These life changes have sparked a question: What does it mean to be a man in the twenty-first century?
For many men, the question might seem silly — a relic of a bygone time. Modern men have transcended gender stereotypes and should be judged as individuals. But that attitude is why the question is so pressing.
Simply speaking, we have learned to cease thinking of ourselves as men.
This is problematic on a couple of fronts. Firstly, as well intentioned as our efforts might be, we are the ultimate fools of naivete if we don’t see this move as fundamentally playing into the very privilege from whose yoke (and benefits) we seek to escape. The ability to turn away from and play ignorant to this most ubiquitous context in such a self-righteously defiant fashion is, itself, a privilege that lies almost exclusively at the feet of men.
Women, for all their gains over the past decades, have no such luxury at their disposal. Whether in the workplace, in social settings, in still many homes, and in a not insignificant remaining number of cultures, women have no choice but to consistently bump up against the realities of their womanhood. No escape hatches or trap doors abound to provide our counterparts with a similarly pleasant pièce de résistance. And so, our euphemistic escapism from the difficult reconciliation of our past and future responsibilities is, when the rubber hits the road, a sublime silver spooned slap in the face.
In short, we do no one any favors by cultivating and codling this frame of mind.
The second reason that this is a pressing question is that whilst we wile our days away renouncing our manhood, it is the case that the very concept is debased on an almost hourly basis. By not electing to take it upon ourselves to wrestle with the implications and responsibilities of our manhood, we leave wide open the door through which an infanticized and, frankly, feckless impostor is allowed to assume his posture of fraud.
One need only take a quick look at the kinds of male images that litter popular culture to conclude that many young boys and men are bereft of anything even approaching a constructive role model of manhood presently. Be it Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, Doug Heffernan, or Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, the implication is clear: these days, to be a man is to be fat, incompetent, and oafish. Certainly these types of comical characters have permeated popular culture in decades post, but the prevalence of their visage and the echoing absence of more constructive alternatives (a problem that, for all the challenges of previous male incarnations, has not existed in such stark contrast previously), makes these men the prime target for male cultural reference.
Consider the potential state of future men now growing up with these dullards as the constant baseline of informational bombardment about what it means to be a man. Is it any wonder that it seems like an increasing sea of boys steadily marches against the shores of our best efforts to grow up? And imagine the plight of women for whom these childish ring wraiths are meant to be partners (should those women choose men as partners, and the challenge also exists for men who come to choose men as their partners — sexual orientation is no Maginot Line against this onslaught).
The current and future problems begin to stack up relatively quickly. It is not just in our best interests, but is our obligation and responsibility to ask and steel ourselves to the task of adequately answering the question: what does it mean to be a man in the twenty-first century lest we allow the lowest common denominator to answer for us.
It is with this question and the variety of answers that I joyfully and excitedly intend to grapple over the next few weeks. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.