Men’s Issues Reading List (Book Recommendations)

If your exposure to men’s issues comes from online resources then you might be surprised to find out that there is actually a pretty strong body of offline literature too. The first two books work well as an overview or introduction to men’s issues (one is more philosophical and the other more personal, so they complement each other well). The other books cover other relevant topics (specific men’s issues, gender roles, feminism, etc.) in more detail.

Books (titles link to section):

  1. The Second Sexism (2012) by David Benatar
    • Overview of men’s issues with thorough and precise argumentation. Rebuttal to the idea that sexism against men doesn’t exist or matter.
  2. Self-Made Man (2006) by Norah Vincent
    • Personal account of a woman disguising herself as a man for 18 months. Rebuttal to the idea that life as a man is much better than as a woman.
  3. Media and Male Identity (2006) by Jim Macnamara
    • Research on mass media portrayals of men, finding that reporting and commentary on men is overwhelmingly negative.
  4. Men Without Work (2016) by Nicholas Eberstadt
    • First look at the concerning numbers of men dropping out of the labour market, ongoing in the United States since the 1960s.
  5. Legalizing Misandry (2006) by Katherine K. Young and Paul Nathanson
    • Argues that feminism (not the egalitarian kind), gynocentrism, and misandry have become institutionalized in the United States and Canada.
  6. Unwanted Advances (2017) by Laura Kipnis
    • Critiques campus sexual hysteria and the overreach of Title IX, including the author’s own “trial” for “creating a hostile environment” with an essay.
  7. The Sexual Paradox (2008) by Susan Pinker
    • Challenges the “vanilla male hypothesis”, the assumption that if women are not making the same choices as men then something is wrong.
  8. Is There Anything Good About Men? (2010) by Roy Baumeister
    • Covers biological origins of gender inequality. Challenges idea that gender roles were mostly about men oppressing women.
  9. Professing Feminism (1994) by Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge
    • Critical examination of Women’s Studies programs, as told by 30 women (faculty, students, staff) who became disillusioned with the field.

Notes: (1) These books are all informative and worth reading, but that doesn’t mean they’re right about everything. Always read with a critical eye—keep a scientific mindset, not a religious one. (2) I might add new books to this list (if they don’t overlap with the existing books too much) but it won’t be fast because I’m only adding books I read. (3) Don’t want to spend money? Check for these books at your local library.


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The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys (2012)

by David Benatar, professor of philosophy at the University of Cape Town

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So unrecognized is the second sexism that the mere mention of it will appear laughable to some. Such people cannot even think of any ways in which males are disadvantaged, and yet some of them are surprised, when provided with examples, that they never thought of these before.

This book makes the case for the existence of sexism against men. It works well as an overview of men’s issues, covering life expectancy, conscription, etc., as well as some particularly lesser known double standards involving corporal punishment and the bodily privacy of prisoners. Benatar is very thorough and precise in his argumentation; he’s careful to distinguish disadvantage from discrimination (and discrimination from unjust discrimination), and he has a strong rebuttal to the common methods of denying sexism against men: the inversion argument (“instances of discrimination against men are instead forms of discrimination against women”), the costs-of-dominance argument (male disadvantages are merely “by-products of a dominant position and thus not evidence of discrimination against males”), the distraction argument (attention given to men’s issues is bad because it distracts from women’s issues), and the defining discrimination method (defining discrimination/sexism such that men cannot experience them, shutting down any conversation about discrimination/sexism against men).

He’s also very fair to women’s issues—a recurring point is that men and women can both be disadvantaged in the same area (like sexual assault) in different ways.

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Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man (2006)

by Norah Vincent, writer and columnist

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I had thought that by being a guy I would get to do all the things I didn’t get to do as a woman […] But when it actually came to the business of being Ned I rarely felt free at all.

