Article on ‘The Emerging Paradox of Masculinity in the Modern Era’, by CS. Venkat R. Venkitachalam, Chairman, Bizsolindia Services Pvt. Ltd. (June 2023)

The “Economist” in its latest issue carried an interesting article chronicling the identity crisis of men and their manhood. That, in a way, is the immediate provocation for writing this article.  Simply put, masculinity is in crisis. Worry no further.  This phenomenon is happening in the Western world which is far removed from our shores.  But make no mistake; what happens in the US whether in culture or social practices are sure to surface in India one of these days if history is any guide.  It is better to be warned and be prepared, especially when traditional beliefs and practices are under threat. The concept of a crisis of manhood and masculinity in the United States refers to a perceived cultural and societal shift in traditional notions of what it means to be a man. It suggests that some individuals and communities believe that men are facing challenges in navigating their roles and identities in contemporary society. Advocates of the crisis of manhood argument argue that factors such as changing gender roles, increased gender equality, economic shifts, and cultural changes have led to confusion and uncertainty among men about their place and purpose in society. They claim that traditional expectations of masculinity, such as strength, stoicism, and dominance, are being challenged, which can lead to feelings of emasculation and a loss of identity for some men. Supporters of this perspective argue that men are encountering difficulties in areas such as education, employment, relationships, and mental health. They point to issues like declining male enrolment and graduation rates in higher education, a disproportionate number of men in low-skilled and physically demanding jobs, and higher rates of suicide among men as indicators of the crisis. Critics of the crisis of manhood argument, on the other hand, suggest that it is an overgeneralisation and an attempt to preserve traditional gender norms and power dynamics. They argue that society benefits from breaking down rigid gender roles and promoting gender equality as it allows both men and women to have more freedom in their choices and experiences. They contend that the so-called crisis is not a result of diminishing masculinity, but rather a necessary adaptation to a more inclusive and equitable society.  It’s important to note that the concept of a crisis of manhood and masculinity is a subject of ongoing debate and does not represent a universally agreed-upon phenomenon. Different individuals, scholars, and communities may have varying perspectives on the issue, and there is no definitive consensus on its existence or its implications.  They argue that feminists on their part are weaponising non existing issues to get even with men to address a long-nourished grievance of unjust male domination in society.  Be that as it may, there is a clear decline of influence of men in the society in general and the family in particular.  There is only one other country that has a similar problem apart from the US.  That is South Korea. The primary reason for this, it is argued, is the calibrated decline in birth rates necessitating such measures by the society. Whatever the reason, you seem to have a problem on hand that needs to be addressed if you need to maintain the gender equality and relative power equations in the society.

Considering the importance and the complexity of the issue on hand I decided to take a peep into the literature world to find out whether one can find satisfactory answers to this issue.  The primary problem here is that there are few books dealing with this subject either because it is a complex one or that the problem itself is non-existent. However, I found a seminal book on the subject authored by Richard V Reeves, a scholar from Brookings Institution.  He raises the critical question as to why the modern male is struggling, why it matters and what to do about it.  Though focussed on the US this is a fascinating work on the subject so much so that a discussion would remain incomplete without referring to Reeves and his book “Boys and Men” on the subject. Reeves “provides a ground-breaking diagnosis of the contemporary male malaise.  Many of the economic, social and cultural changes over recent decades pose new challenges to boys and men – especially those at the bottom of the economic ladder.  Black boys and men face the most acute challenge of all”.  Permit me now to quote some of the author’s observations in this book. “The gender gap in college degrees awarded is wider today than it was in the early 1970s, but in the opposite directions. The wages of most men are lower today than they were in 1979 while women’s wages have risen across the board”.  This is the first red flag.  He follows it by saying that “it became clear to me that the problems of boys and men are structural in nature, rather than individual; but are rarely treated as such. The problem with men is typically framed as a problem of men”. His take is that “the more it seems that men of the late twentieth century are falling into a status oddly similar to that of women at mid-century.” Finally, his prescription to salvage the male  genre  is this.  “Now the peculiar situation of the human male requires urgent attention. We must help men adapt to the dramatic changes of recent decades without asking them to stop being men. We need a prosocial masculinity for a postfeminist world. And we need it soon”.

In an era of shifting gender dynamics and evolving societal norms, the concept of manhood is undergoing a profound transformation. The traditional ideals of masculinity are being challenged, leading to discussions about a “crisis of manhood.” This article aims to deconstruct this crisis, examining its underlying factors, implications, and potential paths forward. By delving into the complexities and nuances of this issue, we can gain a deeper understanding of how notions of manhood are being reshaped in the modern world.  There may not be easy solutions on this issue before the society.  Some areas that will require its attention may include the following:

Rethinking Traditional Expectations – Unpacking traditional notions of masculinity: Strength, stoicism, and dominance.  Societal changes and their impact on traditional gender roles.

