Shifting Masculinities: Economic Influences on the Emergence of the 'Anti-Male' Notion in 1970s America

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The evolving dynamics of gender roles, particularly in relation to masculinity, have long been a subject of debate. This paper delves into the balance between gender activism and extremism, exploring when the rejection of traditional gender norms crosses into the realm of being labeled 'anti-male.' By examining the economic landscape of 1970s America, marked by consecutive recessions and shifts in labor structure, the study argues that economic factors played a significant role in shaping perceptions of masculinity and its association with employment. The decline of manufacturing jobs and the rise of inclusivity in the workforce during this period led to a crisis of identity for white middle-class men, prompting societal responses that sought to reinforce traditional notions of masculinity. Through an analysis of historical texts, this research argues how economic instability influenced the emergence of the 'anti-male' notion and underscores the interconnectedness of economic conditions and gender identities.


The “feminazi” of the 1990s, the “blue haired feminists” of today… There always exists a general consensus that disregarding the gendered implications of femininity/masculinity are sometimes taken “too far!” There is always an implied fine line between activism and extremism,  women’s empowerment and male-bashing, fighting for equality, and suggesting superiority. But what exactly draws this line of taking things ‘too far’? When does rejecting the connotations of femininity become ‘hysterical’, and rejecting the connotations of masculinity suggest being ‘anti-men’? Why do we even think that any form of effort is on the verge of extremism when it comes to deconstructing gender roles? This paper will examine a potential economic factor in the emergence of this ‘fine line’ and argue that consecutive recessions and shifts in labor structure in the 1970s US economy indirectly contributed to the development of the anti-feminist notion of being ‘anti-male’. The concept of masculinity is inherently tied to economic status, specifically ‘work.’ Especially after industrialization, the ability to find work characterized a man’s value/worthiness, his work environment formed his social circle, his salary determined his status…  Work sufficed the individualism integral to masculinity: the need for a separate private life and self-sufficiency. However, this relationship between employment and masculinity started to falter in the 70s. Following two consecutive quarters of recessions (1973-1975 and 1979-1980), a rise in labor supply due to increased inclusivity in the workforce after political equality movements that gained momentum in the 60s, and a loss of manufacturing jobs due to deindustrialization; unemployment peaked in the 70s US. This resulted in the laying off of mostly a white heterosexual male demographic. With white men stripped from a defining characteristic of masculinity, concerns about a ‘effeminate’ society started to rise. Questions of what a ‘man’ really was caused distress as strict binary classifications and set divisions of roles in the economic realm started to crumble. Many tried to revitalize masculinity by rejecting the restricting economic connotations of the construct altogether and others, concerned that this was carrying men further away from male values, found solace in opposing excessive femininity and overly inclusive or permissive gender divisions. The notion of ‘anti-male’ is a manifestation of the latter strategy of a distressed society faced with the malleability of masculinity as a construct.

1. The Influence of The Economy on the Definition of Manhood: The Changing Connotations of ‘Masculinity’ in the 70s

The economy plays an integral role in manhood. Economic shifts throughout history are intimately correlated with changes in our perception of what a man is, the nature of his actions, and his social responsibilities. The main pillar of this correlation between the economy and the construct of masculinity is the idea of a binary society. The idea that it is more efficient to divide in gender according to strength in different areas, that some fields are ‘manly’ in nature, that women are inherently more suitable for certain things and unsuitable for others, and that all these divisions, that come to be divisions of power, are ultimately necessary for a fruitful, progressing economy. Hence, once the binarily segregative system proves economically ineffective or unnecessary, the construct of ‘masculinity’ or ‘manhood’ is transformed in a way that is applicable to the time’s economic needs and structure. This is evident in the transformation from the construct of ‘manliness’  in the early 19th century, to ‘masculinity’ in the late 19th and early 20th century. Manliness defined a man through the Victorian parameter of sexual abstinence, high-mindedness, spiritual independence, willpower, and honor, which were applicable to men in the settings of higher education and their work environments, complementing the strategy for economic progress at the time These were qualities that belonged to men and men only, creating the incentive in men to go into business leadership and entrepreneurship, both very much needed in small competitive markets. However, in the late 19th, early 20th century, the US underwent a remarkable economic transformation, moving away from small-scale capitalism to fewer opportunities for self-employment/entrepreneurship and more call for obedient labor. Economic changes were undermining current ideals of manhood. The binary standard upheld by manliness was no longer applicable as the number of women in higher education and professional careers were increasing. These economic changes triggered the diversion from the construct of manliness to ‘masculinity,’ which rather put emphasis on the ‘manly’ qualities of aggression, physical strength, and sexual dominance. These new qualities were now suitable for a larger-scale economy with a labor force of ‘smaller-scale’ men according to the outdated Victorian parameter.

