Man of the Moment
Maggie Tiojakin, WEEKENDER | Fri, 01/06/2012 1:25 PM |
Is the he-man a has-been in the new world of stay-at-home dads and man bags?
The character of Don Draper, a cigarette-smoking womanizer who downs a scotch before breakfast and spends most of his time looking good in a suit, may seem an unlikely one to gain a following. But the protagonist of the US cable series Mad Men about the 1960s advertising industry is popular, including among women.
Does that mean that they would like to have Mr. Draper by their side?
“Don Draper is easily likeable because he’s got Christopher Reeve’s charm and the temper of Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff,” says Carol Coates, who teaches gender studies at the University of Massachusetts, when contacted via email. “And while there’s a magnetic quality to Don Draper’s character that seems irresistible to women, I doubt that they would want to go anywhere near him in real life.”
The Don Drapers were raised in a time when being a man meant going off to war and fighting foreign enemies. For that generation, being a good man was tantamount to being a good soldier – and commander of all those around him.
“I think the way we grow as people depends on the events we go through,” says Coates. “The tough and distant man who drinks and smokes and is incapable of connecting with others on an emotional level like Don Draper’s character is a classic product of war.”
Back in the day of Draper, the ideal men on the big screen were strong, smooth Clark Gable, taciturn, tough John Wayne and suave Cary Grant – men who were always in control of the situation.
In contrast, today’s leading men are gauche, rough around the edges and awkward with women. They ask a lot of questions and are really bad at sports. Yes, ladies, the new man as characterized by Tom Hanks, Ben Stiller or Adam Sandler is great at pulling off sassy remarks and can really make you laugh, but don’t expect him to save you from a burning building or fly you to the moon.
“I don’t know what it is,” says Angel Widyasari, who writes on fashion and dating for a women’s magazine based in Jakarta. “In the 1980s, we seemed to prefer the baddest boys with the worst bedside manner in the world. In the 1990s, the trends changed. It was the everyman type that we ultimately fell for. Today, geeks and underachievers are all the rage.”
Nova Asman, who teaches social sciences at Parahyangan Catholic University, says the changing roles of both men and women affect what it means to be a man.
“The roles we play in society are always changing,” he says over instant messenger. “In each period, there is a need for a certain kind of man. During wartime, for example, women are moved by a man’s courage. And in times of peace and prosperity, women are moved by a man’s desire to succeed.”
The urban global woman of today – paying her own way in life, whether she is in New York City, Buenos Aires or Jakarta – is very different from the stereotypical “dependent” and deferential woman of just a few decades ago.
“Modern women don’t need men to feed them,” writes Nova. “They don’t need men to protect them. And they certainly don’t need men to be successful in their careers. They need men to love them, care for them and pat them on the back when they do something right. And that kind of man, well, some would think he’s a loser.”
The (Not So) Ugly Truth
Remember the iconic scene from Kramer vs. Kramer where Dustin Hoffman struggles to make breakfast for his son? Today, more than 30 years on, he would have been thrown out of the daddy daycare club so fast he wouldn’t know what hit him. For all his awkward fumbling in relationships and in finding himself, the modern man not only knows how to make breakfast, he also knows how to change diapers without holding his nose and can keep track of his kids’ extracurricular activities.
“There is no shame in being a stay-at-home dad,” says Nova. “Or at least the kind of dad who takes half the responsibility of raising and taking care of his children.”
Some call it emasculation, while others prefer the term “progress”. Either way, (almost) everybody celebrates it.
“I see our marriage as partners, even though he is the head of the family and the main breadwinner,” says “Yeni”, whose husband is a successful businessman. “I have my communications career, but take care of the kids’ needs most of the time because I am not as busy. If I have my own projects, then we divide up who can help with what when it comes to the household.”
The modern man is capable of creating an emotional connection with others. He looks good and smells good and is secure in his own image (no need to declare, “I’m a metrosexual”). He doesn’t try to change for others and he won’t let others change him. He appreciates wine like he does women, but also accepts other people’s sexual preferences. He still loves certain sports. He reads extensively. He doesn’t always know how to fix the car or the plumbing. He has never been involved in a real fistfight.
He understands everyone has weaknesses, including himself, and that it is all right to cry, but maybe not to tell everybody about it. He has stopped living on the edge, although he dreams about it. He tries to be a people person. He expresses regrets and attempts to make amends. He is not the hero he thought he would be while he was growing up, and he realizes he is a better man for it.
He is who he is.
“This is not a setback,” says Nova. “It took us a long time to get here. And there is bound to be controversy as we continue our journey, but at least we got here. We’re not lost or confused – instead, we are rediscovering ourselves.”