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The contemporary man is quite well and his ego is in a good shape. Today, men do not have to embody patriarchal values and wear bushy beards to be regarded as real men. Sensitivity, partnership and even weaknesses and failures are not downfalls, but rather signs of masculinity, claims Michał Pozdał, psychologists and lecturer at SWPS University.

Supposedly, we live in the era of a deep crisis of masculinity. At least many women, who do not hide their disappointment with passive attitudes of their partners, think so. Mass media prophesize the vision of the world straight from a sci-fi movie “Sexmission” (two men are awakened from a 50-year hibernation and find themselves, as the only two men left in the world, in a matriarchal society) and renowned specialists issue warnings. After the publication of a book Man Disconnected: How Technology Has Sabotaged What It Means to be Male written by two American psychologists, Nikita Coulombe and Professor Philip Zimbardo, everything has become clear: It’s not looking good! The researchers come to a conclusion that men feel lost in the contemporary world. Confused by pornography and computer games, brought up without fathers and other adequate male role models, but instead in the embrace of overbearing mothers, contemporary men resemble snails that move in slow motion without aim.

Real Macho

Many surveys, which ask what the traits of real manhood are, indicate that if such a man was to be sewn together according to a pattern of expectations, he most of all would be a macho. He would not be scared of anything and he would not show any weaknesses. Instead, he would emanate self-confidence and decisiveness. However, if he veered too much from the schematic, he might be called a fairy, a pansy or a girl. And because girls are the inferior sex, men must avoid being girls at all cost. However, on the other hand men are supposed to be affectionate, sensitive and caring. Because today masculinity is driven by external factors and men themselves do not decide what it means to be a man, there are many opposing or even contradictory expectations towards them.

As early as pre-school, kids hear that boys don’t cry. Boys should not play with certain toys either, because playing with dolls, flowers and playing house are girly occupations that insult man’s dignity. What’s worse, these phrases are often uttered by mothers, female pre-school teachers and school teachers, i.e. by women themselves. So should we be surprised that boys who are not stereotypically masculine become victims of violence? It happens because they do not fit within the rigid frame and there is no permission for this type of behavior. Young boys are also socialized to this strict division of rules in adolescence, when the time comes for their first intimate relationships. Sex education for boys usually comes down to condoms given to them by their fathers. Boys can rarely count on an honest conversation about fears and emotions related to sexual initiation. After all, every man knows how to do it. Girls often hear that they should wait for their one true love and for boys that they could trust, boys that would take care of their comfort and safety. Nobody thinks about the comfort and safety of boys. Instead, adults instill in them that they are responsible for the consequences: remember, be careful and don’t make a girl pregnant.

It is acceptable for girls to be scared of pain and bleeding related to sexual initiation. It is OK for them to be worried about an unwanted pregnancy, but boys, as if they were robots, are expected to perform penetration. It is assumed that for them feelings and trust do not matter, because they are real men. But is this really the case? Emotions are a natural psychological process in all healthy people, including men.

The majority of men are afraid that they won’t meet expectations, will have problems with erection or premature ejaculation or that they will not know what exactly they should be doing. The fact that they do not know how to talk about it, does not mean that they have no feelings. Brought up to be macho men, men have not learned to express their emotional states and they do not deem them important. Previous generations of men suppressed their emotions in the name of the narrowly understood masculinity. Emotions of men have become what Stephen A. Mitchell, American psychoanalyst defined as “repressed aspect of the self”. There are no boys who stopped being afraid or sad, just because someone told them to. They repressed his feelings to gain love and acceptance of their parents. In this process, the famous emotion intelligence of boys has been diminished.

Nowadays, masculinity is driven by external factors and it is defined by the environment, media and women. These various parties formulate many contradictory or even mutually exclusive expectations. Men are supposed to be assertive machos, but at the same time they are expected to be sensitive and affectionate.

The mask can come off

Not only gender studies, related to the development of social gender, but also the growing awareness concerning psychology and human development are gradually allowing men to take off their masks. Nowadays, we know that some behaviors, such as crying and courage, are not female or male, but simply human. The rigid social rules are changing. A new quality emerges ‒ and this is how we should understand the crisis of masculinity. On the surface, a decline, an impasse or atrophy, but in essence, as the renowned psychologist Erik Erickson said, a development and evolution.

Nowadays, there are many paths and everyone of them may be masculine. Even if they do not follow the rigid stereotype. Some real life examples: in Katowice (a mining region in southern Poland) the ethos of a coal-smeared miner, a strong and courageous “udarnik” , a guy who brings home the bacon, is still alive and kicking. At the same time, there are several-months-long waiting lists to the famous local barber salon. The barber offers an array of services, not just simple beard trimming, but also hair coloring, styling, and beard beauty treatments, such as nourishing masks and oils. Just because men are well-groomed and well-dressed, it does not mean they are less masculine. On the contrary, fashion as well as health and beauty services have become a natural part of the male world. And it does not matter whether it is a lumbersexual guy in a flannel shirt or a metrosexual prince with trimmed eyebrows and a sophisticated hairstyle. Because nowadays men also have the right to follow trends and modify their image.