The shift of the 1970s was similar in nature. The construct of “masculinity” and middle-class white male identity started to quaver, partially because economic changes increasing unemployment within this demographic made ideologies of masculinity less plausible. The masculinity of the white male was constructed based on his employability and breadwinner quality during industrialization, supplying men with a sense of worth in work and authority in the household. However, two major economic shifts made this definition of masculinity inapplicable in the 70s. (1) Over the course of the decade, blue-collar jobs, the leading source of employment for white middle-class American men, shrunk in pure terms. In the course of a year (1974-1975) men lost 1.3 million jobs, leading to a decade high of 6.2% unemployment for white males, with an even larger relative effect considering the employment peak in the 50s/60s boom. (2) Number of women in the overall labor market increased as high costs of living made solo breadwinning nearly impossible and accelerated impacts of the women’s rights movement (the push for legal measures to prevent discrimination) encouraged a young supply of female labor. Losing contact with and sole ownership of what is ‘inherently masculine,’ white heterosexual men worked to redefine masculinity, majorly by rejecting traditional gender roles rooted in ‘work.’ Masculinity as a concept started to represent ideals such as active participation in parenting, male friendship (brotherhood), the appropriation of certain aspects that were considered feminine (lack of fear towards ‘effeminacy’), honesty and confidence in the expression of emotion... These shifts in the perception of masculinity encouraged the idea that the binary standard for women and men did not hold true in the context of economic well-being: ‘the woman’ had to work in an inflationary consumerist society, ‘the man’ had to become more active in parenting considering the efficient division of tasks that would bring more income into the household… The economically plausible pointed towards ditching binary segregation as a way to make ‘masculinity.’ Except there arose one overarching question: “What is there to call ‘masculine’ in the white American male of the 70s if he is stripped from all his distinctive binary qualities?”

2. Concerns of an ‘Effeminate’ Society: The Need to Revitalize Masculinity

Structural shifts in the economy directly correspond to shifts in the percept of masculinity, which is suggestive in itself that masculinity is inherently malleable. A man can be anything if needed to be. This is an alarming statement for many reasons. A common social perception is that there is an unquestionable truth to the ideas of masculinity and femininity, the separation of roles into a binary standard, whether it relies on physical anatomy, inherent ability, genes… some level of authority governs these notions. The social manifestations of these ‘truths’ do change over time as one can’t comfortably say “Women belong in the kitchen!” in the 21st century, yet unseemingly form sentences like “men tend to,” or propose a scientific research question based on binary differences, or classify certain qualities as masculine/feminine without getting any backlash whatsoever. Thus, the utmost malleability of ‘masculinity’ is underestimated, so the transformation of the construct throughout time often causes passive havoc in society.

