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Dr. Peggy Drexler Headshot

Are Men What They Used to Be?

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MODERN MEN
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Every study, it seems, brings another assault on the masculinity of the American man.

As I read about how men are thinking more like women, and women are filling the space vacated by declining masculinity, I have to wonder: Is it a shift in gender roles, or an easing of expectations?

In other words are we seeing men and women as they always were, but were never allowed to be?

Those in the men-are-the-new-women camp point to what they see as troubling evidence. Early this year there was much buzz in the halls of gender behavior when a study of 5,000 American adults found that more men are interested in attachment and commitment, while more women wanted to preserve some of their independence in a relationship.

There were other findings that sounded alarms about the manliness of men. Half of single men 21 to 35 wanted kids, where for women in that age group, the number was 46 percent -- not exactly a statistical landslide, but apparently troubling none-the-less.

Adding circumstantial evidence of de-masculation is the growth of men's cosmetics, waxing, and fashion. Now this: SPANX, a company founded to fight panty lines, tummy bulge and bra fat -- reports that one of their hottest new products last year was SPANX for men.

There is more. But across all of it, interpretations range from interested observation to predictions of the matriarchical decline experienced by civilizations past. But at the core: there is the fear that America is becoming a less manly place. I heard nothing, for example, about the hard-nosed warriors in the U.S. women's soccer team that spoke to bad things happening to females.

But as we pine for the macho man and alpha male, let's also look at some additional evidence of the changing American man.

Dr. Warren Farrell, the author of the book Father and Child Reunion, points to the growing desire of dads to be a bigger part of their children's lives. This new paternal involvement, he writes, "is to the twenty-first century what women's desire to be in the workplace was to the twentieth century."

A 2007 survey by the employment website Monster.com found that 70 percent of fathers would consider being a stay at home parent if money were no object. Almost 50 percent of dads of school aged children took paternity leave when their employer offered it.

The evidence is also accumulating in smaller increments. Men are free to hug more, they help with homework, they listen more, and -- especially with daughters -- are part of their lives in ways long denied to fathers of earlier generations. Is it feminization that has brought fathers so far from the distant, silent providers of the past?

Pick any organization, and you'll find awareness, backed by shifts in culture, that the days of the my-way-or-the-highway manager are past. Is it feminization to realize that leadership by brute force of title must be replaced by the so-called "soft skills" of communication, cooperation and engagement?

While some wail over the declining state of manhood implied by the statistics, there is also the very real possibility that men are evolving from swaggering through life in some cartoon interpretation of what men are supposed to be -- to becoming more fully-formed human beings free to find out what they can be.

So here is the question: are men less masculine, or more liberated? Are they being feminized, or humanized?