What does it mean to be a man in 2021?

Modern men appear more willing to show their vulnerabilities – and we should celebrate that this is progress being made

As a 30-something father of two, with a marriage, mortgage and all the accompanying mayhem, I have often reflected this past year, while locked down, what it means to be a modern man. 

Having moved house, welcomed our youngest child, bought a puppy, and worked from home since the start of the pandemic, I’ve embraced the opportunity to be more available to and active with my lovely, growing family, and learnt new skills as a husband and dad.

Certainly, there has been a dramatic evolution in masculinity in the last few years, with male role models queuing up to urge others to eschew supposedly typical characteristics of bottling-up emotions and not asking for help or guidance. 

The coronavirus crisis has catalysed the trend towards a softer, more-rounded man, as we have been forced to be more, well, human, display our vulnerabilities, and communicate more kindness and calmness. 

Admittedly, the pandemic has had a polarising effect, and some men have reverted to stale stereotypes – unfortunately for those people and especially those around them. The majority, though, have embraced change and welcomed the chance to reimagine what it means to be a man in 2021.

Child psychologist and parenting expert Dr Amanda Gummer warns that “outdated concepts of masculinity are dangerous for many reasons” – not least because they can stop men who are struggling to reach out for help. 

“In years gone by, young men have been taught that ‘boys do not cry’ and that they have to be tough and strong,” she says. “Showing emotions or verbalising these feelings have often been viewed as a sign of weakness in a man.”

Dr Gummer continues: “Although there has been a shift in this viewpoint, suicide is still the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK. It is these outdated concepts that act as undertone within our society, stop men from speaking out and keep these statistics high.”

Thankfully, things are changing for the better – and rapidly. “Masculinity is in a state of flux,” suggests Neil Wilkie, a psychotherapist and author of Reset: The Relationship Paradigm. “In the olden days, the men would go to work. Women would be ready for when the men returned, with a tidy house, groomed children and dinner on the table.”

In 2021, there is greater gender equality, Wilkie says – and while most celebrate this parity and progress, some men have struggled to come to terms with the new reality.

“Now their earnings and employment prospects have declined, and they are in competition with women for most jobs,” he continues. “The change in societal norms and roles is eroding their self-esteem and a sense of purpose.

“Traditional masculinity is about strength, courage, assertiveness and independence. The new masculinity needs to be about self-awareness, expressing vulnerability and emotions, communicating by listening, helping others and connecting rather than controlling.”

Dr Ashley Morgan, a Masculinities Scholar at Cardiff Metropolitan University, agrees. “There is currently a great deal of conflict between ‘traditional’ values of masculinity – dominance, control, not demonstrating emotions, other than anger – and what might be termed ‘softer’ masculinity, which is the opposite of those things,” she adds.

So here’s to all the other men and fathers who are starting to show their softer side and being comfortable taking on more “traditionally female” duties. The direction of travel is clear: the modern man is calm, kind and vocal – in a good way.

This article was originally published by the Telegraph in May 2021, and sponsored by Armani

Published by

Oliver Pickup

Multi-award-winning writer, content editor, ghostwriter, and TV and radio commentator (and occasional illustrator), specialising in technology, blockchain, startups, business, sport and culture. Founder of Pickup Media Limited. Interviewer of death row prisoners, legendary athletes, influential leaders, tech trendsetters, and cultural pioneers. By-lined in every English newspaper. Contributor to dozens of multinational publications.

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