Thursday, 7 June 2012

Are Guys Declining?

With Father's Day rapidly approaching, men are getting a societal once over.  What surprises me is that I'm seeing a lot of books and columns talking about the demise of the guy.

There are a lot of different complaints.  Some mourn the fall of the father-knows-best alpha males from their youth.  Others point at the lack of ambition and motivation in today's young men.  They're complaining about lack of role models.  But it all adds up to a bewailing of a loss of masculinity.

I'm not quite sure I buy that.

The role of the man in the workplace, family and society at large is certainly shifting.  No question about that.  We aren't in the Victorian age, where men were the sole barrier between their families and the heartless world.  We aren't in the fifties, where men had accepted roles as the bread-winner and patriarch.  Now men are expected to be a little bit of everything: cook, involved parent, repair expert, relationship partner .... the only thing off the table is pregnancy and breast feeding.  Anything else can be shared.

There's a bitter feminist in me which laughs sourly and says "Suck it up!" since women have had to be adept multi-experts for the last five decades. 

But that's not fair.  We know how horrible it feels to be overwhelmed by superwomen expectations.  We should do better at preventing men from falling into the same trap.

At some level, we seem to be failing this basic test.  Eating disorders and body image disorders are rapidly rising among young men.  Confidence is no longer a male birthright, many fear the potential of failure too much to try.  Men are rapidly acquiring the second and third shift of childcare and personal enhancement regimens, but still often expected to be the same breadwinners as before.  There are points when I wonder if rather than taking on the positive points of male privilege, we're achieving equality of the sexes by burdening men with the negative points of female insecurity.

And yet I don't actually think men are declining.  I think they're becoming more than interchangeable cardboard cutouts delivering a paycheque.  They're becoming multi-dimensional people.  It's becoming okay for guys to admit they don't always know what they're doing.

The main character from Castle would have been unthinkable thirty years ago.  He cracks jokes instead of firepower.  His female partner routinely physically saves him.  And yet I don't consider him an unmanly character.  He's a male role model for the new generation: working as part of team with his partner rather than holding the fort all on his own.

I don't think it was healthy for men to spend their lives in emotional deserts, working continuously for someone else's benefit until they retired or died.  And if not all young men want to be CEOs, great!  It'll give all those ambitious career women their choice of a househusband to help their career and raise their families.  And if there's no clear role model any more, it's because men have a lot more new roles to fill.

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