This book is a great rebuttal to the idea that life is clearly much better as a man. It recounts the 18 months of Norah Vincent’s life she spent disguised as a man, gaining a deep sympathy for men. In her experiment she joined a bowling team, frequented a strip club, dated, lived in a monastery, worked an ultra-masculine sales job, and joined a men’s retreat. By the end she felt fortunate to be a woman, but that’s one comment and not really the point of the book. More important and informative are the experiences she had.

The hardest part that she found about being a man was dating. She called it a “lesson in female power”—the attitudes that she experienced (“Pass my test and then we’ll see if you’re worthy of me”), the conflicting expectations, not to mention all of the rejection. On the other hand, there was one (notably only one) environment where she felt empowered as a man: on the job, especially when wearing a suit. She felt assertive and competent.

Her findings in many areas were complicated. She found much more emotional depth in male friendships than she’d expected, but still that many men struggle deeply with emotional isolation and loneliness. She gained a new appreciation that many men feel like slaves to their sex drive, but also it scared her. She was uncomfortable with some of the men’s cutthroat sales tactics, but she understood the reason—masculinity is tied to performance and “as a guy, he was a useless clod if he couldn’t perform”.

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Media and Male Identity: The Making and Remaking of Men (2006)

by Jim Macnamara, professor of public communication at the University of Technology Sydney

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This book is a study of mass media portrayals of men and and their role in creating male identity. Macnamara uses a data set of 650 newspapers, 100 magazines, and 330 hours of TV and finds that reporting, commentary, and discourse on men is mostly negative. The four most common themes or profiles for how men were represented were negative: villain, aggressor, pervert, and philanderer. Positive themes also existed (good father, hero, protector, leader, etc.) but they were notably less common. In all, 69% of the reporting/commentary on men was negative, 12% was positive, and 19% neutral.

Aside from the negative themes, here were some of his concerns with the coverage:

  • Coverage of certain issues related to male identity (like fatherhood and men’s relation to work) predominantly included female rather than male perspectives.
  • Criticism of men’s domestic contributions generally only looked at childcare, cleaning, and cooking (not repairs, maintenance, yard-work, washing cars, etc.).
  • There were double standards in the portrayed sympathy-worthiness of people who commit violence (including child-killing), depending on gender.
  • Neutral or positive terms (like spokesman or policeman) are being made gender-neutral, while negative ones (like gunman, hitman, and conman) are not.

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Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis (2016)

by Nicholas Eberstadt, political economist at the American Enterprise Institute

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There is perhaps no other instance in the modern American experience of a social change of such consequence receiving so little consideration by concerned citizens, intellectuals, business leaders, and policymakers. […] This mass retreat from the workforce has been possible to ignore because these men are largely socially invisible and inert, written off or discounted by society and, perhaps, all too often, even by themselves.

This book is about the increasing percentage (since the 1960s) of American men who lack employment. Most have stopped looking for work, which means they do not show up in unemployment statistics. These men are disproportionately black (1/5, compared to 1/10 of the work-force), uneducated, never married, native-born, and with a criminal record.

By our rough estimates and assumptions, in 1965 one man out of twenty-two in the corresponding civilian noninstitutional population (20-64) was economically inactive and also not in school. For 2014, the figure was more than one man in seven.

The problem is not very well-studied, but this book is a good start. He evaluates various potential reasons for this trend, including less demand for lower-skilled workers, the stunning increase in criminal records that mostly affects men, and the design of certain social programs that provide disincentives to men working. One thing I was surprised he didn’t talk much about: concerning possibilities for future joblessness.

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Legalizing Misandry: From Public Shame to Systemic Discrimination Against Men (2006)

by Katherine K. Young and Paul Nathanson, professors of religious studies at McGill University

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Males are not faring well at all in a society that is now focused explicitly on the needs and problems of females and is often hostile to the very possibility that males might have any distinct needs and problems of their own.

This book argues that ideological feminism (which contrasts with egalitarian feminism in its focus on the well-being of women over men and its willingness to vilify and discriminate against men) has become institutionalized in the United States and Canada.

