The Conflict Of Modern Manliness

by Yolande D’Mello
Changing gender roles in the 21st century are leaving men conflicted about their biological role in society. What is modern manliness really about? 

In his book, The Art of Manliness, Brett McKay tries to trace the lives of great men from history to pick up on traits of great manliness. As a child, Theodore Roosevelt was of frail demeanor though he had a sharp mind. However, the 26th US president was not ready to be called weak in any facet of his life. He spent his adolescence exercising and building up his once frail body. He took up boxing in college and became a competitive fighter. During winter breaks in school, he’d go up to Maine and hunt with the famous guide and timberman Bill Sewell. After Teddy’s wife and mother died on the same night, instead of wallowing in grief and despair, he headed out to the badlands of the Dakotas to take up cattle ranching.

Few men today will understand what it would take to swallow your grief and throw yourself into physical labor. This old-school manly behavior might be seen as escapist in today’s times. Modern men would much rather deal with their emotions. Roosevelt’s time was far before it was okay for men to be seen shedding a tear.

Times have changed. Scientists have managed to prove that men and women both experience the same amount of emotion. Women are simply better at expressing it. So if modern men can cry without it being linked to weakness, that seems like a welcome evolutionary state. 

Men have moved on from primarily being breadwinners to also taking on the role of caregiver, suggests McKay. However, that this was seen traditionally as a woman’s role doesn’t leave women threatened. They still retain a crucial role. Can the same be said about a man in a world where women are earning as much as men? Women have celebrated their changing role in society from being ‘pretty and polite’ to equals at work and home. Women are also making more decisions about family life like when to marry, when to have kids and are also quicker to get out of an unhappy union. If the role of the man is no longer the provider and protector, then what is he?

According to McKay, modern men need to embrace their new roles in society while simply looking back through time and picking “the most endearing qualities from their father’s and grandfather’s time”. His list of skills that every man needs to master includes; shave like your grandpa, fight like a gentleman using the art of bartitsu, help a friend with a problem, give a man hug, perform a fireman’s carry, ask for a woman’s hand in marriage, predict the weather like a frontiersman, start a fire without matches, etc. McKay calls this skill set the Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man.

It’s a fine line argues Dr R Tobias, clinical psychologist. “Women get to explore identities not solely defined by motherhood. They talk about it openly and share what it feels like to be a woman in the 21st century. Men don’t talk about it as much,” he says.

Perhaps, here is where the problem lies. Maybe it's time Oprah had a male counterpart?
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