What is the future of men? Followers of AMC's Mad Men will be asking that question as the final episodes unfold over the next few weeks. The concluding seven-episode arc of Mad Men clearly personifies the pain caused, both to men and those we love, by antiquated and self-destructive conceptions of manhood. The overriding theme of the already classic series is men's self-destruction, as seen appropriately through the prism of the advertising business. Is the future of men self-destruction or redemption? The conclusion will inevitably confirm what many men already understand and accept: it's no longer a man's world. For most of recorded history, brute strength and archaic social paradigms have supported a male-dominated Western society. But the arc of the last 30 years, as impressively captured in Mad Men, is one of the erosion of this male dominance.
The steady rise of women, in particular in high-skill sectors of the economy, has led to a plethora of thought pieces, books, and apocalyptic declarations, perhaps most famously including Hanna Rosin's The End of Men. Rather than write-off fifty percent of the planet, in my new book The Future of Men: Masculinity in the Twenty-First Century, I ask what is the future of men? What do we ask ourselves when we look in the mirror? What do we teach our sons and grandsons about who they can be -- and our daughters and granddaughters about what to seek in men as friends and romantic companions?
After being told all our lives to "be a man" and "man up," now we're asked to reject the macho stereotype and told we're too disconnected from our emotions. The steely, withholding Don Draper leading man of Mad Men's first few seasons has given way to a highly conflicted and more emotive Don Draper coming to terms with his true Dick Whitman self. Ed O'Neill's portrayal of fatherhood on Modern Family is high-definition emotional connectedness by comparison to the Al Bundy character that brought him fame on Married with Children a quarter century ago. Too many of us men have been trained by parenting, culture and peer pressure that sensitive equals weak, that weak equals feminine and that being feminine is somehow wrong. Now, correctly, we're being instructed to be more empathetic, more in touch with our emotions and more sensitive in our relationships. To borrow from another American classic, The Big Lebowski: "strong men also cry."
Much of who we are as men -- perhaps most -- is stuff that we were taught by our parents (including by our mothers) and reinforced by the media and pop culture. But we can teach whatever we want -- both to ourselves and to today's youth. The question is "what do we teach?" For one, we need to stop objectifying women: we need to teach men of all ages that prostitution and strip clubs represent an acceptance of female objectification in its most dangerous form. Beyond prostitution and strip clubs, we must acknowledge the danger posed to male minds of all ages, but in particular to formative young minds, of the copious amounts of highly degrading hard-core pornography available on the Internet. We need to teach our young men that intimacy and honesty are the foundation of healthy relationships and that lies and deceit are destructive not only to others but to themselves. We must rethink and assign positive context to the mantras that "boys will be boys," and "he's a man, what do you expect?" We must encourage boys and men of all ages to rise to a new standard of respect for ourselves and all those around us. We need to teach and learn the qualities of collaboration, emotional intelligence and effective communications. We should find paths to integrate gaming, sports, and physical activities into education.
I'm not a professor of sociology or gender theory. I started writing my new book as a journey of self-exploration. Who am I? How did I get here? Why did I engage in patterns of destructive behavior and act disrespectfully in relationships while believing I was being loyal and honest?
The world is changing and gender issues have moved to the forefront of social and political consciousness. The women's movement will continue to inspire change and, thankfully, will ensure greater opportunity and parity. But the implications, issues and opportunities for men have not yet become part of the conversation, and my simple goal for this article is to begin the dialogue, to acknowledge the reality of the challenges men are facing and will need to confront, challenges being confronted by Matthew Weiner's characters in Mad Men. I know my story is relevant; I'm excited to invite you to join me in advancing the belief that it's not the end of men nor is it the end of the Mad Men story; it's the beginning of a new era for men. I, for one, am excited.