Sunday, September 2, 2012

Issues in Masculinity - Are Modern Men Manly Enough?

Back in July there were three different articles I noticed and bookmarked that dealt with the issue of modern masculinity - mostly looking at whether or not men have lost their manly mojo and what exactly that might men mean.

As I have often repeated in discussing these articles, men are in a transitional period from old school John Wayne masculinity to a more balanced and fluid masculinity. It might look like a crisis, or we may seem to be trying on a lot of different roles, and all of this might be uncomfortable to see for the women who love us, but this is an essential process in the same way that feminism was an essential process. We survived when women woke up to their full potential as human beings, not simply as wives and mothers. Likewise, I'm sure women will survive as men wake up to our full potential as human beings.

After all, we need each other.

OK, then, to the articles. The New York Times asked if modern men are manly enough . . . manly enough for what was never really clarified.

Are Modern Men Manly Enough?

Are facials and pedicures compromising classic masculinity too much?

A-list actors are getting facials in “Mansome,” Morgan Spurlock’s newest documentary, and pumping their waxed chests in Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike,” one of the summer’s most popular movies.

But is all this exfoliated, chiseled perfection what women really want? And should men really be making it a priority?
They put his question to 8 different people - none of whom are folks I have heard of - to get their responses:

Some of their responses are useful, some are a lot less so.

Marty Beckerman makes some salient points about his generation of men (millennials) and the fact the majority of them might literally die without their computers, and certainly could not survive in event of an apocalypse ("I’d eat random berries and hope for the best.")

In a time when men are learning to cook and getting involved in raising their kids, as well as how to be more sensitive and sensual, Mark Simpson observes that "young men in particular have become very touchy feely compared to the older generation." More importantly, he points out the double standard in even asking the question:
Would we dream of asking: 'Are modern women womanly enough?' Probably not. There would be some very stiff letters of complaint.

But you can’t really have one question without the other. The continued acceptability of this question in regard to men represents a cultural time lag. We’ve adjusted to the idea of women becoming everything that they can without being held back by gender conventions, but not, apparently, to the corollary – that in this brave new post-feminist world, men can adopt and appropriate traditionally “feminine” behaviors too. 
Indeed. I can't imagine the response if the New York Times had asked the same question about women.

The following day, Jezebel responded to the NYT piece with this article:

We Need to Redefine What We Mean When We Say ‘Manly’

Apparently, all the chest-waxing, makeup and facials have the folks at the New York Times feeling worried, and a headline today anxiously asks, "Are Modern Men Manly Enough?" Oh no! Let's completely ignore the War on Women and the wage gap and steaming pile of injustices that women face everyday. Won't someone think of the men?

Joel Stein is thinking of the men. Joel Stein thinks that men need to "rediscover the Don Draper within." Joel Stein writes: "No matter how many hoodied nerds become masters of the virtual universe, without manliness we're going to die as a species. Because being a nerd will never get you any action." Of course, Joel Stein, nerd, is married and has a kid, so clearly this is untrue. And ladies love nerds! Love them. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill and Seth Cohen and all the dudes at Comic Con. Loved.

Are we really supposed to be pining for a Don Draper era man? We might love his swagger, and the skinny ties, and the bar in the office, but basically, we know that we're idealizing a retro/'50s man who might have been able to fix your leaky sink, true, but meanwhile, a lot of those guys were also cheaters who spanked their wives and hit their kids and killed animals for fun. These are not the qualities most modern women are looking for in a mate or even fellow human being.

Comedian Loni Love also weighs in against the modern man, with a backlash to metrosexuality, writing: "There was a time when men cared only about catching athlete's foot. Now some men are in the bathroom longer than most women." Yeah, we've heard that one before. But what a man does in his grooming time is his business, and while I may not be a fan of the waxed Jersey Shore brow, attention to detail and concern for appearance can be manly. Manly icon Marlon Brando didn't emerge from the womb with that leather jacket and those precise sideburns. Style takes time. A man who can pull himself together is still a man.
Read the rest. As is often the case, Jezebel offers a balanced and sensible point of view.

Finally, Think Progress looks at the new Man of Steel (Terrence Malick’s version of Superman) film for what it might reveal about contemporary masculinity - it's short.

Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ and the Struggles of Modern Masculinity

By Alyssa Rosenberg on Jul 23, 2012

Lots of folks have joked, on seeing the trailer for Zack Snyder’s newest movie, that they’re excited to see Terrence Malick’s Man of Steel:
The thing that actually strikes me as most powerful about this trailer, though, is that Pa Kent’s speech is one a mortal man could easily give his human son. Our superhero movies have gotten kind of disconnected from masculinity in general. Bruce Wayne has a particular violent experience in childhood that spurs him to superheroism, and even more particular resources with which to finance his ambitions. Peter Parker may be the only person to be bitten by a radioactive spider, but great responsibility doesn’t come only with great power—sometimes that relationship is crushingly inverse. The X-Men are valuable precisely because they’re a metaphor for otherness. But the truth is that white men are more likely to possess money and privilege, the currency that can purchase or convey the closest things we have to superpowers, and how they use it matters.

It’s easy to treat Superman as an alien, or even as a kind of bodhisattva. But he’s potentially even more interesting as a man, a kind of sober Ron Swanson, a vision of masculinity divorced from contempt for women or concerns about heterosexual credibility. I don’t know that there’s anything in Snyder’s ouvre that suggests he’s up for that. And after The Dark Knight Rises, I have significant concerns about David Goyer’s ability to handle big ideas with much in the way of deftness or commitment. But it’s a thought, and I’ll be curious to see if either of them rise to the occasion.
The author has a point with Superman. Clark Kent is pretty much any guy much of the time - in love with a woman he feels he cannot have, a little too geeky for his own good, raised by grounded and morally sound people, and lacking in any real male support network. Dude needs some buddies.

He is also physically badass - to the point that he can wear his underwear on the outside and no one gives him shit about it. Well, at least in the old days - now he has a Batman-style bodysuit that looks more modern.

 It will be interesting to see how the reinvention of the Superman character will play out in the film. We will probably not find out until the winter Big Film release period around Christmas.

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