Saturday, April 17, 2010
A TIME FOR 'MENAISSANCE'?
I saw a curious segment on CNN a few days back which described how maleness and masculinity is purportedly making a comeback after having lain dormant for a number of years. The presentation described how it is now the female who is outnumbering the male in terms of college diplomas and how many women are now earning more money than their husbands or significant others. In reaction to this, supposedly, society seems to be calling for males to step forward, reassert themselves, and become more masculine or "manly" than they have been in recent times. New "retro" masculine clothing lines for men just put forth by Banana Republic, and a few universities now offering courses in "Male Studies" are supposedly heralding this new focus on restoring the masculinity of men; a new "menaissance," if you will. Well, now, I just don't know what to think or say about that.
In the days of my childhood and before, it was always the male who was the breadwinner, ruler and decision-maker of the house, and handyman fixer-upper. Women were to maintain the home, cook, clean and wash, and bear and nurture the children. The Ward and June Cleaver stereotype was considered the norm. In popular culture and media ads, it was always the MAN who was smart, resourceful, and had all the answers. He was the protector of the family unit, who saw to its safety and who also spoke on its behalf. Being the wage earner, it was he who controlled the family finances. Women were to be silent, complacent, and supportive. A man's role was to show strength, but never emotion. Men who cried were thought to be weak little sissies, possibly even homosexual. A woman's role was to be charming, soft-spoken, to behave at all times like a "lady", and to never speak up or contradict her man publicly. She was to be weaker than and dependent upon her man. That was the unwritten and unchallenged code of the times. But, as we all know today, this was utter nonsense and far too self-limiting for both genders, and so this unrealistic, Cleaver-esque scenario had to come to an end.
The changing nature of our marketplace, with the waning influence of unions and the rise of corporate greed and power, plus the fully-warranted social upheaval that resulted from the Women's Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, brought profound change to both our economy and society. Rather than remaining sheltered and TRAPPED as stay-at-home moms, women in droves began entering the workplace and many even launched their own individual careers. They desired and got a broader perspective of the world as a result. They became more assertive and less docile. At the same time, a growing introspection and self-awareness among both sexes, coupled with a strong antiwar peace movement, led men in particular to become more sensitive and aware of their sisters, girlfriends, and wives. In this sense, their perspective on the world was widened. These were all poisitive developments.
Somewhere along the way, though, the roles of each gender became less clearly defined. Once considered a gentlemanly act, the gesture of a man opening a door for a woman became taboo; it was suddenly an infringement on a woman's independence, as perceived by some women. As women entered the workforce and begain earning their own money, they naturally began to resent a man trying to control all of the finbances. Many women adopted an attitude that men weren't all that necessary in their lives. They became angry with men who never lifted a finger to help with housework or child-related duties that women were expected to continue even though they, too, were now working long hours away from the house. In many families, the end result of this upheaval was divorce. Beyond that, a number of males began to feel threatened by female competitors on the job and by their newfound assertiveness. They became less civil and less communicative toward females in general. Some, now believing they were somehow absolved of all former protective responsibility at home due to their mate's newly-acquired equality, began taking a hands-free approach toward child-rearing and refused to take part in household chores. They found immense enjoyment in constantly going out with the boys, or in immersing themselves in endless hours of TV sitcoms and televised sporting events, delivering a punishing withdrawal from and silence toward their mate. To be sure, bility, and that was wrong. On the flip side of the coin, many women, flush with financial independence from men, have come to view males as irresponsible oafs who know next to nothing and are in need of constant gratification. This underlying attitude is subtly presented in and reinforced by current TV ads portraying women as more knowledgeable and more responsible than men. We are now presented with an assertive woman as the one who can tell us all about the properties of oil, for example, or who can explain all the benefits and mechanical advantages of the latest SUV or truck. We see her showing stupid, unknowing males all the ins and outs of a wide number of products. I believe such portrayals damage relations between the sexes and create fictitious stereotypes. For the actual truth of what modern males and females are really made up of lies somewhere between the errant stereotypes of both yesterday and today.
So do I think we need a resurgence of "mascu- line" males? I can't say - I would hardly call most American males of today "effeminate." I myself am in tune with both my male and female characteristics, and I know and readily admit I have both influences. I do not feel threatened by females in the workplace, and I certainly don't worry that they will someday be dominant. I do not view myself as being less-than-masculine for being attentive and sensitive to the needs of others. I am simply not an insecure person, and I don't see the world through specific-gender-colored eyeglasses. I don't like overly-assertive or aggressive females OR males. I try to be understanding of and respectful to those of each gender, race or creed. I strongly believe both genders should receive exactly the same pay for the exact same work. I believe promotrions should be based on education, experience, and merit, not gender, and that nobody should be barred from a management or CEO position simply due to their being a female. I am not concerned with our gender differences on the job or in society. I seek teamwork and accomplishment, not conflict and foolish rivalry. In my view, the sexes complement each other and need one another. Men are men and women are women. Viva la difference, right? So determining whether or not we need more masculine males today is not really a concern of mine. How about you, readers?