Friday, 19 April 2013

About Women's Beauty and the Absence of Manhood

Dove has a new video that is going viral at the moment. It is about women's flawed self-perceptions and how they tend to perceive themselves in a negative light in comparison to how other's see them.

I liked the video -- but then the person who sent it to me, also sent me a link to a blogger's analysis of the video. The blogger made some piercing observations and highlighted a big problem with modern expectations of beauty. I highly recommend you watch the video and read the blogger's post.

The post made me think of one of my favourite essays which I do in one of my classes every year. It is by Susan Sontag and about the problem of beauty--how it is both a power source for women, but also a way of negating power from women--a way to always make them the fairer, and by implication, the weaker sex. Anyone interested in gender equality and parents concerned about the values they teach their daughters will find value in reading Sontag's "Women's Beauty: Put-Down or Power Source?" (No copyright infringement is intended with the sharing of this link.)

This then made me think of something else I read recently regarding men. While women in the modern Western world have seized the gender equality they deserve, men have in a sense abdicated their role as men. Young men, it seems, get stuck in a state of pre-adulthood: neither adolescent, nor adult; unwilling to grow up and take up the responsibilities of manhood, leaving the question: "Where Have All the Good Men Gone?" The article is a very interesting read.

I think part of the problem is the lack of fathers, mentors, and role-models. In years gone by, sons used to learn a family trade. This close working relationship between father and son was a way to nurture the boy into adulthood. "Masculinity is bestowed," as John Eldredge so famously said in his book Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul. A boy becomes a man through the guidance of his father (or a father figure). The problem is, however, that father's are generally absent; they may be workaholics--as my father was--or just plain missing, and the boy has to stumble his way towards adulthood without the guidance he needs. Sure he becomes an adult, but does he truly become a man? I wrote about my personal journey in adulthood and manhood some years back. It is still a topic I find fascinating.

I've watched the first season of Kitchen Nightmares recently and a common theme that I noticed was how these men (often the problems in the restaurants featured in the series involved a man not manning up to responsibility) really just needed someone who can tell him to get his act together, but also tell him that he has faith in him, that he can make it. In other words, these men just needed an involved and encouraging father (-figure). I wonder how much of the world's problems are centered in this very issue: absent, uninvolved fathers?

Even though there is still room for progress, there have been many good changes towards gender equality. At the same time, however, the genders have also lost much of their innate respective value, and it seems to be at a cost.

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