Masculinity Gets A Makeover

Responding to Hanna Rosin’s recent declaration that the patriarchy is dead, Ann Friedman opines that “America is finally getting around to having the conversation about what it means to be a man that, decades ago, feminism forced us to have about womanhood”:

Women still face social consequences when they don’t conform neatly to gender norms, but many of even the most ideologically progressive men are just now starting to talk about how to break with masculine stereotypes and still hang onto a sense of gender identity. [Bryan] Goldberg and [Hanna] Rosin, in using traditional definitions of manhood (the simple, stoic breadwinner), declare him dead, or at least less marketable to advertisers. Men’s magazines, which now peddle facial moisturizers but still often shy away from heartfelt confessionals, have spotted how hard it is for men to balance both embracing and rethinking masculine stereotypes — and they’ve made some attempts to address it, but mostly ended up documenting the confusion.

For her part, Stephanie Cootz dismisses the idea that men have historically served as the “stoic breadwinner.” She calls it “a late-arriving, short-lived aberration in the history of the world, and it’s over”:

It wasn’t until the 1920s that a bare majority of American children came to live in a family where the husband earned the income, the wife was not working beside him in a small business or on a farm or earning income herself, and the children were either at home or in school and not working in a factory on in the fields. That family form then grew less common during the Great Depression and WWII, but reappeared in the 1950s thanks to an unusual economic and political situation where real wages were rising steadily and a government flush with cash was paying veterans benefits for 44 percent of young men starting families. This was a period when your average 30 year old man could buy a home on 15 to 18 percent of his own salary, not needing his wife’s.

That era is gone—for good. And yet America formulated its work policies, school hours, and social support programs on the assumption that this kind of family would last forever, that there would always be someone at home to take care of the children and manage the household.