Writing as a young man, I know that I do not possess all the information in the world. I can only really be guided by what I have been taught and follow the examples of the men before me; be that family members or historical figures. That leads me to the question: what would they think about men in modern society?
I am fortunate to have a close relationship with many male members of my family, including my dad, grandfathers and cousins, so I believe I have some understanding about their views of the world.
My real interest lies further back, perhaps as far back as the Victorian period, where I would argue that the UK underwent perhaps it’s most radical social changes.
It was during this period that history witnessed the birth of the gender rights movement, with the rise of the Suffragettes and Suffragists, and the beginning of the expansion of social legislation, aimed at improving the lives of ordinary people. What is of particular interest to me is the beginning of the changing of the role and ideas surrounding a man.
I am not suggesting that the Victorian man was the direct cause of the “Millennial Man”, which critics such as Dan Peña call weak and soft, but I would like to raise the argument that they were the start of this newest evolution of man.
It was during this period that the media really took off. Never before had there been such access to information, with the improvement of printing presses making newspapers cheaper than ever.
Magazines rose in popularity, with many authors we now consider classics, like Dickens and Conan Doyle, having the majority of their published works in magazines. Both fiction and non-fiction writing were freely available, and with that came a greater criticism of the characters of both the fictitious and real world.
The example that comes to mind for me is “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, were the duality of man is explored through the ability of a scientist, who in his attempt to separate the good and evil elements of his soul, ultimately becomes corrupted by his evil self and is unable to change back from his dark alter ego.
Original poster advertising the book Credit: Wikipedia
In the heavily Christian Victorian society, there was a close focus on the perfection of man, that desire and need to be “good” and pure, with perhaps the ultimate aim being like Adam in the garden of Eden. However, Adam did stand by as Eve was tempted, literally by her side in some translations.
And like Adam, many men failed to withstand temptation or stood by as others failed, with many men behaving in traditionally unchristian like ways, such as having extra-marital affairs.
My point is, it was an open secret amongst men and woman that this was happening. It was just never fully discussed or challenged.
Nevertheless, as we progress through the Victorian period and pass by both the First and Second World Wars, there is a shift. Perhaps inspired by this Victorian literature or the horrors of the war, there was a noticeable shift in the attitudes towards men, both by fellow men, but perhaps more importantly, by women.
The simple truth is, men and women should be equal. That should never be in question.
If you are Christian, you are taught that Eve was created from Adam’s rib, to act as his companion. Personally, I take this to mean partner, as in equal partner. Someone to confide in and trust. Someone to say the hard things, the things that we very often do not want to hear.
In this case, with the rise of many woman’s voices, especially post-1960s, there came a greater criticism of man. Whether it was needed cannot be disputed, the behaviour of many men needed to be challenged.
This behaviour can perhaps best be labelled now under “toxic masculinity”, that desire to be socially dominant, which includes traits of many forms of aggression and the repression of many emotions.
This is of course because being yourself and expressing how you feel is weak. Personally, I find that insulting.
Man is not perfect and I doubt that he ever will be.
On the other hand, there is no one correct form of man. Men are complex and ultimately, individuals.
If you walked down Murray Place in Stirling and stopped the first ten men you saw and had a conversation with them, I guarantee you, you will find individuals, not robots.
The most demanding activity each and everyone of us undergoes, is waking up in the morning and deciding to be ourselves.
The challenges are of course different for each gender, and seeing as I do not identify as female, I cannot speak on your behalf.
As a millennial young man, I am acutely aware of the criticism I face. I cannot separate my personality like Dr Jekyll could; I am me. Who I am has been affected and moulded by not only my personal, internal development, but by my heroes, social media and the practical examples of being a man I see every day.
I would argue that millennial man is the perhaps the best version of man to date.
Being a man now, in fact, being anyone now, is a struggle on a daily basis.
Humans as a species are constantly searching for validation and relationships with other humans; we are ultimately pack animals. That before mentioned validation is more freely available than never before, with social media and the ability to cross oceans within seconds with emails, messages or even snapchats.
So to be able to say “no, that’s not me” or “that’s not the group that I want to associate with”, despite many of my friends being in that group, takes enormous bravery.
Standing by yourself and what you truly believe, that takes perhaps the greatest amount of strength, confidence and bravery. Words that are the direct antithesis of what critics of millennial man might use to describe us.
Millennial man may be perceived as weak, but I would argue, it is far worse to characterise an entire generation of men as being weak for being themselves. Remember, there is no correct way to be man, but there is a correct way to be you.
Image Credits: Men’s Health and Loyal Books
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