Then, on Monday, Slate's partner site Double X ran "Real Men Cry and Do Laundry: An anthropology of the new male self-improvement mags."
Together, these two articles and the studies and concepts they reference piece together a rhetorical trope that's picking up steam: men need to change their idea of masculinity or risk getting steamrolled into oblivion.
Though the underlying message of this piece rings true to me (that is, the landscape of American professions is changing and people are going to have to change with it), the doomsday scenario for masculinity does not. I find myself in agreement with Rachel Sklar's critique of this piece when she says:
"I challenge the framing of the issue: That men are in crisis, on the decline, and “going off the rails.” In fact, the framing of the male-female ratio as being more ‘dangerous’ to men as it equalizes or, in some (very limited) situations, inverts, is not only wildly skewed but also completely fails to appreciate, consider and include the full context – i.e. how gender parity might actually be better for all concerned."
The Double X piece has a lighter, more positive tone, positioning that this juncture "leaves an opening for newer, younger voices who face the twilight of the patriarchy head on—and yet also provide a formula to restore men's cultural potency."
It also talks about new websites and magazines tackling these issues, particularly the website The Art of Manliness, which--in addition to articles about what to bring on a first date, how to buy a used car, and how to swing from trees like Tarzan--includes articles like "Three Moments Every Father Dreads (And How to Cope)."
Slate piece). Terms like these are frequently defined by those who self-identify as a member of the group but are often steeped in negative definitions: they define who belongs by disqualifying those who don't. (For example, Gloria Steinem says that you can't be a feminist if you don't support legal abortion.)
This sort of exclusionary language ends up with people drawing smaller and smaller boxes around themselves until (at the extreme) the definition only fits the speaker. This certainly doesn't open up discourse about the concepts and it makes them more or less meaningless.
Furthermore, any time that we are going to categorize someone as different (be that on the level of class, race, gender, in-group status, lack of in-group status--basically anytime we can place someone on the "them" side of the us/them dichotomy), we have to use some sort of culturally constructed cues and markers.
The authors of the Newsweek piece mention some of these markers for masculinity when they mention a "rapper's saggy jeans, a hunter's concealed weapon, a suburbanite's man cave, a hipster's obsession with Don Draper: all might be seen as variations of the same coping mechanism. The impulse transcends race and class." They go on to recognize (though not with much depth) the problematic aspects of these markers: "Conceiving of masculinity as something to be"--a part to play--"Turns manliness into [something] ornamental, and about as 'masculine' as fake eyelashes are inherently 'feminine.'"
I guess my problem with this is that fake eyelashes are as capable of being "inherently" feminine as they are of being "inherently" anything else. What I mean by this is that I don't think we have to knock down the cultural markers of masculinity in order to transcend the current boundaries. This is the same impulse that makes me cringe every time someone suggests a woman wearing lingerie cannot be a feminist. Ultimately, the Newsweek article arrives at a conclusion I can get agree with: "If today's men want to be hunters, or metrosexuals, or metrosexuals dressed in hunting clothes, they should feel free. But they need to be more than that, too." But doesn't that seem a little obvious. If today's women want to be bakers, or dress seductively, or bakers who dress seductively, they should feel free. But they need to be more than that, too. In fact, we all need to be more than the external markers that allow us to be pegged into certain groups. It's called being human, and learning to accept that stepping outside of those boundaries doesn't have to threaten our entire identities will make a world of difference in the way we talk about these issues. Men don't have to be endangered.