What is 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 manhood?

As a child, Theodore Roosevelt was of frail demeanour though he had a sharp mind. Despite these two traits, the 26th US president is remembered most perhaps, for his integrity. But Roosevelt did not want to be known as weak in any aspect 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.

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. After Roosevelt’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. The old-school macho man wasn’t all good. This kind of behavior might be seen as escapist in today’s times. Modern men would much rather deal with their emotions. Roosevelt’s time was before it was okay for men to appear sensitive and deal with their true emotions.

Times Have Changed: In the recently released Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a frontiersman who is left for dead after a bear mauls him. His hunting gang moves on and he must make his way back to civilization, injured and unarmed in 1820. The film resurrects a lot of these questions about the changing face of manhood and whether men are really coping well with it.

While women have celebrated their changing role in society from being ‘pretty and polite’ to equals at work and home, men seem to be left rather disoriented. The role of the man is no longer that of provider and protector. Women earn almost as much as men in the workplace and they are making more decisions about family life like when to marry, when to have kids and are also quick to get out of an unhappy union.

If we were to look at a men’s lifestyle magazine to track the current trends in manliness, we’d see moustache wax for the handlebar and how to do the perfect plank. The next time you meet a young man who counts his worth in the number of women he has bedded, it could be traced to his growing inadequacy as a modern man, explains Dr R Tobias, clinical psychologist. 

According to McKay, modern men need to simply look back through time and pick “the most endearing qualities from their father’s and grandfather’s time”. His list 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 or start a fire without matches. McKay calls this skill set the Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man.
It’s a fine line argues Tobias. “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. The effect of this conflicted view of manhood, however is more evident when you look at action figures meant for little boys. Every action figure comes with six-pack abs, explains Tobias. More and more men are aspiring for the Johnny Bravo V-shaped torso these days. 20 years ago, this trend would have met with ridicule.
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