Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mordern Man

Greavsie asked

“What is a 'Modern Man' these days?”

To put the concept of a ‘modern man’ in context we have to discuss what was a ‘classic man’. The image in current society is that classically a man was the sole income winner while the woman stayed at home to raise the family. The problem with this ‘classic’ image is that it is entirely a Victorian, and more properly a post WWII invention.

If we look back into even the mid Victorian age, excepting the upper classes, both sexes worked. True, generally men performed different trades to women, but it was rare in the extreme that a woman would be solely supported by a man. Indeed for most of human history even children were put to work from an early age. Universal education and a care free childhood are another Victoriana invention.

Take for example a coal mining family from 100 years ago. The man would likely be down in the pit, but up until the turn of the century its entirely likely that his wife might be too. At a minimum she was probably working at the pit head sorting stone, or working as a seamstress, or washing cloths or … The children too would be working, the boys sorting stone, mucking out water, pushing coal carts or carrying their fathers find to the carts. In this instance both parents did what was necessary around the house and family.

In a farming family it would be the same. Both parents would be working the farm, taking time out to work the local estate, generally spending all the daylight hours at hard graft with little differentiation of work between them. The children too would be put to labour to ensure enough food was grown to feed themselves and sell the remainder on. Here again, both parents generally would share work around the home.

It wasn’t until the late hours of the industrial revolution that working patterns started to change. The first was the development of a broad based middle class. Income & ownership shifted radically downwards, and the middle classes sought to emulate the patterns of behaviour of the upper classes. It began to be feasible for a family to not only subsist, but prosper on one income. It became feasible for a woman to stay at home working solely on the house and family.

It was the wars that both reset this pattern, but also laid the stage for modern social developments. In particular WWII, with the sudden need for industry to continue with the men abroad that showed that women were fully capably of performing what had always been assumed to be “mens work”.

It was also the end of the war, and the return of the men in uniform to civilian life that cemented the image of the classic man. In a radical shift that was in many ways greater than the shift that put women into the factories, they on mass left the factories to make way for the returning men. This was society, in trying to find normality, en mass created a new society that had never existed before. Men worked, women tended family.

Though the pattern had been developing for a while, this divide between men at work and women at home became broad based across society. A generation developed which had mothers solely at home. This actually was moderately unnatural in human history. Yes, the care of the children had generally rested on women’s shoulders, but never so exclusively. Combined with work patterns that moved from being walking distance from the home to completely away from the home during the day, it set in the social mind a view that wasn’t real.

Then more developments, most notably the pill. Now, for the first time ever, women could experience sex with little to no risk of pregnancy. This, with a whole generation who had seen their mothers in pretty exclusively one role. Yet, their mothers could also tell them stories about being out working during the war. Society flipped.

Now we make it to our current ‘modern’ age. Traditional income patterns have returned, and though our society is prosperous, generally one income is not sufficient to raise a family. Women know also know that there are no real divides between the sexes in terms of capability to work.

However, in the social mind’s eye, a classic man was one who went out and earned the income, and didn’t have much to do with his family. The concept of the ‘modern man’ is born. One who works, yes, but also does housework, is emotionally connected, and jointly raises the children.

Thing is, this isn’t ‘modern’, this is what its always been prior to the industrial revolution and the massive society shifts that occurred. ‘Modern Man’ is just what men have always been. Someone who jointly works with a woman to raise a family. We just have to remember that this isn’t new, its very very old.


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