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The "crisis" of manhood

Be careful what you wish for.

Be careful what you wish for.

The circular logic of the writer goes like this: all the men I know have trouble sharing their feelings, they "can't cry, can't show affection, can't ask for help", thus all men must be like this.

A comment piece on this website this week about a so-called "Crisis of manhood" unintentionly highlighted the paradox of so many women: they say they want men to be more communicative and emotional - yet their dating history shows they're morbidly attracted to men who are neither, otherwise all the men they've loved wouldn't "have trouble sharing their feelings".*

This strikes me as one of the great contradictions of modern sexual dynamics - men are increasingly altering their "traditional" masculine behaviour to suit the tastes of women, who publicly claim to want blokes who are sensitive and thoughtful, yet are privately repelled (or become disenchanted) by the soul-searching and vulnerability this manifests.

Men are just as prone to this cognitive dissonance, pronouncing their desire for articulate, intelligent, strong, independent women and then sleeping with gals whose appearance or youth trumps all other concerns.

The difference between men and women is the majority of blokes accept this. Sure, they might stereotypically complain about their partner's nagging and moodiness, but you don't read too many pieces by male writers exhorting women to change "traditional" feminine behaviour.

This surely has an historical component to it, since the status quo has for so long favoured men.

Eva Figes, in her famous 1970 feminist polemic, Patriarchal Attitudes, summed it up, writing: "Human beings have always been particularly slow to accept ideas that diminish their own absolute supremacy and importance. [For men,] like all people who are privileged by birth and long tradition, the idea of sharing could only mean giving up."

Part of the problem for men is many "traditional" male behaviours depend on the diminution or domination of women. "Traditional" feminine virtues often encourage this subordination. 

That said, I can't help wonder if we're in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater by deconstructing and rejecting every "traditional" male behaviour as destructive or irrelevant.

Take this quote from the above-mentioned article, by feminist film-maker Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who "aims to explore and explode the myths of modern manhood with her feature documentary, The Mask You Live In".

"At a young age, boys learn that to express compassion or empathy is to show weakness. They hear confusing messages that force them to repress their emotions, establish hierarchies, and constantly prove their masculinity ... whether boys and later men have chosen to resist or conform to this masculine norm, there is loneliness, anxiety, and pain," says Siebel Newsom.

My problem with sweeping statements like this is they take for granted the point they're trying to prove: it's assumed men are in crisis so, according to the law of confirmation bias, a documentarian who's already decided on the premise (and title) of their film will include everything proving their hypothesis and ignore that which does not.

It's persuasion dressed up as reason.

Behaviours such as "establishing hierarchies" and "constantly proving one's masculinity" (i.e. competition) are not limited to males, they are human. More to the point, they're of the earth because every organism on this planet is part of a hierarchy and involved in competition with members of its own species and that of others.

Implied in this criticism is a suggestion boys and men modify behaviour proven to lead to strength, independence, leadership and aggression, while women publicly call for greater displays of all from their own sex.

Perhaps the most specious of the assumptions above is "loneliness, anxiety, and pain" is something males experience because they "resist or conform" (talk about having a buck each way) to "this masculine norm".

Loneliness, anxiety, and pain are human staples; however, the almost universal Western acceptance of the mantra we're all meant to be "confident, resilient, happy and optimistic" has led us to point where half the industrialised world is medicated because they're not confident, resilient, happy or optimistic.

What would be novel is to hear from articulate men IF they believe there is a "crisis in manhood" and what they think should be done.

To them.

Then again, men don't talk about this stuff, do we?

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer mummy hugs to all.

186 comments

  • Read that other article, this is an excellent and well thought out response to it.

    Commenter
    Stu
    Location
    here & there
    Date and time
    August 01, 2013, 9:56PM
    • Especially this bit:

      "Men are just as prone to this cognitive dissonance, pronouncing their desire for articulate, intelligent, strong, independent women and then sleeping with gals whose appearance or youth trumps all other concerns."

      Commenter
      cuts both ways
      Location
      everywhere
      Date and time
      August 02, 2013, 6:35AM
    • Saw a great cartoon once, man and woman at a doorstep after a date, she's saying:

      "We'll Henry, it was wonderful to meet such a kind, caring, thoughtful man in touch with his emotions.

      "It's a pity you're such a wimp, though."

      Commenter
      Henry W
      Date and time
      August 02, 2013, 7:08AM
    • Good article - can't we just leave men alone......to be men. Sure there are Neanderthals amongst them, but some of the women are pretty uninspiring as well. We are meant to compliment each other, not be the same. Each human being is individual, whilst females and males have some similar traits much is learned but we are all individuals. How about we don't progress males to the point where they question every part of their lives and responses and allow them to live free of judgement

      Commenter
      Straightshooter
      Location
      J Bay
      Date and time
      August 02, 2013, 9:38AM
    • +1 - great article Sam.

      You've hit the nail on the head regarding women not walking the talk regarding wanting men to be emotional and share their feelings.

      Commenter
      SK_
      Date and time
      August 02, 2013, 9:41AM
    • SK_

      The only time I have had an issue with men's emotions is when I was in a relationship with one man who actually could not cry. He seriously could not do it. It was the most god awful thing to see this person chewed up inside. Direct result of an abusive upbringing.

      The other time was with a man who cried watching Titanic. And that was not because he was a man showing emotion, it was because it is a seriously terrible movie!

      Commenter
      AT
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 02, 2013, 11:00AM
    • AT - unfortunately your views are not shared by many women, which is the issue. I've personally been in the situation where an ex basically forced me to "open up" and talk about things that were bothering me (in general, not the relationship) and once I did she decided that she didn't want a bar of helping me deal with things.

      And yes, Titanic was terrible...*shudders*

      Commenter
      SK_
      Date and time
      August 02, 2013, 11:53AM
    • SK_

      Well, in the company I keep my views are common. Everyone one gets to an age where you have to take a bit of responsibly for the kinds of people you are friends with.

      Commenter
      AT
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 02, 2013, 12:06PM
    • @AT -- oh, go easy... one of my most embarrassing things is crying in movies. But really, really sappy movies. Disney movies. Anytime that someone is losing someone they love, or regaining someone they thought they'd lost, the waterworks start. Even (or especially) when the story is crap, even when the plot-point is corny enough to be a Fancyman of Cornwood, even though I know all the rhetorical tricks the movie is using to tug on the heartstrings, I tear up...it really annoys me.

      Commenter
      JEQP
      Date and time
      August 02, 2013, 1:42PM
    • AT - yes, I agree, which is why I'm with my fiancee and not my ex.

      Yes, you and your friends might be like that but I can easily say that I know plenty of people of men who would be surprised. Not much point arguing it one way or the other.

      Commenter
      SK_
      Date and time
      August 02, 2013, 2:33PM

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