The Quest for the Best in Men

Recently we all have been doing a lot of thinking about the state of men. Especially, the developments masculinities have taken during the past years: toxic masculinities, aggressive masculinities, the patriarchy and so on. Nothing of that is new, but some of it appeared in a new dress. Or suit, in that case, maybe…

Gender studies have done their fair share of deconstructing normative concepts of gender. Most of our understanding of modern gender originates from the late 18th/early 19th century, so those norms are pretty much outdated. But still, deconstructing norms has one critical pitfall: it leaves a vacuum, an emptiness in times of confused men and women … especially men though. And this is a troublesome state, because while the thought of enlightened men (and women of course) after the abolishment of normative concepts of gender (or even gender itself) sounds like the next step towards utopia, it is actually not, at least not in the year 2019. It might be possible in a fantastic sci-fi novel, in which everything works out as planned (but when does that ever happen). In reality, in our modern society, there are plenty of forces who gladly use that specific vacuum and fill it with their own ideas and ideology, in that case of how men need to be and how not to. Right now, those forces are mostly right wing conservatives and extremists.

The End of Gender?

The fatal misconception of the glorious deconstruction of gender was the believe of the possibility to live without the notion of gender. Yes, gender is constructed, a product of culture. But, it is one heck of a successful product, especially through the combination with biologism during the 19th century. So in short, getting rid of gender, getting rid of concepts of masculinity, won’t liberate anyone, and it also won’t break any kind of patriarchy. Instead we see the rise of toxic, violent or simply ‘confused’ masculinities, which crucially cripples society as a whole. Because while women wisely utilized the results coming from the second wave of feminism and emancipation, men just kept doing what they always do. Nothing (Sorry, but it’s true). There was no male emancipation.

Wait a minute, some might call out now, why would men need some sort of emancipation? Simple answer: Emancipation does not mean to be freed of the opposite gender – and that’s one important and essential fact – it’s the liberation from abusive power structures. Having to follow old, conservative, out-of-date concepts of masculinity is just that, the abuse through patriarchy. And it affects both men and women!

It’s time that we started looking at positive masculinities. While studying all the masculinities gone wrong is important (especially for scientific purposes), we might have forgotten one important factor: the use of role models. Instead of leaving all modern masculinities to extremist political movements, an active creation of positive concepts of men is a crucial necessity today. Positive men – the best of men – need to be at the center of attention, especially for younger generation. Looking at studies which examined young men in the past years, they draw the same frightening picture: a sense of being lost in a world without direction. This cannot be explained singularly with masculinities, of course. But still, imaginations of men and how young men and boys imagine themselves in the future, is closely intertwined to this development and can be linked to the often discussed ‘loss of values’. And in the midst of the deconstructed field of masculinity, it is not the new, modern, enlightened type of masculinity that rises. If anything, it is the conservative, outdated masculinity, reminiscing old family models and societal structures. Back to the roots: 19th century masculinities.

The actual Crisis of Masculinities

The public, movies, tv shows, video games – they all influence modern masculinities. Recently negative masculinities, villains, bad guys, have taken the screens and become the modern day role models. It’s not cool to be good anymore. The result is a negative society that drives on jealousy, greed and abuse, instead of focusing on positives. Hence why we need to look even more at positive masculinities. A lot of men struggle to fit old concepts of masculinities – this is the actual ‘crisis of masculinity’. Old norms, modern practices – a doomed story. A lot of men look for help, may it be online or within their community of (most of the time male) peers. But since those normative concepts are still so incredibly resilient, the men seeking counsel get ridiculed quite often. Men asking for help in order to cope with new situations, for example young fathers taking over responsibilities in the household, get laughed at instead of talked to. But this is the most important part right now: We all need to help redefine modern masculinities, not laugh at the attempts to work trough these old norms and the conflict in regards to the modern practice.

Positive masculinities are still going to have to rely on a lot of ‘classical masculine’ attributes: the protector, the strong one, the active one. But there is one very important difference: while the conservative concepts of men from the 19th century attributed most of the positive traits exclusive to men, this is not the case anymore. Women have become emancipated and the lines between male and female gender are becoming more and more blurry. Still it remains important to universally promote positive attributes like e.g. honesty, politeness, faithfulness or the will to achieve one’s goals. While these attributes at first glance might sounds like going down on one’s knee before neoliberalism, it is absolutely not. It is a concept for the future, for future men. Instead of idling around, addicted to social media, giving in to aggression and alcohol, not getting anything done – and this is where some people are being driven to right now in this very moment – positive concepts of masculinity can not only empower men, but the whole of society. Because for example saving the planet regarding the climate crisis, will require each and every one of us. A positive society needs positive individual concepts of living. 

The End of Masculinity

Positive masculinities are more important than ever and thanks to research from the field of gender studies, we do understand how it actually works. Creating an empty space where men and women used to roam, is only the first step. Getting rid of old concepts and norms that allow abuse. At the same time, a world without guidelines, without role models, is a brave yet dangerous venture. This is why positive masculinities need to lighten the sky to guide especially young generations of men into this rather uncertain future. A future, which should see protectors, not aggressors. Politeness and kindness, not toxicity and hate. Respect instead of contempt. Cooperation, not war. The list goes on and on. Many men suffer, mentally and physically, because they are required to fit old expectations of how to be a man. It’s time to end old masculinity and create modern, positive masculinities for a positive future.

Featured image: Three Wise Men from the East (Ввласенко, License CC BY-SA 3.0, no changes were made)

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