In our last post, Meet The New “Power Woman," we discussed the emergence of the Power Woman as a positive archetype in popular culture and we also pointed to the changing roles of men vis-a-vis the Power Woman.
As we suggested then, the conversation around changing male roles is gaining steam in popular consciousness.
Slate's Hanna Rosin has been making the talk show rounds discussing her book, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women. Rosin posits that women are better suited to the challenges of power in this new era when influence, collaboration, nuance and so-called "soft skills" are more important to getting things done than the old school masculinity that defined the power players of previous generations. Whereas estrogen was once seen as making women unfit for powerful roles because it made them indecisive and soft, testosterone is now perceived as the hormone with negative implications, making men rash and prone to poor decision-making.
Despite the provocative title of her book, Rosin believes that men will adapt and develop these more feminine skills and traits in the future. In fact, a survey of pop culture reflects these adaptations are underway right now.
If Tina Fey ushered in an era of women embracing their power -- or at least struggling with the dual roles of power and femininity in all its awkward complexity -- through her role as executive producer of 30 Rock, then Jimmy Fallon is signaling the mainstreaming of the New Masculinity in his role as executive producer of the new NBC sitcom Guys with Kids. In the series, which premiered last week, stay-at-home dads fumble through life and parenting as they embody a new kind of masculine identity in which a man is as likely to be a nurturer as a breadwinner.
This week we'll see Scott Baio for the first time in a very long time, premiering his new sitcom See Dad Run, which features him as a stay-at-home dad after swapping roles with his wife, whose career is now taking a front seat. Both shows reflect a new reality: the number of men who have left the work force entirely to raise children has more than doubled in the past ten years, according to recent United States census data.
Another prominent fictional manifestation of the New Masculinity is Peeta from The Hunger Games, the kind, nurturing young baker who is the yin to Power Woman archetype Katniss's yang.
And it's not just men's relationships with women and children that are shifting. The New Masculinity is as much about redefining men's relationships with other men and with themselves. The New York Times recently reported on a group of four 40-year-old male friends who have lived together as housemates for over 18 years in an untraditional non-family unit. This communal living situation is an outgrowth of sociological and demographic shifts. According to the 2010 U.S. census, over 40% of Americans prefer not to live alone. And with men putting off marriage until later in life, situations that foster bonds not based on blood ties or marriage are becoming ever more prevalent. The popularity of Judd Apatow's buddy films and the emergence of the term "bromance" in recent years further reflects a growing focus on male friendships.
This new man, confident in his masculinity, is embracing his feminine qualities both inside and out. Women's Wear Daily says: "A new sophistication, driven by the explosion of online information on trends and brands, as well as a new savvy, powered by the reach and diversity offered by e-commerce, has created a wide swath of men embracing fashion with a fresh confidence. At the same time, economic issues have placed a premium on looking sharp in the workplace, while social and economic forces have given guys a new permission to take charge of their appearance." (WWD: The Confidence Man, 6/18/12)
Ten years ago, men who were interested in their looks were derided as "metrosexual." But today, manicures and facials are acceptable components of the male grooming regimen and the prevalence of drugstore brands like L'Oreal Men Expert and Dove Men reinforce the acceptability of men caring about their appearance.
As culture continues to reflect the new reality of men's lives -- stay-at home dads and dads who are more engaged with their children than those of previous generations; men who confidently spend time and money to look their best; or men who embrace their male friendships -- the warm, nurturing male figure will become a new norm.
And watch out, because when a New Masculinity dad partners up with a Power Woman mom, conversations about family leave and career on-ramping and off-ramping will begin shaping social and economic policies. At the same time, businesses will capitalize on the trend by introducing new innovations to serve families in ways not yet seen in the U.S. and beyond.