When I become a parent, being as young as I was, I don’t think I had quite contemplated the depth of responsibility that I was walking into and the world in which my child would be entering. If the baby I was carrying was a girl she would face a world where women are still paid 72 cents to the American Dollar, where her place although no longer at home is still defined and debated by men and the government still insists own retaining ownership over her womb. As it so happens he was born a boy, well in any case a child with male genitals and until he was able to tell me otherwise I would be raising a young man; one who would come to define modern masculinity in his own sense, but one who also required me teach him about the values of a modern masculinity. I believe that it is our responsibility, of the millennials, to raise a new generation of children who are allowed to define a masculinity not based in traditions of physical strength, emotional toughness, duty, loyalty, honour, action
Perhaps this is the first issue to address, our binary concepts of gender need to be acknowledged as backward and restrictive. Russell Brand talks of raising his child as ‘gender neutral’, to not tell his child about the gender roles that have constructed for them. I believe that although perhaps idealistic, maybe as a concept it should be acknowledged as an ideal to move towards. It is impossible to deny that gender roles for our children exist, they are surrounded by it constantly and (unless you can afford to live in a rather upper/middle class rural bubble) our children have to interact with this construction daily. However, perhaps the key idea of a new masculinity is to try and reinforce the idea that it is okay for your child to move between these distinct boundaries, that he does not have to be defined by the existing construction of masculinity, that he doesn’t have to be emotionally stunted, or strong, that he can cry if he wants to and not be ashamed to be different.
Masculinity at the moment is so narrowly defined. The media shows images of hyper-masculinity: oiled, tanned, muscled, macho, with the means and affluence to sweep his woman off her feet, take care of her, provide for their family. It leaves very little scope for young boys to look at themselves and be okay with being different. The super heroes we encourage little boys to make their role models are the epitome of a forced masculinity. We need to diversify this role and provide alternative role models (LGBTQ men, men of all sizes, cultures, backgrounds, disabilities) as sources of inspiration for our children.
So how do I intend to instil these values into my son? Well I intend to do very little actively; he will be encouraged to share his feelings, he will be acknowledged and heard, he will be reassured that whatever he feels is okay, and he will not be given a gendered limitation on activities, clothes, toys, on anything and his choices will be acknowledged and supported thoroughly. However, he will, I am sure, when he goes to school, and any time he interacts with society feel the pressure and the weight of masculine values. He will be told to “man up” that “boys don’t cry” that “he cant wear that, that for girls”
Masculinity has many flaws, and often those who represent masculine ideals have done so through the belittling of others, as if in order to keep masculinity as the ultimate pinnacle of what it is to be a man. Being a man is one of those entities like whiteness that is something that can only be obtained by the chosen few, and the majority of men can only ever yearn to be such a figure. Donald Trump is a man who is defined by his masculinity, his unwavering stance upon abortion, immigration and suspicion of anyone who is an other to him, including muslims and women. He has been heard to brag about sexually assaulting women. As a child the message is clear, masculinity means you have a certain amount of authority and entitlement. This entitlement is reinforced by centuries of male cultural domination, and has quite frankly stayed static in a world where other aspects of gender, race and culture have developed. This development means that masculinity represents an era that no longer exists. Donald Trump is a fossil and emblem of masculinity from a bygone era but he appeals to the conservative nature of man, unwilling to let go of the idea that the past is safe and the future, the future for our children is so strange and new that it simply cant possibly be good.
The millennials should embrace this strange new world and redefine masculinity by modern standards, that of no real standard, a masculinity that belongs to the individual upon their terms not upon terms set by others. There is no one size fits all definition of masculinity. If my son chooses to define his masculinity in the pursuit of a career of bodybuilding, or as an army sergeant or as anything that traditional masculine values encompass, then I am determined that his decision will be not be based upon external pressures but on a decision that is purely his.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.
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