Part I covers a series of high profile legal (or quasi-legal) cases in the 1980s and 1990s, including the École Polytechnique massacre in Canada and the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination in the United States, that were widely seen within feminism as a turning point in their effort to achieve a “radical reorganization of society”.

Part II shows how our conception of rights has increasingly come to prioritize women over men, especially in the areas of employment (including preferential hiring for women) and family court (including custody and payments). Part III demonstrates gynocentrism and misandry in the laws, policies, and discourse surrounding pornography, prostitution, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence.

Part IV looks more deeply at the origins of the feminist “quiet revolution”, particularly academic Women’s Studies—“a field in which ideology often takes precedence over scholarship”. They criticize certain feminist ideas about truth and knowledge:

Of great interest here is the foundation of feminist epistemology: the authority of experience – the experience of women, that is, whether under- stood in the personal sense or the collective. Knowledge is said to be “located” or “situated” or “positioned” according to either biology (innate faculties that allow women to “know” what men cannot) or history (powerlessness, which somehow allows women to “know” what men cannot).

In addition to these 11 chapters, this book comes with numerous appendices on topics like abuse of statistics, political correctness, and romance novels vs. pornography.

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Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus (2017)

by Laura Kipnis, professor of media studies at Northwestern University

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The reality is that a set of incomprehensible directives, issued by a branch of the federal government, are being wielded in wildly idiosyncratic ways, according to the whims and biases of individual Title IX officers operating with no public scrutiny or accountability. Some of them are also all too willing to tread on academic and creative freedom as they see fit.

This book is about the bizarre world of U.S. campus sexual politics in the era of Title IX, a civil rights law prohibiting sex discrimination in education that has been interpreted as applying to sexual misconduct ranging from assault to harassment to inappropriate but consensual relationships to “creating a hostile environment”, the charge brought against the author herself for an earlier essay she’d written about campus sexual hysteria.

Students and faculty are brought before tribunals with major power over their academic and professional lives, and the process is stacked against the accused. It varies by school, but cases that she examined included defendants not being allowed to have a lawyer present, to receive the accusation in writing, to question the accuser, to know who the accuser is, to present their own evidence, or to speak publicly about the case.

In addition to these procedural injustices, Kipnis also sharply criticizes the underlying “sexual culture that emphasizes female violation, endangerment, and perpetual vulnerability” as a step backward for women. Accusers and even investigators often play to old stereotypes of “dastardly men and helpless damsels”, and there is resistance to holding women’s behaviour to scrutiny alongside men’s. (Kipnis wants them to be more assertive about their boundaries and stop trying to match men drink-for-drink.)

What I’m saying is that policies and codes that bolster traditional femininity—which has always favored stories about female endangerment over stories about female agency—are the last thing in the world that’s going to reduce sexual assault, which is the argument at the heart of this book.

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The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap (2008)

by Susan Pinker, developmental psychologist, author, and columnist

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The idea that women are stymied versions of men leaves the large numbers of highly capable women who don’t fit the male model cast in a familiar, infantilized role. If only they knew what they really wanted, they’d choose physics!

Women make less money on average, and (in many areas of the economy and academia) they don’t reach the same heights of prestige and achievement in the same numbers as men. The standard explanation for this is that women are being discouraged or discriminated against. Pinker proposes an alternative: there are real biological differences between men and women, and women tend towards different interests, goals, and choices in their working lives that aren’t actually worse than men’s. She rejects the “vanilla male model”, the (usually unstated) assumption that women should want what men want and if women aren’t making the same choices as men then something is wrong.

She says that women tend to be more interested in working with people (as opposed to data and systems), they put a higher priority on a sense of social purpose in their job and on having work-life and work-family balance, they’re less prone to taking risks, are less aggressively competitive, and are less obsessive or single-minded in their endeavours. These differences (and others) have roots in biology and affect work choices.

