Lately, it seems there's been more discussion of what it means to be a man. Maybe because old school notions are becoming so unworkable that there's a critical mass of resentful partners in hetero relationships; perhaps Hilary's presidential run is raising some eyebrows in sheltered communities; certainly, movies like Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin, which portray an alarmingly large group of American males that exist in perpetual adolescence, have attracted media attention.
Walrus (I'm to understand it's like the Canadian New Yorker) contributer Edward Keenan's two-month-old blog, Act Like A Man, seeks to meditate on what exactly that very phrase means in our current cultural climate. He writes in his initial post:
I've come to realize more and more that I don't even really have a clear idea of what the phrase "act like a man" means. The zeitgeist definition of masculinity, summed up in the oeuvres of Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller and the Farrelly brothers (and underscored less amusingly by Maxim magazine and a slew of Budweiser commercials) is a moronically-if-kind-of-harmlessly sexist, indefinitely suspended adolescence in which playing video games in your parent's basement replaces getting a real job and women are universally cleavage-bearing Mommy Dearest stand-ins who will tick (and nag) you into a suffocating life of boredom and responsibility, to be drooled over from a distance but feared like a high school principal in person. Sad? Maybe. But not entirely inaccurate.
What follows are fairly insightful (whether or not I agree is another issue) entries on the death penalty, guy V. man, responsibility and man's resistance to growing up, sports & gender relations; as can be expected comments are interesting and, more often than not, well-written. The very notion of masculinity seems outdated to me, as it's more iconic, positive aspects like standing up for someone you love, supporting your children, being brave in the face of adversity and what not are the qualities of being a good human in general, not just a good man. Alas, it is never as simple as that, is it?
This issue was also recently addressed in "Child-Man", an editorial by Kay Hymnowitz, (contributing editor at Manhattan Institute's City Journal) which focuses on the problem with perpetual adolescence.
With women, you could argue that adulthood is in fact emergent. Single women in their 20s and early 30s are joining an international New Girl Order, hyper-achieving in both school and an increasingly female-friendly workplace, while packing leisure hours with shopping, traveling and dining with friends. Single young males, or SYMs, by contrast, often seem to hang out in a playground of drinking, hooking up, playing Halo 3 and, in many cases, underachieving. With them, adulthood looks as though it's receding.
Essentially, she argues, men's "default state" is immaturity.
We can argue endlessly about whether "masculinity" is natural or constructed - whether men are innately promiscuous, restless and slobby or socialized to be that way - but there's no denying the lesson of today's media marketplace: Give young men a choice between serious drama on the one hand, and Victoria's Secret models, battling cyborgs, exploding toilets and the NFL on the other, and it's the models, cyborgs, toilets and football by a mile.
Part of this is perversion by media (Maxim, bad TV) but it is more a denial of self-reflection and lack of expectations that make some males the eternal "dudes" they become. And that leaves hetero women with some pretty poor choices for partners, as well as negatively affecting relationships with their own children and communities at large. Keenan argues that as men feel more obsolete (women can do everything without them thank you very much) they regress. Explaining the psychology behind that is another issue entirely (I'm rolling my eyes here), but it's clear that many men do struggle with finding another role outside of those they grew up with.