A key component of male identity has long been a bread-winning mentality. Whether of the blue- or white-collar type, the masculine professional mind-set has usually seen itself as the one that brings home the bacon. Yet, in recent decades the male influence has somewhat dwindled. The collapse of industries up and down the UK, changes in the workplace (with a corresponding higher female intake), the emergence of a zero-hour-contract culture, the swift transition from a manufacturing economy to a consumer-led, service-based one; these are all factors that have dealt a heavy blow to the male ego.
Gendered identities have been a comfort zone for many (although, it appears women were not consulted too often on them) for centuries. Whilst it might have made sense in a world riven with unknown dangers in ancient times – and I, for one, am not condoning such attitudes – it makes less sense in the modern era. We live in a non-binary world now and this has proved to be challenging for the older male generation.
Nevertheless, we still live in a world governed by my gender. Wherever you turn, media, politics, business, you will see men calling the shots. However, once you start cutting through the different strata of society you notice that men no longer perform traditional roles. Moreover, they often can be found in positions that used to be thought of as “women’s jobs” (education and childcare being two). This has created a conflict between men and the rest of society (including women and institutions) and within men themselves, as they struggle to understand their place on planet Earth in the 21st century. The typical power-related behaviour displayed by the male of the species has had to adapt quickly to a market-driven economy that favours customers over gender.
|I've got a softer side, you know?|
Is there, then, a crisis of masculinity? Yes is the answer, if we ascribe ourselves only to a man-centric viewpoint. No, if we believe (as I do) that masculinity is not defined by athletic prowess or pub-closing-time brawls. Male identity does not exist in a vacuum, even if that has been the long-held opinion. What has happened in the last two decades, from the rise of LGBT activism, to the ever-increasing female influence on society, is that the penis-shaped, Berlin-Wall of masculinity has come tumbling down. Notions of gender and sexuality are not as strict as they used to be. More women are employed now than ever (even if they still make less money than their male counterparts performing the same jobs). Straight men have shaken off the shackles of orthodox masculinity.
It follows then, that indeed there could be a men’s crisis, but only insofar as this crisis stems from a pre-conceived idea of what a man is meant to be and do. Once you eliminate the rigid notion of masculinity you are left with a very loose and hard to categorise definition. Not that there has not been a backlash against these changes. You only need take a look at Donald Trump across the pond and Nigel Farage in Britain to see male power in retreat and fighting back. Its targets are the usual suspects: the politically correct brigade, “feminazis”, “bloody wimin”, gays (with a new addition, “trans activists”) and “unmanly men”. It will be interesting to see how this head-to-head battle pans out in years to come.
In the meantime, those of us who have decided that masculinity means more than talking about women in a degrading way, have embraced openness and acceptance as a means to assert our humanity. This is a much bigger concept than maleness and far more inclusive.
Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 9th November at 6pm (GMT)