Ezra Klein on gender equality: “A commitment to a more equal future has to be a recognition of an unequal past”

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Why are men so awful at friendship?

It’s a question Ezra Klein has spent years contemplating.

“It is literally the case that men have fewer friends than women, and as we get older we have fewer, and fewer, and fewer friends. Some of us have no friends at all, and the resulting loneliness becomes a huge health risk,” the 34-year-old founder and editor-at-large of Vox recently said on the podcast Call Your Girlfriend.

By 2013, Klein, then 28, was already a leading Washington Post columnist and editor, someone who rubbed elbows with Washington’s political elite; he’d signed a book deal, began subbing in for Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, and had nearly every domestic policy nerd, journalist, economist, and politician reading his blog at the Post, Wonkblog. A year later, he would found Vox, in order to, as Klein told the New York Times, “improve the technology of news” while pursuing his passion for explainer journalism.

But his professional success has come with a drawback in his personal life: Klein admits that as he’s gotten older, many of his male friendships have faltered. It’s been a long time since he’s had friends he could call to talk about his emotions or anxieties, he says.

“I can’t really explain why that is, but it’s a real problem,” Klein said on CYGF. “And this is a place where men have a ton to learn from women.”

Speaking with Quartz, Klein explains what else he’s learned from women, including how the Me Too Movement shifted his perspective on gender inequality, and why he wants to unlearn some of the things he’s learned from society about being a man.
1. Did you actively think about workplace gender inequality prior to the Me Too movement? What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from MeToo?

I did think about gender inequality before the Me Too Movement. But I thought about it more in terms of literal inequality. Pay gaps. Discrimination. How to build a culture that worked for working mothers. How to make sure we had a diverse staff and leadership team. How to make sure we weren’t accidentally creating an office that saw the skills rewarded in men (talking loudly, confidently in front of a room, say) and missed the leadership qualities of women.

What I didn’t understand before Me Too was the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and sexual fear that acted as a weight on women all the time, that made simply existing safely in the workplace an effort that men didn’t have to put in and often didn’t see.

2. Do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not? How do you define your feminism?

A commitment to a more equal future has to be a recognition of an unequal past. Of course. I define my feminism as a commitment to gender equality that recognizes the ongoing effects of past inequality. I think a lot of people want to define a commitment to equality as a sort of neutrality starting now, and that often has the (sometimes unintentional, sometimes not) effect of entrenching or even compounding generations of past inequality. There’s no day zero. A commitment to a more equal future has to be a recognition of an unequal past.

3. What do you do on a daily basis to advance gender equality?

I don’t think you can cover politics right now without one of the topics you’re covering, day in and day out, being the political-cultural upheaval that the movement toward more gender equality has created. A big part of my work is understanding that as a force in this era, and doing the interviewing and listening to try to see that part of the story as clearly as I can, so when I cover it, I’m not missing what’s really going on, or making it worse through miscomprehension. And then I’m trying to help readers see it clearly, too.

4. What’s the biggest threat to men in America today? Why?

I’m not sure, to be honest. I think the biggest threats in America right now are shared. A president whose recklessness could trigger any number of crises. A political system coming apart at the seams. A climate warming in a way that threatens future generations. A shooting war with Russia triggered by our perceived distance from NATO. The world is scary right now.

5. Do you talk about sexism with your male peers? If so, what strategies prove most effective, and if not, what’s inhibits you from doing so?

I do, but I wouldn’t say it’s something I’m bringing specific strategies to. Perhaps this is about my social or professional circle, but while these can be hard or unnerving conversations, having them honestly and openly seems to work.

6. What is your biggest anxiety about being a man?

I’m not a father yet, but I think a lot about what kind of masculinity I’ll model, both consciously and unconsciously. Doing a good job at that, in a moment where I think a lot is in flux and a lot of what I learned has to be unlearned, is probably my biggest specifically male anxiety.

7. What’s your best advice for young men today?

If something sounds confusing, or outlandish, or too small to deserve the attention it’s getting, it probably means you don’t understand it well enough yet. Advice that sounds really good and wise is usually incredibly hard to follow. I guess my modest advice is to do the reading. If something sounds confusing, or outlandish, or too small to deserve the attention it’s getting, it probably means you don’t understand it well enough yet.

I think we react to things too quickly, and that almost always means filtering them rapidly through our own experience and then responding to them based on that. But our experiences are limited. Our knowledge bases are limited. What’s lovely, right now, is how many other experiences, how much information and analysis and understanding, we have access to. Taking the time to do the reading, to following up on the stuff that makes you uncomfortable, and trying to understand why someone else sees it so differently, is always worth it, even if you don’t end up agreeing.

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