A thorough study of what it means to be a man in modern society.
Erikson’s nonfiction debut, aimed at both male and female readers, opens with what he considers to be fundamental questions of masculinity: “Am I a man?” “When will I be a man?” and “What do I have to do to become a man?” Backing and informing such questions is a concept that Erikson refers to as “Required Masculinity,” a series of expectations that he says society imposes on men, chiefly characterized by “dominance, power, control, wealth, and high sexuality.” In the author’s analysis, masculinity comprises three related, intersecting elements: a man’s “Tools,” the actual methods he has with which to express himself; a man’s “Intention,” the guiding ethos by which he uses those tools; and the level of “Acceptance” that a man is granted by society at large by expressing himself. Erikson points out that the daily existence of most men, especially young men, is a constant negotiation between “Required Masculinity” and their own personal inclinations and preferences. Men confront society’s gender stereotypes, the author says, which include that men should only care about money and power, or that men shouldn’t have close friendships with other men, because all other men are supposedly potential enemies. This thoughtful book effectively traces these and other stereotypes through the contemporary world of TV, movies, and advertising, and also through quick glimpses of how various forces throughout history have shaped the male ideal. He notes that, in the various men’s groups he’s joined or led, men have complained about the stress of competing for this essentially unreachable ideal. By clearly laying out and examining the various forces working on contemporary men, Erikson’s book methodically constructs ways for male readers to escape from the trap of “Required Masculinity,” and work instead toward “Personal Masculinity,” a more honest, sustainable expression of the self. The book’s bracing second half is a step-by-step workshop for how to do this, and many readers will find it very helpful and clarifying.
An ultimately encouraging exploration that aims to show men how to throw off societal expectations.