Manhood? Houston, we may have found a horizon..

18 06 2009

It was around 1950. The blokes that survived “that other Great War” had finished their celebrations, found careers again, fathered probably a few children and life was kind of really good.

Women dutifully left the factories, shops, government offices and schools where they had all but taken over from 1939-1944 whilst the menfolk were either killing each other, running away or getting perhaps a little too close to prostitutes on their R&R. This is not to suggest that the army of feminine labourers were saintlike after hours, with a good number of flat-footed, cross-eyed and mostly deaf men getting far more than their usual share of attention.

In the 50’s, middle-class men could expect to come home from the drudgery of fairly uninteresting work to a well-cooked meal, some slippers and the evening paper and, if he was really lucky, well, let’s just say life wasn’t half bad.

Well, it couldn’t last. Fair enough really. The women didn’t take too long to realise that these “Kings” weren’t really doing miracles in the workplace any more than they had done during the war years AND they had to look after the house as well. Many women, completely justifiably, felt that the playing field should not so much be levelled as made a little less like playing hockey on the slopes of Mt Everest. The mountain-levelling earthquake variously known as “equal opportunity”, “Affirmative Action” or “gender equity” had hit these Himalayas. Of course, each of these terms had slightly different meanings, in much the same way that “Communism”, “Socialism” and “Social Democracy” do to the average punter (to the similar Chagrin of the Che’ crowd).

Just about the only bit men were fond of was the off-chance of seeing a woman get her bra off and burn it, but truth be told he would be more likely to cop a biff in the eye than anything remotely pleasing if he stood too close.

In the 70’s gender retreated like linoleum tiles as it seemed that people, like houses, were keener to sport wall-to-wall carpet and it was notoriously hard to even determine gender in many cases. Men and women, it seemed, could have any hairstyle imaginable and even the merciful patch of facial hair as some kind of male identifier was not failsafe in some parts of Eastern Europe. But unisex, like pretty much anything with the prefix “uni” fairly quickly loses its appeal and you tend to grow out of it.

In the 80’s tribalism took root in manhood and some men came out of hiding with all the tentativeness of a monster truck on top of a clapped out caravan. Punk was not dead, they just smelt that way. Indeed, anarchy found poultry in the most unlikely of fashion statements; angry men were back, and were somewhat dangerous. Skinheads thrived. The football lout raised his ugly head (but not much, since most were not endowed with a neck).

In Australia, the “Yobbo” was ubiquitous and found safe havens to the side of barbeques, with stubby holders that, when the time invariably came, needed to be surgically removed. The Australian man could laugh well, communicate poorly, watch cricket for days on end and spend, according to a study in 2003, ten times less than his french counterparts in lovemaking (a meagre 9 minutes compared with 90). Hardly surprisingly, many Australian women tend to set their sights a little higher than your average yob.

The paths diverged further, with the evolution of the sensitive, new-age guy, who was either a hippy with a haircut or an urban heterosexual male with an enterprising mind for this wide open female market, or simply just a poof.

Nevertheless, this crowd that could leave all kinds of fascination with balls behind (including both scratching and watching balls, or occasionally, simultaneously) to talk art and music and how much they adored kids and women and gender equity had women temporarily spellbound. However, if you happened to marry one, you might find them more inclined to play “Doom” ad infinitum, go out to see (yet) another band, go shopping or rifle through Architect digests than swat that bug, open the jar lid or hang some new shelves in the laundry. Dual sinks in ensuites also became de rigeur in this era as women realised finally how frustrating it was to wait in line for the sink when you are trying to get ready to go out. “Just HOW much of that $25 mousse is this guy going to use to go out for a coffee??” she found herself thinking.

The 90’s saw a sophistication of this creature into the “Metrosexual”, which was really just a very expensive version of the snag, though taking away some hard-won ground from the gay movement in the process.

The twenty first century then has left us with, what appears to be on the surface anyway, indefinable maleness. Actually, it is a good time to be a man.

These days we realise that many of the heroes of the screen from the 50s were not only fictitious but many of these “macho” men got their Saturday night dates without straying far from their own changerooms. The idea of one stoic hero against all odds saving the planet in time for tea is more fuel for parody than inspiration nowadays. Equally disdained is the foppish, pasty white almost-man that lacks wildness, drive and the ability to pursue women for the prize that they are.

No, the modern man, if there is such a beast, is, above all, authentic.

He can watch a chick flick on the odd occasion with his wife. He admits he can’t dance but he’ll have a red hot go because his wife loves it! He wrestles with his kids on the front lawn, cooks a great lasagne, thinks to bring the washing in before it rains and enjoys a cold beer and an afternoon of AFL with his mates. Some of these men might step aside for their wive’s careers, or pHDs and choose to live in places better for raising kids than climbing corporate ladders.

These men can rejoice that they are not women, celebrate their manhood and not consider passing wind in public an obligatory rite of passage (excuse the pun!). These men can laugh heartily, occasionally land themselves in risky situations and somehow come out alive and work to live, not the other way around.

If they are overweight, it won’t stop them getting on boogie boards with the kids in summer. If they are bald? Hell! Shave it ALL off!! Bald and proud, dammit!

The best lovers? Who’d ever know? Any woman who manages to find most things in the last three paragraphs in a man is far too wise to tell him anything other than he is awesome. As long as he takes longer with his lovemaking than he does watching the evening news it must be a pretty good start, eh? 🙂