In the Victorian era a man proved his manliness through self-restraint, chastity, sobriety, self-denial, and sentiment. (Consider fiction as diverse as that of Henry James, Louisa May Alcott, or Harriet Beecher Stowe: it's domestic.) Women's calls for enfranchisement, as well as temperance, were seriously considered in the 1870s and '80s.
But then in a backlash, masculinity became associated with physical prowess, endurance, violence, and a "primitive" nature. Teddy Roosevelt, who'd grown up a weakling and a dandy, reinvented himself on a Dakota ranch, and then led his Rough Riders in an 1898 war. Owen Wister invented the literary cowboy as a natural aristocrat, who proved his manliness outdoors on the ranch, or through the reluctant use of violence to tame the West.
Through the 1970s and '80s, we saw a growth of "sensitive men," feminists, peaceniks, co-homemakers, Alan Alda types. But in the last five or ten years, the pendulum has swung back again. Much of society now reveres warriors, men with physical courage (firefighters, for example), and even men who treat women poorly (gangsta rappers).
I've been asking some questions over the last month that this theory may help explain. Why were the '90s so full of books about Ernest Shackleton? Why do the Aubrey-Maturin novels, which have been around for 30 years, get filmed now (and why is the film titled "Master and Commander")? Why does opposition to wolves in the west seem stronger now than during the Yellowstone reintroduction ten years ago?
What do YOU think? Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive these posts via email, write to email@example.com. (You need not put any text in the message.)