Does man really have a problem with modern life?
A theory of “masculinity in crisis” has emerged. Men are really searching for a role in modern society; the things they used to do aren’t in much demand anymore. Due to rapid social, economic and political change, many aspects of the traditional male sex role have been rendered increasingly dysfunctional and obsolete. This has led to a period of destabilisation in traditional gender roles and relationships, prompting sex role strain and a contemporary ‘crisis of masculinity’. The notion of a crisis of masculinity clearly belongs at this more global level, although it might be expected to have repercussions at an individual or an institutional level.
Godse said in the court for killing Gandhi that he was compelled to kill because of his womanly politics was emasculating the Hindu nation. Godse is a hero today in an India utterly transformed by Hindu chauvinists – an India in which Mein Kampf is a bestseller, a political movement inspired by European fascists dominates politics and culture. For the first years of his life he was raised as a girl, with a nose ring, and later tried to gain a hard-edged masculine identity through Hindu supremacism. Yet for many struggling young Indians today Godse represents, along with Adolf Hitler, a triumphantly realised individual and national manhood. The moral prestige of Gandhi’s murderer is only one sign among many of what seems to be a global crisis of masculinity.
Morbid visions of castration and emasculation, civilisational decline and decay, connect Godse and Schlesinger to Bin Laden and Trump, and many other exponents of a rear-guard machismo today. They are susceptible to cliched metaphors of “soft” and “passive” femininity, “hard” and “active” masculinity; they are nostalgic for a time when men did not have to think twice about being men. And whether Hindu chauvinist, radical Islamist or white nationalist, their self-image depends on despising and excluding women. It is as though the fantasy of male strength measures itself most gratifyingly against the fantasy of female weakness.
Many lower-middle-class and working-class males in Western countries feel forgotten, useless, their lives without meaning or purpose. The jobs these men used to do have long since moved offshore, replaced by new jobs which don’t create the same sense of satisfaction. Building cars or working with your hands gives a sense of accomplishment that office jobs don’t. A British man with a family working in a menial job may be forced to rely on state hand-outs. Few men like accepting benefits. Among the leading causes of suicide or depression among men are feelings of uselessness or worthlessness.
Men want to feel valued, yet at a subliminal level modern society is increasingly telling them that they are not. The wealthy have swapped their workforce for a new, remoter one, leaving behind the old. Confused and hurt, these forgotten men are trapped in a society which has rejected them in favour of cheaper alternatives. Their masculine traits are now misplaced, redirected into obsessions with football or video games. These natural instincts are now viewed as unnecessary anachronisms by the ruling class, who wish to mould the next generation of boys into a more serviceable model.
This crisis began in the 19th century, with the most radical shift in human history: the replacement of agrarian and rural societies by a volatile socio-economic order, which, defined by industrial capitalism, came to be rigidly organised through new sexual and racial divisions of labour. And the crisis seems universal today because a web of restrictive gender norms, spun in modernising western Europe and America, has come to cover the remotest corners of the earth as they undergo their own socio-economic revolutions.
A hopeful and positive future for men and women living in a gender-equal world requires that we also acknowledge the crisis that many young men are facing, and that we invest in solutions.
- As a society, we need to be more supportive and encourage boys just like girls to embrace female-dominated HEAL careers (health, education, administrative, literacy)
- We need media messages, commercials and TV shows that portray men as responsible, competent and caring husbands, sons and fathers, instead of idiots and/or misogynists.
Just as it’s no longer acceptable to educationally, economically and politically restrict women, it is no longer acceptable to disregard men’s issues. As we gradually move towards a more humanist approach to gender roles and newer generations are less affected by more traditional views of masculinity and femininity, perhaps repeating this experiment on future generations may produce different results.