By: Diana Bello Aristizábal
“All men are the same” is a cliché sentence that generations of the 20th century and even of the current one grew up listening to. But today, in the middle of 2022 with a pandemic over our shoulders that has forced us to question our values as a society and after the impact of feminist movements, is this statement still valid?
This is the question that remains in the air in a world that little by little has been changing and creating new rules in the labor, romantic, and parenting spheres, which has brought great challenges for today’s man that are worth reviewing in father’s month.
But to talk about the role that men practice today, it is necessary to analyze that of women, who have been a key player in the construction of the mentality and behavior of their male peer.
“During the second wave of feminism in the 1970s, a significant number of factory jobs disappeared and many more women entered the workforce because men’s wages were no longer enough to support a family. This created a crisis in masculinity by changing the role of men as the sole provider,” says Claire Oueslati-Porter, an anthropologist at the University of Miami.
Then, around the 1980s, women began to gain more power by entering all productive sectors and with this, the concept of ‘career woman’ was incorporated into the American culture.
“As they started to fill jobs positions, they also began to question other issues as if it was still fair for them to take care of all the housework,” adds Oueslati-Porter, who is also a cultural anthropologist with a focus on gender issues.
At that time, the salary gap between men and women and sexual harassment also began to become evident, which was barely discussed back then but very much present in society. Recently, this problem was widely uncovered with the social media movement #metoo under which several women around the world talked openly for the first time about the abuse they had suffered.
All these circumstances and others served as fertilizer for the man of 2022 who tries to navigate between traditional masculine ideas and new ones that are being incorporated into the new generations. So what does it mean to be a man today?
The new masculinity in a polarized world
According to Oueslati-Porter, from the 1990s to the present, women have raised their expectations regarding men. Given this reality, many are happy to live up to their demands while others see them as a threat to male power. “We continue to live in a rape culture and during the pandemic, we had the highest peak of domestic violence committed by men.”
This toxic masculinity, which is based on the stereotype that men solve problems through violence and are incapable of showing vulnerability, is still latent in a large part of the population, although perhaps the most important change is that some have realized that being a men can look different.
“Men now are allowed to be more vulnerable, ask for help, and lean on their friends, which according to the American Psychological Association is vital for them because they need to have support networks. There is also research that says men with daughters are more willing to question toxic attitudes and change them motivated by their desire to leave a better future for their daughters,” Oueslati-Porter, says.
This happens, in large part, due to the fact that the meaning of masculinity varies from time to time. “It is a social construct and not something defined or fixed,” says Jairo Ledezma, assistant professor of sociology and history at Miami-Dade College, who states men are changing because society is changing.
Currently, we live under a service economy in which communication and emotional connection are needed more than ever to attract consumers, which has benefited women who naturally have better communication skills and tend to be more emotional.
As a result of this change, according to Ledezma, women are gaining more prominence in the workforce and in the academic field while men are falling behind. “They have not fully adapted to the new labor scenario while women are preparing themselves more every day.”
For this reason, academically, women are outperforming men, especially in the Latino and African-American communities, as they are opting for more undergraduate, master’s, associates, and even doctorate degrees.
But for Oueslati-Porter, women are not holding more jobs than men today as many have not yet returned to the labor market since 2020 when most children dived in virtual education.
“The job growth that the country is experiencing has fallen mainly on men if we look at statistics from the Department of Labor. In fact, a woman is more likely to miss a job promotion than a man, because childcare responsibility still falls disproportionately on her.”
However, a great number of men, especially in the Millennial generation, want to be more present in their children’s upbringing and are demanding their rights as fathers to be respected, which is why there are currently a lot more cases in courts in which men sue women for child custody.
“The modern man understands that women have power and has passed it to them. He also wants to educate his own children and not delegate this task to others. He protects his family with compassion and responsibility. He is also the one who can talk about sex with his children and doesn’t say ‘ask your mother’, he cleans and cooks and is not the only provider at home,” says Ledezma.
