The masculinity of men in the Western World has been an ongoing debate in recent times. According to Brooks (2010, pg.1), this debate has risen from the fact that gender boundaries have become more fluid and less defined. Power relations between men and women have been, and are, progressively changing since women in the Western World no longer depend on men for survival. Gender equality has replaced the previously pre-set roles of men. As a result, the masculinity of men in the modern Western World is, nowadays, often characterized as being in crisis.
The consideration of men as the head, protector, and provider of the family, as in the old days, is no more. In this regard, there has been much talk and debate on a ‘masculinity crisis’, where some men feel lost, emasculated, depressed, and uncertain of their place in the postmodern social demands. This essay evaluates the assumptions and discourses of masculinity and gender discussed in Laurie Penny’s article on masculinity. The evaluation also bases its arguments on relevant gender and sexuality theories.
Masculinity and Gender Roles According to Laurie Penny
In an article posted on Thursday, 16th May, 2013 by The Guardian Newspaper, Laurie Penny writes about the masculinity crisis facing boys and men. According to Laurie Penny, the masculinity crisis facing men in the modern Western World cannot be solved through the revival of the traditional male stereotypes that are constraining and oppressive to them. The article by Laurie Penny “We Need to Talk about Masculinity” provides a good evaluation on gender roles, sexuality, and the masculinity mobilization that has been a subject of debate in the Western World.
The Laurie Penny article on masculinity notes that men are regarded as victims of modern society because they are yet to adjust to the realities of the day. It exclusively addresses the traditional position men held in society and the postmodern reality of masculinity. Laurie Penny approaches the masculinity debate by acknowledging that there is a new reality on the gender roles of men. Therefore, the traditional stereotypes on masculinity and gender expectations can no longer apply in the modern world.
Masculinity Debate is Long Overdue
Laurie Penny claims that the long debate on masculinity and gender roles is long overdue and needs to end. She also claims that we should discuss the gender roles of men in the context of the modern Western World, as it is already happening, since there is no going back to the traditional stereotypes on masculinity and gender roles (Penny, 2013: web). Even so, the gender debate should not just dwell on the equality of opportunity but also on gender expectations in the modern context.
The debate on the concept of hegemonic masculinity, which extends from the cornels gender theory has extended to several disciplines since it was formulated in the late 1980. The gender theory explains why men have a dominant position over women in the society. Justifying the subordination of women by men in the society, the theory has received criticism on its applicability in the modern society where all the genders are equal and the idea of men being the sole breadwinners long abandoned.
Penny (2013) argues that men and boys must adapt to the social change to avoid sinking into depression and distress. Although majority would suggest that restoring the traditional power that men had over women may restore the masculinity of men, the actual solution lies in giving men more power to adapt their lives to the current social changes.
According to Connell (2009: pg, 829), gender and sexuality are social processes that are connected to the dynamics of class. The author notes that social relations structures in the society are changing in respect to social practices and culture. This view agrees with that of Penny (2013) on the changing gender roles, structure, and relations in the society. Similarly, Risman, (2004: pg, 429), notes that the social structure theory illustrates how gender is embedded in the institutions of the current society, and how it has changed compared to the traditional society.
Beasley(2013:pg, 108) further notes that the changing social structures have also affected the gender and sexuality thinking in the current society, different from what was experienced in 1950’s.
Penny further notes that none has enquired from the men if they would like to be restored as breadwinners and providers or if the independence of the female gender is a problem. The author notes that in the modern Britain, single mothers are largely blamed for the decreasing self-esteem in men and financial crisis because she has risen above depending on men for financial security. Single mothers are accused of spending the workers taxes on their benefits. The penny notes that the choice between letting women choose between having a husband and working to eliminate poverty is a long overdue debate. In a similar study carried out in Hong Kong evaluating a man in a gender perspective, the biggest crisis indentified affecting men is the work pressure (Leung & Chan, 2012: pg 122). Therefore, the study demonstrates that the biggest problem affecting men is rather not the role of and the position that women occupy in the modern society, but rather their work.
Men have to Adjust to the New Reality
The reason why men are seen as the victims of modern society is that they are yet to adjust to the realities of the day. The article exclusively addresses the traditional position men held in the society and the postmodern reality of masculinity. However, to some extent, the article notes that men have adjusted to the modern world and not all of them actually want to assume the breadwinning role that was a responsibility of the men in the past. Similarly, the author also notes that not all the women who would like to have power over women, but rather men want to feel that they are needed, useful and loved in the modern changing society in which genders are equal. The author further attributes such feeling to the normal human instincts. It has also attributed to the effect of men being taught that usefulness is working to satisfy their families or serving in wars in order to protect their families.
Such perspectives practiced and held in regard in the last five decades have had a significant in the modern man. Men no longer, firth in wars to leave their wives widows but rather robots fight. Penny (2013) notes that such beliefs are oppressive in the world that war have changed from how they were in the last 50 years. Similarly, in the United States, men are also suffering from the same masculinity crisis (Myungho, 2009: pg, 155). The author notes that the crises in the men masculinity in America began in the 1980’s but in the currently, the biggest crisis is not because of the success of the feminism. The author further notes that environment and social-cultural factors have largely contributed to the masculinity crisis in the American society. Toerien et al (2003:pg 333) also notes that the empowerment and the freedom that has been given o women can be seen in their hairlessness norm in the new society, which was traditionally referred to as the unacceptable but has changed in the modern society in what the author refers to “how the things are”.
Effects of the New Expectations on Gender Roles and Sexuality
The resultant effects of the reality of masculinity are well highlighted such as men sinking into depression, distress and becoming increasingly violent. However, the article lightly captures the feminine perspective of the recent reality, which men have hardly accepted. While it captures what boys and men really want, it fails to convince as to why that is the case.
