Real men are becoming an endangered species. We’re not quite up there with spotted owls and white-headed woodpeckers yet, but we’re rapidly closing in.
Don’t believe me? Think I’m an alarmist? And besides, what the hell is a “real man” anyway?
Let me tackle the reasons why I’m pushing the gender panic button.
For the first time in history, women hold the majority of jobs in the U.S., still the world’s largest economy (and the source of endlessly fascinating statistics like this), Of the 15 occupations likely to grow the most over the next decade, women dominate 13 of them. We still rock as engineers and…wait for it… janitors. Fact is, while it may have escaped your notice (if you’re a man, odds are it has), we’re in something called the 21st century now. If you live in a relatively developed country, then you’re living in an essentially post-industrial society, dominated by a post-industrial economy. “Post” – in addition to being a cereal brand, this means “over and done with;” kaput; sayonara. Size and strength hardly matter in the new economy. Intelligence (especially social intelligence), communications skills, the ability to shut the hell up, sit still, and focus, do. And none of these are what we might call typical manly virtues (if you’d like to argue the point re. sitting still and focusing, I’ll put you in touch with my friend who teaches 5th grade – she has 25 kids in her class, 18 of them boys; she doesn’t teach them, she herds them).
Since 2000, the U.S. has lost almost six million manufacturing jobs, representing more than a third of the manufacturing workforce, and the vast majority of those lost jobs were held by men. Want a better job? Or at least a new job? Then you’d better have at least a BA, or you’re pretty much screwed. And these days fewer and fewer men are getting university educations (fully 60% of the Masters degrees awarded last year went to women).
David Gergen, CNN pundit and the director of something called the Center for Public Leadership, recently pointed out that “women are knocking on the door of leadership at the very moment when their talents are especially matched with the requirements of the day.” And men, by contrast, seem to be walking out through the same door, their pockets turned inside-out, wondering what the hell hit them.
Hanna Rosin, in an Atlantic article titled “The End of Men,” warns, “whether boys have changed or not, we are well past the time to start trying some experiments. It is fabulous to see girls and young women poised for success in the coming years. But allowing generations of boys to grow up feeling rootless and obsolete is not a recipe for a peaceful future.” Hmmm….
Both our political and popular cultures seem to be reflecting the erosion of old school male supremacy, and with it, any clear sense of what is required these days to function as a reasonable, honorable, happily contributing man.
On the one hand we have the Tea Party, full of angry white guys who aren’t gonna take it anymore. Behind the bluster and anger lie, of course, nothing less than confusion, anxiety, and plain old-fashioned fear – of virtually everything, it seems, but fear of the future in particular.
On the other we have Hollywood cranking out films (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Greenberg) and TV series (Last Man Standing, Man Up!), featuring hopelessly indecisive, weak-kneed male caricatures, none of them with the vaguest idea of what it means to be “a real man.”
Men seem to even be losing it when it comes to sex. Katie Rophie, in her book The Naked and the Conflicted, notes that American male novelists have virtually given up using sex as a means for their (male) characters to assert their essential manliness. Why? Because these characters apparently have no clue how to be manly. “The current sexual style is more childlike; innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex,” according to Rophie.
So in the end, what is a real man? Or at least, what are some of the general requirements for Real Manhood these days?
I’ve written an entire book on the subject (shameless self-promotion alert: it’s coming out soon, you can read about it here: http:www.rgmorse.com/books), so I won’t repeat myself in detail. But here are a few tidbits.
First, a real man needs to be conscious, conscious in the sense of being aware of what’s going on, within him and without him, to quote the late, lamented George Harrison. A real man needs to practice daily courage, the kind of courage that allows him to face all those small, daily concerns that immobilize so many men. Throw in a measure of self- love (that’s right, I’m serious), a dollop of (positive)passion, some honesty, a bit of compassion, the ability to focus on things that trigger happiness, a commitment to taking action (as opposed to endlessly hemming and hawing), a willingness to embrace the notion of creativity, the guts to opt for adventure when it presents itself (hey, Bilbo Baggins did it), wrap it all up with some style, et voila – you’ve got the makings of a real man.
Seriously, I’ve come to the conclusion we should be teaching this stuff in school (I know my 5th grade teacher pal is jumping up and down, yelling yes, yes!). We don’t know what we don’t know, and so many boys are growing up these days bereft of any decent male guidance or role models. I can see a series of classes that start in 1st grade, all designed to give boys and young men the tools they need to move healthily and happily through life.
Beats metal shop.