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Constructing the New Man

From the battlefields of Iraq to the halls of the Ivy League, WIE presents four unique perspectives on what it means to be a man in the twenty-first century.

by Carter Phipps

“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” This was the immortalized question asked by Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. In the venerable old musical, Professor Higgins and his colleague sing this hymn to the virtues of manliness and the failings of the fairer sex. Even in 1964, such words could scarcely be mouthed without a heavy dose of irony as context. Today, irony might fall just a bit short. We have come so far in relation to gender that one almost cannot imagine any possible context in which a hymn to the traditional virtues of manliness (much less the subjugation of the feminine) would seem appropriate. So much the better. Over the last half century, our values have evolved dramatically on the question of gender, and while it may not yet be a woman’s world, in the West, at least, history is no longer simply a blank canvas for men. Constructing the new manWomen have stormed the citadel of public and private life, remaking our values and refashioning our society. Today, a whole new generation of male children, millions upon millions, have been born into a post-feminist world, weaned on a value system of gender equality and gender neutrality and raised in a culture in which girls, as never before, can speak their truth in a different voice and begin to fulfill the potential of their gender.

So how does that change what it means to be masculine? How do boys and men find their way in a culture in which it often seems as if most notions of manliness are about as quaint and old-fashioned as the discarded and discounted ideas of Professor Henry Higgins? Indeed, sometimes it seems as if the professor’s question has been turned on its head. In today’s more progressive pockets of culture, we no longer ask whether or not women should be more like men. The implicit question posed to many of today’s youth is the opposite: Should men be more like women—more sensitive, more emotional, more caring and compassionate?

Here at WIE, we don’t claim to have all the answers for the masculine side of our species, but we do know that today’s cultural context is unique. Never before has there been an experiment in gender equality quite like the one we’ve been conducting in the last thirty years. Amid the continuing successes and failures of that great leap forward, it seemed like a good moment to step back and take a critical look at manhood in the twenty-first century. What is the next step for men today? What new visions and archetypes will guide the masculine in the coming decades? Is masculinity in our culture being defined more by Humphrey Bogart or Johnny Depp? John Wayne or Justin Timberlake? Bono and Barack or Schwarzenegger and Stallone? Last spring, we sought out five extraordinary individuals—one from academia, one from the military, one from the pulpit, and two from the next generation’s men’s movement—each of whom has important things to say about masculinity in this age. Some of their words are uplifting and inspiring, some contentious and controversial, some powerful and profound. Taken together, they offer a thought-provoking portrayal of men and manliness today and invite us to consider the impact the sons of Adam will have on the future evolution of human society.


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This article is from
Constructing the New Man