Monday, September 2, 2013

Joseph Gelfer - GenerationX-Men

Image of Joseph Gelfer

Joseph Gelfer, PhD, has an interesting new article up at Disinformation on the non-traditional masculinity of Generation X. His books include Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy (Gender, Theology and Spirituality) [2009], The Masculinity Conspiracy [2011, also available for free online], and 2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse [2011].

He also the Editor of Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality. His latest book is Masculinities in a Global Era (International and Cultural Psychology) published in 2013 in Springer’s International and Cultural Psychology series. I would love to get this book, but at $103.20 for the Kindle edition (cheapest option), it's a little outside of my purchasing power.

Anyway, this is a good article that I would love to see expanded into a more thorough analysis at some point (hint, hint). Perhaps, as a GenX male (by age), I am biased in my interest for this topic. Also, as a male who has rejected many of the gender norms passed down from my father. My father and mother were cohorts with the Boomer parents, so I am in a kind of no-Gen land, GenX by age but raised with the same values as the Boomers. I am interested, too, in the notion of how GenX rejected work (I sure tried) as a defining feature of our identity.

In my 20s and early 30s I worked jobs well below my post-graduate level education. I could never imagine myself doing anything that I would stay with long enough to retire (my father worked more than ten years, combined, at Boeing and then Lockheed, then spent 20 years in the US Postal Service). Even now, the longest job I have had is as a personal trainer, mostly self-employed, for more than 10 years now.

Of the GenX folks I know, a lot of us are transitioning into our "true work" as we have reached our late 30s and early 40s. I don't know that we want power in the traditional sense. And those of our generation who do want power are still living in traditional gender roles and seem to be politically inclined. Until the parents of the Boomers pass along, it's not likely that any "alternative" folks are going to hold positions of traditional power.

But that does not mean we are not leaders. We just tend to lead from the group and to do so locally, in our own workplaces, religious institutions, and communities. I wonder if this is different in Australia where Joseph lives and works?


By Joseph Gelfer on August 30, 2013

Do you remember when there used to be lots of references to Generation X? Then you’re probably a GenXer. Douglas Coupland, Reality Bites, the whole slacker stereotype was across the cultural domain, poised at the edge of a generational battle with the Boomers.

The way I remember it, we would soon be taking over and instilling society with our values. Whatever happened to that? All I read about these days is the never-ending discussion between GenY and the Boomers. It’s as if GenX never existed. You might note that a significant percentage of the GenY vs Boomers discussion is work-related, usually with GenY telling us what they need in a workplace, and the Boomers quipping in reply, “GenY employ them.”

Indeed, the issue of work may have something significant to tell us about the disappearance of GenX, and the construction of a certain type of archetypal GenX masculinity. Of course, there is no archetypal GenX masculinity, but bear with me while I entertain a few generational clich├ęs. In short, mature Boomer masculinity (as opposed to its free-wheeling early years) is largely defined by work, whereas GenX masculinity is not. Remember Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites? Clever but annoying, oddly effeminate yet sexually predatory, and certainly dismissive of Winona’s efforts to secure ongoing employment. That’s the stereotype of GenX masculinity.

But what happened to that stereotype as it matured into manhood? Contrary to the Ethan Hawke story recently reprized in Before Midnight, most of us did not write books and enjoy a trans-Atlantic lifestyle of existential angst (and, damn it, those of us who did manage to write books probably didn’t write successful ones). Rather, we reluctantly embarked upon a work trajectory while simultaneously resenting work values and finding it all rather beneath us. (Forgive me if that wasn’t your experience, but I’m willing to bet there are enough people who share it to warrant the point).

Then, when we did not play the game of work, we became rather put out to discover that work had no desire to reward us with positions of power, but it is willing to at least acknowledge the existence of GenY who seem to oscillate between the poles of being unemployed-but-really-wanting-work, or entrepreneurs with millions in start-up venture capital. And so Boomers and GenY lock horns, but nevertheless understand one another due to their mutual centralization of that classic masculine signifier of work. GenX masculinity, on the other hand, is quietly erased from everywhere but a few sketches in Portlandia.

But here’s where I want to shift into manifesto mode. Because like all good GenXers I paint on a broad canvas, and despite all the superficial skepticism, I am at heart a hopeless optimist. I believe GenX has yet to have its time, and here’s how I hope it’s going to pan out.

GenX values will soon be viewed via a lens of sustainability. All that being dismissive of work, houses and cars was paradoxically not about slackerdom but proactivity. By rejecting consumer and corporate culture, GenX was, perhaps unwittingly, nurturing a set of lived values that would evolve into what we now understand in mainstream society as social, economic and environmental sustainability. The flow-on effect for masculinity is that it is no longer defined purely by work and possessions, rather a whole spectrum of alternative sustainable values.

The point, then, is not that GenX has been overlooked in receiving the baton of power from the Boomers: GenX has chosen not to receive the baton of power, opting instead to explore a different way of being and constructing identity. As Gen X embarks upon what Jung described as “the afternoon of life” we can expect to see many of those empty-day thinking exercises of youth begin to manifest in real life acts of subversion, mutuality and generativity. As society unravels from social, economic and environmental mismanagement we might just be lucky enough to be passed into a safer pair of hands. Of course, GenX has to stand up and play its part, but it’s a role it has coveted for years.

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