In recent months, a range of different signals have pointed to a socio-cultural peril, often referred to as the crisis of masculinity. In describing this phenomenon, links are made to gun violence problems in the U.S., including the mass shootings that have haunted U.S. schools over the last few months, and the persistent glorification of weapons in American culture. Moreover, the actions of Harvey Weinstein, former Oxfam chief Roland Van Hauwermeiren, and others accused by #metoo victims – #metoo revelations continue to be made – are seen as reminders of ‘unhealthy masculinity’. Further signs of this so-called crisis can be found in today’s political culture, more particularly in the manner in which heads of state have been flaunting their masculinity to show their power. India’s prime minister Modi rose to power promising true national potency while bragging about his 56 inch chest. Strongmen like the Russian president Putin show off their physical strength while posing shirtless on a horse. The U.S. president Trump has made multiple statements showing dominance over women, including the infamous ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ statement. Most recently, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte warned female rebels in his country by saying: ‘We will not kill you, we will just shoot you in the vagina’. Last, signs of the crisis are visible within the radical Islam. Osama bin Laden, for example, stated that Muslims were ‘deprived of their manhood’ and the Islamic State is raping innocent captives in the name of the caliphate.
The ‘crisis of masculinity’ is a term that seeks to describe these tendencies of expressions of dangerous, ‘unhealthy’, ‘toxic’, or ‘hyper-’ masculinity, resulting from social expectations that men should be sexually dominant or even aggressive, physically strong or even violent, unemotional, denouncing female strengths or values.
Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger: A History of the Present, describes the history and crises of the modern world. In the search of what is sourcing this crisis, he names the strongest driver of the crisis of masculinity: modernity’s shift from the agrarian society to the industrial, urban and bureaucratic society. Men were deprived of their position as strong, physical workers, owning their own land, and found
themselves transformed into office workers, working for large organizations where big muscles had become redundant. Although during the phase of industrialization that came after the agricultural phase physical work was still important, technology and automation today make men ‘who push and pull things’ even more obsolete. This threatens the traditional image of men even more. What the signs above describe are no more than a nostalgia for a time when men did not have to think twice about being men. In this nostalgia, men gather, as hooligans do, for example, to pretend that the old narrowly male patriarchal way of life still counts.
The risks of this socio-cultural tendency are numerous. First, men themselves are at risk. Research has shown that the lower life expectancy of the average American man in comparison to the average American woman is not linked to genetics or other biological factors, but that links to the long-held ideal of masculinity itself are more probable, though still unexamined. Second, the dangerous masculinity in political culture leads to violence, sexual harassment and the failure to treat women as equals. This also leads to the third risk of growing polarization in society; advocates of the Time’s Up movement and progressive parties will be in starker contrast to masculinity advocates and conservative parties. Fourth,
an increasing amount of research points to the organizational risks stemming from extremely masculine organizational cultures, such as increased sexual harassment, aggression, burnouts, increased financial risktaking, and decreased employee well-being. Already, public awareness of the problem has led to action, from community level to national level. In the U.S., dozens of programs work with boys to help them rethink what it means to be a man for a healthier masculinity and, as we noted earlier, the black community is liberating itself from hyper-masculinity.
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