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Newsweek's "the new macho": It's the new "person"!

September 21, 2010 - 02:00 PM
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Man up by re-imagining masculinity. It's for gender equality! (Photo: TBD Staff)

This week, Newsweek tackles the question of how American men can reverse their gender's reported descent into anxious masculinity: A trend marked by widespread unemployment, generalized flare-ups of machismo, and the very existence of "male studies" scholar Lionel Tiger.

How can men possibly recover from this spiral of manliness? In a cover treatment entitled "Men's Lib," the mag encourages men to "man up!," "reimagine masculinity," and adopt a "New Macho" regime, wherein gender roles are re-jiggered to incorporate "girly" pursuits like diaper-changing and nursing into a modern conception of "manliness," all in the pursuit of recovering the "male morale." Who are you calling "anxious"!

To review: Newsweek's Andy Romano and Tony Dokoupil are tired of a masculinity that means "blaming women, retreating into the woods, or burying their anxieties beneath machismo." They're tired of a masculinity that "does nothing to help [men] succeed in school, secure sustainable jobs, or be better fathers in an economy that’s rapidly outgrowing Marlboro Manliness." And they yearn for a version of masculinity—a "New Macho," if you will—that encourages men to "do whatever it takes to contribute their fair share at home and at work." 

They conclude: "After all, what’s more masculine: being a strong, silent, unemployed absentee father, or actually fulfilling your half of the bargain as a breadwinner and a dad?"

OK, but isn't that what all people in American society are expected to do? You remember people! They're those humans who go about working jobs, fulfilling their family obligations, and otherwise acting like grown-ups, regarless of gender identity. If being an adult is the most masculine thing you can do, then I'm well on my way toward becoming a successful career and family man. I even took out the trash last week. Watch out, Clint Eastwood!

Romano and Dokoupil have decided that being a man no longer has to mean shooting wild game, resenting women, and denying paternity. That's great. But instead of just scrapping these outdated gender expectations, they've instead decided to arbitrarily re-code "masculinity" as—what—personhood?

One imagines that "femininity," to Newsweek, might also consist of doing "whatever it takes to contribute [one's] fair share at home and at work." With a little bit of re-branding, this activity might even become "the most feminine thing you can do" —as long as the person doing it is a woman. Voilà: Even on a supposedly equal playing field, arbitrary gender roles are preserved!

UPDATE:  Andrew Romano writes in to note the piece's prescriptions beyond the framework of masculine re-branding:

"Hey Amanda, I appreciate your coverage of The New Macho story on TBD.com. One quibble: while our "redefinition" of masculinity isn't radical—you're right, it basically applies to women as well, which is pretty much the point—the steps that we suggest for getting there (paid paternity leave, more men in "nurturing" professions) WOULD represent a big departure from the status quo. It's no secret that many men aren't holding up their end of the bargain. The tough part is figuring out how to change that. We offered a few prescriptions. To me, that—and not the framework about men needing to be involved dads and equal providers—was the heart of the piece."

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  1. John Dias John Dias

    John Dias

    Sep 21, 2010 - 07:04:11 PM

    I'm the first commenter. Whoopie!

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  2. Talking Figleaf Talking Figleaf

    Talking Figleaf

    Sep 22, 2010 - 12:59:54 AM

    I still think their proposal is helpful. The alternative they provide helps deconstruct (in the demolition sense, not the post-modernist one) older notions of what it "means" to be a man. Which is still an obstacle to maturity for a lot of men. Plus, woah, actual suggestions for a path down off the ledge! Practical first-step ones too. Very nice. figleaf

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