HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.
Oddly I was asked this question the other day whilst taking part in a photo-shoot for Movember's real men launch. To set the scene, I had just sat in a makeup chair for a couple of hours getting transformed into William Wallace, then had to give a photographer my "angry face", whilst wearing a makeshift kilt and a rather fetching wig. I felt it was quite a hard question to answer, especially given the circumstances, but I gave it a bash.
The origin of the question stemmed from Movember as they have just conducted a bit of research and identified the 5 attributes that real men feel pressured to be/live up to. They asked me to muse on their actual meaning in the modern day and age.
So what is it like to be a real man in 2015?
Well, based on the feedback from Movember's study, the five attributes are:
• Successful (51%)
• Confident (45%)
• Strong (40%)
• Ambitious (37%)
• Athletic (37%)
Unsurprising really, that the five go-to attributes are quite (typically/traditionally?) masculine, but what do they actually mean now and how do we attempt to live up to them?
Success and being successful is your main driver in life, regardless of what you do for a living, what your upbringing was, etc. I think being successful is quite tough to define these days; it's so varied in so many ways. Some people will only see themselves as being successful if they have conformed to the norm of going to university, getting a good degree and working for a bank or various, stereotypical career jobs. On the other hand, you may deem success as running a little pastry shop and being recognised for being the best at what you do. The key goal is having enough money and happiness to support yourself and your family, isn't it?
Confidence is another interesting trait or attribute of the modern man. In every aspect of your life you will need it or lack it, whether this be in a professional sense or in finding a relationship, you need confidence. What's the use of the great degree that you have deemed a success, if you then go for a job interview and are unable to speak? Historically, if you went for a job interview, the most qualified candidate would get the position but now, with everyone coming out of university and some people seeing no value in the huge debt that you will accrue, employers are having to consider this attribute as a more crucial part of their decision making process.
Strength, for me, was most interesting to think about. When you think of strength from a historic point of view, it's all about the physical strength. But in this day and age, I think it's very much about mental, emotional and financial strength more than anything else. The challenges people face with mental health are well publicised and constantly improving these days, that I think everyone is much more aware of the challenges men face in their day to day lives. But also, emotional strength, a boy being brought up now is not judged for showing emotion, but when you are a man, there is a pressure of expectation that you don't show any. I think this mostly stems from older generations, where the man of the house was not an emotional being. God forbid crying in front of their family, that would show weakness! This pressure is quite strange. At what point do you transition from emotion being ok, to not? Truth be told the only time I've seen any of my friends cry is when they are battered and tell me they love me.
Ambition, I think men are more ambitious than ever before, largely due to upbringing. Growing up I was never told that there was only so much available to me and I can imagine that, years back, that was very much the case. Given the entrepreneurial, start-up spirit in existence these days, the world is very much your oyster. Take Snapchat as an example; started from nothing, just and idea for a university project, in four years is reportedly worth $19billion... all over a picture that doesn't last longer than 10 seconds! The new generation that have grown up drowned in tech are still finding innovative ways of using it and, more importantly, making money.
Athleticism, This is potentially the one a lot of men feel most pressured to be and I think this is the most judged attribute of a man. It's funny really, years of women pointing out that the magazines are portraying an unachievable, perfect woman have finally come full circle, with men very much seeing it the same way. When you look at any magazine, regardless of desired audience, there is a picture of an overly groomed man with concrete abs. When is that achievable for your average guy who is also trying to maintain a heavy workload and a healthy relationship?
So what is a real man in 2015?
Writing this blog has given me the opportunity to think quite a lot about it and, my honest answer, God knows! I like that there are so many variations of what a real man is now, I like that we have baking shows on television and two of the top three contestants are men, I like that our role as men is not defined and it looks like it will forever evolve and very much for the better. If I had to conform into the 1950s male I would have a nightmare, I actually find cooking and cleaning relaxing :)
Thanks for reading,