With some prominent alpha males (I’m sure you know who I mean) coming under fire for undesirable forms of old-school ‘male bravado’ – not to mention outright misogyny – are we finally seeing a new dawn in terms of how we define masculinity?
Whilst this sounds encouraging, multiple insight projects we’ve conducted over the last couple of years that explored the notion of ‘modern masculinity’ suggest it’s not as simple as that.
Many men acknowledge they should reject the traditional archetypes that embody power, authority and control. But they are struggling to find the new way to behave, for several reasons:
- They are not quite sure what that ‘new way’ should look like
- They are fearful of getting the ‘new way’ wrong and being judged for doing so
- Some of the brands that have tried to express another way (like Gillette) have been ridiculed
- Many don’t feel confident yet about calling out others’ behaviour – they need to feel more societal support before they are able to do this
- And whilst they feel they shouldn’t still want power and authority, they do – because they want to be heard and worry that without these, they won’t have a strong voice.
As my Lucid colleagues have heard from male participants recently, they feel pulled in different directions. On the one hand, feeling pressure to be confident, strong, ambitious, successful and reliable, financially stable and (yes, still) a ‘good provider’ – and on the other hand pressure to be kind, supportive, self-improving and ‘evolved’. As one participant put it:
“You have to be everything to everyone”.
It’s a difficult balancing act – and it’s stressful (and in this respect, women and men probably have more in common than we often think). We’re also told men can feel pre-judged and got-at, even before they do say anything:
“It can be a challenge to be a man because there can be a lot of negative connotations with toxic masculinity”
Moreover, there remains a tension between a society that wants men to show their emotions and be vulnerable and a paradigm at the heart of society that men aren’t equipped to take on a caring role (evident in the fact that the large majority of carers globally are still women).
We hear that men want role models, support and solidarity in their masculine world to build their confidence in finding a way to be heard and embrace and celebrate masculinity in a more acceptable way.
Too often, brands are seen to be preaching, putting pressure on men to behave in a certain way, or disempowering them altogether. The opportunity for brands is to walk side by side with them at each step and acknowledge the difficulties, modelling the possibility to balance being both strong and vulnerable, all whilst retaining a relevant and credible role in the story.
Catherine is a Lucid Associate and our lead on digital methods. She is an insightful, sharp thinker who loves to help transform brands with fresh thinking. Catherine began her career in insight at TNS and Team Research Consultancy before moving into planning at Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper and strategy at retail consultancy 20/20. She then returned to insight, working independently and with Lucid, then as Insight Director at Brand Dynamics, before re-joining Lucid.