Society continues to evolve at an amazing rate through technological advances and innovations. As society has evolved, so has the relationship between men and women. We are experiencing greater equality between the sexes than ever before as women continually climb the societal ladder. Women have been increasing their activity in the job market as the recession left a “Mancession,” greater unemployed or underemployed males, and an opportunity for success in certain areas. As previous generations of men have defined themselves by their jobs, this trend has altered the modern man’s perception of himself challenging men to question their roles in society and what it means to be a man.
However, the answer to the question of what it means to be a man is far more complex than we are let on to believe The definition of what it means to be a man is increasingly ambiguous, and a new definition of masculinity is constantly developing. In order to forge a new path, men must participate in a renaissance of their own, a “Menaissance.”
The “Menaissance” is a call to return to the principles of innovation, moral living, and dressing well that helped men of the “Greatest Generation” catapult America to become and economic superpower following World War II and the Great Depression. But, the past is like an anchor. For the lightening of success to strike again, sometimes you have to stand out in the rain and let go of who you were in order to discover who you will be.
In doing so, the modern day Renaissance man must recognize that he is no longer given the same power and respect as his predecessors were once by default. Therefore, he must earn it by being equipped with an extraordinary and broad knowledge in many areas of life while holding himself to a higher standard of morality.
The new and confusing environment now in the workplace has crossed into the social realm. Men are unable to find an acceptable balance. Today, men must be willing to express emotion but not to the point of being less manly. He must dress well but not too well or risk being deemed a narcissist. He must be intellectual but not to the point of being seen as nerdy. In a time of increasing anxiety, the modern man is left wanting to know how to act. Constantly being sold faulty fantasies, the modern man is instilled with a need to have it all. Now, men are in search of a more nuanced idea of what it means to be a man.
Mainstream media as well as movies and literature have not helped with the confusion either. While women are portrayed as fashionable go-getters, JWT sees men as being portrayed as “the victim of his sexual organ or his lust, his emotional neediness, his overinflated ego, or his sheer ineptitude.” This leaves an impression of confusion as to the stereotypes created, the way men should act, and the traits they should desire. In an interview, Ryan Gosling stated, “there’s a sense of confusion as to what men want from each other, what’s expected of them, and what they expect of each other…Hollywood is [partly] responsible for a lot of the stereotypes.”
Entertainment success like Mad Men, Sex and the City, and Fifty Shades of Grey all portray men differently but come to the same conclusion that men ultimately have no sense of themselves. Mad Men, while chronicling the cultural effects of the 1960s including gender roles and workplace sexual behavior, could exist today with the same office related politics and landscape based on the personal office experiences of the show’s seven female writers. The only difference between the misogyny in the show and in the modern workplace is “there [is] more decorum about it now.” With an average of two and a half million viewers per episode during Season 6, the show appears to perpetuate and glorify the immoral workplace habits of men portrayed as successful in the workplace.
Along with predominantly male dominated entertainment, shows featuring independent women have also stereotyped men in a false light. Sex and the City, broadcast throughout 1990s and 2000s, depicts four independent women and their constantly changing natures in New York. As each episode develops, it reveals the different thoughts women have about men and different views on the impacts of the modern woman’s sex life. The show constantly stereotypes the men who have the opportunity to interact with these “glamorous” women. Men in these women’s lives serve as a contradiction. At times they are perceived as the enemy and at other times they are the objects of desire. Based on the show’s recurring male roles, it appears as though the only trustworthy and emotionally capable friends of the opposite sex are homosexual. In regards to straight men in general, Samantha, one of the four main characters states, “The only place you can control a man is in bed. If [women] perpetually gave men blow jobs, [we] could run the world.” Straight men are cast into a recurring theme of only being able to focus on sex.
The play on male stereotypes flows into modern day literature with the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Author E.L. James, a former British television executive, has sold over seventy million copies worldwide, making it the fastest selling paperback of all time. The erotic romance trilogy chronicles the relationship between Anastasia Steele, a naïve, young woman, and Christian Grey, a successful businessman who engages in the BDSM sexual practices. Christian, while being suave and multitalented, is very controlling of Anastasia and his relationship with her. He bought the publishing company that Anastasia got a job at to keep her “safe.” In the next novel, Christian whispers to Anastasia after they get married, “Finally, you’re mine.” Christian is seemingly objectifying Anastasia as another one of his acquired possessions. It is not difficult for the modern day man to extrapolate from the abundant success of the books now being made into a movie that Christian’s action, while questionable, represent women’s real life desire’s to an extent.
However, these stereotypes do not mean that it is an unfortunate time to be a man. It means that the modern day man must elevate his own standards while learning from his errors towards greater epiphanies. By coming to terms with the growing equality of sexes in all facets of life, the modern day renaissance man can no longer retreat into his misogynist ways and expect to succeed in life.
Today’s “Menaissance” requires men to be more than one-dimensional. In a period of rapid growth technologically, intellectually, and emotionally, the modern day man can no longer get by as simply the breadwinner. The new American masculinity is more complex than before.
While image is an important factor, it is not the only factor. The modern day Renaissance man is conscience of his behavior and treatment towards others as well as the respect he projects on himself and his colleagues. The new elucidation of masculinity is not just an advertising catchphrase. It is about holding oneself to a higher standard. It is the constant endeavor to obtain excellence that ultimately allows the modern man to lead, to motivate, to influence, and to transform not only himself to a more fulfilling life but also to those around him. But, there are no referees in this game that are keeping score or determining who is out of bounds. You have to ask yourself, what are you fighting for that makes you stay this course of becoming better?