It is, then, men labeled as sexists those that, according to experts, probably have not changed even if it seems like they did. “In a culture where there is more sensitivity around labor and sexual harassment, many men have been trained to fit into the new collective ideal to be accepted,” says the University of Miami anthropologist.
However, according to her, there has been a little progress as several men see the appeal of following feminist principles based on equality and inclusion. “That way, they get to be more human and overcome the labels that have always been imprinted on them.”
In the field of romance, however, things are somewhat confusing because if the conquest parameters of yesteryear are followed, there is a risk of passing as a stalker instead of a romantic as it was the case in other times. “Men no longer know if paying the bill and opening the door for women is considered respectful or not.”
But what do men say about masculinity? We spoke to several of them and this is what they told us.
Between the ‘must be’ and the ‘is’
For Ricardo Lopez, a 37-year-old Venezuelan who is the father of 4 children and lives in Miami, the father figure has changed a lot. “My father was much more distant and his father even more than I am with my children.”
In his opinion, men have not changed their mentality regarding most issues, but they do seek to act more as a team player with women and educate children from a freer perspective.
“Man has seen himself obliged to moderate his behavior in order to be socially accepted, even though inside he continues to have the same beliefs. I was raised with many concepts that I am not going to change, but I don’t plan to pass them on to my children either,” he says.
However, he acknowledges that some acquaintances around him keep thinking they have inherent rights over women simply because they
are men, something with which Michael Bodkin, a 41-year-old Panamanian American who lives in Atlanta and has no children, agrees.
“A lot of men don’t adjust to the new expectations of women and still want to come home and see a hot meal served but I think this should not be a social imposition but rather an agreement between the couple.”
This is the case of Ricardo, who has a traditional system established at home in which he is the provider and his wife, the one who takes care of children. “That’s how I was raised, but that doesn’t mean I can’t cook for her because I know that her work and mine are both equally important.”
Others maintain a 50/50 system at home, as is the case of Luis Cordova, a 36-year-old Peruvian living in Miami and the father of a 9-month-old girl. “We do everything there is to do between the mother and me: clean, pay, and raise. On the days I don’t work I usually do a little more because women get tired of being with a baby all the time. I like to take care of my children and not leave that task to a third party.”
For Luis Martin Mesa, a 68-year-old Spaniard with children and grandchildren, the image of the male provider and the female as the almost only caregiver is still present in society.
“There has been significant progress since a lot of men today understand that housework is a shared responsibility and not a “help” when it is done by him. But still many women continue to have the same workload both in and out of home.”
In addition, Luis says that in Spain it’s still easier for a man to take on a job that requires full dedication than for a woman to do it. “A man somehow doesn’t commit a great sin if he goes to work and returns home at 9 p.m., whereas if a woman does the same thing, she feels like she is failing her family.”
Ben Zion Ptashnik, for his part, a 72-year-old Israeli-American, although he grew up in 1950s New York and had to fight with himself to overcome sexist beliefs, today he believes modern men have to be more present in their children’s lives.
“Everything changed when I had daughters. I raised them to have a career and a source of income, not to only be limited to marry and have children,” says Ben, who confesses he went from being a teenager who saw women as something to “hunt” and not equal to him to respect their role in society.
A role that has also changed in the romantic field, although, in Michael’s opinion, many men see dating as a transactional process in which they give to receive something in return.
This seduction culture, Ben calls it “repulsive.” “The challenge as parents is to monitor what children see on their mobile devices because in pornography they are taught that women are kind of a bird to hunt.”
But everyone’s opinion is that beyond gender, men and women adopt a sexist or an egalitarian attitude due to other factors such as religion, race, environment, and political affiliation.
The challenge facing the new generations is to understand that men and women are more alike than we have been led to believe and we can live without discrimination or stereotypes, such as blue is for men and pink for women, ending up with sexism that not only harms women but also men because it puts a pressure on them that goes against individual freedoms.
On the other hand, this time in history is an opportunity for men to redefine their role in society by being more in touch with their emotions without fearing they may lose their manhood by doing so. On the contrary, a vulnerability could potentially become a common tool to deal with problems instead of violence.