Published in August 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
What does it mean to be a man in 2016? All the talk of men being “in crisis” is overblown—as a group they still earn more than women, and still dominate parliament, the judiciary and journalism. Male writers still dominate literary prizes.
Nevertheless, the rise of female equality and less constricted gender identities has meant old-fashioned ideas of masculinity are increasingly under challenge. Men are now being invited to contribute more to the traditional female sphere of home life, just as women are now a normalised part of workplaces. Something has undoubtedly changed in society’s perception of men and how men perceive themselves.
How are writers—both male and female—responding to this new social situation? In his essay, “What does it mean to be a man?“, literary critic Anthony Cummins looks at some recent fictional portrayals of masculinity and asks what we can learn from them. He finds that while novelists such as Martin Amis and Michel Houellebecq usually present men as comically and cynically pursuing women, others such as Karl Ove Knausgaard and Sarah Moss engage with the stay-at-home dad doing the child care, whether happily or unhappily.