Kangaroo father

Contemporary men have become more engaged in the parenting process, which was unthinkable even twenty five years ago. These days, fathers proudly stroll around parks, pushing strollers. They meet in cafes, holding babies on their stomachs, like kangaroos, or keep infants wrapped in fashionable fabric wraps.

In a book Zdradzony przez ojca (Betrayed by his father), a Polish psychologist, Wojciech Eichelberger, claims that men from older generations left young boys, their sons, in the embrace of their mothers and they did not give them a chance to become men. Numerous generations of men were brought up in this way ‒ fathers did not pass the strength to their sons and the sons were not able to draw on the potential of masculinity. Fathers of the contemporary thirty-somethings did not know how to be engaged parents, which does not mean that they would not want to be, if they were given comfortable conditions and a few tips. My own research conducted several years ago among secondary school students provided strong proof that they had bee mostly brought up by the so-called withdrawn fathers, i.e. the fathers provided for the family, but they were not interested in academic progress of their children, active parenting and spending time with their kids. Nowadays, many men want to become fathers. Active and engaged, for whom no aspect of parenthood remains a taboo. This trend has been duly noted by companies providing various services. These days, for the first time in history, we can watch TV ads showing fathers braiding their daughters’ hair, changing diapers and making sandwiches for school lunches.

Always ready

Finally, although changes in this area are happening very slowly, men have begun to take care of their health. Including their sexual health. They go to therapists, psychologists, sex therapists and they talk about their problems more or less openly. Although in this area, men still need to learn how to talk openly about sexual issues and even dare to talk about them.

Coulombe and Zimbardo claim that pornography to a large degree deprives men of enjoying their sexuality. Authors of monographs or articles on pornography and norms promoted by this genre usually emphasize the objectification of women. However, when you look at the role of men in this type of films, you can make interesting observations. It seems that men want sex all the time. Their penises are huge, hard and ready, 24-hours a day. Besides, they are not discriminating and have no preferences, because anything and everything can arouse them. They love group sex, they are predators and potential rapists. This is how men are presented by porno industry and unfortunately it has a huge impact on the way men perceive themselves. Matters get even worse, because many men base their self-esteem and assess their own masculinity based on their sexual performance in a given time. If they have problems with erection or ejaculation, they stop perceiving themselves as competent lovers, which is often confirmed by their wives and partners. It stems from a false belief that sex means penetration. The sexual dysfunction prevents penetration, so the couple is not having sex. Over time frustration is growing and the partners find themselves in the midst of a relationship crisis. Advertisers claim that men should be ready at any time and women have expectations, which they learned to verbalize long time ago. This puts pressure on men and pressure is the biggest enemy of erection. During intimate situations, men try to achieve erection by sheer will, giving up on enjoying sex through touch, kissing and petting. It is a vicious circle, the feeing of being a failure, and often the feeling of guilt, is growing. So men reach for ineffective supplements, order drugs of unknown origin on the internet and finally they go to see a specialist.

If in their teenage years, young men heard that their penises are integral parts of their bodies and therefore they also have the right to be tired due to stress, illness, alcohol or an unhappy relationship, that sex is much more than just penetration and that petting can provide sensual pleasure event to mature people, they would know that episodic problems with erection happen to all men. perhaps this knowledge would help them to avoid many upsetting situations. Understanding the reactions of one’s body in different situations helps to avoid the feeling of failure and allows to maintain male pride.

Undoubtedly, masculinity is undergoing a transformation. Previous definitions are slowly becoming obsolete, but the new ones are still under development.

Time of emancipation

Feeling manly and identifying with one’s gender defines men as men. Unfortunately, too often men allow others to judge their masculinity based on the style of their pants, their sexual performance or their body image. Undoubtedly, masculinity is undergoing a transformation. Previous definitions are slowly becoming obsolete, but the new ones are still under development. Contemporary women have managed to free themselves form tall towers without the help of a knight in a shining armor. Likewise, men begin to understand that they do not have to exclusively be dragon slayers to be appreciated and noticed. And it does not mean that they have turned into softies. Because, finally, we live in the world, where men have a choice who they want to be and how they want to live their lives. Crisis sounds too ominous. Rise of masculinity ‒ much better.

The article was first published in the Polish edition of „Newsweek Psychologia Extra 2/2016”
Magazine available here »


About the Author

258 michal pozdal

Michał Pozdał – psychologist and sex therapist. He specializes in individual and couples’ therapy at Warszawski Instytut Psychoterapii (Warsaw Psychotherapy Institute) and Instytut Psychoterapii i Seksuologii (Institute of Psychotherapy and Sexology) in Katowice. Co-author of a book Męskie sprawy. Życie, seks i cała reszta (Male issues. Life, sex, and all the rest). Lecturer at the Clinical Sexology professional certification and training program, at SWPS University