One medium where the concerns of an ‘effeminate’ society rose in the 70s was in the entertainment and lifestyle sections of newspapers because the concern was ultimately of middle-class white men, the major demographic who had the time, involvement, and privilege to be interested in the further pleasures of life. An interesting example comes up in the August 9, 1970 issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer: a book trailer for Karl Bednarik’s “The Male in Crisis: The Emasculation of Contemporary Man By The Technotronic Society And The Superstate He Has Created.” The author, Karl Bednarik was born in Vienna, Austria. There is nearly no information about him, especially in English, and the only book that he has written that got some level of international recognition (translation) was this piece. The book is certainly not a known or popular one of its time, with little access to and not much information about it. The Philadelphia Inquirer chose this book specifically as their weekly ‘book sampler,’ playing to the possible concerns of effeminacy in the target audience. In the trailer, Bednarik argues that the traditional male role in society is not valid anymore due to a global world with different political and economic dynamics which creates a lack of “masculine challenges” for men. His key points are: (1) an “ever-diminishing number of men can make all the vital decisions for an ever-increasing number of people'' so there is no room for “ordinary” men to feel masculine enough anymore, (2) the men do not have the room to make ‘real’ decisions as the contemporary world “does not want the rebellious man who thinks and acts for himself at any risk” and instead “the adjustable, adaptable man,” (3) many men increasingly start to see ‘play’ (ie. sports) as a substitute for the struggle for dominance/status that is excluded from daily life due to its lack of application, (4) the little man without power diverts to anger and explosion as a way to assert dominance.  The text is structured like a call to action, almost warning the men that they are diverting away from masculinity. Beyond this, it demonstrates in itself how “masculinity” is trying to be revitalized: either by having something ‘only for men,’ like games, which reestablishes the binary diversification; or by over-associating with what is considered traditionally masculine, like putting emphasis in qualities such as violence and anger.

Fears of emasculation also started to reflect onto the scientific world in the 70s. Studies in fields such as sociology and psychology pose questions regarding the general consensus of what ‘masculine’ is. An illustrative example shows up in the January 1977 edition of the magazine Psychology Today. The article “Men and Women Report Their Views on Masculinity” by Carol Travis introduces a survey that is conducted among 28,000 Psychology Today readers that concludes: “... the macho frontiersman is well on his way out as the model of the perfect American man, but he isn’t gone yet, as men have more trouble defining the new male than women have.” The study demonstrates that the majority of the male respondents thought that traits of aggressiveness and competitiveness were integral to the ideal man, but not the ideal woman; whereas the women were indifferent between the two sexes in terms of thef importance of these characteristics. Yes, the data illustrates that men tend to fall back into the traditional idea of manhood and that women are more comfortable with blurring the lines between femininity and masculinity, yet this is not necessarily why this article is significant. As the article acknowledges itself, this survey is conducted within a very small scope of American society and does not necessarily reflect the demographic this paper is considering. However, the investigation, the topic of research, demonstrates the need to answer the question of what a man is and shows unsettlement with the ambiguous definition of masculinity. Its binary manner (common in the majority of the research that looks into the idea of masculinity) and the way it looks for a definite answer for what ‘masculinity’ is, establishes society’s need to revitalize this construct.

3. A Strategy to Rejuvenate “Masculinity”: The Notion of “Anti-Male”

The need to revitalize ‘masculinity’ can result in many different strategies that all ultimately rely on strengthening binary differences, such as finding new areas that ‘only men’ enjoy, challenges that ‘only men’ face, natural impulses/emotional responses that ‘only men’ have… The instinct to reject excessive femininity and blurred gender divisions originates from this idea, which has contributed greatly to the emergence of the notion of ‘anti-male’ in the 70s US. Even though this notion manifests in a variety of fields, it all ties back to the distinctive nature of ‘masculinity.’

