Our model of masculinity is outdated and quickly becoming obsolete. As scary as that might sound, it is actually good news. The better news - many of the guys in my younger generation are already adapting by rethinking and redefining what it means to be a man. They are defying gender stereotypes by being stay-at-home dads, willing to openly communicate and humbly listen, embracing vulnerability and emotion, enrolling in school to better themselves, and abandoning traditional hyper-machismo posturing. I know these men exist because they are my friends, colleagues, and fellow artists. These men are not a novelty - they are here to stay and their numbers are growing.
Hanna Rosin has a new book out called The End of Men, in which she explains the rapidly shifting power dynamics between men and women. She outlines how women have not only accelerated their push to close the gender gap but have, in fact, pulled ahead of men in a staggering number of categories. I have come across myriad responses from all sides about both the book itself and the phenomenon of women overtaking men in the workplace and beyond. I have encountered everything from passionate support for the promise of shifting gender roles to scathing attacks and challenges of Rosin's thesis and the conclusions she ultimately draws.
Wherever you land on this spectrum, or whether or not you have read Rosin's book, there are two points that I find particularly compelling. Firstly, as stringent and obedient as many still are about gender roles, more people than ever are not only defying those age-old identities but altogether transcending many of the most constraining gender rules of their parents and grandparents. This is a significant seismic shift of the past 40 years, which has only been accelerated by the changing economy since our most recent recession. And, secondly, the new and future economy not only rewards but requires that both men and women move beyond the binary gender performance of the past.
I have spoken with men, well before the release of The End of Men, who have felt defensive about terms like "He-cession" or "the decline of men," and had adverse reactions (similar to mine years ago) to the idea that something needed to change about the way our specific gender navigates the world. When this discussion first came into vogue, and pundits began throwing catchphrases around about guys trapped in "prolonged adolescence" and a "lost generation of men," to many it felt like an indictment. Many men, justifiably or not, felt like it was an attack on their inherent and unchangeable maleness, as though we were biologically fated for inevitable downfall (ultimately ceremonialized in the title of Rosin's book). But then I had a profound realization: this "end" is not the downfall of men at all. It is in fact a dynamic and redemptive shift in the evolution of men.
As a kid I never felt "man enough." I was sensitive, creative, passionate, expressive and nurturing. I loved sports and excelled in them, which counterbalanced much of what Rosin might characterize as my more "feminized traits," but I still got grief to no end for acting in a way my peers, teachers, and others deemed to be a betrayal of my maleness. I would frequently get choked up in class debates, so passionate and moved by the discussion, or I would kiss my father when he would drop me off at school. I remember being in middle school and watching Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech and running out of the classroom to cry in the stairwell, my heart rumbling up my throat, tears pouring down my cheeks. Each time I would get emotional or lose control, I would encounter one of a staple of rotating phrases meant to enforce my gender performance: "Suck it up," "Stop being a little girl," or, my favorite: "Man up!" This told me my behavior was unacceptable. That I was unacceptable.
Rosin got it right when she speaks of masculinity as "entirely a social construct, a kind of warrior mask or armor men have insisted on wearing." Well, many of us are tired of hiding who we are and have already put down the mask, armor, and shield. We have realized that it never really did protect us but, in fact, held us back from sharing all of who we were and living as fully as we knew how. So, I welcome "the end of men," and also the end of women, which is to say the end of all prescribed and suffocating gender identities. I say let us all be more fluid and adaptable and without the straightjacket of being told who we should be. This end is in fact the beginning of a more promising future for us all.
Carlos Gomez is the author of the new book MAN UP: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood.
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