What do you think it takes to be a real man?
Over the last 60 or so years women have attained some sort of equality. In the west, social norms and practices, especially sexual practices, have meant that the idea of free love, or love without restriction of the Don Juan variety have became the norm. Since then there has been a bit of a backlash and women have found a way to be women who don’t have to be like men to be equal to men. Feminism has slowly started to form and articulate a more mature vision of what it means to be a woman in modern society. I am not so sure that this has happened for men.
Given that men and women do have differences and because we tend to divide society (especially in advertising) between men and women, targeting them just as advertising agencies target other social groupings and stereotypes, I have the sense that men have been left in a bit of ambiguity about what it means to be a man. The latest Short List (links to article) has 6 different “styles” of the evolution of man. The article is worth a read, its fairly broad, but the styles betray a pitfall of aspirational manhood. It also betrays a self centred perspective of what it means to be a man. At one point Short List suggests that men, not women have been the biggest beneficiaries of women’s liberation, as we no longer have to be the sole “breadwinners” of the family and can now go and do our own thing. Of course this was true of men in the past but only if they where willing to keep their own house.
Sociologist and psychologists have talked about the formation of the “self” and part of their research has been about gender. This is related tangentially to advertising and how ad men target men and women as individuals rather than men as parts of a community. The basic subset of “community” in our society is the nuclear family. The effects that men have as fathers on their children has a huge effect on the development and wellbeing of who they, as girls and boys, as men and women are. It seems to me this “value” or aspiration is something that has been lost in our narrative about what it means to be a real man. Or at least it has for the type of aspirations men who are not yet father have. Of course it is also true that men who are still foot loose and fancy free in their late 20s and sometimes late 30s have more to offer their communities and society than simply being self pleasuring freaks. I think you don’t have to be a daddy or husband to be a real man, I’m just not sure what he looks like?
Whether you are a man or woman, I am interested to hear from you about what you think it means to be a real man in 2010. I am also interested to hear how you think being a man relates to being in “community,” whether that is at work, at home, or in some other capacity.
I have set up a facebook group that is aimed at starting the debate. You can join here.