Is Masculinity in “Crisis?”
According to scholar Roger Horrocks, patriarchal masculinity is killing men. That is to say, the particular ways that manhood is idealized requires men to engage in what are essentially deeply self-destructive behaviors (Horrocks, 1994). The movie “Fight Club” serves up a dramatic rendering of the crisis in action. Men are portrayed as having been effectively neutered by advanced capitalism. The protagonist, played by Edward Norton, embodies this type of man, as the plot reveals his “split” personality in tortured by conversations with his idealized self – the character played by Brad Pitt.
So what is this crisis and where did it come from? There are no simple answers to describe the confluence of events. Post- World War II era developments ushered in major changes in the economy, which brought about changes at home and at work. Relations between men and women were radically reformulated. The breadwinning role of the family patriarch, who worked a blue collar job – “Joe Lunchbox” – was destabilized and income responsibility shifted toward women.
The newfound egalitarianism implied by the change was not always welcome. In the minds of many men, their factory jobs became outdated and “feminized.” Office work replaced stereotypically masculine heavy industry occupations that were the mainstay of previous generations.
This is why the 1950’s are forever ensconced in the minds of many men as a “golden era.” The real man of days gone by – the thick-cut muscle man – is no longer the ideal, according to Hollywood and Madison Ave. He has been effectively replaced by the stylized image of man depicted in films and popular media: the well-groomed, lithesome, chiseled model, who wears bikini briefs. These new men aren’t real men (in the minds of many); they’re feminized “gay” men; men who are by all accounts neutered and domesticated. Having called into question what it means to be a man, these developments left many men feeling hopeless, adrift, and unsure of their place in a world that seems to have left them behind. What does it mean to be masculine? What can a man do? What would it take to make men “great again.”
To put it another way, “real Americans” were/are shooketh. The American Dream gave way to the American nightmare, as the stable work of middle-class white men began to crumble. Union wages that once secured a comfortable lifestyle for such men were undone as well, so that the percent of jobs reflecting union pay dropped from 30% to the barely 10% where it stands today (census citation…source for income stats). High school graduates have, of course, fared worst of all.