Why are men “lost”?
“Men are lost.”
I was visiting my cousins in Canada over the summer, and while gathered around a bonfire deep in the forested lakelands outside of Montreal we got to chatting about the project some friends and I have embarked on to explore manliness in contemporary culture.
This statement was the immediate response from one of my cousins, an accomplished guy — married, educated, professional, thoughtful, and just a little tipsy after a couple of Dark’n’Stormy’s. His tone seemed tinged with frustration, confusion, and something akin to despair.
The statement was so unexpected, and so different from my own view, I asked him why he felt men were lost. In the subsequent discussion he raised a number of points including shifting gender roles, changing social and cultural expectations of men and their behavior with women, and how there was no guide to understand what the new “rules” were. A central thread was his feeling that the defined roles of men and women he’d been brought up with was no longer valid — or at least he was unsure of what remained acceptable.
I realized that he felt lost because there were aspects of being a man he saw as unalterable constants which were now uncertain, and I didn’t because I accepted these things as variables.
Bosses and peers who are women. Women who have better careers and earn more money than their partners. Women with technical savvy, ability, and professional achievement. Women who assert their equality and defend their rights while skillfully preserving their authority and feminine identity. Recognizing there’s a variety of sexual orientations and genders which are valid, and language needs to adapt to reflect them. Respecting cultural and social differences, and learning to ask when unsure. Having relationships which are genuine partnerships, with both people bringing equal effort and contribution*. Being comfortable in not knowing all the answers, and seeking opinions and knowledge and perspectives to learn from.
I’ve found this cultural (r)evolution exciting and challenging in the most positive way. For me, its opened up new friendships, opportunities, talents, and perspectives while pushing me to develop new skills and mindsets of my own. However, I can also see the flip side.
If you’ve established your identity in the belief that to be a man requires being socially and culturally dominant, earning more, knowing more, being more physical and demanding, never admitting weakness, that gender is binary, and a woman’s role is to support, nurture, and acquiesce, then what’s outlined in the paragraph above will be challenging.
If your exposure to those beliefs is mild, then it’s reasonable to feel unsettled and confused — you’ll feel “lost”. If those beliefs are strongly held, then it’ll feel threatening and the response is likely to be various levels of fear, anger, hatred and rage.
My friend Wes’s wife jokes that “men are lost because they won’t ask for directions”. There’s a lot of truth in that witticism, and also a good pointer to finding your way. A first step is working out which of your beliefs is generating the response … and then deciding if that’s really something which is a fundamental part of your identity.
There’s an old truism that “change is the only constant in life”. From experience, accepting and embracing that dynamism is a healthy first step in finding your way — and what’s more manly than being a skilled navigator and explorer of uncharted exotic lands?
* I do much of the cooking — which I enjoy — and fair share of the laundry, cleaning, shopping, bill-paying and other chores. I’ll write a separate post on the seductively urbane, masculine sexiness of a tidy home and clean bathroom.