And their choices aren’t “lesser” than men’s. Pinker profiles successful women in fields like law and science who decided to switch careers, take time off, or work part-time:

Her choice to sacrifice phenomenally high pay and corporate status was driven by her desire to spend more time with her children and to work on projects that reflect her values. For her, the change was good news. But those at her former firm hoping to add a bright, motivated woman to the corps of senior partners just lost another one. And the statistics would reveal another female lawyer earning less than a man.

She also explores the idea that men tend more towards the extremes of ability, meaning more male geniuses and more male idiots, suggesting that men are more likely to exhibit two extremes at once—a disability in one area and a gift in another—which also affects outcomes in various complicated ways. This book should remind us that gender equality does not mean gender sameness, which might not be possible or even desirable.

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Is There Anything Good About Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men (2010)

by Roy Baumeister, social psychologist at the University of Queensland

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Cultures exploit men and women differently. And they do this for a practical reason. Men and women are different and hence are useful to culture in different ways.

This book (also a talk) is about the biological roots of gender inequality. Baumeister challenges the feminist idea that gender inequality arose from men conspiring to oppress women and keep them down. One reason for this is that gender inequality isn’t just about men predominating at the top of society (politicians, executives, etc.). Men also predominate at the bottom of society, among the prisoners, homeless, deaths on the job, drug addicts, etc. The “men oppressing women” model doesn’t explain that well.

Baumeister’s explanation relies on biological gender differences, and the ways that cultures “use” men and women differently to gain an edge over other cultures. It’s easy to see how societies used women: to make and raise new members of the group. This was really important for surviving, thriving, and defeating other groups.

Societies used men, among other ways, by making them compete against other men (individually or in groups) in various high-risk, high reward endeavors. Women avoided (and were kept out) of such things, avoiding the risks and the rewards. Many women have the impression that men are automatically afforded respect but that’s mistaken—withholding respect from men is a key part of this process. Having to prove yourself and earn your manhood to some extent or another is almost a cultural universal.

In arguing that gender roles have pragmatic benefit and aren’t just arbitrary oppression, I don’t think Baumeister means we can’t or shouldn’t rethink them. He acknowledges the many moral injustices, and that societal advancement (demographic, economic, and technological) changes what’s useful or necessary. But he’d certainly suggest proceeding with caution, and understanding the gender roles we’re changing or eliminating.

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Professing Feminism: Cautionary Tales from the Strange World of Women’s Studies (1994)

by Daphne Patai, professor of Brazilian literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Noretta Koertge, professor of philosophy at Indiana University

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The variants of feminism brought together in Women’s Studies […] are not merely about equal rights for women or the empirical and theoretical study of gender roles and their pervasive effects in society. Feminism aspires to be much more than this. It bids to be a totalizing scheme resting on a grand theory, one that is as all-inclusive as Marxism, as assured in its ability to unmask hidden meanings as Freudian psychology, and as fervent in its condemnation of apostates as evangelical fundamentalism.

This book provides a hard-hitting critique of academic Women’s Studies. In addition to their own experience and research, the authors interviewed 30 women (faculty members, students, and staff) who originally started out “excited and energized” by the field.

Complaints included: unwillingness to engage in self-critical inquiry, constant emphasis on political purity, irresponsible concept stretching (survivor, potential rapist, and sexist), accusations of racism and homophobia used as ammunition in personal struggles for power, inability to resolve differences among faculty amicably, an intentional exclusion of male authors, a therapeutic-confessional model of teaching that the authors worry harms students, and an excessive eagerness to reject “traditional” pillars of academia and knowledge, even science, logic, rationalism, objectivity, and detached or abstract thinking, as “patriarchal” or masculine (also addressed in Legalizing Misandry).

Too much feminist theory, by contrast, employs exotic epistemologies that reinforce, rather than challenge, feminine stereotypes and the gender socialization to which many young female students have been exposed.

This book is not anti-feminist, or even anti-Women’s Studies. Everyone profiled still identifies as a feminist, and the authors accept the need for, well, studying women. But they do decry the “unfortunate path women’s studies has taken”, especially its “insistence on mixing politics and scholarship in the manner that is detrimental to each”.

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