Another day, another book on the “crisis of masculinity” appears. Their titles say it all: The Boy Crisis, The Man Crisis, The Male in Crisis, The Toxic Masculinity Crisis and The Masculinity Crisis of Generation Z, to name but a few.

Left and right, woke and anti-woke, feminists and angry incels, all agree: men are in big trouble. (Who’s to blame and what to do, is where the consensus breaks down.) I can think of no other social/cultural topic of current concern – race, gender, global warming – that enjoys such a merging of opinion.

And as far as I know there are no masculine-crisis sceptics out there challenging this piece of conventional wisdom. No one ever asks: is the reported crisis of masculinity really a crisis? Or to put it another way: is it really so problematic being a man?

Yes, say male crisis advocates. It seems self-evident; men are becoming economically redundant and socially marginalised. Male levels of depression and suicide are on the rise, while our sperm counts and levels of testosterone are on the way down. Men – and especially young men – goes the story, are lonely, lost, confused and increasingly angry.

There are roughly around 29.2 million men and boys in the UK – how many of them are experiencing a crisis of masculinity?

There are plenty of statistics to support this narrative as well as those most often cited symbols and symptoms: the rise of Jordan Peterson, Andrew Tate and an assortment of online nutjobs spewing their violent misogyny – take your pick. But we need to remember that social media distorts social issues by making everything bigger, louder and more dramatic than they necessarily are.

I can’t help wondering – if the male crisis is such a mass phenomenon, why aren’t I having a crisis of masculinity? Why aren’t any of the many men I know, from different backgrounds of class and race, having them? Is your partner having a crisis of masculinity? Is your son?

Of course, men – like women – have problems. Big problems that blight their lives. I’m not suggesting that the crisis of masculinity is a maladie imaginaire, but that we should be more sceptical about the men in crisis narrative. We need a sense of proportion.

After all, there are roughly around 29.2 million men and boys in the UK – how many of them are experiencing a crisis of masculinity? I suspect not as many as we imagine. I would argue that the vast majority of these men are just ordinary, fairly happy/fairly miserable men who get on with life, trying the best they can to be a good dad, husband or partner.

But these invisible men – the silent and un-suffering majority – are left out of the men in crisis story because to include them would change the whole weight of the issue into a less dramatic, less media worthy subject. Nobody is going to buy a book with the title: The Crisis of Masculinity for Some Men, but not All.

There’s a deeper problem that should give us pause. How do we know when a problem is rooted in the crisis of being a man or a problem rooted in just being human – all too human? Is a young depressed man depressed because he doesn’t know how to be a man, or because of some other factor like romantic rejection or problems with his parents? Is his crisis contingent or existential?

One of the key statistics frequently cited to support the crisis of masculinity thesis is the claim that more men die of suicide than women. But according to research by the Samaritans more women attempt suicide than men – the means they employ are just less lethal. And besides, suicide is a complex act that can’t be reduced to a singular cause, be it problems with masculinity or finances.

Young men in particular are a cause of concern. Especially young white working-class men who are falling behind women at school and are increasingly excluded from the job market. These young men are often depicted as porn addicts hooked on video games; they’re lonely, angry and unable to connect with women. They are set for a loveless life of downward mobility and depression – so we’re told.

What are we to say to all these angry men and confused teenagers who wonder how to be a man? The right tells them feminism is to blame and it’s time for them to “man up”; feminism says that sexism is to blame and it’s time for men to change the way they treat women. Men’s Groups believe we have to teach men how to talk and express their feelings.

Essentially we have two solutions to the crisis of masculinity on offer: Be A Man or Be A New Man. I’d like to suggest a third way: don’t bother worrying about being a man. When a confused youth asks how to be a man, he’s asking the wrong question. The question we should be encouraging him to ask is: how to be a good human being?

What many troubled men are looking for is meaning, belonging, connection, a sense of social worth and identity. Having your gender as the core means of doing this is a doomed project. Your gender is what you are, not who you are.

No one will love you just because you are a man – you will earn love and respect and appreciation because of your generosity, kindness, courage, humour, your moral ecology. How you conduct yourself and not what you call yourself is what counts. We need to move the whole debate about masculinity away from talk of manhood and on to the challenges of personhood.

Cosmo Landesman is a freelance journalist and author of “Jack and Me: How Not To Live After Loss” (Eyewear Press)

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