Two photographs that went viral in recent weeks are symbolic of our changing masculinity.
One showed an Aussie male screaming abuse at a female French bus traveler because she wasn't speaking English. The other showed President Barack Obama and his wife hugging one another.
The first was a reminder that angry macho thuggery is still endemic in our society despite years of feminism and rising gender equality. The second struck a chord with thousands of men and women who know that an equal partnership is more fulfilling than one based on power and control.
In the context of Obama's election victory, it acts as a symbol of change in modern relationships, where the conservative old guard has been exposed for what it is - a pathetic cabal of outmoded white males scrabbling to retain power.
It resonates in the Australian context because we have just witnessed the clearest challenge to male chauvinism in decades in our Prime Minister's 'mysogyny' speech against Tony Abbott, the exposure of Alan Jones as an Emperor with no clothes, and a laying down of the gauntlet to established male power structures in her announcement of a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. The three are linked because media bias, sexist taunts and child abuse are based on unequal power and institutionalized inequality. We are at a pivotal point in our social history.
Obama epitomizes a new model of manhood, masculinity forged not as an assertion of power but as an acknowledgement of mutual support and cooperation. He is a man formed not by his own efforts to succeed but from his ability to relate to other people (including his own wife) as equals, a President calling for justice within American society, for the validity of caring for those not as fortunate as ourselves and for true cooperation between political opponents where the social good of all people and the future of the planet are concerned.
It is perhaps drawing too long a bow to suggest this is a tipping point for patriarchy, but it is certainly a tipping point for men confused about their own masculinity and their place in the world.
In most Western countries, male dominance is under retreat and many men are struggling to understand what has happened. In countries such as Russia that process is chaotic; men have been sidelined from family life and retreated into rampant alcoholism, their children 'captured' by grandmothers because they can no longer assert their male authority over wives.
Muslim communities vary widely, some observing Mahommed's injunction to treat wives as equals and care for their children, others still killing women if they dare to seek an education and challenge male authority. In China, over 100 million 'floating men' are either single because there are not enough women to marry or because they've had to move away from their family to find work in the rising urban complexes.
In Brazil, religious tradition still supports male authority over wives and children but economic change leads them towards closer involvement with their children. And in Scandinavia, years of policies which encourage female workforce participation, quality public provision of child care and greater male-female equality have cut swathes through a traditionally patriarchal culture.
Ironically Australia, with its more secular culture, anti-authoritarian traditions and government policies supporting shared parenting is probably closer to a new form of masculinity than others where more rigid roles hold sway. We're not all footy thugs after all.
The emergence of a new masculinity has come slowly, has many causes and is still incomplete, but we seem to be reaching a stage where men themselves are demanding liberation from the old macho mode.
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