Does the male role need redefining?

I have never thought of what I should be as a man and have never tried to change myself in any way. I guess I was just born a traditional male and stayed that way. And despite occasional intellectual reservations, women respond well to that. Would I have been married 4 times otherwise? In my observation, even quite feminist women like a real, natural man. Instinct trumps theory every time -- JR

The mainstream media has portrayed men as animalistic buffoons for so long that we’re starting to believe our own bad publicity. But enough’s enough — it’s time to man up, gents.

In the 15 years that I have been a man — or at least tried to be — there have been many attempts to define modern masculinity: lads, new lads, metrosexuals, retrosexuals, heteropolitans, ├╝bersexuals, himbos and SPURMOs (a presumably deliberate but nevertheless unfortunate-sounding acronym that stands for Single Proud Unmarried Man Over Thirty). The marketers and pop sociologists keep shifting the goalposts of what we’re supposed to be aiming for.

I’ve got a new one. How about ‘men’? The unadorned masculine identifier, it stands for a) itself and b) no more of this bullshit. All too often — in sitcoms, in ads, in newspapers — men are portrayed pretty piss-poorly, if you ask me. And if you don’t ask me, I’ll tell you anyway, because I’ve had a gutful. The media loves nothing more than to talk us down with never-ending stories of men behaving badly. Stand-up comedians, the vast majority of whom are male, base entire routines on men losing the battle of the sexes.

But the joke is wearing a bit thin. We’re portrayed as victims — of our inflated egos, ineptitude and priapic urges. We’re presented as boorish, gonad-scratching Neanderthals who can’t multitask, cope with flat-pack furniture or dress ourselves properly. Women, meanwhile, are painted as glamorous, capable
go-getters who roll their eyes at silly menfolk before rolling up their sleeves because if they want the job done properly, they’re better off doing it themselves.

It isn’t easy to be a man in 2011. Back in granddad’s sepia-tinted day, the arrangement was simple: he was the breadwinner, patriarch, man of the house. End of. These days, it’s not so clear cut. Today’s man has to be everything to everyone while still being true to himself. He can no longer get by on just bringing home the bacon (which is a very good thing, by the way). He must be a good son, brother, mate, co-worker, lover, husband, father, provider, role model and citizen.

He’s not the man he used to be; he has to be much more than that. Easier said than done. Which is why the modern male experience is such a comedy of errors and confusion, leavened with the occasional epiphany.

In 2005 — several epochal portmanteau neologisms ago — leading advertising agency JWT (the people who claim to have coined the term ‘metrosexual’) produced a report portentously called ‘The Future of Men’, presumably so they could figure out how better to sell us stuff. Their survey of 4000 people in the US, the UK and Canada produced the following findings: many envisage a time in the future when men will be the weaker sex; women are becoming more like men; men are generally more confused and less sure of themselves; men respect women more than they used to; women don’t respect men as much as they once did; the 21st century will belong to women much more than men.

While that might sound scary, the facts all point to this being a good thing. In 2006, the OECD devised the Gender, Institutions and Development Database to measure the economic and political power of women in 162 countries. With few exceptions, it found that the greater the power of women, the greater the country’s economic success.

And so, though man has been the dominant sex since the dawn of humankind, for the first time in history, that’s changing. As Top Gear presenter and apotheosis of British laddism James May so delicately put it: “If you extrapolate all this, within my lifetime men will only be required to keep sperm at operating temperature and they will have no other functions.”

All this doesn’t mean that it suddenly sucks to be male. We’ve got to a make a choice: we either feel inadequate and give up or we respond by upping our game. Both sexes are still coming to terms with equality. Women have fought tooth and manicured nail to get where they are today and it’s made the world a better place. Now it’s our turn to respond proactively and positively. It’s time to reclaim some male pride and not be shy about it. As Heath Franklin’s Chopper Read might say: harden the fuck up, fellas.

It’s not about channelling your inner Don Draper and retreating into your man cave to pine for the good old days. It’s about embracing the challenges of being a man in 2012. Times are changing. We are on the cusp of what some twazzock from an advertising agency would call a ‘menaissance’.

If Darwin’s theory about the survival of the fittest still stands up, then we are the strongest, most competent and capable men ever to walk the earth. We’re certainly better informed and better groomed; more engaged and more emotionally intelligent. That’s not to say we won’t still forget birthdays, leave the toilet seat up or refuse to admit when we are hopelessly lost. But we are not the feckless fuckwits we’re so often made out to be.

It doesn’t matter what the marketing goons say or what ridiculous new label they try to pin on us. What truly makes a modern man is not what he wears, what beer he drinks or what car he drives. It’s how he behaves, how he treats others, the life he leads. It’s about the respect that he once took for granted, but now has to earn alongside his salary. The new masculinity isn’t a marketing buzzword; it’s simply about holding yourself to a higher standard. Be a better man.


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