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Sean McManus Headshot

Is it Time to Invent a New Masculinity?

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There has been all this news recently about the rise of Japanese "Herbivore Boys," men who shun sex and dating, assume a feminine sartorial visage, and eschew their father's professional traditions, instead content to hole up in their bedrooms playing video games. The stagnant economy has made these Herbivores, which some studies say number almost half of men age 18-34, cynical about material culture and gender roles. At the same time, the trend has unleashed a new breed of female who want their men to be manly--called "carnivore girls." But there's a larger story brewing here, one that speaks to the future of masculinity around the world.

Margaret Wente in a recent story in Canada's Globe and Mail, writes that post-Great Recession, we are "witnessing the passing of working-class masculinity." She describes the end of an era signified by her father's heating and air-conditioning business in the '50s: A place where guys, surrounded by nudie calendars, yelled and smoked and swore and used bad grammar. "Working-class culture was sexist, homophobic, casually racist and exclusively men," she writes. "Not even auto plants are like that any more."

The new economy, a tough place for these old-fashioned guys, is creating tons of service jobs that require emotional labor not manual labor -- temperamental attributes that are stereotypically feminine, like "patience, a pleasant demeanor, deference to the customer and the ability to empathize and connect."

As proud representatives of the new economy, a socially-minded company I've recently been blogging for, Bonobos, asks if a celebration of masculinity in the new world requires much more than some minor linguistic tweaking. Who says "masculine" guys can't be polite, patient and empathetic? Look no further than to our ancestors, great apes called Bonobos, and you'll see that those traits are not brand new in men. Perhaps it was an unfortunate genetic mutation that made some of us otherwise -- or too many cultures overrun with insecure men who overcompensated by starting wars.

When Gawker ran a post the other day entitled, "The Year of Awkward Young Men," pointing out that cinema's leading men of 2009 -- guys like Michael Cera, Hugh Dancy, Joseph Gorden-Levitt, John Krasinski, and Jesse Eisenberg, were all "well-meaning, fragile, cerebral, maladjusted boys with an anemic sexual persona and child-like notions about women," I started to worry that what could be a positive trend may have taken an unfortunate turn. Perhaps that's why it's important that we work together to create a new kind of masculinity -- one that's not defined, as Gawker puts it, by "infants in Morissey onesies," but rather by guys who can be smart, patient and empathetic -- as well as tough, dignified, and focused. Bonobos is looking for your ideas for guys who represent the new masculine ideal. Submit your ideas here and in the comments section below, and have the girls weigh in on this as well. Perhaps a more enlightened sense of gender roles will unleash even more creative innovation -- and a brighter new economy.

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