It’s hard not to notice that the news these days is filled with tales of Men (and Boys) Behaving Badly. Other items tell of Men being called out for having violated what is a current social norm some decades ago. Over the course a single lifetime (like my own), one sees that the entire social/cultural/legal relationship between the sexes has undergone a radical upheaval. Even the whole concept of “gender” has become fluid and variable.
I suspect that a lot of the problems with “Men These Days” is that they are having trouble coping with the new realities of their gender roles.
Most Men can handle it, naturally. But it still makes one wonder.
What is the role of Men in the 21st century?
Typically, when one asks that question (or one like it), one gets a response on the order of “Don’t be a jerk” or “Be a good parent/spouse/partner”. But those are things that should apply to everyone, not just Men. What is the role for Men that is specific to them?
Let me now put on my (very) Rank Amateur Anthropologist’s hat and look way back though the Mists of Time.
Please note that a LOT of the following is taking a very broad and general view. One can always find situations that are exceptions; I haven’t the time or space to go into every conceivable alternative social structure. And since I’m more interested in where things are going than where they were, I hope you’ll forgive me for these generalities.
From a purely biological standpoint, the role of Women is to get pregnant and raise offspring. When conditions are such that pregnancy is very risky and infant mortality is high, it is necessary for Women to be pregnant early and often simply to help ensure the survival of the species. In that case, Men are tasked with the responsibility of defending the community from attack, and also take on a lot of the burden of being the provider of food and shelter – since they aren’t busy being pregnant or nursing.
As humans got civilized, that balance shifted. It took fewer Men to handle the protection, and even the task of providing became both more shared among the members of a society, and then given to specialists.
But Women were still the ones who got pregnant and dealt with child rearing. And those were still risky and labor intensive. So Men could fulfill their innate need to protect and provide by joining the military or militia or police and set themselves up as the “breadwinner”. Some thinkers noted that there was a sort of division of labor between the sexes; Men dealt with things outside The Home while Women ruled within The Home. And this was felt to be an acceptable and fair arrangement. Of course, those writers were all Men…..
Nowadays, though, the risks of pregnancy have pretty much dropped as close to zero as we can hope for. Same thing with infant mortality. So the need for Women to be continually pregnant and in the home isn’t there anymore. Technological innovations have also meant that the natural (somewhat) larger size and (somewhat) greater strength ON AVERAGE of Men is no longer relevant for protecting society or the family. Likewise, there’s nothing specific to either Men or Women that prevents them from or gives them benefits in being the economic provider for a family.
All the social trends are heading towards a sort of “gender utopia” where a person’s particular chromosomal makeup has absolutely no bearing on the particular social role of that person. Anyone will (and should) be able to do whatever they want (and get fairly compensated for it), as long as they are capable of doing it.
Except for one thing.
Women get pregnant and give birth.
That pretty much defines what a Woman is. Men simply cannot do that. That one simple biological fact means that society gives Women certain considerations that do not apply to Men. From maternity leave (yes, some places have “paternity leave”, too, so Men can get ready for their role in child-rearing, but maternity leave came first and is much more widespread) to seating preferences (custom says you should give up your seat to a pregnant woman), there’s a certain cultural and social acknowledgment of the role that Women have in continuing the species. “Women and children first”, and all that.
But in our hypothetical gender-equal utopia, what role do Men have that is specifically and exclusively theirs? Yes, Men will still have to be the “father”. But what does that mean? What is there in the role of Father that is specific to Men, and not just good parenting, regardless of gender?
Are Men going to become nothing more than sperm donors? There ought to be something more than that, right? But what?
I don’t have an answer for that question.
I wonder if anyone else does.