Christopher J. Greig, assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor, argued that instead of looking to redefine masculinity on new, more open lines, social and economic changes are prompting many men to pine for a return to “the good old days” when men were men – and when women, presumably, knew their place.
Greig explained that “manhood” is a concept built on social, historical and cultural values, not something innate ordained by biology.
“Definitions of manhood are shaped by changing socio-political structures in society,” he said.
Because manhood is not an absolute, its definition changes over time. Sometimes, changes in society (such as after WWII) force a reconsideration of what a man is. Right now, Greig said, we’re in the midst of a period of questioning that is driven by several factors, such as the increased role of women in the paid work force and the decline of traditionally male manufacturing jobs.
These changes prompt questions like: “What does it mean to be a man when you’ve been laid off from your job at the factory and your wife is now the family’s breadwinner?” According to Greig, many men are answering the question by expressing a longing for a return to old-style values.
“We’re seeing something of an anti-feminist backlash, where because of the loss of manufacturing jobs and the crisis of de-industrialization, there’s been concern around men’s identity,” Greig said.
In his hometown of Windsor, for example, Greig said many automobile sector manufacturing jobs have been lost and because their identity was so wrapped up in their jobs, many men are seeking out mental health services.
“Part of the backlash is being driven by men’s uncertainty,” he added. “There’s a tendency, when things are uncertain, to want to get ‘back to normal.’”
Greig argued that a return to patriarchal values won’t solve the current crisis of manhood because older definitions of manhood limit and constrain men by assigning them specific roles. Instead, he said, men should look to expand and redefine manhood – perhaps by finding definitions that do not tie a man’s identity to his job. That way, if he loses or changes his job, his identity does not suffer.
Finally, Greig pointed out that questions of gender are always in flux. The current crisis provides an opportunity to create diverse, democratic, expansive and equitable expressions of manhood.
Greig presented his research at the 2010 Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Concordia University in Montreal.