How is traditional masculinity being questioned?

The rise of feminist, homosexual and transsexual causes has taken a great importance in our society. Since a few decades, social groups repressed because of their gender seek to affirm their identity, be seen as equals, free of any societal preconceptions. The traditional understanding of masculinity has played a major role in the repression of those social groups. “You’re not a man if you don’t get laid”, common statement that puts women as objects. “You’re not a man if you cry”, which means that you are gay if you do. “You’re not a man if you put skincare”, which means that you are a women or gay if you do. While being disrespectful of women attributes, these masculine stereotypes are also considered to harm men themselves by putting a lot of pressure on their shoulders in order to fit in a men box. However, due to societal evolutions that I wish to explore in this article, a change of course is happening. According to research conducted by YouGov in may 2016, only 2% of young British men (aged 18–26) consider themselves as completely masculine, compared to 56% of British men over 65. If younger people don’t feel completely masculine, how are they feeling different? What explains this different generational relationship towards masculinity? After defining the traditional meaning of masculinity, I will try to identify trends that are breaking up with it. Later I will explore the key players and forces driving those trends.

What is traditional masculinity?

According to, we refer to masculinity as the “possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men”. Tony Porter held a TEDWomen speech “A call for men” in 2010 where he describes traditional masculine qualities within the man box, as illustrated below:

Millennial trends point to an evolution of masculinity

Increasingly young men are assuming to adopt feminine attributes. It can be observed in both behaviors and interests. More and more men wish to be able to express their emotions, raise their kids, take care of their body, listen to Beyonce… The 16th of March 2016, Jonathan Wells summarizes these trends for the Telegraph:

“A study published last month confirms just how useless many modern men have become. Only one in five young men would feel confident tackling a dripping tap. Two thirds of millennial males don’t know how to change the oil in their car. And just three in ten men are comfortable with the assembly of flat pack furniture.

[…] Women have broken free from the ascriptive restrictions of gender — but so have men. Fathers are progressively taking a more active role in child-rearing, husbands are tackling more typically feminine chores such as cooking and laundry, and sons are being raised in a world where they’re told it’s socially acceptable to enjoy both football and Love, Actually.

Over and over again, men have been chastised by women for not being ‘in touch with our emotions’ or unable to ‘open up’ in relationships. But the first generation to take the emotional plunge is now forced to endure endless whining from women who complain that we’re not the strong archetypes of masculinity they still seem to think they’re entitled to.”

The following article or blog extracts aim at giving practical real life examples in order to underline the above observation:

Fatherhood is slowly converging to motherhood

“1/ Fewer Dads are the family’s sole breadwinner. […] 2/ Dads’ and moms’ role are converging. […] 3/ Dads see parenting as central to their identity. […] 4/ Work-family balance is a challenge for many working fathers. […] 5/ Many of today’s dads say they spend at least as much time with their kids as their own parents spent with them, but most still feel that is not enough. […] 6/ More fathers are staying at home to care for kids.”

Drake makes it acceptable to show his feelings in a traditional masculine environment

“ Drake has made himself a successful real-life meme with a loyal fan base by rapping about his feelings. […] The vulnerability of Drake has changed the game of hip-hop and also redefined what it means to be masculine in the hyper-aggressive culture of hip-hop. Emotional storytelling used to only exist in r&b but rappers like Drake make way for a new generation of people who don’t equate masculinity with detachment from emotions.”

Men no longer want to consider some activities as restricted to women

Alex Luboff, 28, a management consultant in Washington: “I listen to Beyoncé,” he said. “I love football. But I also love the opera. The tired trope on television that men can’t be an appreciator of both sports and art is one I that really upsets me.”

A rising popularity of personal care products: the grooming trend

“ The increasing bent towards corporate life and rising awareness towards men’s grooming, specifically among the youth is expected to boost the demand of personal care products. Moreover, launch of herbal products with low chemical content has witnessed remarkable growth in the men personal care market”, states Yogiata Sharma, Research Analyst, and Consumer Goods at AMR.

Women empowerment, gay-rights activism and metrosexuals as key players

Many events have shown men that women are capable of accomplishing the same tasks. Women have an increasing presence in politics, corporate executive committees, high performance sports etc. Similarly, many athletes and artists are making their coming out and are proud of their identity. In brief, many work positions or activities that are valued by society are not exclusively showcasing traditional men anymore. It helps to disseminate acceptance and promotion of feminine attributes in the masculine world. The following extract of an article published by the Daily Mail illustrates this point:

“ Traditionally, the American male was measured against the stoic hero who shook off all doubts, vanquished all foes and offered women a muscular shoulder to cry on.

But that was before feminism, gay-rights activism, metrosexuals. Husbands took on a greater share of housework and child care. The military welcomed women and gays. A romantic movie about gay cowboys, ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ won three Oscars.

And this week, the ground shifted under the hyper-masculine realm of America’s most popular pro sport — the National Football League, it seems, will soon have its first openly gay player.”

The deindustrialization of society as a driving force

In the late 20th century and beginning of 21st century, digitalization of society pushed the tertiary sector of the economy to expand, which has led to a major deindustrialization process. In the industrialized past, a lot of manual labour was entitled to men because it was considered tough. Also, men workers were responsible for providing for family. It helped men identify with traditional masculinity. However, nowadays most jobs don’t require physical strength. The economy has become independent of manly attributes. In an article called How to be a man, Owen Jones explicits this argument:

“ Men such as Deville who have been conditioned from birth to see themselves as the family breadwinner suddenly find that this is no longer the case. A central traditional component of male identity — of what a man is seen to be — has been steadily eroded. When I visited Longbridge in Birmingham a few years ago, I found that former skilled car workers were now employed as supermarket shelf-stackers and cashiers: an occupation that had been associated with women.

[…] Elleke Boehmer, a professor of literature at Oxford University who specialises in gender, says that workforce changes in the UK have brought about an “incredible undermining of masculine self-confidence” and have “induced severe and troubling feelings of insecurity”.”

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