Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Beginning of Men

Article first published as The Beginning of Men on Blogcritics.

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."
- Charles Darwin

In the spirit of the apocalyptic zeitgeist of our time, we have been put on notice that the end of men hath come. Hanna Rosin explains in her new book The End of Men and the Rise of Women that gender dynamics are shifting profoundly as the needs of emerging economies that are more about head and heart than brawn give women an edge. Channeling Darwin, Rosin argues that it is women's ability to adapt to a changing world that is the secret of their ascencion in the early days of this new century. David Brooks of the New York Times frames this adaptability in terms of coping with the imbalance of power and what happens when the tide begins to turn:
"When there’s big social change, the people who were on the top of the old order are bound to cling to the old ways. The people who were on the bottom are bound to experience a burst of energy. They’re going to explore their new surroundings more enthusiastically."

In other words, women's centuries-long oppression has better prepared them to take advantage of this moment in the social, economic, and political evolution of our species. I don't mean to rationalize this oppression which has always represented a grave injustice. Rather, I wish to acknowledge the remarkable strength and resiliancy of women in the face of it. As painful as this may be for men, it is a necessary step in the pathway of a human race that is emerging from its collective adolescence into maturity. 'Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921), Head of the Baha'i Faith from 1892 to 1921, anticipated such a development at the beginning of the last century:

"The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced."

Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I got an up-close and personal view of this shift in the mixed masculinity of my father. He could definitely embody the old-school, be-a-man, tough guy routine. But he was also capable to remarkable tenderness and affection. The same man who instructed me in the martial art of a proper jab (which came in handy on many occassions) could take those big hands and sing "Ms. Mary Mack," rhythmically clapping with my little sister as well as any girl in the school yard. He cooked, and cleaned, changed diapers and wiped away tears. I was never given the impression that those were things men don't do. He is responsible for some of my better qualities as a dad, and in my son, who is as comfortable with a doll as a dinosaur, I think I see a glimpse of what the future may hold.

Men should welcome this moment. We will at long last have to learn to share this world, to share power, to rediscover and redefine what power really means. The end of men may be just the beginning. It won't be easy. If we're lucky, women will show us the patience and compassion they so often have, even when we haven't deserved it. We're going to need it because the oppression of women has left us woefully unprepared for the time we're living in. 'Abdu'l-Baha put it this way:
"Women have equal rights with men upon earth; in religion and society they are a very important element. As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs."

We have no idea the greatness that might be ours if we fully embrace the ascendency of women rather than resist it. The future holds no place for the antiquated, cartoon-masculinity many of us were raised with. Nor will the ever-popular man-boy model typified in Judd Apatow comedies meet the needs of a maturing humanity. What that greatness may involve remains to be seen. We don't know what a "real man" looks like. Because of the oppression of women we haven't met him yet.
Image courtesy of wikimedia.com.