Newsweek’s recent series of articles describing the “New Macho” appeared on my radar this week, and I can’t say I was impressed. The idea is that we need to “reimagine masculinity” to deal with the pressures men face in our changing world. Men—specifically American men, and judging from the examples, white American men—are in danger of becoming an anachronism. Our manly jobs are drying up, and we’re shirking our duties as parents, choosing instead to act out a Dan Draper/moose hunter fantasy as a “coping mechanism.” (And in doing so, the authors called out one of the best sites for men on the Internet, The Art of Manliness.)
A good story needs a hook, even if you’ve got to make one up. And some made-up hooks make for interesting, discussion-building reading. But this one doesn’t pass the smell test. Show me the hordes buying “designer axes” and socializing in hunting garb or overalls. I can understand the erroneous idea that Mad Men is some kind of weird new infatuation with 50’s/60’s cocktail culture, but I fail to see the logic that connects it with Dirty Jobs or The Deadliest Catch.
Then the article gets bogged down in politics. There’s a reason Swedish families can be forced to split 390 days of paid leave between a father and mother: they’re getting 390 days of paid leave. The meager amount of paid post-natal leave the US is likely to end up with in a Tea Party environment makes little dent in those 18 years a child will be at home. Spending time with the children has always been manly, but making sure the kids aren’t homeless is a bit of a priority.
But I Want to Be a Miner
Our current unemployment woes are summed up just as neatly: men need to consider “less manly” careers.
And so it goes. Anecdotal evidence is paired with these “signs of change” to indicate that we as men had better get off our high horses, unholster our guns, stay at home with the kids and consider a career in nursing.
Yes, nursing (where, by the way, the number of men has steadily increased without having to shame anyone into trying it). The evidence that men refuse to work in hospitals as anything but doctors: a scene from Meet The Parents. But, Newsweek continues, that’s where we must turn, because men are now “exiting” the work force in record numbers:
Discouraged by the dearth of “manly” work, they’ve simply given up. New high-school and college graduates have it even worse: the unemployment rate among young men is a dismal 20.5 percent—a full 3 points higher than the rate among their female peers.
Apparently, our new grads are showing up en masse at the dockyards resplendent in their designer peacoats, but finding their dreams of a career as a stevedore shattered. To think I was fooled by the vans full of them interviewing at Microsoft.
The Myth of Macho
The article goes on to coin the phrase, “The New Macho”: the modern man who has no problem changing a diaper, and who can work as a librarian with the same gusto that he would apply to a career as a machinist.
The problem with this is two-fold. First is the fact that men in general have traits missing in women, and vice versa. The social abilities of women are more evolved than those of men, while we are still genetically stronger. There are simply jobs men are better suited for, and vice versa. That does not mean a man can’t teach preschool, far from it. It does mean that most men may not be ideally suited to teach preschool. Wishing for complete—or even near—gender equality in the workplace is a losing battle.
Second is that the traits of a good man—actual manliness—have never changed. A good man protects his loved ones and helps his friends. A good man is resilient and understands that setbacks are hurdles, not dead ends. A good man is constantly developing and honing his life skills. A good man finds his calling and pursues it with vigor, whether it’s bull riding or blogging.
Telling that good man to go be a nurse, if he has no interest in nursing, is not making him “New Macho.” It’s just telling him to be something he’s not.
All That’s New
Look, I do a lot here to help men get out of their comfort zones, urging them to meditate, helping them eat healthy and exercise, and to adapt their social skills to a changing world. None of this changes their masculinity. It only changes their value to themselves and the world.
All that’s new are the choices and tools. And it’s great that men now sometimes have the option to spend more time with their children (being a positive role model has always been manly). It’s great that fewer people will look down on them for working as administrative assistants. We’ve been taking these very paths in increasing numbers anyway, and it’s nice that the media can bestow their seal of approval on that.
But the traits of a good man persist, and those traits aren’t “musty,” and they’re much more than a “coping mechanism.” They’re as necessary now as they ever were. Maybe more.
Make no mistake, the “New Macho” is exactly the same as the “Old Macho.”