The role of media, culture, and popular narratives in shaping ideals of manhood.

Cultural Shifts and Their Influence:  The rise of feminism and its impact on gender dynamics.  Redefining power dynamics and relationships.

The emergence of alternative expressions of masculinity.

The Paradoxes and Challenges of Modern Manhood –  Conflicting expectations while balancing career, family, and personal identity.

Emotional expression and mental health challenges.  The education and employment gap – Implications for men.

Intersectionality and Inclusive Masculinities –  Recognizing the diversity within men’s experiences.

Examining the intersection of race, class, and masculinity.  Challenging stereotypes and promoting inclusive masculinities.

Positive Responses and Potential Solutions –  Male allies and the importance of solidarity. Promoting healthy masculinity and positive role models.

Educating and empowering young men for the future.

It would be an incomplete analysis of our (perhaps) mythical man if we do not touch upon the spheres where the genders converge and diverge all at the same time. Richard Reeves postulates with some element of authenticity the areas where the two sexes pursue their careers which has a profound influence in society.  Let me explain. In order to understand what Reeves attempts to tell us we have to understand two terms used often but rarely understood. STEM and HEAL.  A job market can be broadly classified in these two categories. The acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics which is incidentally dominated by men. Of late women have started moving into this space.  On the other hand, HEAL sector attract more females. These jobs including Education, Nursing, Social Welfare, Psychology, etc. predominantly in the Social Sector used to attract female candidates for jobs. Not anymore.  Reeves concludes that “We need, in short, a national effort.  As I have argued here, getting more men into HEAL jobs is important for their own economic prospects, given the decline of many traditional male jobs.  But I also hope to have persuaded you that it would be good for society too.  Men can HEAL”.

The crisis of manhood reflects the ongoing evolution of gender roles and also evolving expectations of the society. By deconstructing the factors contributing to this crisis, we can move towards a more nuanced understanding of masculinity and foster a healthier and more inclusive concept of manhood. Embracing diverse expressions of masculinity and challenging rigid stereotypes will pave the way for individuals to navigate the complexities of modern life and thrive in a rapidly changing world.  Thank God that we are in India where some of the eventualities outlined above have not touched our lives yet. If Reeve’s findings are well reasoned and if what happens in the US in Winter will happen in India in Summer, we can reasonably expect a perfect storm in a teacup in the not-too-distant future.  How we deal with such a situation tomorrow, if at all, will depend on our collective male ego as it exists today.

Richard Reeves has this to say in the book on his book: “Doing more for boys and men does not require an abandonment of the ideal of gender equality.  In fact, it is a natural extension of it.  The problem with feminism, a liberation movement, is not that it has “gone too far”.   It is that it has not gone far enough.  Women’s lives have been recast. Men’s lives have not.  We need as I said in the introduction, a positive vision of masculinity for a post-feminist world.  We also need to be grown up enough as a culture to recognize that big changes, even positive ones, have repercussions.  Dealing with these is not only possible, but necessary; that is simply the nature of progress.  In this case it means reforming an education system that no longer works well for boys, and helping men adjust to the genuine dislocation caused by the loss of traditional male roles.  We must tackle gender-specific challenges and inequalities in both directions”.

Deloitte, the Consultancy firm in a recently published Report had these helpful suggestions to offer.  The crisis of masculinity in essence relates to the shift in our societal structure that has changed what it means to be masculine. Due to a shift in gender norms and power structures, women now have more independence and professional status and no longer need to fulfil traditional roles. What could one do under such circumstances to help fellow men?  Offer personalized coaching to all individuals. Help people navigate difficult decisions at work and give people autonomy.  Build learning and development programs around life goals, not just professional aspirations.  Audit the informal behaviours that lead to success.Perform a gap analysis to see if these informal behaviours align with the formal measures written in performance evaluations. Define the desired behaviours for success through a diversity lens. Use feedback from diverse individuals to ensure this list does not inadvertently disadvantage specific individuals or demographics.  Identify and transform jobs to capitalize on the unique human value people bring to work. Catalog the human values (such as empathy and caring) that will be vital to organizational success and automate the rest.  The time is now for business leaders to enable and encourage men to take an active part in creating a more equal and inclusive future. If they do, organizations will be more competitive, women will be more empowered, and men will be more fulfilled.


Thank you.

Venkat R Venkitachalam



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