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The embattled American male.

Nature equipped the male to revolutionize the planet. Without the brawn and defensive ferociousness needed to survive primitive life, humans would not have developed the mastery needed to survive as a species.

But in less than two hundred years of technological progress, the unique physical advantages possessed by man have become superfluous to a large extent. He is no longer exclusively capable of fighting wild animals, nor curbing the wilderness, conducting wars -- or is he necessary to propagating the race. Modern technology and test-tube fertilization have taken over to perform the most basic of functions.

What happens to deeply enshrined concepts of manhood -- and without them how can males maintain the leadership that has so abundantly kept alive the picture of masculinity throughout the ages? Most important, how do they elude the ravages to health and ego that radical changes wreak?

What does it mean to be a man? How does womanhood differ? To understand clearly the similarities and differences may illuminate how an otherwise dark future can be brightened.

Just as love is not the opposite of hate, maleness need not be the antithesis of femininity. In most respects, men and women are alike. Biology determines particular differences, and it is worthwhile to respect those variations; society can benefit by our using those differences without prejudice.

As social revolutions redefine each sex's role in a new era, the ability to adjust becomes vital. Women have not lived by the uncompromising role that constricts men. If there is a female "ego," it probably inhabits the sense of self that arises from her biological nature: to love, to nurture, to reproduce (in some cases), and to be loved and respected.

Unfortunately, tribal culture and tradition have instilled less easily achievable demands upon the male. Many obsolete emotions shackle a man's ability to act and adjust to inevitable changes. Anger was designed by nature to protect primitive man from predators who threatened his existence. Most of these threats no longer exist and so anger becomes a clogging agent in the male psyche. Men have learned not to express emotion or "feelings."

The primitive armaments with which nature endowed primitive man, fear and anger, continue to generate and flow throughout the body. Not to express these emotions because it is now prudent to control them too often evokes "macho pride," so how does the frustrated male deal with perceived insults to his masculinity? Aggression seldom serves a positive means of solving problems today, yet by the old concepts of manhood, too many men find themselves engulfed in frustration or trouble. To overrespond is to court danger, to underrespond is to suffer the onus of "wimphood."

Man the Warrior has been the mainstay of images that inspired countless millions of men to lose their lives and bring destruction upon multitudes. It is no longer an undisputed fact that wars are usually unjustified, whether in the name of patriotism or survival. Looking back upon our own short history in the United States, one need not be a scholar to realize that practically every conflict could have been avoided if diplomacy and foresight had prevailed over the urge to prove one's (or the nation's) stalwartness.

In modern times, aggression does not ensure survival. It can only lead to death and destruction, realities that are scorned by the deep-dyed warrior and his misconceptions of manhood.

Does the military exert a lure for men seeking an identification with manhood? Doubtless, some enlist into the services because of a deep sense of patriotism, others for security and career reasons, many to enjoy the reassurance of "doing a man's work."

To contemplate the dangers of "macho intoxication," consider the gallery of men who either instigated wars or rose to the bait. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Benito Mussolini head the list of pseudo-masculine types who had an insane need to prove their maleness. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, some critics charged, couldn't resist getting further into the Vietnam war when prudence could have saved many lives. Sadaam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, might have had his way if he did not challenge George Bush's (and the nation's) masculinity by his reckless invasion of Kuwait.

Could any of these men have been capable of separating their feelings of intimidation, pride, anger, and humiliation? How much of the enthusiasm for war on either side was generated by frustrated ideals of masculinity?

In the past, war hysteria raged through a nation relentlessly. In our time, war protestors are gaining credibility, grand scale aggression becomes less of an assurance of manhood.

Man the procreator is no longer a privileged title. He is not expected to produce numerous offspring; the world is overpopulated, and restraint is imperative. Nor are women wholly dependent on men for maternal fulfillment. Because the sperm bank is now practicality, the male ego is sometimes seriously insulted.

The many ways in which males are frustrated by ever changing customs and technological innovations are apparent everywhere. No one should blame the feminist movement, which in essence is not really antimale.

When challenged, however, most men quickly give their support to bringing the opposite sex into the mainstream. For whatever discrimination exists, the practices are no longer firmly entrenched and beginning to yield to change. For some men, however, these changes serve to emphasize the creeping demise of masculinity as it was enshrined.

Inexorable changes in conceptions of Manhood are inevitable. Other reasons for male ego fragmentation can be attributed to the many illnesses in our society. Unemployment fosters a deep sense of despair; feelings of worthlessness and guilt are epidemic. The man who has lost his job feels emasculated; he no longer produces for himself, his family or society. Especially damaging to his sense of self is a dependence upon public assistance for survival.

A multiplication of gang organizations among younger males who otherwise should be on the threshold of a career can be explained by the need to bond and identify with other males. For some it is merely a channel to express antisocial instincts. For others it is truly the means to preserve misconceived principles of manhood.

A consequence of the changing role for men in our society is an explainable rise in physical and mental ailments. Depression among males in our country has reached epidemic proportions. Psychosomatic illnesses are on the rise. High blood pressure is rampant. Coronary disease is soaring. Many men leave the system to qualify for disability and their reasons are genuine -- they suffer from mental and physical conditions that, on the surface, are incurable but realistically could be attributed to variations of chronic fatigue. (This statement does not imply that most cases of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are not genuinely linked to a multiple virus complex that has overwhelmed the immune system.)

How is the embattled male able to deal with shifting sands beneath him? Most virtues associated with manhood are not obsolete. Courage, dependability, sense of duty, generosity and self-knowledge are always an integral part of a wholesome individual. It is an integral part of the masculine armor.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:evaluation of the changing concepts of masculinity
Author:Renaurd, William, Jr.
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Gestapo or benefactor?
Next Article:Notes and observations: changing concepts of manhood.

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