What does it mean to be a real man? What does it mean to be a good man? Those are the questions Stony Brook University sociologist Michael Kimmel, who pioneered the field of masculinity studies, asks his students when first broaching the subject. The responses tend to contrast: a real man is tough, maybe a little aloof, certainly brawny; a good man is dependable, takes care of his family, and definitely capable.
These differences speak to just how complicated, variable, and amorphous masculinity is right now, and how much the definitions of “becoming a man” that guys carry around are actually artifacts of their upbringing. As Kimmel, the founder of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook, explained to Thrive Global, the hopes and despairs of males trying to be men connects everything from urban violence to Donald Trump’s road to the White House, not to mention the cultural prescriptions of professional and personal success. At the same time, public life is seeing leaders revise gender norms: Jay-Z, Brad Pitt, and Prince Harry are opening up, Wonder Woman continues to rule the box office, and Michelle Obama and Angela Merkel serve as guiding lights in domestic and international politics. Meanwhile, the rise of women’s rights and the decline of traditionally masculine labor have put unexamined gender roles into a bind—the robots are coming for men. And the jobs being added are traditionally thought of as “women’s work,” to boot.
It is precisely because of masculinity’s many intersections with the world’s biggest social trends that Thrive Global has decided to put together an editorial initiative called Redefining Masculinity. We will show how blinkered, machismo-driven notions of masculinity imprison men in their careers and relationships and impact the workplace for women, and how a more evolved, examined, and expressive manhood can not only improve mental health, but literally save lives. Given the tremendous amount men are acculturated to finding their identities (solely) in their roles at work, changing the workplace for both men and women requires examining the connection (and disconnection) between manhood, masculinity, and machismo.
Launching this week, the section kicks off with a profile of Becoming A Man, a mindful masculinity program in Chicago that reduces teen violence by 40 percent. We’ll also dive into why, as economists have found, so many swaths of American men are getting less marriageable. We have stars across fields taking over our Instagram, and a host of male leaders opening up in interviews about what manhood means to them, and how they seek to become good men. In 2017, it’s taken as an article of faith that gender is a spectrum, but what’s less agreed on—and what we’re going to dive into—is what it means to identify as a man.
Stories thus far: