The existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, described the situation of women as “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” In essence, ignoring the biological factors, de Beauvoir describes the idea of women and men as being a social construct that the individual takes upon themselves to give meaning to their existence. Previously, men were seen as the norm, whilst women were seen as abnormal. From this place of inequality, men were given a central roll in society and women were seen as an addition to men.
This position has been challenged by feminism and over time has been made more equal. However, many men and boys are still inducted into this polar relationship of males being in the center of society.
Coupled with the demands of the capitalist market on cheap flexible labour, which through their emancipation women have been recruited into, men are stuck navigating life with values that do not reflect modern society. In short, men are still taught values that support a position that they have lost and, subsequently, suffer a loss of meaning
"Boys will be boys" and Social Changes
The social change that occurred after the second world war has affected the role of men in society. The traditional husband and wife relationship, where the husband is the breadwinner and the wife looks after home and family until one of them dies, has been erased. Likewise, neo-liberalism has meant that job security is a thing of the past as rationalisation of production, or cost cutting, has led to massive lay offs in or closure of “male” industries. In the same instance, women no longer need a man for their economic stability as both the job market and educational options are open to them. The traditional values that were previously in vogue are now no longer forming society, yet they are still transferred to young males. From a young age, girls and boys are taught certain behaviors.
As noted in a Swedish study into gender and equality in preschools, girls were taught to communicate where as boys were not, meaning the boys were dependent on others, especially their female classmates. The study also showed the emotional shaping of the children, where the boys' emotions were discouraged and met with anger, in contrast to the girls who were looked upon with sympathy and care.
Furthermore, from a young age the phrase “boys will be boys” allows for behavior that is not generally regarded as “suitable” in society to be a model for how boys are supposed to behave including it being loud and aggressive, physically rough with others or encroaching on others' rights. All of this means that many boys who later grow to men are left behind in a society that has moved on.
A Downward Spiral
In the wake of social change, many men find themselves unable to find their place, often with destructive consequences. Men, as a result of the values they have been taught, in general, have a lower level of education; they are more likely to abuse substances or commit a violent crime, and are more likely to commit suicide. For the baby boomers who were bred into the mentality of work, wife, house, and kids, many are finding that this leads to isolation. Through the break up of their marriage and/or job insecurity, this generation is finding it difficult to deal with a stituation that was thought unthinkable. Often resulting in substance abuse or suicide, the mantra of real men don’t show any emotion or talk about them, limits their means of dealing with crises. Likewise, young men who are raised in capitalist objectification, are subject to enormous pressure to fulfill what is perceived to be male and attractive; for example, being ripped, a bad boy and having lots of material wealth. In addtion to this, society has become more technologically advanced and as a result more individualistic and isolated. This perfect storm means that young men fall into a cycle of unattainable goals, subsequent disappointments, and further isolation or destructive behaviors.
For society, the crises men face is one that sends ripples throughout. Change is necessary if equality is to be maintained and society improved. However, it is not something that any other group but men can resolve. Like the feminist movement is women dealing with the issues they face, men should take responsibility for each other and change their sex’s path.