In the past 100 years, the idealized archetypes of masculinity have been largely unchanged. What Manliness is, what Manhood is, what a Man is, have been remarkably constant. Men are rugged individuals. They are resilient, brave and loyal. Running like a spine through these images of manhood is one defining theme: A man is the provider and protector of his family.
In the not too distant past, most men had a sense of certainty that they could fulfill those roles. They were confident about who they were, and where they belonged. But for many men the economic crisis that began in 2008 meant that fulfilling those masculine roles was suddenly a lot harder.
Economists believe that most of these jobs are gone for good, and because structural changes in the economy means that working age men are now facing years of unemployment rates far above the historical norm. Particularly hard hit are middle class men who are, for the first time, being exposed to the worst ravages of a severe economic downturn.
But the loss of jobs is a symbol of a larger story about men.
A story of a rapidly transforming world—a world in which many men find themselves in an uncomfortable new position: Playing defense.
These changes have unleashed many questions around what it means to be a man in the 21st century. We are living in a time when many of the old ways will no longer work, and it is clear that the way forward for men lies in learning to adapt to a world they no longer dominate. Now men are now facing a choice: embrace and adapt to the place the world is becoming—or live among the ruins of a place that no longer exists.
In this new world of work and relationships it's important to remember that we all have a stake in how well men adapt. Not just now, and not just for these men but for the generations of men to come.