Equality has always been an American preoccupation, right from the words “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence.
And even that phrase is not egalitarian enough by today’s lights — feminists have long objected to the gendered language of “all men.”
Thomas Jefferson didn’t mean to commit a microaggression: In 1776, “all men” meant women, too.
We know that because the Founding Fathers — must we say Founding Parents? — argued about the mismatch between their philosophy and the endemic inequalities of their time, with Abigail Adams asking her husband John to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors” when the time came for America to declare independence.
Today, however, men and women are becoming increasingly unequal — and in one of the most basic measures of well-being, it’s men who are worse off to begin with and keep falling further behind.
Life expectancy has fallen for all Americans in the past few years.
It’s fallen more for men than for women, though, producing the largest gender gap in nearly 20 years.
According to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine, as of 2021 women were outliving men by 5.8 years.
Much as postmodern academics and progressive political activists may deny it, there are natural differences between the sexes, and the mere fact that women live longer is not so surprising.
For one thing, men are disproportionately employed in the nation’s most hazardous jobs, including as loggers, roofers, construction workers, aircraft pilots and steel workers.
And if a male propensity for risk-taking makes men more successful in certain executive and entrepreneurial roles, it also leads to more men and boys dying of misadventure and accident.
But the gap in longevity has widened by a full year since 2010, when it was at a historic minimum of 4.8 years.
Human nature hasn’t changed in that time — something has changed in America to make it a deadlier place for men.
COVID contributed twice over, to the extent that the disease may have affected men more severely and they, in turn, were less inclined to take its flu-like symptoms seriously.
Deaths from despair have ravaged both sexes, but suicide and overdose do contribute to the gender disparity, with men at greater risk of dying from each of those causes.
Unsurprisingly, men are also more likely to die by homicide, and when violent crime rises, male life expectancy will predictably fall.
But there are less obvious forces in play, too.
Men are less likely to go to college or complete a degree, which in an increasingly service-oriented and knowledge-based economy translates into worse life and career prospects — conditions that foster deaths from despair.
Whether ironically or cynically, progressives can be rather conservative and hidebound in their assumptions about inequality: They presume that whoever was more-than-equal in the past must still be privileged today, thus the one kind of inequality that doesn’t prick the progressive conscience is whatever harms groups that were formerly better off.
Income inequality and racial inequality are outrages that fill the streets with protesters from Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter — but there won’t be any protests over men’s worsening life prospects.
But then, the last thing men need is to be designated as another victim group.
Right now the very concept of manhood is under attack from two directions: from those on the left who see masculinity as inherently “toxic” and from those on the right who idolize the likes of Andrew Tate — overgrown adolescent hedonists without an ounce of self-control, let alone any traditionally manly moral responsibilities for family or others.
If life is unfair to men, the masculine remedy is not to complain about unfairness but to be tough enough, and mature enough, to endure and prosper despite inequality.
That doesn’t mean men don’t need help (especially when facing despair), but a sense of social or political victimhood is only destructive: What kills men is not something that can be solved with another equality-demanding movement.
As dedicated as our Founding Fathers were to equality — even to the point of recognizing in principle, if not in practice, that the words of the Declaration applied to women and blacks as well to white men — they did not believe that everyone could or should be equal in every way.
Men and women will forever be different, and the ways they differ will not always be favorable to men.
Rather than seeing this as an outrage against equality or overlooking it as a politically incorrect fact, the best response is treat men as men and women as women, in their virtues and hardships alike — and look to men’s strengths as an answer to their plight.
Daniel McCarthy is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review.