As the shift in our world becomes more palpable by the day and week, there is a vortex of cultural norms that ssettlement.
If cultures are full of organisms which live and breathe and form groups based on habits, then a settlement of a culture would imply stagnation. And if any aspect of our culture has been stagnant, it is the belief in a male-dominated society.
In the context of capitalism and sexism (our favorite “isms”), the gender-hierarchical mindset is persistent.
But in a social context, it’s not as cut and dry. Heterosexual marriage statistics indicate decline. The narrative of the harried single Black woman is still alive and well. And the devolution of what society deems to be a “manly” man is as salient as it’s ever been.
What is a “manly man”? People have tried to define manhood for centuries without regard for individual differences. A Procrustean standard is generally imposed, and any male who deviates from this standard does so at his peril.
In this country, the dominant perception of a “manly man” is one borrowed from the larger patriarchal framework inherited from Greco-Roman culture. Modern traits include:
- Man as head of household financially, bread winning. Although this is steadily changing, the notion of man being the top earner is still entrenched. Stigmas still arise from wives or girlfriends earning more (more on this later). In a capitalistic society, this is a primary determinant of manliness.
- Man as the physical head. He should be the first to put himself in harm’s way if the situation so requires, as well as the first to take on the physical chores of the house, such as pushing heavy lawn mowers, fixing leaks in the ceiling, making sure the AC is working properly, etc.
- Man as the spiritual head. This notion takes its cue from the King James Bible (76 percent of U.S. citizens are Christians). The man should follow God as the woman follows him, because Christ ordained it.
- Man as the emotional rock. Women as being more prone to act on feelings and intuition and men as being more rational and cool-headed—an idea which rests deep in the collective psyche of our culture. This presents numerous implications, most notably an implicit acknowledgment that women are unfit for leadership over men because leadership requires, well, a rational and cool-headed individual.
In the Black community it’s more complex. A dual-income household was established much earlier in Black households. Many of these families weren’t economically equipped to live off of single incomes during the Jim Crow and mid-20th century. Out of necessity, egalitarianism was encouraged.
This threw the “manly” paradigm out of whack. Men in these environs often followed the Bible or Koran and took their cues from Western capitalism, which makes household partnership a compromise rather than an empowering way of life. When a man is reared in a culture of power and feels he has none—experiencing “compromise” within the home and feeling the weight of White supremacy outside of it—hypermasculinity tends to happen.
What followed was a cycle of fractious relationships and self-destructive behavior that led to men not being present with their wives (or girlfriends) to raise their children. It wasn’t merely the absence of fathers that was the problem. It was a lack of a viable masculine outlook. Even men reared in two-parent households can share this lack.
The absence of Black fathers in the household is a well-noted and targeted reason for weakness among Black males. Over the years, however, other explanations—institutional racism and discrimination—have been cited as causes for the emasculation of Black males in their social interactions with women.
The author Dr. Francis Cress Welsing even asserts that White supremacy is the root of Black male homosexuality. Her heteronormative premise is stark: homosexuality deriving from a social malady. And she goes further to imply homosexuality as defective, a fruit from a crippled tree.
Questionable views about homosexuality aside, Welsing is on to something about the effects of oppression. Oppression has a way of withering the human mind and shaping “norms” among the oppressed. If Black men who grew up in the 60s and 70s—the generation that integrated the school system—were fed various devaluing narratives about the plight of the Black male (remember the Moynihan Report), how does that alter the impressionable mind?
Instead of growing up to be what their fathers were not, it was easier to conform to society’s expectations of them.
Invariably, I come across women who express dissatisfaction with dating men who aren’t “assertive enough,” “too timid,” or “act too much like me.” Much to their chagrin, many women feel like they have to walk on eggshells because of the emasculation they’re confronted with on a daily basis.
This is odd because the term “emasculation” assumes a patriarchal connotation. Many women base their ideas about what a man should be on the same male-centered standard which these same women rail against.
Nevertheless, there are holes that women are prone to point out in today’s men: It isn’t just the typical male definer of aggression that is missing, but an inability to be self-reliant. To be a protector. To not be a pushover. To tone down on the excessive “masculinity.” To be a rock they read about or may have grown up under.
Here, emasculation isn’t the issue at root; the lack of balance in the relationship is. At a time when women are outnumbering men in the workforce, acquiring more degrees than men, and making more money, the opposite is occurring for men.
If women are less apt to do without “weak” men now, men are more apt to continue feeling the sting of their societal niche being co-opted. Does this insecurity make him less of a man?
22 percent of husbands have wives whose income now exceeds theirs, compared to four percent in 1970. According to sociologist and author Christin Munsch, the gender identity of a husband is threatened when he earns less than his wife, leading him closer to cheating to improve his identity and compensate for his insecurity.
So if the current mancession is a result of absentee (both emotionally and physically) fathers and emerging alpha women, where does that leave us?
Gender roles are changing at a more than steady pace, leaving us with the charge to redefine masculinity and femininity in the context of a modern-day relationship.
Throughout this land and abroad, evolving norms in manhood are taking place. Living and breathing cultures tend to have evolutions because of macro changes. Financially, there has never been a time in U.S. history when women have been more dominant. A trickle down effect was bound to occur.
Will men find other ways to affirm their “manliness?” Will women accept these new ways? New masculine paradigms are being delineated and carved out before our eyes. Perhaps it’s time we pay attention.