Editor’s Note: Scott Galloway is a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and a writer and podcast host. His new streaming show No Mercy, No Malice is now airing on CNN+. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion articles on CNN.com.
Masculinity: It’s a societal construct based on norms and behaviors we expect from boys and men. But it’s been incorrectly conflated with toxicity. I think it’s interesting right up front to define what it means to be a man.
What’s masculinity in my eyes? It’s choosing skills to aggregate strength, power and influence, such that you can protect and advocate for others.
But some very unfortunate things have been packed into the concept of masculinity. For example, not being open or expressive of emotions. Or the idea that you’re not a man if you “take sh*t” from anybody: That may make for great action films, but what results is a total lack of grace.
I see a lot of young men who are failing, based on a number of critical measures, including economic security, socialization and education.
As a species, humans need physical and social contact. We thrive on deep, meaningful bonds. Men who fail to attach to partners, careers, or communities often grow bitter and seek volatility and unrest. They’re more susceptible to fringe theories and they over-index on online forums filled with conspiracy theories, misogynistic content and misinformation.
What feels dangerous – and this really does fall into the notion of toxic masculinity – is this belief that if you’re a man, you can never let anyone get the better of you, that you should always stand your ground.
One thing I’ve learned is, if someone honks at you or cuts you off on the road, you’re going to be fine. It’s not always a zero sum game. You don’t have to be on par or ahead with every interaction.
Everyone needs a playbook. As a society, ours used to be religion, or the set of behaviors our parents gave us. But there’s not a lot to attach to anymore. People don’t go to church as often and they no longer trust their government. Young men who don’t have jobs – who aren’t attached to work, to school, to a mate – are much more likely to embrace misogynistic content.
Let’s start with education. Men now account for 41% of college enrollments, down from nearly 60% in 1970. If we talk about graduation rates, it gets even worse: Since men drop out at a faster clip than women, in the next five years there might be two female college graduates for every one male.
Fewer men going to college means fewer men on pathways to economic prosperity. College-educated men earn a median $900,000 more over their lifetimes than those who only graduated from high school. And that has implications for their prospects of forming meaningful relationships.
Boys also face unique threats which have been getting more ominous in recent years – and they are ill prepared for these challenges by a culture that conflates masculinity with toxicity and aggression with strength.
Recent studies reveal that more than nine in 10 of mass violent attackers were male, and more than two thirds of them were under the age of 35. The most dangerous person in the world is a broke and alone young male.
The reduction of economic pathways for young people is no less serious for women, but it appears to be less dangerous: When young women feel shame and rage, they don’t grab AR-15s.
My advice to young men? Take 4-6 hours from the time that you spend on your phone – or on Twitter or Coinbase – and reallocate it to a few things:
1) Start making money. We live in a capitalist society. The way to make a lot of money is by just starting to make some.
2) Get super strong. You want to be fit, you want to lift heavy weights and run long distances in your mind and in the gym. You should be able to walk in any room and believe that you can eat everybody’s lunch – or at least outrun them.
3) Finally, get out there: Church groups, softball league, riding class, whatever. Commit to meeting people, and quite frankly, try to have sex.
What’s the elemental foundation of any society? Relationships. Find relationships. Get out there. Man up.