Man up! Part II

The traditional images of iconic masculinity were exemplified in reality by our military heroes; and in film by John Wayne, James Bond, Big Syl, and Arnie; and in ads by the Marlboro Man. These ideals have been forged in centuries of warfare going back through the ages to Ulysses, David, Cyrus the Great, Alexander and King Arthur.  The fiction reinforced the facts. Men had to be brave, strong, tough, stoic, laconic.
But these ancient ideals are now challenged both by amazing peace (where it prevails), by seismic structural changes, by new ideologies of gender, and by new women demanding a new man. In the ’90s, (some) women demanded the SNAG: the Sensitive New Age Guy, able to relate, communicate, cook and, as the phrase was, emote (i.e. cry).  He had to be in touch with his feminine side and with his emotions.  You can see where this is leading, can’t you?

The feminization of men is now an issue.  Raised obliquely by Bly back in 1990, it is now being raised very directly by our students. Men are advised to “grow a pair” (crass phrasing, not mine) — but the feminizing of men implies also the masculinizing of women. Every woman seems to have their stories: a colleague was invited to coffee by a male journalist, who was not about to pay for it!  He had to, eventually.

Recently the SNAG has been replaced by the Metrosexual, committed to looks, fashion, appearance and hair: in a word—himself. (The “sexual” in the label is somewhat misleading).  The Metroman (you heard it here first!) is narcissistic, but not necessarily a loser.  David Beckham is the archetype.  But from the point of view of many of my female students, both the SNAG and the Metroman are problematic. Both need to get back in touch with their masculine  side. Both need to “Man Up!”

Not to be a dinosaur (fat chance), but I think my female students are right. Some men seem to have lost their way and their identities, in part no doubt due to the above four factors in our changing world.  The statistics are appalling, if you glance at them, which most gender theorists do not.   Men constitute about 80% of the suicide victims, two-thirds of the homicide and accident victims, 95% of the incarcerated.  Men are not faring well here, and the Welfare system does not work well for men. The health system does not work for men either.  Men live on average 5-6 years less than women, and have higher death rates for all 10 of the leading causes of death.

Both the U.S. and Canada privilege women’s health with the Office for Women’s Health and the five Centers of Excellence for Women’s Health in Canada. Both policies are responses to feminist political pressure rather than to need, and to clear and present disparities in health. The education system is equally dysfunctional for men. They have higher drop-out rates in high school and university and constitute only about 40% of those graduating with undergraduate and graduate degrees: a 20% gender gap.  Where are the equity theorists and activists when you need them? Men really have to man up.

Some of this is not new: the suicide, homicide and prison statistics fluctuate, but the general gender distribution remains similar to the past—and actually pretty well everywhere. But the persistent lack of concern for men’s health, education and welfare is what? Unfortunate? Appalling? Sexist? Misandric? What do you think? That it’s all their fault anyway?

The justice system is mostly about men, as lawmakers, lawbreakers and law enforcers; but we are throwing away so many men for years and years. Something is rotten in the state. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, followed not so far behind by Canada.  We are punitive people; yet we know that this sort of punishment in overcrowded prisons, away from grounding factors like family or fresh opportunities,  does not work; it only brutalizes prisoners and makes people worse. The five year recidivism rate is between 50-70% in the US, Canada and the UK. Prisons are revolving doors and universities of crime and system failures, especially for men. Men are simply warehoused. Women’s prisons are far superior, and better financed per capita, thanks to double standards.  But then women have manned up.

The old gender divide is being bridged and paved over; and the old definition of men and women as opposite sexes has been interrogated. Are we opposite? From Venus and Mars, as John Gray says? Or are the differences within each sex(by class or race, perhaps) more divisive than the differences between us?  My students disagree on this, though evolutionary psychologists argue the former corner. We work on this in class.  I ask my patient students to write down five adjectives that they think describe men and women, typically or stereotypically, and then to check off those that apply to them.  Almost everyone ticks one or two characteristics of the so-called opposite sex. Men admit to some feminine traits, and women to some masculine ones. So women are manning up and men are in touch with their feminine side. We may be opposite, but not totally. But those same women want men to—man up.

By Anthony Synnott, Ph.D