On the other hand, the advanced governments in the west are promoting equality between both genders with young women attributed with the same capacity as the Men (McRobbie, 2007; pg, 718). By encouraging them to become active in various fields that were previously dominated by male, the women are taking a bigger role in the post feminist era in which men have to adjust in the new reality. Angela further notes that women have been given more freedom to decide on the matters of sexuality like fertility control and planning parenthood which a previously preserved for men. In addition, women have been more empowered in education and employment making them more successful in their careers. Penny (2013) reflects the same views on that the era of women of women depending on men is over, in the modern society, women are more empowered that they assume an equal responsibility with the men.
According to (Afshar & Maynard, 2000: pg 305), the last three decades has seen the success of feminism especially due to increased awareness in race and ethnicities. This success has challenged the mainstream thought of more role of dominance in the society. However, the author notes that the degree of success of feminism in the western countries is different from the Islamist countries in which the man still maintains his traditional role and women remain subordinate to male. Westbrook & Schilt (2013: pg, 333) further is of the view that gender and sexuality are tied together inextricably. However, this is changing as women are taking up roles that were traditionally a preserve for men.
Assumptions about Men’s Gender and Sexuality
Men as the Providers
Men have long been considered as the breadwinner rather provider of the family. This expectation as Penny (2013) puts it is no longer the case and women are increasingly seeking independence with the scapegoat being single mothers. Men have been regarded as providers and superior to the women for a long period. However, these perceptions are changing in the modern society as women acquire equal role to men. Women are working to financially empower themselves and provide for themselves, a role that penny (2013) notes as a preserve for men traditionally. According to penny, Men have also changed their perspective on remaining as providers as not all are willing to remain as breadwinners.
On the contrary, penny further even disputes that the age of male providers even existed; this is because women have also worked all along with men but men were always assumed to be the providers. In addition, some men did not meet their role as provides because they were poor, sensitive or companionate to remain as providers.
Men are regarded as more violent than the women are especially in the times of financial crisis. Penny argues that they tend to express their feeling of powerlessness on the women. Penny (2013) blames the government on relying on the traditional family values that marriages are the solution to the civil unrest. In a study conducted in Australia that examined the primary school boys on enforcing hegemonic masculinity privileges (Bartholomaeus, 2013: pg. 279), the findings of the study demonstrate that practice can work to deal with the current masculinity crisis. Therefore, teaching the young boys on refraining from violence may reduce the cases of violence directed towards women in the future. According to penny (2013), the violent role of men above women made it easy for the men to turn their anger and frustration towards women. The author further notes that the government relies n the family values to reduce increased violence in the time financial crisis that is very ineffective. Hlavka (2014: pg, 1) notes that the cases of violence directed towards women have increased. The author analyzes the reasons why women do not report the cases of violence directed towards ad notes that this could help provide a better understanding of dominant discourses and subjective nature of the men in the society.
Men are perceived to be strong and protective. In most cases, men stand up to guard and protect not just their loved ones but also the society in general. Men are always are always protective of the woman but this has also significantly changed as in the modern society.
In addition to being protective, Marshall, (2006: pg 345), notes that sexual function and virility of men decreases with age. With age, the book further analyses if the men still assume their protective role with decreasing age as it is the case to deteriorating health.
Discourses of Masculinity being mobilized
The golden age rather the notion of men as the providers is long gone. While the article recognizes the efforts of the men in providing for the family, it argues that women have always worked and submitted to the masculinity model only to be oppressed by queer, poor, and unable men. The reality of the masculinity crisis is therefore not that men want to remain the providers and protectors to the family but simply that they want to feel needed, useful, loved and wanted in the society. However, the society’s reluctance to let go the traditional masculinity ideal adds to the continual anguish on the men. Currently, young men who continue to drawn in the world that seems to reject them cannot reassert masculinity being a form of social control. After analyzing various western contemporary societies, Butler, (1986: pg, 35) notes that, gender plays a significant role in behavior, a view that is also noted by penny (2013) in his article as men being violent and protective. Similarly, Jackson (2005: pg 105) also agrees that in the last one decade, feminists have acquired an equal status with the males in the heterosexual relationships. The man no longer plays the breadwinner role, which were his responsibility and the woman no longer subordinate to the man as it was in the past society. Fraser et al, (2013), explores the role of men in the 21st century in range of various fields, which include the public health, media studies as well as information technology and notes that vanity has shaped the western society understanding on man hood.
In conclusion, masculinity in men has been an ongoing debate in the western world. It appears that gender boundaries have become more fluid as well as less defined according to Brooks (2010). Gender equality has replaced the previous pre-determined male roles and the masculinity are often characterize as in crisis in modern Western world. The essay analyzed the Guardian Newspaper, Laurie Penny writes about this crisis that boys and men face and which are unsolvable through the revival of the tired stereotypes constraining and oppressing them. The article goes by the title “We need to talk about masculinity. The concept discussed is the hegemonic theory from the cornels gender theory. The debate on the concept of hegemonic masculinity, which extends from the cornels gender theory has extended to several disciplines since it was formulated in the late 1980. The theory explains why the men have a dominant position over women in the society. Justifying the subordination of women by men in the society, the theory has received criticism on its applicability on the modern society in which all the genders are equal and the idea of the man being the sole breadwinner long abandoned. According to the article, men have to adjust to the new reality that they are longer superior to women who have been more empowered in the modern society and no longer have to depend on men to provide or as breadwinner. The article further discuses that the men required to be more loved and appreciated and not to be bestowed to their tradition role as protectors of providers. Some of the effects of the reality on masculinity in men include distress and depression. However, training men from their early age that the society has changed can easily overcome these crises and they have to adapt to an equal society where all genders are equal.
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