Amid a frenetic news cycle, the first-ever "National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality" unveiled by the Biden administration has been easy to miss. It’s hard to say what real-life impact the initiative, outlined in a 40-page statement, will have in the coming years: The administration is not having great success enacting its agenda. But the document, introduced with a letter from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, is a rather dramatic illustration of the blind spots of the liberal/progressive approach to gender equity. One of those blind spots is called "men."
The introductory letter cautions against rebuilding to "a status quo that wasn’t working for women and girls." There is no question that women still face gender-based disadvantages, particularly when it comes to balancing paid employment and family obligations. The COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted some of these problems: The closings of schools and day care centers disproportionately affected working mothers, and safety-related restrictions in the service industry affected female workers more. In 2020, women’s labor force participation dropped by 3.4%, compared to 2.8% for men.
But the Biden/Harris "strategy" resolutely ignores male disadvantages. Thus, the document repeatedly mentions areas in which Black and Latina women fare poorly, but never acknowledges that Black men have the highest unemployment rate — currently 11.6%, compared to 9% for Black women.
Likewise, there is a discussion of Black women and girls being disproportionately affected by incarceration and police violence, with no mention of men of all races being far more likely to experience both. While males obviously commit more crimes, there is also evidence that they receive harsher sentences than women — and have 20 times the risk of being killed by the police. Yet the report mentions male incarceration only inasmuch as it affects communities.
This pattern persists throughout the document. We hear about the impact of domestic violence on women, who are indeed at much higher risk of severe or even fatal abuse, but nothing is said about problems specific to male victims of domestic violence, who studies show are taken far less seriously by police and the courts. We hear about women’s greater burden of child care but not the obstacles faced by noncustodial fathers, mostly men. We hear about barriers to health care for women and girls but not about the fact that men are more likely to be uninsured and to have no regular health care provider. We hear about men’s workplace advantages but not about the fact that men are twice as likely as women to be seriously injured on the job and 10 times more likely to be killed. We hear about women lagging in science and technology careers, but not about men being left behind in college attendance.
Fifty years ago, when entrenched sexism routinely denied women full participation in America’s civic, economic and political life, it made sense to focus on women’s advancement. But it’s 2021, not 1971. Today, we should also be able to look at the struggles and barriers facing men and boys — whether as a result of lingering traditional stereotypes of masculinity or of feminism taking a wrong turn into male-bashing.
The Biden/Harris strategy concludes with a call for equity and dignity for "people of all genders." But while the document has a few passing references to transgender and gender nonconforming people, one gender seems entirely missing from its vision. That’s no way to strive for equity.
Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a contributing editor at Reason magazine, are her own.