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Manhood in the 21st Century

by Scott Payne on 22 August 2009

Certain events in a man’s life give him pause to take stock of himself and his place in the world. For me, the twin acts of getting married and purchasing my first home within days of one another were just those types of events.

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.

About Scott Payne

Scott H. Payne is one of those oddities known as as a Canadian blogger in an American's blogosphere. Scott has been blogging for a year and a half at a variety of sites, but currently calls The League of Ordinary Gentlemen home. Scott lives in Calgary, Alberta with his wife Brandy, dog Oliver, and cat Jezebel (no, I didn't name her).

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Manly Thoughts
22 August 2009 at 08:54


1 greginak 29 August 2009 at 13:52

Hi Scott,

Nice digs. I enjoy myself some discussion of gender and ethnicity although intelligent discussion is short supply.

I think there is subtle difference you are missing. There is a difference between our external representations and internal definitions. You are correct we just can’t say to the world that gender doesn’t matter since males have significant advantages just for being men. In the external world gender matters and has effects.

But in our internal definitions we have more flexibility and often a vastly different view of ourselves then our external representations. I think the impetus away from gender stereotypes is healthy for us as we understand ourselves. It is not healthy to define ourselves by a singular, rigidly defined characteristic like being a Man. With the loosening of stereotypes we can define ourselves in many ways and with less outside pressure to live up to outside pressures. We can be who we want to be and based on our talents and drives not just what a Man is supposed to be. Especially since what has become to be considered the “traditional” view of Manhood is restrictive and not related to who many man are or have been.

I think this is similar to how people define race/ethnicity. While my whiteness is an obvious advantage to me, it is not particularly how i define my own ethnicity. White just doesn’t, at least internally, tell me personally about the history of my family. My own definition of ethnicity includes being the grandson of Polish/Yiddish and Greek immigrants during the great European migrations to America between the Wars.

anywho, i look forward to reading more about this. I’m sure you’ll have more interesting stuff, because if you don’t we’ll beat you up at gym class.

2 James 30 August 2009 at 10:55

An excellent opener, Scott. I agree with greginak for the most part in his response, though.

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