Identity and Men: Is there such a thing as the male identity crisis?

I’m still on my body image kick, but I’ve been thinking more about identity. Recently, we’ve had a discussion about women vs. men and technology on our school’s student email listserv. I don’t want to keep posting to that thread (but here’s another article ‘Why No Women Want To Be On A “Women In Tech” Panel‘), but as I just read an article in the New Yorker about the feminist movement and The Feminine Mystique, (“Books as Bombs: Why the women’s movement needed “The Feminine Mystique”), I can’t help but see some related overlap. So instead of posting to that list, I’ll just make some related comments here.

In the thread, someone mentioned male identity and how men, in general, seem to be “falling behind” in certain social and eduction context, in comparison to women. For instance, more women graduate from college than men. In checking out a Wikipedia entry on identity, I checked out an external link on “Our male identity crisis: What will happen to men?” which itself is a blog entry on Psychology Today.

In the article, written by Ray Williams, he states, “In a post-modern world lacking clear-cut borders and distinctions, it has been difficult to know what it means to be a man and even harder to feel good about being one. The many boundaries of a gendered world built around the opposition of work and family–production versus reproduction, competition versus cooperation, hard vs. soft–have been blurred, and men are groping in the dark for their identity.”

The gist of many of his points I like, but not quite how he gets his points across. Such as, “The last bastions of male dominated roles appears to be top leadership positions, particularly in the corporate world, the military and politics, although even those areas are slowly being eroded. But leadership in those spheres has often been associated with the traditional male identity–with power, control and often aggression.” Are women supposed to feel guilty because we want to be in charge, too? And, if men have been holding the traditional top leadership positions all this time, why the negative slant to what is supposedly the “traditional male identity…power, control and often aggression”?

One commenter made an excellent point in stating that the advancements made by women in our society do not need to be seen as zero-sum, “where if women gain, men must lose.” She follows by stating, “Our culture’s slow shift towards gender equality for women is throwing into sharp relief the restrictive roles that men are still taught to identify with. That, in my opinion, is where the identity crisis and cultural backlash against feminism is coming from: that women are taught that they can be anything they want, from housewives to CEOs, but men are still taught that they can only be CEOs and that to do want or do anything that is ‘feminine’ is unmanly and unforgivable. That is what we need to change and is crucial to bringing this culture to true egalitarianism.” Eloquently put.

And, while Williams’s points about women’s gains in higher education surpassing statistics for men in high education may be true, I also wonder historically how many women were deliberately kept out of school so that they could stay home and work, or because going to school was for boys and men only. Still happens in some countries.

After this, I reviewed another blog post on a related subject that I liked a lot better. This article, “Bring home the bacon AND fry it up?“, by Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., was focused on how women being the breadwinner has changed the dynamics of marriage and being a couple. While it did address men’s identity roles, it put them in the context of couples, rather than pitting men vs women. For instance, in reference to women out-earning men at work and at university, she quotes a variety of reasons and suggests that “some couples are choosing this lifestyle, others are forced into it.”

She does address how changes in traditionally held perceptions of men’s and women’s roles have affected men. “Studies indicate that in spite of the changes in women’s earning potential and role as breadwinner, men have struggled with issues related to their pride as well as social pressure and pressure from family when their wife is the breadwinner, often feeling emasculated or low self esteem.” In response, she goes on to say that it is up to both men and women to shift their perceptions of the roles of men and women, to fit their current lifestyles.

I agree with the commenter to the first blog post, in that while there may be shifts in male identity, I’m not sure if I’d call it a crisis. I also think that men and women should be working together to change our perceptions and notions of who and what men and women are and what we do, as men and women, in society. Pitting women vs men against each other isn’t going to help us understand each other and certainly won’t make things easier. I doubt that things will ever go back to the way they “used” to be.

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