Sunday, April 10, 2011

Men change, stereotypes stay the same
A-Rod as Narcissus

Anne Summers has an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) - she examines the ways that masculine stereotypes have largely remained unchanged over the last 30 years, even while most men cannot and do not even try to uphold them in their own lives.

Just last night I read an old article by Mike Donaldson (also an Aussie) called What Is Hegemonic Masculinity? (Theory and Society, 22:5, 1993). One of the points he makes is the hegemonic models are generally only embodied by an elite group of men - and while the general presence of hegemonic masculinity has given men power over women (patriarchy), it has given this elite tier of men power over other men.

These elite men tend to be athletes (footballers and cricket players in Australia or guys like A-Rod, Tiger Woods, LeBron James, or Brett Favre in the States), actors, musicians, or otherwise young, attractive, and powerful men. Even while most men will never achieve their status, they want it. In this way, the elite alpha males can maintain (and this is certainly not their conscious choice) the hegemony.

While those men reap the benefits, it is a whole other issue as to how they get that status - and it comes from the beautiful women who date and/or marry them, the news media who worship their feats, the authors and film makes who create characters based on them, the advertisers who use them as pitch-men, and so on.

So even while most men do not remotely resemble the stereotypes inherent in the hegemonic model, the stereotypes remain as strong as ever.

As an aside, one thing that Donaldson argues in his article that I totally disagree with (well, there were many things actually) is that the "new men" who are emerging - remember this was 1993 - are unattractive. Here is his comment:
And if that isn't tricky enough, the "new men" that seem to be emerging are simply unattractive. Indeed, they're boring. Connell's six changing heterosexual men in the environmental movement were attracted to women who were "strong, independent, active. (37) Isn't everybody attracted by these qualities? Gay men find "new men" irritating and new men are not too sure how keen they should be on each other, and no feminist worth her salt would be seen dead with one.
Perhaps that was true in 1993, and in Australia (and it seems Connell was describing what we might refer to as the SNAG, sensitive New Age guy) - but that is certainly not true now - but even making that statement is to remove any incentive to seek change and reform (which really was not Donaldson's agenda anyway, he just wanted a kinder, gentler hegemony - kind of like Bush's kinder, gentler conservatism).

Men change, stereotypes stay the same

Anne Summers

April 10, 2011

SO OFTEN in Australia we resort to stereotypes when we talk about masculinity. Why are Shane Warne, Sam Newman and their ilk seen as epitomising the Aussie bloke? Why is it only footballers, shearers or Diggers who are deemed to be the authentic article? Most Australian men are not the stereotype. Far from it.

Men have changed a great deal in the past 30 years.

They not only look (and smell) different, they are - overwhelmingly - very different from their fathers and grandfathers. Men today routinely wear wedding rings - and plenty sport earrings. They plaster themselves with cologne and aftershave and hair product, often overdoing it in their quest to avoid ''ponging''. They mostly care what they wear, and will shop for themselves. The metrosexual is not a myth.

They cook, not just on the barbie, but in the kitchen, and can talk knowledgably about whether the vitello is better boiled or roasted. They increasingly prefer wine to beer. They show emotion, and not just when their team loses. It is OK for guys to cry. They are comfortable around gay men; some of them are themselves gay and out.

But by far the most profound change has been the involvement of men in the birth of their children. In my father's day the role of the proud dad was confined to pacing outside the labour ward, then handing out cigars to celebrate the new arrival. Both activities are frowned on today.

It seems archaic, and even cruel, that men used to be denied the right to be present for the miracle of birth. The remoteness of fathers from their children, which was a given as late as the 1970s, may well be linked to their not being permitted to be there when the children arrived. Today, the meaning of ''father'' has been totally redefined.

Once, you never saw a man pushing a pram, certainly not without a woman beside him. Today, the sight does not attract a second glance. Many, if not most, fathers are totally immersed in the experience. And it has changed them. How could it not?

Yet the stereotype persists of the gruff, laconic, larrikin incapable of showing feelings but quick to express sexist, racist or homophobic sentiments. Whole television shows are built on the premise that this is a recognisable and likeable representation of Australian men. Sure, the Matt Prestons and Adam Hills and Jamie Duries of this world are there as well, but sitting alongside, not replacing, the ocker.

Why does the ocker have such a strong grip on our imagination and on our sense of who we are? This version of masculinity was elaborated in the 19th century by poets and short-story writers, largely based on the exigencies of a tough rural existence, at a time when Australia's population was 3.7 million, a majority of them men and almost all of them from Britain.

Today in our highly urbanised nation there are 22.5 million of us, with origins in more than 200 countries, and with only 99 men for every 100 women. The ocker ought to be struggling to hold his own.

And in many ways he is. The changes in men have come about in large measure because of the momentous changes in women's lives over the same period. The women's revolution forced and fostered changes that many men welcomed because it freed them from a straitjacket of behaviour and expectations.

But the stereotype survives, even when it is being parodied - as it often is in advertising, especially for beer - or romanticised. It can be seen as almost atavistic, epitomising an earlier, more straightforward era when mateship was all that mattered. Maybe it is just shorthand for saying: I'm a bloke.

Or is it clinging to a point of difference?

Perhaps the paradox is that as men have become free to unshackle themselves from the ocker stereotype, they still need a notion of what it means to be masculine.

Women too are still struggling, having thrown off the feminine mystique all those years ago, to define what it means to be female in a world where we enjoy (or aspire to) equality.

For both sexes, it is likely to be an ongoing quest as we struggle for definition of our differences - as genders but also as individuals.

The trouble is, there is no default definition for women. We can't resort to a simple stereotype - even if we wanted to. Perhaps that makes us better off. We have no option but to embrace the new selves we are becoming, and to see ourselves as individuals rather than typecast by our sex.

Men have the ocker option. Even when they are sending it up, as Warnie does so artfully, it is there, available and acceptable, even viewed with some affection. And a whole lot easier than having to reinvent oneself.

Anne Summers, Craig Reucassel, Craig Sherborne and Michael Cathcart speak on The Sentimental Bloke at the Wheeler Centre tomorrow at 6.15pm,

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