Maybe it’s cos Google is more of a bubble than facebook is, and they have me down as a Lefty, but when I search “Masculinity” most of the first page is about Toxic masculinity, violent against women and driving men to suicide. Then I learn that rugged, dependable masculinity is fragile: As Victorian men moved from the fields into factories, so grew a fear that their sons, now spending more time at home with their mothers, were at risk of becoming feminised, or “inverted” (the Freudian term for homosexual). Organised sport, with its emphasis on male bonding and toughness, was a concerted work of remasculinisation. Toughness is the heart of masculinity, yet all sorts of things can leech it away.
What makes masculinity dangerous is the need to prove, assert, demonstrate toughness, which hurts others, and doubt of it, which hurts men. They want to assert toughness at the cost of other qualities. Self-doubt increases. They imagine empathy and caring dents an image of toughness. Men secure in their own
manhood selfhood can care for others, insecure men can care for no-one, nor seek the help they need.
You need to be tough to work in a shipyard, hammering red hot rivets all day. It takes skill and bravery to manipulate them, working with others. You need to be strong and dependable. Then you take home your wage packet to your wife, as symbol and proof of those manly qualities. But the shipyards, mines, steelworks and car plants closed down, and how can you prove that toughness now? Iain Duncan-Smith says by committing crimes, drinking too much, taking drugs and fathering multiple children. He thinks marriage is the answer.
YouGov asked people to place themselves on a scale from 0, completely masculine, to 6, completely feminine. Sadly, negligible numbers of men said 4-6, if any. 56% of men over 65 said they were completely masculine, but only 2% of 18-24 year olds. 47% of these young men chose two, only one stage away from neutral between masculine and feminine. This may have more to do with perception than reality. The youngest men have a negative view of masculinity; or, they are comfortable distancing themselves from it, not too ashamed to tell someone in a survey. My own positive description of masculinity, above, hearkens back to conditions when I was a child, thirty or forty years ago.
If we pretend to cliché masculinity from decades past, it sets up tensions with reality now, where men are not dominant in work, where work is insecure, and we are all insecure. Getting from imagining, and desperately asserting, that you feel what that cliché says you ought to feel, to realising what you do feel can be terribly painful. I find that crying can bring me to authenticity, to consciousness of my feelings, and even though I know this the crying is painful. To be a Man, who cannot cry, and does not understand that process, it is overwhelming, and may be so humiliating he just resists it even unto suicide.
We need some activity to organise our lives, too. I blog, as I do not work.
Is masculinity in crisis, the Guardian.