The man in the mirror
December 8, 2015
There’s plenty out there on gender; it’s not a new topic of discussion. One need only look around at some of the biggest stories of the year - Caitlyn Jenner, Michelle Payne, and Ronda Rousey for example - to understand that.
But conversation, more often than not, revolves around the role of women in society, and representations of femininity. What about the role of men? In fact, men’s studies wasn’t even really a thing until the 1980s.
So, it’s time. Let’s chat men.
I’ll make a man out of you
Ask anyone these days “What does it mean to be a man?” and you’re bound to get many different answers. It’s no surprise really: we are saturated with conflicting ideas of what a man should be.
James Bond tells men to be suave and sophisticated, Hugh Jackman is a role model of the humble family man, and VB shows men as rough and blokey. Disney even plays a part, drumming ideals of toughness, beauty and strength into us (check out Mulan as a great example).
In our recent study about Men and Masculinities (yes, plural), we explored the concept of “manthropology” – the evolution of male identities through the lens of culture.
From the caveman archetype of the primeval era, representations of masculinity have largely been a product of social and cultural changes. Masculinities have evolved through the individualism of industrialisation and modernity, the collectivism of war times, the rebellious freedom against post-war conformism, and even the “sensitive new age guy” of 90s movies. Men and their roles have been cultured by their surroundings.
The man of today is a product of this rich cultural history. He is a melting pot of attributes, able to pull from the historical hat of male identities. Hard to pinpoint, he goes against the stereotypes, aiming to instead take the best parts of the “males of the past” to create a version of himself that is both unique and relatable.
Recognising this diversity today, is bringing into the spotlight the cultural importance of men’s studies.
Walk like a man
The Four Seasons band sang about much more than just walking in their song; they preached to the world about the construction of male identity.
But now preaching has turned into teaching.
Educating young men about themselves and how they fit in the world is becoming far more prevalent these days than ever before. Created by Maria Shriver and Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film “The Mask You Live In” explores American male stereotypes and highlights the impact that mixed messages have on young American boys and men.
Also Stony Brook University in New York have established the very first master’s degree in masculinities. Developed by men’s studies author and teacher, Dr. Michael Kimmel, the degree is part of Stony Brook’s Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, and explores the idea of what it means to be a man in today’s society.
In putting an academic focus on men, and getting the conversation started with young males, it is clear that there is a movement towards discovering the multifaceted nature of man.
So what does it actually mean to be a man? As Dr. Kimmel states, there is “more than one way to be a man”; there’s no clear answer, but rather a whole curriculum.
Secret agent man
This is just the tip of the iceberg, the pebble in the garden, and one small fish in the huge sea of masculinities. One cannot simply explore all there is in a single article, essay, or even a ten thousand page encyclopaedia.
So what, then, can we take from this?
Change. Change is afoot and has been for a while in one of the most traditional forms of demographic segmentation. We’re not unaccustomed to this, in light of the neo-feminism of the past few years, but this is a significantly new consideration for the construct of masculinities.
Brands cannot simply just talk to “only men” or “only women” anymore. They must dive deeper, think harder, and move away from these ancient binaries. In honest, they must really understand humans themselves, the journeys they undertake and the many identities they can own. For the world is no longer black and white. It cannot be divided by a simple percentage allocation.
Manthropology is happening – take a look around and see it in action.