Is that why mental health issues and gun violence are so top of mind in our country right now?
Melzer: These are all important pieces of the puzzle. These talks [about gun violence] focus extensively on gun politics, and that debate deteriorates pretty quickly into "It’s A or B, it’s this or that."
But what’s not been given enough attention is the role of masculinity in gun violence. There’s a reason why boys are shooting up schools and girls aren’t. There’s a reason why more than 90 percent of violent crimes are committed by men. These are not biological or genetic things. They vary across cultures.
We’re teaching boys and men to be tough, strong, in control, to bottle up their emotions, show no weakness or vulnerability. Well, if you bottle something up, eventually it’s going to explode.
How does entrepreneurial culture feed into those expectations (or counteract them)?
Melzer: Many of these masculine characteristics reflect entrepreneurial ideals that emerged with industrial capitalism: fearlessness in risk-taking, the ability to control your situation and impose your will upon others. That “pull yourself up by the bootstraps,” “every man for himself” thinking has certainly been endemic to U.S. capitalist culture. And that’s just inseparable from masculine ideals. These things that are viewed as American characteristics are, to a great extent, American manhood characteristics.
But in entrepreneurial culture, failure is an inevitable part of the process. As an entrepreneur you’re taking risks, you’re pursuing ideas that have not been pursued before. That begs the question, what tools do we possess to manage failure in that context? If failure is inevitable and failure can be so undermining to men’s identity in a way that harms them and others, then how do we manage those expectations?
Conversely, though, looking at entrepreneurial culture [today], there also seems to be this greater sense of collaboration rather than hierarchy-driven cultures and intragroup competition. So I think that can offset a lot of these problematic workplace cultures. Also, creativity is being emphasized over rigidity, so I think there’s a blend of masculine and feminine characteristics. It’s not just a hypermasculine culture.
So maybe entrepreneurial culture is starting to shift. What other shifts are happening in our society that make change more attainable now than ever?
Melzer: I’d offer a threefold response. One: Breadwinner status is much more elusive than it used to be. Two: The costs have become too high for many men. Three: We’re much more aware of the costs of stress, heart disease, depression and isolation.
There’s also a greater desire among fathers to be more engaged parents. That’s really a big change if you think about the last three generations. Engaged fatherhood is much more the norm now, versus the 1950s distant model. That’s just outdated. For men to be physically and emotionally engaged with their children, that’s the expectation today. And you just can’t do that and also be a primary breadwinner who’s focused solely on career and not much else.
Lastly, we’re at a historical moment where the culmination of decades of feminist and other kinds of activism has made gender equality more normative and expected. If you look at data on younger generations, there’s a big generational gap in attitudes about gender equality, about work and family balance, and about manhood ideals.
The younger generation really wants more flexibility and autonomy. They’re more equality-minded than previous generations.