Two-sentence summary: The role of men has changed over the past 100 years, dramatically, due to increased security and relative luxury in Western societies. As a result, men now have no idea what it means to be masculine, since this is the first generation where there is no set blueprint; instead, we have the opportunity to define our own blueprint and our own reality, and we must.
Mark was researching this question: is there a universal masculinity? Or is masculinity the product of society? Or is it a blend of both?
As it turns out, it’s kind of a blend of both. What we see is a universal striving towards masculinity, which could be seen as a desire to be emotionally independent and move away from our mothers, which results in “masculine behavior,” like assertiveness. But how this comes across is different in some societies.
In some societies, the rites of passage are tough and physical; in others, they are simple and relaxed. The difference, as one study shows, is that societies that are in flux, such as those that are being invaded or that need to protect themselves, have tougher rites passage. Those that are relaxed and have relative luxury have easier ones.
(In addition, Mark introduces the idea of assortment theory, wherein we naturally seek out and filter those who are of a similar behavior; party guys attract party girls, intelligent guys attract intelligent girls. The only absolute is that men must initiate, no matter what.)
Western men today — There is a crisis going on with Western men now, evidenced by the self-help, things like the pick-up artist society, and writing on the decline of the Western man. Feminism could have something to do with it, since women have now moved into the roles that they used to play (as in money and career). But that’s not the whole story.
In the 20th century, women suddenly had a lot more free time and a cognitive surplus, since homemaking moved from a full-time job into a few hours a day, thanks to technology. They moved from a traditionally set identity, of homemaking, to a more free-agent one.
The same applies to men. They used to have a career- and profession-based identity, from which they “asserted their emotional autonomy” and derived self-worth, but that is now gone. Now they spend a few years at a job, and women are working just as hard as them. Where is self-worth and emotional autonomy?
Take a man who had a corporate job and made good money, who went through school and catered to his boss and everything to make money. In the 1950s, this was ideal. Today, this guy would be considered whipped by his boss and taking the easy route. This guy is a failure “stuck working for a job he hates for people he doesn’t like for money he doesn’t need, just to give it to a woman who doesn’t need it and is likely to divorce him anyway.”
Now, economic freedom doesn’t cut it. Our society has relative luxury and security. So what will replace it?
A new masculinity
Economic and social realities forced women to confront and transcend what defined them as women, and now it is time for men to do the same thing.
Popular culture and entertainment show us traditional masculine figures, such as Don Draper, who actually have deep emotional problems of their own—and who could be masculine at the surface, but not any deeper than that.
Now, there is no single “masculinity”:
Created by the absence of our fathers, the futility of conventional career paths, the inundation of a feminized pop culture, this generation of men is floundering and has been for a while.
But the only universal masculinity is defining our own emotional independence and getting validation from other men. Making money doesn’t cut it anymore, achievements aren’t enough on their own, and those things that we thought were important are now not so important.
Enter post-masculinism: combining conventional masculism (dominance, achievement, sexual pursuit) without social roles or expectations. We all have our own rites of passage and value systems, and it is our job to define that.
The common denominator is that we set out to establish ourselves as emotionally independent through our actions. The common denominator is taking action as individuals.
This takes “introspection, emotional awareness, vulnerability, and a willingness to fail — traits most men are not accustomed to.”
We no longer have a blueprint for ourselves, and traditional blueprints have stopped working for the new reality.
Throughout human history, men always had a clear and concise path laid out before them. We’re one of the first generations that doesn’t.
Fascinating article. I’d love to see more rigorous research into the role of men over the past 100 years and how it has changed, but let’s take this at face value: that the role of men has changed and now we’re left floundering to figure out what that is.
And it isn’t working at a job for 50 years and retiring, making money for The Man and bringing it home doesn’t cut it anymore—in fact, it’s the opposite.
Because we now have the emotional security and luxury that was still up in the air 50 years ago, and women have their own careers and no longer primarily do homemaking. (I wonder if this phenomenon of feminism has a) injected more value into the economy, especially with volume of money being moved) and b) has created a new void in those things that women used to do, such as eating out/cleaning/that kind of thing, creating a new market and moving the market even more. Also, what is the next step after feminism and masclinism? What will continue to do this? And will it continue to be based in economics or?)
So that pushes us towards being more extraordinary than that, but we don’t know how. Instead, it’s an open playing field.
Fascinating idea, and I think it makes sense. I think from an emotional perspective, we now have the scary opportunity to define what is important for us, because now society doesn’t. And we are confused because we don’t know what’s “right” to do, when in fact it’s important that we just do something to show that we are emotionally independent.
Luckily, that means we have to develop new traits that make us better humans, like introspection and willingness to fail and reflection, something that we haven’t done. And this is important, since this means we are continuing to transcend evolutionary necessities, and now we are developing more levels of abstraction on top of the “lizard brain” that we already have.
I think this is a mark of us becoming better as a human race, for that result: that this is forcing us to really define who we are and want to be, and in the process we are learning important things that make us better people.