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The post-masculine world: an open letter to all the bros and dudes

Ian Harvey and Oscar Zahner
Originally published March 29, 2018

The past century has completely redefined traditional gender roles. Four waves of feminism have swept through the world at a rapid pace, gaining voting rights for women, working towards reproductive and working rights, embracing individualism and diversity and combating sexual harassment and assault.

While society has made a concerted effort to change the meaning of gender, little discussion has been afforded to the future of masculinity. It’s a part of the discussion
that’s as consequential to the future of gender relations as it is taboo.

The problem
Our unwillingness to have this discussion is creating an identity crisis for men. The old idea of masculinity is rapidly falling out of favor, but no new, more acceptable notion of manhood has come to take its place.

One of the main reasons people are so unwilling to discuss masculinity is that many seem to think that focusing on the future of manhood has the potential to sideline women’s issues, or, in more extreme cases, entirely run counter to the aims of feminism. And while it’s true that some of the more toxic movements to build a sense of identity for men have labeled themselves as sort of “anti-feminists,” the reality is that the current notion of masculinity cannot coexist, at least not entirely, with the aim of creating a society in which the genders are truly equal.

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with teaching boys to aspire to independence, self-respect or even competitiveness. When asked “what does it mean to be a man?” Marcus Lewis, school security specialist and Garfield High School football coach said, “Being a man means taking care of your responsibilities.” Soodjai Kutrakun, building security specialist, echoed Lewis’ comments saying, “Being a man means doing the right thing because it’s right.” These notions of manhood focus on positive values that shouldn’t be incompatible with society’s current direction.

But it’s not difficult to see how many societal problems stem from the logical extremes of masculine values. Almost all school shootings have been perpetrated by white male teenagers. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 73 percent of those arrested in total were males and men account for around 80 percent of violent crime in the U.S. However, it doesn’t stop there. Men accounted for 87 percent of robberies, 85 percent of burglaries and 83 percent of arsons.

The gender disparity reflected by violent crime rates suggests that something about the way we view gender can lead the male psyche to dangerous extremes. Boys are still taught that they derive their masculinity, and therefore their worth, from the power they hold over other people.

This perversion of masculinity can be seen in more than just crime rates. It’s that more harmful side of masculinity that’s resisting social progress, too. Much of the backlash against feminism comes from the fact that boys are taught their entire lives that manhood comes from power, because that power is threatened by equality.

“The boys”
This brings us to another reason that so many people are unwilling to have this discussion: many feel that an effort to change our definition of what it means to be a man is, by nature, emasculating. Current notions of masculinity idealize a kind of stoicism that stigmatizes the vocabulary required to express emotional intelligence. We’re living in a time when “toxic” masculinity is being branded as outdated, but men still see a renewed discussion of manhood as a concession of weakness. That’s another reason why so many movements around male identity have been reactionary. Men feel that society has moved on from an important part of their identity, leaving them feeling directionless, disillusioned and even insecure. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in 2015, seven out of ten suicides were white males.

The solution
So how can we have this discussion without trivializing feminism and without assaulting the male ethos?

First, we need to come to a consensus when masculine values become a detriment to equality. Aspiring to masculine values is not inherently an affront to justice. The issue lies in recognizing when the values we are teaching our boys starts to preclude the goal of gender equality.

For instance, the expectation that men should predicate their self-respect on the dominance they command in their friendships and relationships can be healthy in small doses, but when taken too seriously can engender an a thought process both harmful to men and hostile to notions of gender equality.

Secondly, we need to acknowledge that any discussion about the future of manhood is incomplete without discussing the future of womanhood, and vice versa. We need to be comfortable talking about more than just the future of gender; we need to be comfortable talking about the future of gender relations. Building a future in which masculine values are compatible with equality seems difficult.

For the benefit of all genders, we should more heavily focus our discussion on the idea of throwing out most notions of traditional gender roles. We’re in a time where most professions are open to most qualified people. Fields that were typically male-dominated, like most STEM fields, are now more open to women (although they still aren’t equally represented in them yet) because opportunities for men and women in higher education have become very similar. This means no more “bitch make me a sandwich” or “you belong in the kitchen” remarks. Women can be firefighters, men can be nurses.

Next, move away from the idea that all men have to be big physically strong and emotionally quiet people. Almost all school shootings have been perpetrated by white male teenagers who have taken their anger, bottled it up and committed horrendous acts of violence. Everyone has feelings and it doesn’t hurt to talk about them.

We’ve already seen just how much an honest discussion of gender can do for society. While there’s still a long way to go, things are a lot better now then they were 100 years ago. According to the United States department of Labor, since 1965, women’s weekly earnings have been steadily increasing (United States Department of Labor) and more women are working in the United States than ever before. In addition to this, the image of women has dramatically changed in the media and now women have access to jobs in more sectors than ever before.

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The post-masculine world: an open letter to all the bros and dudes