Masculinity in 2021

May 19, 2021

This is an article that I wrote for The Times on 'what is masculinity in 2021? 

– How would you define masculinity in 2021?

The stereotype of masculinity has change significantly.  In the old days, the man would go out to work (or kill sabre tooth tigers) to create shelter and sustenance.  The wife would be ready at home with a beautifully tidy house, groomed children and dinner on the table.

Masculinity now is in a state of flux.  Their earnings and employment prospects have declined, and they are in competition with women for most jobs.  The change in societal norms and roles is eroding their self-esteem and sense of purpose. 

Traditional masculinity is about strength, courage, assertiveness and independence.  The new masculinity needs to be about self-awareness, expressing vulnerability and emotions, communicating by listening, helping others and connecting rather than controlling. In a relationship it needs to be about working in a true partnership for the growth of both.

– Why are outdated concepts of masculinity dangerous (violence, being “manly” and not speaking about issues etc)?

They suppress the ability of men to be vulnerable and to express and own their feelings.  They also lock couples in an unequal relationship.

Evidence of the harm done is that the suicide rate amongst men is 3.5 times that of women. Because many men are told ‘real men don’t cry’ and ‘man up’ they find it hard to seek help when they are down.

It also creates the foundation for domestic violence as frustration and anger are expressed physically and the woman is there to be controlled, rather than talking through unhappy feelings.

– How have those outdated concepts of masculinity been exposed in the last year, during the coronavirus crisis?

Lockdown has laid bare the reality of many people’s work lives.  The man no longer disappeared off to a big office to do important man stuff.  He has been exposed as someone sitting lonely and frustrated in front of a laptop.

There has also been the greater need for a sharing of roles where both work; employee, boss, father, husband, lover, teacher, cook, cleaner all became more prominent roles for the man.  He had to cope with a blurring of boundaries and the need to share more equitably with his partner.

– How did the shift to home working and home schooling alter what is means to be a father / man?

This also meant that the father was more exposed to the children.  They could also see the reality of his work and he had to cope with juggling several different roles during the day.

Lockdown was a great opportunity for fathers to connect better with their children and play a much more active role in their lives.

– Are there any recent high-profile cases of celebrities redefining masculinity? (Harry Styles, perhaps?)

Male Celebrities have moved significantly from the John Wayne stereotype. Some years ago, it was a shock when David Beckham wore a skirt.  Now it is ‘normal’ for male celebs to wear more feminine clothing and to cry in public.

Expressing their sexuality or uncertainty about their expression or orientation is also safe ground. Whereas in the past it would have led to criticism, censure and loss of income.

– Please could you give examples of how “modern men” are flourishing?

Modern men are flourishing now that it is acceptable to express emotions, show vulnerability and be in touch with their feminine side.

Traditional leadership was all about being dominant and aggressive.  Modern leadership shows the importance of having emotional intelligence, as discussed by authors such as Daniel Goleman.  It is OK for a leader to show the strength of being vulnerable.

In politics there are now very capable female leaders such as Jacinda Ahern and Barack Obama and now Joe Biden are showing that it is OK to show their softer side.

– How has the role of the man / father evolved?
The role of the man/father has evolved as women have become more assertive and claimed their roles and rights.

Changes in the workplace and the move from heavy industrial work to office work to the knowledge economy has also created a much more level playing field and made it essential for men to leave the old roles behind and to adapt or face extinction.

– What advice would you give to boys about how to be masculine?

Be your genuine self.  Seek your own identity and what will give you a sense of fulfilment.

Find a real role model that you can aspire to.  Not a celebrity or social media influencer as you will only see the public persona.  Find a male that you can get an understanding of their true self and aspire to be ‘masculine’ like them.