Sunday, January 5, 2014

‘Traditional Masculine Values’ Are Evolving, Not Dying


This article originally ran in The Guardian (UK) and was picked up by Raw Story. In part this is a response to Camille Paglia's recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, wherein she decries the decline in traditional notions of masculinity (military service, physical labor) and the feminization of education. Here is a passage that begins with her experience with her own son (11-year-old Lucien):
She sees the tacit elevation of "female values"—such as sensitivity, socialization and cooperation—as the main aim of teachers, rather than fostering creative energy and teaching hard geographical and historical facts.

By her lights, things only get worse in higher education. "This PC gender politics thing—the way gender is being taught in the universities—in a very anti-male way, it's all about neutralization of maleness." The result: Upper-middle-class men who are "intimidated" and "can't say anything. . . . They understand the agenda." In other words: They avoid goring certain sacred cows by "never telling the truth to women" about sex, and by keeping "raunchy" thoughts and sexual fantasies to themselves and their laptops.

Politically correct, inadequate education, along with the decline of America's brawny industrial base, leaves many men with "no models of manhood," she says. "Masculinity is just becoming something that is imitated from the movies. There's nothing left. There's no room for anything manly right now." The only place you can hear what men really feel these days, she claims, is on sports radio. No surprise, she is an avid listener. The energy and enthusiasm "inspires me as a writer," she says, adding: "If we had to go to war," the callers "are the men that would save the nation."
On the topic of boys and education, she (and Christina Hoff-Sommers) are dead on - we have created schools and education models that are hostile to boys in particular, and we are seeing the results of the last three decades of that movement in the high percentage of boys diagnosed with ADHD, their lower academic performance, and their lower application, admission, and graduation rates at college.

However, what she sees as "how a civilization commits suicide," some of us see as how a civilization evolves into a healthier and more inclusive version of masculinity. Too much is the traditional model has excluded normal and necessary human expression - the "stiff upper lip," "boys don't cry," and "man up" approach no longer serves men or the women who love them (as friends, sisters, mothers, or partners).

Anyone who is familiar with men's work and masculinity studies knows that we are not seeing "the end of men," rather we are seeing the rough, clumsy, and often challenging transformation of men - and much like feminism it is happening at the local level in men's processing groups, in the Mankind Project's I-groups, and even in some men's spirituality groups. There is also the wider discussion happening on sites such as The Good Men Project, or this blog and many others like it.

And there are more articles being published such as the one below, articles that recognize we are in transition, not decline.

‘Traditional masculine values’ are evolving, not dying

By Ally Fogg, The Guardian
Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I thought I had heard enough febrile, hyperbolic pronouncements on modern masculinity to get me through any year, but I had not counted on Camille Paglia. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the maverick libertarian feminist pondered the implications of the feminisation of society and the devaluing of traditional masculine values. “What you’re seeing is how a civilisation commits suicide,” she declared.

Paglia is not a lone Cassandra. Hanna Rosin and Christina Hoff-Sommers have written on The End of Men and The War on Men and Boys respectively. This year, Diane Abbott warned of a crisis of masculinity that is seeing her young male constituents in Hackney corrupted by hardcore pornography and “a Viagra and Jack Daniels culture”. From North America to Europe to Oceania, masculinity is being prodded, pathologised, diagnosed and bemoaned by voices from across the political, cultural and social spectrum. The great irony is that the overwhelming majority of these voices are female.

Most men instinctively know why this would be. It is the first rule of fight club, after all. Men’s concerns, interests, anxieties or even pride in our own gender roles are typically sheltered by the conceits of fiction – as seen in the exquisite 62-hour thesis on modern masculinity that was Breaking Bad – or filtered through protective layers of irony and humour. Social media users recently parodied the internal travails of feminism with the hashtag #MeninistTwitter, but behind the walls of laddish banter and sexism, there were some very real anxieties and resentments on display.

The sledgehammers and stilettos of a gendered society impact upon, and are wielded by, every man, woman and child. Women – and feminists in particular – have spent centuries developing the vocabulary to discuss the myriad ways in which their lives are affected by gender constraints, and, crucially, they have carved the space in which to host those discussions. Men, too often, mutter into our pints and change the subject. This goes a long way to explaining why men vastly outnumber women in the figures for hazardous alcohol and drug abuse. It is why so many men in psychological crisis end up in a police cell rather than a GP’s surgery. At the sharpest end, it may be why men are around three times more likely to take their own lives than women.

One organisation dealing with the fallout of this is the mental health charity CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably. In an attempt to turn around self-destructive male habits, they have announced that 2014 will be the Year of the Male – 12 months of campaigning, debate and discussion aimed at changing both public opinion and public policy towards male gender-specific issues. There will be a state-of-nation audit of modern masculinity, and a public campaign inviting men to share their stories and experiences. CALM’s director, Jane Powell, says: “We think it’s time to ask some big questions about men and work, health, the media, education, relationships and family and ask what it really means to be ‘man enough’?”

Separately, the Southbank Centre recently announced a major festival at the end of January entitled Being a Man in which voices as diverse as Jon Snow, Baaba Maal and Grayson Perry will contribute to a weekend of performance and conversations on how men’s roles are evolving.

All this leaves hanging a central question of whether examining, debating and discussing masculinity will actually do anything to change the habits and behaviours of men themselves or society’s expectations and obligations. The supposed crisis of masculinity is largely a crisis in economics and employment, education and social policy, health and social service delivery. Those are not issues that can be solved with an introspective healing circle. Identifying and addressing those problems means changing how we behave as men, and towards men. If that means the end of civilisation as we know it, then perhaps it is a model of civilisation that needs to go.

["Close-Up Of A Man Smiling" on Shutterstock]

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