I can only speak for me personally, but I’ve never seen myself as some great warrior, a callous hunk, or even a particularly able lumberjack. And I’d be willing to bet, neither have most men today. That’s through no fault of our own I think, that’s just not what society demands of the modern man. Nor would it meet any of the necessary skills needed to thrive in this day and age. No matter if they happen to fall neatly into the traditional stereotypes of masculinity.
Yet that is exactly where I think modern masculinity finds itself, a stereotype. An almost laughable superficial understanding of what it means to be a man, hanging by a thread on the ledge of the 21st century, unable to let go of its past but desperately trying to evolve.
Like all questions surrounding gender, modern masculinity is complex and nuanced, continuously changing and adapting to new generations and expectations.
My understanding is that masculinity has, for the good part of the human experience, been defined by strength and ability. By a brutish behaviour and an unsophisticated temperament that has served a specific purpose.
As humanity hunted down dangerous beasts, developed society, and waged war on each other, an aggressive approach was needed to survive. This was the lot assigned to the men. And as the eras passed, this outlook on life helped raise great cities and progress society. But as humanity’s need to survive diminished, so did traditional masculinity’s place in society.
I think it is fair to say that we do not hunt anymore for fear of starvation, we do not sharpen our sticks in wait of an invasion. With many of our needs met by society, I concur that we have now become an introspective species. The physical and aggressive tone masculinity has defined itself by, must soon be shed or fail to meet society’s demands of the modern man.
But what is the modern man?
Well, I would say he is going through an evolution. Shedding his old shell and finding his place in the world.
Nowhere is this more evident than in entertainment.
The way in which modern masculinity is presented to the world is a good indicator of the direction it’s taking, and I don’t think there is anyone better to help analyse modern masculinity than James Bond.
The Bond films offer us a unique character study as to the evolution of masculinity, spanning all the way back to the 1960’s. I see him as the pinnacle of what it means to be ‘manly’ in that socio-political moment.
Nonetheless, Bond has captivated the eyes of many across the world due to his sexual prowess, his physical superiority, and his impeccable sense of style. Many look up to him for guidance as to what a man should be.
In specific, I think that the current iteration of Bond, Daniel Craig, has begun to challenge the assumptions of not just the character but of masculinity. And how it can still be defined in this contemporary society without contradicting the advancements made in gender rights.
In what is, supposedly, Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond, I think he gave audiences a unique look into a masculine man who was both introspective and endearing. An international man of mystery and a caring father, aware of his previous mistakes.
Warning, spoilers ahead.
In the film, I think that Bond is forced to confront his previous treatment of women when he finds out that he has a daughter. A daughter that will grow up in a world that he himself has helped foster, a world which has been argued to objectify women and put them in harm’s way.
I then begin to see Bond as oddly realistic, a man with fears and faults. No longer is he the unfeeling bedder of women I have grown to see him as, but the scared father who must change his ways if he hopes to protect his daughter.
I think that this is succinctly communicated to the viewer, when Bond carries his child through the forest, and the mother leads forward with a gun in her hand. Subverting not only all the previous Bond films, but era’s worth of gender presumptions.
This to me is a much more relatable masculine figure, one who fears and protects but also doubts.
But in the background, there is a larger narrative trying to shape the modern man and what he should hope to be. Not a sexually violent and aggressive man, but a caring one, willing to defend if necessary and striving to improve.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s a man I can look up to.