Of Men And Mice
I want to start this article with a disclaimer that I am one of the biggest exponents of gender equality, women emancipation, and the #MeToo movement. I also subscribe to the time-honoured deposition that most of the troubles in a woman’s life start with a man and these include “Men-opause, men-strual cramps, men-tal breakdown….”.
This article, however, is being written to highlight a serious and prevalent danger which concerns men and has nothing to do with women. If someone still has an issue with what is being written here, please read something else, change the conversation or get a life.
There was a time when men were described as parking spaces; the good ones were already taken and the only ones left were handicapped. Bonnie Tyler also lamented “Where have all the good men gone?”
Things have since moved beyond good or bad, because men have become an endangered species. Characters like Shane Warne, the cricket hero and boozer, who had a burger named after him and once romped with two models and a blow-up doll, have become pussycats now. With his fake hair, polished teeth, and slim waste-line, he wears make-up and often tweets about his favourite beauty products. The bad boy Bill Clinton, who also happened to be the US President, used to be a compulsive seducer with the ability to make women take off their clothes by simply looking at them.
He has abandoned Krispy Kreme doughnuts, steaks and burgers, and is now a vegan who raves about losing 24lb in a matter of months. If John Wayne was around, he would probably be arrested for saying, “Women have the right to work wherever they want, as long as they have the dinner ready when you get home”.
I am just about old enough to remember when men were really men and they didn’t just exist in works of fiction and on TV screens. Their masculinity had nothing to do with how they looked but was in their character. These real men smiled in distress, gathered strength from suffering, and grew valiant by reflection. They protected the weak, had courage in the face of adversity, and put the society before self. They loved their women “whose mouths were like a drop of strawberry jam in a glass of milk”.
They also walked out of the front door if they felt they were parked in the wrong garage. But now, we have metrosexuals instead of real men who take great care of themselves in terms of grooming and style. They grow trendy beards, wear flannel shirts or cashmere jumpers, drink smoothies and get regular pedicures. However, they simply cannot change a flat tire or a light bulb if required.
They have regrettably become feminised, not civilised; and the two are not the same thing. Sometimes they even cry at the movies, Lord help us.
This is a common observation, backed up by research, that today’s young men are physically perhaps the weakest generation in our history. If you take an average male, his father was much stronger than him. The idea of physical labour has become alien to young men, and if they are asked to help build something, the task exhausts them to the point of extinction.
In this era of post-masculine reality, they may not even be stronger than the average female. The days of admiring physical strength may be over, but we are also seeing a parallel decline in other kinds of strengths e.g., moral courage, resilience, leadership, and readiness for sacrifice. Most young men today are weaker as individuals because they are stuck in their adolescence; refusing to forgo the “safe spaces” on college campuses, the hook-up culture, the porn addiction, and of course the new sexual reality transmitted through media that there is no such thing as male and female. As a result, we are not seeing a different expression of masculinity adapted to znew ground realities, but no masculinity at all.
Masculinity as we know is a set of attributes, manners, and roles that are associated with men. This may have something to do with physical aspects of their bodies but is much more about how they live their lives. The conventional masculine traits include competitiveness, aggression, sexual appetite, resourcefulness, and independence to name a few. It has been a serious concern for the last couple of decades that, as a whole, men have gone soft. The technical skills and can-do attitudes that characterised the previous generations have been snuffed out as gender lines became blurred.
Our culture has also moved away from embracing masculine qualities, and even calls into question their relevance. With the rise of feminism, there has been a relentless pressure to weaken masculinity. It can’t be a coincidence that the rise in lean and ethical dieting has been more prominent since the onset of the #MeToo movement. Men are being led to believe that their masculinity is a problem because their pursuit of assertiveness and pleasure has damaged the world around them.
The feminisation of men actually starts early when boys are told not to play rough and mothers ban play guns in case it teaches them to be violent. As these boys grow older, competition is frowned upon in the name of “everyone is a winner”. From there on, they have ridiculously sedentary lives studying things they often find dull, and their only release is masses of online smut which destroys the soul as well as their sex drive. Research shows that less than only a third of men in the 18-29 age range report feeling masculine, compared to 65 percent of those approaching retirement age.
This may partially be the effect of change in gender roles where increasing number of men are doing house chores and looking after children. Their economic circumstances also complicate masculine narratives because male wages have dipped while female wages are going up. There is also evidence to suggest that young women are gradually taking over men in academics and that young men have become less ambitious regarding their careers.
No wonder the masculine identity is under threat because it can’t be played out through male careers and incomes anymore.
Another possible reason for diminished “manliness” among young men could be that their testosterone counts are found to be lower than a few decades ago. Testosterone as we know promotes attributes like attention, memory, and increased energy libido and muscle mass.
When Testosterone counts get too low, men can begin to feel fatigued, lose sexual interest, gain weight, and lose muscle mass similar to what is commonly seen in older men.
The cause of this generational drop isn’t clear, but there is ample evidence to suggest that it has multifaceted aetiology. It is the price we are paying for a modern life where people smoke fewer cigarettes (smoking increases testosterone level) and are obese due to bad food and lack of exercise (obesity lowers testosterone level). However, the most likely culprit for lower levels of testosterone is environmental pollution caused by chemicals commonly found in medicine and pesticides, which inhibit testosterone production. Research also shows that industrial pollutants can cause impasse of testosterone in the human body.
According to the Office of National Statistics, countries like the UK are becoming a nation of home-alone women. The lack of a partner is particularly besetting independent, successful career women in their late twenties, thirties and forties, just as it has done in the US for several years. The melancholic cry “Where have all the eligible men gone?” is now heard as loud and as much in London as it is in New York. The latest news from Harper’s Bazaar is a poignant confession by the writer Christa Worthington – she is giving up on men and is thinking of becoming a single mother by choice through artificial insemination.
Social media have been cited as a reason, but even if young men are available, they are not interested in having sex (perhaps because sex involves focusing on someone else). This is when 70% in a survey said that they would like to date someone “more sexually aggressive,” in contrast to the norms of the past. Eighty-eight percent also said they would be okay with their partner making more money.
This is obviously a classic case of women wanting their cake and eating it too. They would like to have it both ways, but the ebbing tide seems to have worn too much macho off the face of masculinity.
The ‘manhood’ crisis is embroiling young men who are really getting hurt in the face of society’s current expectations that they should be more assertive than docile, more aggressive than empathic. Acknowledging the existence of this crisis must entail raising public awareness about the contradictions society imposes on young men and the consequences of those contradictions.
Women accept that they still want men to earn more than them while at the same time decrying the gender pay gap. They also read novels like Fifty Shades of Grey in their droves; the book where the millionaire stalks a college girl. Women abduct men for going shopping on weekends instead of letting them play Rugby or work with their tools in the garage.
And then they flock to watch Twilight featuring the brooding vampire who essentially hunts down Bella and then protects her from other evil vampires. Raw, animal, and masculine seduction is what women may still seek, yet all around them, the men are being urged to drink soy lattes. This is perhaps why the women have to go home to watch Vikings and Game of Thrones: programmes where the men hunt animals, skin them, wear them and then have their way with the slave girls.
M. Aamer Sarfraz is a philosophical psychiatrist based in London.