This is a guest post by Pelle Billing – he challenges us to look at male identity.
The statistics are becoming increasingly well known. Men earn a lower percentage of college degrees than women. Male unemployment is reaching alarming heights. Fewer and fewer men get married (in the US and the UK alike); seemingly more interested in video games, beer and hanging out with friends.
What is going on here? Are men prolonging their boyhood indefinitely? Do men need to man up?
There is more complexity to these questions than meets the eye. Summing up the solution as men needing to “man up” bypasses this complexity and implies that there is no knowledge to be gained here – only a return to the manhood ideal of the 1950s. But going down that route will not lead to a transformation of men, nor a transformation of society.
We all make our own choices, and we all have to live with our own choices. Few people would disagree with such a statement. However, no decision is made in a vacuum. Depending on the context some choices may seem overwhelmingly easy to make, while others require jumping through hoops and going against the flow.
So what is the context of young men making choices today? Why has the choice of ignoring manhood (and marriage) become so much more common? Understanding young men’s view of the society they find themselves in is vital, if we want to help more young men to actually enter a form of mature manhood.
I believe there are a number of factors that end up affecting the life choices of young men:
1) A lack of guidance from older men.
Male teachers are disappearing. Single mothers are increasing (PDF) in numbers – a process that may well escalate due to single women insemination. Fathers who live with their children still tend to work away from home and take primary responsibility for providing for the family. Where are boys to connect with older men? How can the wisdom, nurturing and yes – even firm guidance when needed – be passed on?
2) The taboo around discussing men’s unique abilities.
You're allowed to call women more peaceful, more empathetic, more cooperative and less violent than men. However, it’s considered sexist to say that men are more goal oriented, more analytical and more interested in achieving greatness in the workplace. This double standard means that it’s hard to give young boys role models, or help them feel a sense of pride in their coming manhood.
3) Women’s sexual revolution
In the 1950s the guidelines for the sexes were easy. Men needed to find a job, women needed to be feminine and everyone was expected to keep sexual connections to a minimum before marriage. Then everything changed… The sexual revolution means that we now have a whole marketplace for dating, hooking up or finding a relationship.
Young men of today find themselves asking questions such as: Should I get married or stay in the sexual marketplace? Do I want to marry a woman who is 30 years old and has had 30 partners? Evolutionary speaking men have been programmed to bond with younger and (seemingly) not too experienced women. Today, these male thoughts are considered sexist (and not without reason), but it’s well nigh impossible to change ancient programming overnight.
Men need to feel that they are uniquely needed and uniquely qualified to be fathers, role models and long term romantic partners. They need to hear this message from older men, from society and from young women. Decades of feminism has meant that we stopped thinking about men’s needs and the development paths leading to a healthy male identity. The time has come to reverse that trend and show young men that without them society, culture and even our planet, has no future.
Pelle Billing is an M.D. and a professional teacher of Argentine tango, who writes (www.pellebilling.com) and lectures about gender issues and men’s issues. His work represents the next step in the gender discourse, where we let go of blaming and shaming men, and realize that gender roles have been unavoidable throughout history, since it is only in a post-industrialized society that it even makes sense for men and women to broaden their roles. He also run a blog on gender issues in Swedish.