I love when two contrasting opinion pieces get passed around, especially within the same week, and everyone is all, “Oh, you have to read this! Amen to this!”, even though they are essentially saying opposing things.
This week, one article was from Wall Street Journal titled, “Where Have The Good Men Gone?”, lamenteing the prevalence of ‘guys’ over ‘real men’:
Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This “pre-adulthood” has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men.
Still, for these women, one key question won’t go away: Where have the good men gone? Their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers…
What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.
It’s easy to complain, of course, but would the same argument fly if a man wrote a piece bemoaning the lack of ‘real women’ in a world where the traditional stereotypes no longer apply? Some credit is due for the fact that despite the sensational title and confrontational opening, the article does come around to a concession that there isn’t yet an answer of what a modern “man” is supposed to be in a newly-more-equalized world. Still, the overall article gives the strong impression that men are letting women down somehow, that women are collectively wishing for some good old-fashioned manly maleness in their men, and the current crop just aren’t cutting it.
Then contrast that perspective with an article from This Recording that takes the opposing tack, “In Which We Teach You How To Be A Woman In Any Boys’ Club,” which is mostly about survival strategies for smart women in a (sadly, still) male-dominated world. That is, until it gets to this point rather succinctly:
All I ever witness is straight men showing me how miserable they are with the expectations placed on them as men, how much they hate trying to live up to this impossible standard and how unhappy they still are if they manage to succeed. They have a hard time acknowledging there are other modes of being because they are fucking terrified to deviate from the known, even though the known is horrible and hurts them.
“Masculinity” is as damaging to men as “Femininity” is to women. Neither is something to aspire to. Women who understand this are called feminists. Men who understand this aren’t called anything yet, but maybe they can just be called feminists too.
SO much more constructive! The first article celebrates that women are no longer trapped in a pre-determined identity, then complains that men are no longer adhering to theirs (or at least, not enough men for the number of women who find that identity appealing). The second says that the fight isn’t over for women (probably more true on a cultural level, even if things are improving), but at least concedes that men also derive no benefit from expectations being thrust upon them.
As far as attraction goes, it would seem that both men and women are looking for a strong but sensitive, beautiful but approachable, sexual but modest, talented but humble, funny but non-cynical uber-specimen that is everything possibly desirable all at once. Perhaps the problem is that no individual is all of those things, and all of our solution should be to accept that a) our ideal doesn’t exist, b) the perfect ideal may be an impossible goal, but, c) we’re all just trying our best here.