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YOUR VOICE: Man – Lost and Found

Double Malt Editorial

Illustration by Woody Woods

Evolution is supposed to take thousands of years. But the latest step of male evolution has occurred within just a single generation.

Masculinity – that essential-yet-abstract archetype of being a man – used to be a special club. One where the first rule was: don’t talk about…well…anything. It was the cliché to end all clichés: the strong silent type; the John Wayne wanderer with only a small backpack as he swaggered out of town; the James Bond cad with a wry smile as his twentieth girlfriend was found dead in his hotel jacuzzi.

Day-to-day, what did this mean to that man on the street? If these men were your idols, how would you respond? Clearly, bravado was key. You bet big, drink big, eat big, smoke big, sunburn big. You’d take risks. You wouldn’t listen to reason, all as an assertion of your dominance over the rest of the pack. I’m right, you’re wrong was their mantra, that they blasted, sonared and semaphored at anyone who was within range. A craggy face and coarse hands were badges of pride, symbols of a struggle that never seemed to end.

Men were secretive as well; both with their wives and children, and also with their friends, to some extent. Sure, they were social creatures, but it was more about just inhabiting the same space. You only talked if there was something to talk about, not just for the sake of it. Big talk, never small talk. Small talk was a woman’s matter. So was emotion, sentiment and empathy.

You might’ve objected to some of these values, but you had best conform. These men had no time for outsiders. You couldn’t be different. Because being different made other men suspicious of you. It meant you hadn’t been where they’d been, seen what they’d seen. They wouldn’t know if they could trust you. Being different basically meant that you were breaking the first (unspoken) rule of masculinity.

Not every man was like that, of course. I’m exaggerating and generalising for the purposes of illustration. But speak to my Granddad (you should, he’s ace) and I’m sure he’d still nod sagely along with the idea of ‘men’s places’ and ‘women’s places.’ Calling it sexist or genderist wouldn’t be incorrect, but it would be a bit unfair.

Still, at least you knew where you stood with that old school masculinity.  You stood at the bar, that’s where; or on a football terrace; or half-bent over an exposed engine.

To some extent this binary male identity continued up until the mid-1990s, when men still clamoured for these simple, hard-fought values. Men were still alpha-male characters, who didn’t care if they were smelly and religiously read Loaded magazine without a hint of self-awareness.

Within my lifetime however, something has happened. Men have changed. What it means to be a man has changed. We’re staring down the straightening-iron-barrel of an identity crisis.

Because you see, modern men are caught between this traditional stereotype and the general ‘feminisation’ (‘emancipation’ is probably more accurate) of popular culture. And I think David Beckham played a big part in this.  Around the end of the 1990s, all of a sudden it was acceptable to take care of your skin, wear jewellery other than a wedding ring and maybe even leave the house with something other than trousers covering your legs.

He was a true modern male hero. He was flawed – he had weaknesses and desires just like everyone else – but he was ok with that. Men who looked up to him initially because he was a man’s man – he was a footballing genius and was shagging a pop star – now started to absorb some of his more rounded traits.

Homer Simpson is another unlikely modern hero. Sure, he’s a buffoon, but think about it. He’s a weak male central character. He regularly fails, as a dad, a husband and as an employee, but he always picks himself up and moves on without doubting his identity as a man.   But above all, he loves his family (see also: Peter Griffin from Family Guy) He doesn’t always have the answer. Everyday is a learning experience. Ultimately, Marge is the man of the house, and he doesn’t mind.

The simple thing to say is that there’s no longer a ‘one size fits all’ role that men fall into. We’re now (finally) allowed to be multi-faceted creatures. We’re no longer defined by a single character trait. It’s a freeing from expectations, and allows for individual expression. Being different if now an admirable trait. Success isn’t only based on how much money you earn and how much stuff you have; it’s more about your experiences and the uniquely kaleidoscopic characteristics that make up ‘you.’

Some men embrace this changing masculinity, and are comfortable with many pursuits that previous generations would probably have been shunned for. Exercising, healthy eating, doing nice things for their partner, shaving their back; you know, most of the normal things that you should just do anyway. (Alright, maybe not the back-shaving one.)

Other men strive for those old traditional values, but with a modern, self-conscious twist – they grow beards, they dress smarter, they smoke a pipe– they want to be gentlemen.

That’s not to say that none of the old stuff doesn’t still exist, but it’s beginning to be done with a knowing smile and without the archaic ruthless male undertones. We’re in a position, now, to draw from the past and to select the best bits of masculinity throughout the ages. Adapt and survive.

The fact that, individually, we’ve all changed also means that socially we’ve all changed too. You no longer have to be The Big Man in a group. Partly because being The Big Man means that necessarily there are other smaller men. Every guy in a group can now find his own space within the dynamic – hopefully he has a unique role he’s happy with – and everyone’s richer for that diversity.

We need to lose the labels and the stereotypes; the expectations and the black-and-white definitions. Being a man is just biology. The rest is up to you.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

6 Responses to this article

  1. Great to read a positive article on modern masculinity. I thought you were heading down the route of “men are so confused nowadays they don’t know what to be”. You’re right though, we’re all individuals and we now have more freedom to be who we want to be.

    Joe Bamforth 3rd April 2014 at 12:10 pm
  2. Masculinity nowdays. You have to be joking. There’s none left compared to our ancestors. Everything has been feminised. It started when they started putting oestrogen in the water supply, and with chlorine. Do some research. Look up what you’re drinking in tap water for a start and find out what happened to masculinity.

    nealthedude 16th April 2014 at 11:04 pm
  3. Research the New World Order as well, Illuminate and you will find out what is happening.

    nealthedude 16th April 2014 at 11:07 pm
  4. For me masculinity can’t be defined, nor should it be. Our ancestors had a very small, inadequate definition of masculinity, that could fit in a small box. I am glad, and proud to say that men have grown far to big for that tiny box. We may indeed feel lost or that masculinity has gone somehow. If we look for the universe, where is it? You wont find it in a little box, because it is infinite. Your masculinity can be as infinite as the universe. We don’t fit inside the old limited two dimensional definition of masculinity, because we have outgrown it. We may morn its passing, but be brave and just open your eyes, look around you. Masculinity is a world, a big beautiful world that we create. How many generations can say, they redefined masculinity?

    Shaunvin 4th May 2014 at 1:12 am
  5. hi guys, thanks for reading and thanks for your comments. it’s a really interesting issue, and one i’m keen to explore again in the near future. gav

    Gavin 15th July 2014 at 12:28 pm
  6. Such valid points around mistrust, outsiderism and night-day contrasts when I grew up around ‘be a man’ and ‘pecking orders’ for so called alpha males and matriarchies.

    What often came across (is still fearfully present in parts of my former family circles) is the fear of stripped of status and worth if another more sensitive male could somehow command more presence without the the need to command and conquer to rule over a family by authority alone.

    Also the fear some still possess of being ‘feminised’ losing all credibility if emotions or struggles were even vaguely acknowledged on any level besides basal ‘man time and male bonding’ even in 2014 where men’s rights and same gender-paternity time laws exist.

    steve 12th September 2014 at 2:12 pm

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