NEW YORK (AP) — Traditionally, the American male was measured against the stoic hero who shook off all doubts, vanquished all foes and offered women a muscular shoulder to cry on.
But that was before feminism, gay-rights activism, metrosexuals. Husbands took on a greater share of housework and child care. The military welcomed women and gays. A romantic movie about gay cowboys, “Brokeback Mountain,” won three Oscars. And this week, the ground shifted under the hyper-masculine realm of America’s most popular pro sport — the National Football League, it seems, will soon have its first openly gay player.
Off the playing field, in their daily lives, countless American men are trying to navigate these changes. For some, it’s a source of confusion and anxiety.
“Men are conflicted, ambivalent,” said James O’Neil, a psychology professor at the University of Connecticut who has written extensively on men’s struggles over gender roles.
“On one hand they’ve been socialized to meet the old stereotypes.” he said. “On the other hand, particularly for men in their 30s and 40s, they begin to say, ‘That’s not working for me. It’s too stressful.’ They’re looking for alternative models of masculinity.”
But for other Americans, the upheaval is a good thing.
“Ultimately, confusion about modern masculinity is a good thing: It means we’re working past the outmoded definition,” wrote journalist and blogger Ann Friedman in a nymag.com article last fall titled “What Does Manhood Mean in 2013?”
After World War II, at least on the surface, there seemed to be an overwhelming consensus of what American manhood was all about. It was typified by Gary Cooper and John Wayne on the movie screen, by the GIs on America’s foreign battlefields, by the executives with homemaker wives and no corporate worries about gender diversity.