The state of men
Rev. Guy Hewitt talks candidly about the state of men in Barbados and the challenges they are facing in relationships and beyond.
There was a certain amount of trepidation in trying to address this subject. For while we Martians complain about the seeming incomprehensibility of Venusians, I am not sure that, as Martians, we understand ourselves.
Notwithstanding my training in gender, pastoral counselling and theology, I have to admit that it is only in my roles as husband and father that I was able to fully grasp the totality of what it means to be a man.
We have a social crisis in that men are disappearing from the front line of society. Largely absent from the home and community, men also seem an endangered group in tertiary education and are diminishing in numbers in the labour force, especially at managerial and senior management levels.
That is not to say that women can’t and haven’t been able to pick up the slack. But, despite this, I am a firm adherent to the belief that men have a critical role to play in all spheres.
The challenge is now for them to step up.
The continued predomination of the outmoded Clint Eastwoodesque notion of masculinity seems to be producing a generation of lost young men. Languishing in either their parents’ or their current sweethearts’ houses, they hang out on the block with limited educational or career prospects. That is not to say that there are not good men around; I know some of them personally. Neither is it to deny that there are some educational, socio-cultural and historical forces that have contributed to this notional sense of men being marginalized.
So what is different today? According to Leonard Sax, psychologist and family physician, in Boys Adrift there are five factors setting teenage boys and young men adrift:
• video games, which are disengaging boys from real-world pursuits;
• traditional teaching methods that have had the unintended consequence of turning many boys off school;
• prescription drugs, specifically attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medication that may be causing irreversible damage to the motivational centres in boys’ brains;
• environmental oestrogens from plastic bottles and food sources which may be lowering boys’ testosterone levels;
• and a devaluation of masculinity as shifts in popular culture have transformed the role models of manhood.
Others suggest that popular characters like Homer Simpson and actors like Adam Sandler promote the stereotype of lazy men who fail to grow up.
If we think about it, this is a real turn of events; throughout the whole of human history, people have wanted sons. In many parts of the world, they still do. Think of the Old Testament writings. Think of all those kings, hoping against hope when their wives went into labour. Think of Henry VIII. But now, at least in Western societies, that seems to be fast disappearing.
But can we honestly say that men are marginalized? As many of my male friends were not particularly comfortable discussing this, I talked to women and they seemed to be almost unanimous. They felt that men still had it good. Men earn more money than women. Most chief executive officers are still male. Most politicians are men.
The predominant female position seems to be that men have been in control and objectifying women for millennia. Now that things are looking a little better, they feel threatened. I was reminded that women in Saudi Arabia are still seeking the right to drive a vehicle. According to feminist writer Natasha Walter, “it’s still very much a man’s world. The wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of men. I’d hope it was the start of a more equal world”.
With women taking full advantage of social, educational and career opportunities, if men want to retain their equal place in the social order they will have to change and broaden their definition of what it means to be successful as a man. Being a man and, by extension, a full partner with women in society is a privilege that comes with responsibilities which many men aren’t aware of.
Many men still look at success as an impersonal and abstract concept instead of in terms of people and relationships. Relationships and people are the important part of success. Success at the expense of family and relationships is not success. I have discovered, somewhat the hard way and notwithstanding my competence, that I am not irreplaceable at work. The world outside my home will go on without me, without so much as a ripple in the water. However, time is the most meaningful thing I have to share with my wife and children and I try, with mixed success, to give them all I have available.
There are some positive signs that things are changing. Research published recently while I was in Britain suggested there are now ten times more stay-at-home dads in Britain than a decade ago, with one in seven fathers the primary carer. This is a reassuring sign. But that change isn’t easy as most men use their jobs as the primary source of their identity. Surrendering this can be a major challenge.
Dan Miller, author of 48 Days To The Work You Love, breaks up our lives in seven categories, each one a segment of what makes a truly successful person – financial, spiritual, personal development, physical, family, social, and career. For him, career and financial success are only two pieces of a much bigger whole person “puzzle”. It seems that men today are unaware of some of the more important parts of the equation, namely family and spiritual development.
Perhaps all of us husbands and fathers should strive to get back to our spiritual roots (my bias is obvious here) of success. I recommend Miller’s definition of success: “a progressive realization of worthwhile goals”. Career and financial success are good pursuits, but not to the detriment of all other areas, most importantly, family. If men want real success, we have to be committed to our success as a whole person, not just in selected areas.
As an endnote, in the British study on stay-at-home dads, some of the dads reported finding the change very difficult and wished they earned more money than their partners. But still, it looks as if we men are beginning, just beginning, to take ourselves less seriously – or to take different things more seriously than we did in the past. Maybe we are beginning to lower that facade of strength a tiny bit.
The 21st century might, in fact, be the start of a new era of Martians and Venusians sharing the same value system and truly understanding each other. I sincerely hope that I am not lost in the Twilight Zone.