Note: This may not be appropriate for a fiction writing blog, but I’m posting it anyway, to invite debate…
Recently Published Work
Title: Masculinity under siege
The art of watching children at play has become somewhat of a study of mine. As a psychologist, I find that the simple exercise of surreptitiously watching the interaction between children has taught me more about human behaviour and identity than any textbook ever could.
The contentious subject of gender roles and the changing nature of these roles in a rapidly urbanising society such as the fledgling South African democracy, which is also faced with third world sociological nightmares, seem to unfurl itself in the tender play of toddlers.
In gender role play the archetypal game where a little boy dressed in his father’s large blazer comes in, flops onto the couch with the age- old maxim,
“Phew! I have had such a tiring day at work honey!”
This is almost always followed by a girl in an apron scuttling to his side, bearing a toy teacup. Sounds rather familiar, I am certain.
This is why, in a total switch of these roles, I one day observed:
Brandishing make-shift files, wearing large adult coats, “coming home from work and flopping onto the couch” games were now being played by both boys…and girls.
Seemingly, girls had now equally claimed their right to be tired from a day’s work.
One can possibly argue this shift utilising various academic jargon, but in simple language what this game screams out to me is – the societal order is changing! The role of women in our society is indeed shifting. The identity of men in this shift bears examination.
Social theory suggests that in a globalised, modern capitalist society such as the emerging South Africa, a man is defined largely by what he does, more than who he is. Simply put, this means that a man’s job is more important than his personal and inner life.
In his inner consciousness, his career takes centre stage over his life as a father, husband, son or friend. A simple example would be when a female employee arrives late for work and cites family pressures as her reason, it is more often than not more accepted, than if a male employee were to do the same.
Carl Jung, one of the fore-runners of analytical psychology posited that a man in general identifies himself by his career prowess, of which he exercises ultimate control. As a husband and father, he is more than happy to hand over the reins to his wife.
Jung then expounds that this is tantamount to the laziness of man to engage himself in less masculine, and often-times more difficult tasks such as child-rearing. Even though Jung wrote this theory at the turn of the last century, much of what he was saying remains poignant today.
But, the shift occurs when in a newborn feministic revolution as we are seeing today, the woman is now infringing on male territory. Women are now employable, and are taking advantage of this new status. The growing assertiveness of women, as they encroach onto the previously male dominated stomping grounds seems to result in varied responses from men. From mere indulgence, to the harshness of misogynistic tendencies, men are now beginning to resent women as they wind their way into a masculine world. It appears then, that the male identity is now under threat.
Ostensibly, men still outnumber women in positions of authority; they earn more than women at large, and still command the boardrooms and cabinets of almost all countries in this world. But, there is now emerging a stronger recognition in the world that this patriarchal ethos of male authority, dominance and sheer control is on its wane.
Germaine Greer, the well known female activist puts it eloquently when she states that “all societies on the verge of death are masculine.” By this, I would imagine she means that the degradation of the Earth and the collapse of countries and economies are due to a purely masculine order. She could also be referring to the death of the masculine concepts of raw power that rules over the femininity of compassion, empathy and collaboration as leadership tools.
There is very little in today’s workforce that cannot be done by a woman. The role of provider has now changed as women have taken gross advantage of the opportunities of education, have used their intelligence and bodies, and are now bona-fide income generators in the home. Coupled with this, women have succeeded in retaining nuances of their femininity as they do this. They have embraced this dichotomy, and are excelling at it. The role of the man remains under siege, as does his identity. Whereas the man built his entire self concept on the task of working, the women are now usurping this role. Where then does that leave the identity of man?
Centuries ago, Sigmund Freud, when confronted by an array of questions about the apparent “hysterically emotional” nature of women, developed the theory, colloquially termed “penis envy”, a theory that postulates that women are essentially envious of the raw force and power that is wielded by the male. It appears now, that the honourable Mr. Freud would have had to reverse this theory, where men are now developing envy of the emotionally aware, yet equally productive woman.
The point of men, their purpose, their value, their justification in today’s world is now under siege.
As I rear two children, a boy and a girl of my own, I realise, the answers are not as simple as they used to be. Cars and tea-sets don’t cut it any longer.