At the time, in the field of publishing, increasing attention was paid to the patriarchal structures governing the US’s legal system, economy, politics, etc. as the effects of the women’s liberation movement were extremely prominent. So there was a lot of  “calling out” of men in ways that may conflict with the now ‘outdated’ version of the construct of ‘masculinity.’ A great example comes from Playboy magazine: a publication for men, by men, with a clear demographic statistic suggesting popularity among sexually active men (ages 18-54). The April 1981 issue of the magazine contained the article “Why do Men Rape?” which calls out the lack of effective dissuasory criminal punishment in rape cases, giving an example of a convict released on the grounds of ‘paraphilic rape’. The psychiatrist and sexologist, John Money, professor of medical psychology at John Hopkins university at the time, accuses the magazine of being “militantly anti-masculine” suggesting that paraphilic rape is “as much a medical problem as is epilepsy for a male,”portraying the convict as just “a sick man,” and saying that Playboy has forgone “human decency” in order to appeal to the “moral majority” of the time What is this moral majority? The moral majority is coming to terms with the transformation of what they call ‘masculine’ and their idea of a male, is supportive of the liberation movements of the time, and is not triggered by recognizing that some qualities that used to govern ‘masculinity’ are morally corrupt and actively harmful. Money’s ‘emotional’ response, as it may be described, is a manifestation of his fear of losing masculinity. He thinks this ‘poor man’ is a victim of his ‘natural’ manhood and attacking this is an attack on masculinity: it is “anti-masculine.” This extreme pushback is ultimately correlated with the need to protect the concept of “manliness” in society.

The pro-lib scientific world was also eager to investigate whether all these changes in our understanding of masculinity were ultimately “anti-male.”  Many studies started to investigate how “anti-male” the lib efforts of the time were, taking the ones who blur the lines of femininity and masculinity and making them a study subject –almost as if they are put on trial. This was not only done by the opposers of an effeminate society, but by the ones who accept these changes in gender structures as well. The 1977 version of the book Resources in Women's Educational Equity has a special issue about a case study investigating what age of girls and boys were “pro-female” and “anti-male.” They conclude that; “The SAM scores indicated no age-related effects and at all three age levels girls were clearly pro - female and anti - male , while boys were unbiased toward females and only slightly antimale.” The parameters used to classify what is anti-male rely mostly on who rejects the traditional definitions of masculinity and the extent of their willingness to accept the current, inclusive meaning of the construct. However, neither the conclusion nor the parameters are as important as recognizing that even the pro-lib parties of the time were looking to establish a binary division, accepting the notion that something could be “anti-male” and actively looking for it in people who support the movement.

The final question is, did this idea of being “anti-male” also exist in the ‘progressive’ men of the time? In the July 7, 1981 issue of The Bi-Monthly, an interesting blurb about feminists and their “anti-male[ness]” is criticized by men who define themselves as liberated from the outdated connotations of masculinity such as being defined by work, breadwinning, etc. The text is structured in a way that gives advice to women on how to treat men “right” and is called “A Message for Women.” The main argument is that men are wired differently from women in the sexual sense and it is anti-male to take things “personal” when men want to “sleep after [they] come”, or to call out men for being more sexually expressive as “it may be very hard to turn down sexual opportunity” because their responses are different than women, as they can be aroused “easily and quickly” by the things they “see.” By now the trend is clear: revitalizing masculinity by establishing binary differences and disregarding anything that challenges those differences as “anti-male.” John Money argued that villainizing a medical condition that was ‘only’ occurring in men was anti-masculine, a book supporting the women’s lib conducted a whole case study based on establishing binary differences in a binary manner and the ones who reject that certain qualities as dedicated to ‘only’ men were classified as anti-male, and the liberated men of America suggested that ‘only men’ feel extreme sexual desire and not accepting this is clearly anti male.


The idea of masculinity is inextricably linked to a man's financial standing, more specifically "employment."  Hence, the economy is one of the ultimate determinants of what we call an 'ideal man.' During the 70s recessions and changes in the labor market structure, this link between jobs and masculinity began to break down. Jobless white middle-class Americans were faced with the question of what makes them real men. The connotations of masculinity were changing to suit current economic structures: becoming more inclusive, less binarily segregative, and to some "effeminate." If masculinity and femininity didn't have their own separate realms, what was the point? Questions like these are what formed the need to revitalize masculinity, the need to find something, anything that was ‘only’ for men. This influenced the classification of certain attempts to dismantle the binary wall or to recognize the inherent flaws in society’s consensus of what a man should be as “anti-masculine”: the response of a society unprepared to face the inherent malleability of masculinity.


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