – and I’m sure the older generations had a lot to do with the limited frequencies that we talk about masculinity in. Because I mean what’s really at stake?
As somebody who deals in women’s leadership, I’m often asked, ‘What’s different about the way women lead?’ And I want to answer the question but sometimes I hesitate, too, because I don’t want to separate women, and I don’t want to ascribe female leadership behaviors just to women. Why do we have such a hard time getting people to pay attention to this next generation and what they need?
Jack Myers: Most people – especially women, especially moms, especially moms of young men in their late teens to early twenties, as soon as they talk to me they realize that this reality reflects their own reality with their children. Teachers, in both high schools and colleges, will tell you they see it. Diversity executives say they see it within their corporations, but it doesn’t really manifest itself because their priorities are elsewhere. The priorities are for multi-cultural diversity, and gender diversity, and enhancing that in their organizations. So it’s just not on their list of responsibilities or even things they should be thinking about.
You also have the reality, as you point out, of the history of men who haven’t needed help. They have grown up in a world where man was the master of the domain. So why even think about this because it’s not an issue, we have other priorities? And also men don’t know how to ask for help. It’s just not been a part of our DNA to ask for help. It’s the same context as not asking for directions. We don’t want to acknowledge that we’re challenged, or struggling, or that we don’t have control over our own lives or our own well-being. When I do talk to young men once I get past the, ‘That must be a short book,’ and I really drill down and talk to them, men will talk about how hard it is for them to cry in public because they’ve grown up being told big boys don’t cry. They’ve grown up being told to man up and just get on with it. This is the world today. And we’re really at this transitional transformational point in our culture and in our society that is the future for women, and it’s a very positive one. For the future, we don’t know how the realities of the political situations today are going to play out in terms of education. That’s one of my biggest issues is the need for better education across all segments of young people – as well as people who are being displaced, their jobs are being displaced by technology. Millions of jobs are going to be impacted by autonomous driving cars and trucks because so many of the drivers are male, and so we need to really be investing heavily in all types of education.
Jennifer Brown: The stereotypes about what roles are open or appealing to men strike me, too. The fastest growing number of jobs in certain industries might be viewed as traditionally female, right?
Jack Myers: 13 of the top 15 growth industries and 60% of new jobs are being filled by women in those industries. So jobs are going to women because they tend to conform to traditionally female qualities: more collaborative, more community and network building, storytelling, multitasking, strong communication skills. Among the younger generation of young people, those skills are gender neutral, just as being more competitive and assertive, gaining technical competencies, adapting to change have become gender neutral. So I think we need to really be advocates for supporting young men going into nursing, into education, into literary skills. The HEAL careers; health, education, administrative, and the library sciences.
Jennifer Brown: Each gender has different tracks and industries where they are under-represented, and I think we’ve got to pay attention to both sides of the spectrum to create a better future.
Jack Myers: Yeah more stable, and as another point you said before you talked about care at home, let’s imagine a new narrative in which we embrace stay-at-home dads as caring and loving dads who are empowering their partners and doing the best for their families, rather than taking on parenting because their wives have a better job. And let’s stop thinking about them as out of work dads.
Jennifer Brown: I mean the language is so powerful, and it’s still so stigmatized. I’m sure you know the statistics of companies offering parental leave, but men take advantage of that much less often than women. And it’s still stigmatized because, as we know, people who take advantage of it are viewed as less committed to their career, et cetera. So I think there is a lot of work to be done to drive adoption of these wonderful policies with which companies like Netflix and others have made some great strides. Younger men may see more senior men not taking advantage of parental leave and think, ‘Well that’s not okay here.’ So to your point, we’re perpetuating these behaviors, and we’ve got to get out of that cycle. Companies and HR departments and women, frankly, too who are moving up the ladder, getting more visible, and having a more influential voice can tackle some of this and accelerate our progress. We certainly need that.
Jack Myers: When both men and women applaud senior men for taking eight to 12 weeks of parental care leave, we’ll start seeing that filter down through organizations.
Jennifer Brown: You are so right, Jack. Well this has been so illuminating, and a real kick in the pants. Some challenging statements that I think we need to pay attention to. I believe you’re on the front lines of something incredibly important and I, as a woman, am so open and welcoming to challenging my own thinking and my own generational lens around what does community look like, what do women supporting other women look like, what is the role of men in that equation, and really challenging our generational norms around gender. I’m excited to see how this younger generation start to come into our workforce, and I hope they stand up and use their voice to challenge some of these norms.
Millennials started the conversation, but just wait until the digital natives come through. I’m excited to have their voice and their influence in the workplace, and hopefully be guided by a voice like yours from an older generation who is challenging your peers to think differently about this.
Jack Myers: Well thank you, Jennifer, and congratulations on the success of your book and the work you’re doing. It’s extremely important and valuable.
Jennifer Brown: Well thank you Jack, I appreciate it. And everyone look up ‘The Future of Men.’ Is your TED Talk available, Jack, from TEDxWomen?
Jack Myers: It will be available in April.
Jennifer Brown: Wonderful. I urge everyone to go and listen, and buy the book, and follow what Jack is doing, and who he’s talking to. Thank you so much for your voice Jack, I really appreciate it and I’ll continue to stay tuned in to what you’re up to.
Jack Myers: Thank you, Jennifer. I appreciate it – and thank you for giving me a voice.
Jennifer Brown: Absolutely, thank you.