This post was originally posted on another one of my blogs last year. I happened across a tweet last week discussing this topic in relation to the speech that inspired me to write this article in the first place, so I’ve decided to post it again here.
This is a topic that has been gaining momentum over recent times and has become a major talking point after Diane Abbott gave a speech to Demos thinktank – a speech which sparked a few comment articles in the press. Bearing this in mind, the first question to ask is if there actually is a crisis of masculinity – just because certain people are asserting as such doesn’t mean it is true.
In this instance I would lean towards agreeing that there is a problem but add that it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Crisis is though a very strong word and one that I believe is inappropriate in this instance.
I say this because a lot of the issues that have been talked about have arisen from positive but sweeping changes in our society – such as our expanding definitions and acceptance of a wider range of acceptable societal roles. We have taken huge steps forward in terms of equality and of ridding ourselves of stereotypes of what men and women are and this is hugely positive. Of course we still have issues to be resolved – some of which are long standing – such as media representations of women, which still reside in the dark ages. The thing to remember is that these problems, alongside new ones emerging, are indicative of our progressive thinking and society collectively challenging the old way of doing things.
When it comes to masculinity, we have moved away from the old one note definition of what it meant to be a man incredibly fast. Of course there are going to be teething problems with such vast changes and also some resentment from men who feel they are being left behind or that they are no longer valued. This is a natural reaction to change and in this case plays out with displays of hyper-masculinity amongst others. Of course this can be disturbing and has been exacerbated with the onset of the recession – it is well documented that violence against women increases in times such as this.
Resentment, misplaced or otherwise, is one of the biggest emotional triggers for abnormal behaviour there is and in this case as in so many others you can view it from the perspective that there is simply not enough balance in our society. As a society we have a tendency to latch onto positive change and then discard everything that went before, creating unease amongst people that fit and felt comfortable in old paradigms.
As we continue to move forward as a society we will continue with our process of equality. We have made many strides forward but not enough time has passed for some of these changes, especially in regards to masculinity, to take sufficient hold.
Even when it does take hold, and slowly but surely it will, there is still the issue of balance. We have to understand that masculinity and femininity are spectrums, and everyone has a different place on this spectrum. Some men are going to be more predisposed to having what are considered traditionally ‘male’ characteristics and want to go into traditionally ‘male’ jobs. One of the things that has happened alongside our intellectual growth has been a decline in jobs that men would typically go into as our economy has shifted away from certain sectors and into being a more service based economy. We have also had a big shift and push in the direction of getting young people into higher education, with a degree seen as a golden ticket (which of course is simply not true) allied with a boom in consumerism and materialism that has further stunted the growth of young people. Somewhere along the line with our wish for so many people to enter higher education we lost the respect for certain jobs such as builders/plumbers/electricians, whilst simultaneously pushing people ill-suited and ill equipped into a degree only to come out with no real improvements to their prospects. In fact this particular point applies to young women as well as young men.
It is clearly a complex and complicated problem but if we want a balanced and fair society, we must tackle all of the issues. We have to ensure that there are enough jobs for men whilst continuing our education and forward movement on gender equality, so that the negative aspects of the traditional notion of what a man is, namely the negative view of women, is weeded out, whilst also re-educating young men on the value of jobs that used to have more respect.
It’s worth pointing out that, when talking about masculinity and femininity being a spectrum, it is just as hard for women to cope with societal changes. There are many women who want to be stay at home mothers but who feel an unnecessarily heavy burden to have to work. Again we need balance and not just discard or allow people who happen to fit traditional roles feel irrelevant.
So, crisis of masculinity? For me no, simply teething problems as we continue to move forward and work out the right balance in a new world.