by Risa Green
I was standing in line at the market this morning when the cover of Newsweek caught my eye. Man Up! was the headline, with an image of a well-built, shirtless man facing away from the camera, holding a little boy in his arms. The subtitle was The Traditional Male Is an Endangered Species. It’s Time to Rethink Masculinity. Isn’t it though? I thought to myself, and I bought it, hoping it might be interesting, or at least that it might give me some fodder for my post this week.
Let me start by telling you what I was hoping the article would be about. I was hoping it would be about how men, at least the urban men where I live, seem to me in the last few years to have become more and more like women. And by that I mean that they just seem to be not so concerned with doing – or even knowing how to do – things that were, traditionally, done by men. For instance, I don’t know a whole lot of guys who mow their own lawns anymore. Which I get, because mowing the lawn is a drag, and because it’s a whole lot easier to just pay someone else to mow the lawn. But still, if all of the gardeners suddenly decided to unionize and go on strike, I think there’d be a lot of houses in LA with really, really long grass. Same thing for knowing how to hook up speakers, or how to fix a leaky faucet, or how to caulk a shower. (For the record, my husband is standing over my shoulder and demanding that I disclose that he knows how to do all of these things).
Aside from my husband, however, most of the men I know have “guys” who do all of this stuff for them, and in doing so, they’ve ceased being guys themselves. Which is fine, I guess. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a man being emasculated and helpless and unable to do things for himself. I’m not really passing judgment. It’s just, you know, not all that hot. Like, imagining a guy calling another guy to fix his roof is not exactly the stuff of sexual fantasy. Or at least, the sexual fantasy isn’t going to be about the guy making the call. Anyway, I’m just sayin’. It’s what I thought the article would be about.
Instead, however, the article was about how there aren’t really that many “manly” jobs left in America anymore, and so if men want to be more employable, they need to start thinking about training for fields like teaching and nursing and customer service. And if we want men to train for these fields, then those employers need to engage in “aggressive, male-oriented advertising campaigns.” It also talked a lot about how we need to de-stigmatize paternity leave so that men will take it when it’s offered, because right now, “baby time is simply not seen as masculine.” Agreed, on both points. But again, I kept hoping for the article to dig a little bit deeper, and to talk about the interesting paradox that this is going to create for a lot of men. Which is that we, as women, still want our men to be sexy. And on some basic level, sexiness requires a certain degree of manliness. Which is not to say that a man diapering a baby isn’t sexy. Because it can be. But honestly, when I’m thinking about having sex with a man, I’m not thinking about him changing a baby. Unless, of course, he’s wearing a fireman’s uniform and he’s just rescued the baby from a burning building.
We want our men to be manly, but at the same time, we want our men to also be sensitive, and to take paternity leave, and to do dishes, and to go with us to see Sex In the City, and yes, to take jobs as teachers and nurses and customer service reps, if that is what will allow them to support our families. But it’s a fine line these men are going to have to walk. If they take jobs that aren’t “manly”, then they’re going to need to man up at home. They’re going to need to mow the lawn, to hook up the speakers, to fix the faucet. Otherwise, they run the risk of becoming, for lack of a better word, girly. And doesn’t that just sound so…so…familiar? I mean, haven’t we, as women, walked that very same line only in the other direction? We want to be thought of as feminine and sexy, but at the same time, we want to be respected and taken seriously in the workplace. It’s funny how it’s come full circle, isn’t it?
So yes, maybe the traditional male is an endangered species, and maybe it is time to rethink masculinity. But maybe what the cover of Newsweek should have said was: Man Up! The Traditional Male Is an Endangered Species. It’s Time to Start Thinking More Like Your Wife.