Last weekend BBC news reported, panic toned, research findings that showed one in five low-paid men aged 25-55 now work part time. This rise has increased the pay gap between high and low earning men. Simply put, the gap between the comfortable and the poorest of the poor is getting wider. Although the expanding gap between rich and the poor is no longer breaking news, there is a growing trend in breaking down the stats from the gender perspective.

“Men have dominated employment since the beginning of the so-called meritocracy, so this change draws a new perspective on how men have changed over the generations. Perhaps we have taken the workplace for granted.”

Says a sole trader who has fought his way through changing economic circumstances for 30 years to sustain his reputable carpet business. He goes on to add:

“brexit will hit the price of imported carpets, but I will find a way. It's my responsibility to do so. Some men aren't responsible enough to keep going. You'll find that is why most of them (men) are in part-time work.”

Reasons behind the increase in low wage earning men taking up part-time work are yet to be confirmed. A whole host of opinions will abound until then. One wonders why the BBC published the news before the 'why's' were at least hinted at. It is fair to say that in this situation, 'laziness', 'the death of the old man' and 'brexit' are all very typical yet fair opinions to hold.

“There aren't any jobs out there for the traditional man. It seems as though the only thing that changes in our society are the financial markets. I was raised to believe that an intelligent mind or hard grafting would see you through. But the factories are gone. We've been priced out of labourer jobs by you know who. The only places to turn are stock rooms in retail or restaurants and hotels. Or other less tax deductible leanings.”

Said a man with an East End accent quick to assert that his colloquialisms should not determine his class. When asked what class he fell under, he refused to give an answer.

Research has shown that immigrants have done little to affect the job market and that we should really be threatened more by exiting the Euro. However, his thoughts on the changing markets against the unchanging traditions around it is an interesting one. Now that the 'factories are gone', have working class boys been kept behind by a class system that aligns skills by class? Do we have an education system not prescient enough for such a fast changing global economy? Are the recently made redundant paterfamilias channelling their insecurities of the future onto their male offspring? Do these young boys then grow up with the ability but not the confidence to reach heights once thought out of their league?

The tragedy of talent untapped, probably one of the least favoured portrayals of men. In the 'media', men fight adversity and conquer it, they are on their last leg but find some residual energy to beat the enemy, they make things work in their favour and somehow, big or small, save the world. They look more like God than any other animal on the planet.

In a focus group of men, a 'further educated' man (though not an expert in the field of gender) offered some interesting ideas on the matter of representation:

“men grow up with the will to save the world, if not the universe, but lack the emotional smarts needed to look inwards. When we talk it is with the gravitas of world leaders, no matter how underqualified we are to lead a group of school kids across the road. Men want to write the great novel rather than the domestic ones, perhaps about themselves […] We as men have lost ourselves in our desires and not only neglected our emotions but tucked away our true passions/callings too.”

A very broad yet poignant take that perhaps leads us to wonder how many professions out there these low waged, part time workers turn a blind eye to because they are 'women's job'? This from another member of the focus group:

“Yes, men have been failing to enter professions 'monopolised' by women, but we must also look at how these professions fail to accept men. It's the reverse of what has happened to women in male-dominated careers.”

Alas, the battle between the sexes point of view. A very predictable one seeing that the pay gap between women has been shortening. Women are outdoing men in the workplace. Is this any wonder? For at least 20 years, girls have constantly been outperforming boys in school. More women now go on to further education than men and with these qualifications, they are more likely to be seen for higher skilled white collar work than their male counterparts. Here is one of the more interesting picks from a vox populi on gender and the workplace:

“Somebody told the girls to get their head down and do the work, but perhaps forgot to remind the boys to do the same. We boys saw the world in a suit and tie or denim overalls tailored for our body type and perhaps that was affirmation enough for boys... and the people teaching the boys.”

But we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. Although middle management is filling with women, the pay gap between the sexes still fluctuates unfairly towards men's' favour. Also, boardrooms are still littered with 'old boys' and the culture that comes with them. When this was highlighted in the group it automatically caused divisions. Some deeply believed (even after stats were uncovered from a google search) that women are as equal as men. Some believed that the workplace is worse for straight white men. But there were some who, bringing up the word 'patriarchy', thought it affected everyone.

“The patriarchy hunt labelled groups in different ways. All things and individuals must be considered uniquely. What our group mentality tend to do is assign broad assumptions onto individuals when we should perhaps spend more time wondering how broad institutions affect the individual.”

Said a man in the group who claimed to have turned in all his academic merits for the right to claim a “conscientious and open mind.” He continued by adding:

“Even this belief can be rightly contested. Isn't possible for both the broad institutions and the individual to find a way in which they can make themselves more capable of redefining their worlds? And if so, which world is more attainable? Which one has a greater impact? A changed individual or a changed institution? We must decide. And work on both.”

A liberal idea, but nonetheless very direct call to action. Something men can't seem to stop themselves from doing. Is there ever a stillness? Ever a point where men do not want to arouse a movement or harness control? This from a self-titled sage who runs meditative classes on how to live when society deems you worthless:

“There are men out there who have dated women that recoil at the very idea of their low waged paycheck. There are men who are loathed by family members because of their very visible lack of 'success'. The ease at which men suffer from an inferiority complex comes as no secret and more men fall into this depression as the economy wanes. The workshop I run is not men only, but male attendance is somewhere around 85percent. We teach people how to maintain their breathing in the face of societal expectations. We tell men [a Freudian slip on the sage's part] that to have a clear mind is as much of an achievement as being part of the rat race. We help them find for themselves the pro's and con's of wanting to be valued in a capitalist society...”

It seems that the BBC, the rest of society and men have a high and toxic expectation of men that has become part of the natural fabric of being a man. Women have suffered this heightened description of form for generations. because you inhabit a female body you must; have and raise children, housekeep,  find a man, satisfy said man and so on. There have been women (and sometimes men) who have always fought against these ideas and it's only recently that a drastic change has/is occurring.

dissident male voices are arising from all spheres now their identity is being trampled on by 'their own' invention of self. But when you are battling against self, it is always fraught with misdirection. First off, everyone else is to blame. Then there is a desire to go back to the old system. There's always women to blame, and ethnic minorities and the internet and skinny jeans...

Perhaps men aren't yet at the stage where, as a collective, they have identified how to progress from the perils of the patriarchy. Will there ever be enough time? Again from the Sage:

“... inaction is unacceptable but progress is a must. But progress at the speed of what? Does the progress we are used to allow time enough for change? For healing? There have been many uprisings in the past because people (being treated unjustly) had the time to truly assess the inequality they received. Now we have very little time to ourselves – either buried in work or our phones or crippling rent prices – do we have head space enough for anything other than the global market?”

Am I reaching?

written by Chima Nsoedo.