The end of men?

First aired on Day 6 (06/09/12)

In 1966, James Brown released the hit song It's a Man's Man's Man's World, in which the soul legend waxed poetic about all the wondrous achievements he attributed to men while conceding that the world "wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl."

Fast forward to a little more than four decades later. The Atlantic magazine published an article in 2010 by journalist and editor Hanna Rosin titled "The End of Men," in which Rosin suggests that many modern men are facing an identity crisis. As North America continues its transition from a manufacturing-based economy to one based on service and creativity, which Rosin says naturally plays to the strength of women, more women are in the workplace than ever before. More women also hold college degrees and dominate the fastest growing professions, while academic performance among men is declining and a significant portion of the male population, finding themselves earning less or hardly working at all, are undertaking more domestic duties at home.

That article has now led to a book, in which Rosin makes a case that the time of the man's man's man's world is being left behind and men must adapt.

"'Breadwinner' has been the central part of what our definition is of what a man does," Rosin said on Day 6 recently. "It's not the only definition, but it's something we've taken for granted for many, many years. So if you're moving into an era where men are...certainly not the sole breadwinners in America and increasingly not the main breadwinners in America, then you realize you have to really rethink. What does it mean to be the head of the household, absent being the breadwinner?"

Even in this day and age, Rosin says, the majority of men find the thought of being a house husband uncomfortable, even if their spouses contribute more of the household income.

Women have steadily gained more economic independence and political and social presence in the past century, but men have had thousands of years of social reinforcement to be the "man of the house." Even our popular culture is just beginning to catch on, with sitcoms like Guys with Kids and Up All Night featuring diaper-changing domestic daddies debuting in the past year.

"It takes a while before we figure out what the new way is. We are only just now having a stay at home dad on TV who's not a complete idiot, fumbling all the time, a domestic moron, who is still sexy and lovable to his wife. And so we're only recently starting to get characters that men can say, 'Oh look, there are slightly alternative models and ways of being a man that are becoming acceptable in America.'"

end-of-men-12.jpgSo what does it mean to be a man these days? It's not a stretch to imagine the modern man to be less driven by financial reward, more invested in family and comfortable having a spouse who earns more than he does. Rosin says that social expectations have changed for men in the past, noting that the idea of fatherhood has changed within one generation. Dads were often seen as strict, emotionally distant disciplinarians. Nowadays, it's more socially acceptable to be the encouraging, involved type of father. Rosin sees this current identity shift as a chance for men to reinvent themselves in other positive ways.

"In some ways I welcome the changes that are about to come. It's not a disaster for men, it could be a new beginning."