Michael Kimmel, sociologist and author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, appeared in a Dads Unplugged Radio podcast this week. He discussed his recent Newsweek article, “Man Up,” and expounds on the idea that men must now rethink their ideas of masculinity to stay afloat.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff here. Kimmel argues that there were two masculine archetypes from the American Revolution to the Industrial Age: the “genteel patriarch”—cultured, artistic gentry such as Washington and Jefferson—and the “heroic artisan,” the “virtuous worker”—for example, Paul Revere. This gave way to the 19th-century Horatio Alger idea of the self-made man, the middle-class man, which remains with us today. It’s a romantic idea: a special breed of man can pull themselves—and America—up by the bootstraps.
Advertising perpetuates this. As men’s roles shift and become more family-oriented, commercials hint they’ve been gypped. “We know the compromises you make,” Kimmel jokes, “but when you buy this car or wear this shirt, you’re back on the frontier”—where, it’s implied, men were men.
But men know better than this. We know family makes us happy. We know our interpersonal relationships are more gratifying than business, and we’ll never be the guy at the law firm who never knew his children’s birthdays. If there’s a hidden benefit to the “he-cession,” this is it: not having to make the sacrifices our dads made.
And, laughs one of the hosts, more sex.