Where have the rugged men gone?

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sean connery library REUTERS Sean Connery was the typical hunk of yesteryear. REUTERS/Demmie Todd/Columbia Pictures-Handout

Durban - August was filled with workshops and seminars, dinners and events honouring the women in our society.

Rightfully so, for women are the primary caregivers and nurturers, whose influence on society and the home cannot ever be discounted. But men play a vital role too and their contribution is often overlooked as being just a part of their duty.

The men of today are under attack from various sources, including from within their own ranks. The roles traditionally ascribed to them by society have fallen away and they find themselves bewildered by a role reversal that is systematically emasculating them.

Traditionally, men have been breadwinners. The emancipation of women delivered the right to work outside the home. Women who were supported by their husbands and whose personal expenses were met by a gift of a portion of their earnings, now had economic power. That brought a shift in mindset. A man who was always considered superior, now became an equal partner. After which, the power struggle began.

Fast forward to the present, after decades of equality, and we see men trying to assert an identity that has been ravaged by the battle for domination.

This battle is often a power struggle within the home. Wives and girlfriends rule the roost by using every feminine tactic they can muster to control and dominate. In their arsenal are sulking, tears, threats, leaving to go home to “Mother”, silence, confrontation, violent argument… all this turning the home into a metaphorical war zone which he hates coming to at the end of a day.

snoop dogg library Snoop Dogg is todays role model for many young men. EPA/PAUL BUCK EPA

The huge influx of men sitting in bars and pubs at the end of a working day, is testimony to this.

Within the workplace, the scenario is no different. Ambitious women can be vicious in their attempt to climb the corporate ladder.

Often hiding behind a sweet, harmless persona, their gossip, backbiting and backstabbing goes undetected by men who focus on the job. Until it is too late and they find themselves ousted from their positions.

In society, his role is ambivalent. At home, he is expected to take care of the chores and assist with childcare while maintaining a top corporate position at work. Anything less than the top job and he is made to feel inadequate until he shines out in some other endeavour.

His worth is determined by his material possessions. His attractiveness to women is linked to the amount of money he earns and what he is able to offer her materially.

The pressure that is put upon him by other males to be more, have more and endure more without flinching, is immense. This translates into a competition with other men that borders on the bizarre.

And it starts early. Just recently, one of my 15-year-old pupils was basking in the admiration of his male friends for having a bucket of ice cubes poured over his head at 6am on a cold winter’s morning. His popularity has skyrocketed since taking up the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS (or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), despite him not knowing anything about the disease or even what the acronym stood for.

This internet trend, in the name of “awareness” for the disease, is just another in the long list of self-imposed challenges that men have engaged in, under the auspices of proving their masculinity. Even more disturbing is Matt Damon’s antic for the same cause, but using water from his toilet!

The idea of masculinity has also changed over time. Rugged, unshaven, muscular, strong yet silent has given way to the metrosexual, well groomed, plucked and preened, garrulous and self absorbed.

Male heroes of my parents’ generation were the likes of Clark Gable and Sean Connery: debonair, well-spoken and classy.

Our current generation aspire to the likes of Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg, for whom having done jail time is a badge of honour.

Last month, Time magazine carried an article that had many men intrigued. It was on male menopause and testosterone therapy. It dealt with the “betrayal” of the male body to perform upon arousal or on demand. It documented how ageing and its effects slowly eroded his confidence and self-esteem.

There would be greater understanding and empathy among women if they could make peace with the fact that men are different from women. They think and behave differently. Expecting them to suddenly tap into their “feminine side” and express emotions freely, is a huge ask. It is the rare man who will open up about what is at the core of his being. More realistically, he will have to be revealed layer upon layer, with time and patience.

By using subtleties of control and by their actions, women are emasculating men further. Getting together with girlfriends and having a gabfest about how annoying your man is, or documenting his habits or eccentricities in public to friends, colleagues and family, diminishes him even further.

Once uttered, a statement cannot be reversed and remains in the mind of the person hearing it, influencing their interactions with your man. Making him smaller in the eyes of people does not make you bigger.

We need to celebrate men for the unique perspective they bring to this world. We need to respect the fact that they are different and that they come with their own angst, sometimes self-imposed, at other times imposed by the burden of expectation placed upon them by society, by friends, family, colleagues and people with whom they interact.

It is not easy being a man in these trying times.Thus, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi( truly an enlightened man): Be the change that you want to see in the world! Be more loving if you want him to be more loving, be more understanding, more accommodating… the list is endless.

* Naidu is a teacher at Eden College, Durban, and a freelance journalist.

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