by Kay Urlich
The times they are a-changin. And many men are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up. They find themselves confused about women's expectations of them, unsure where they fit or how to function as New Men in a changing world. Are men defunct in our society because women have taken over the world? Nobody really believes that. Then, what is the problem?
As I see it, the world has changed dramatically over the last century. The result is it is not only men who are having trouble adapting; women are having problems too.
In the past, society expected men and women to function within a very narrow and limited framework. At the turn of the twentieth century, men did not have feelings. They were not real men if they held babies or listened to their wives. For men to be real men, they had to conform, to act like alpha males. Alpha males ruled the home, the children and their wives (trading them when necessary for younger versions). The century rolled on and we all played the game. In the '50s, men were the breadwinners, the sole provider expected to bring home the goods. Women put the slippers out, did the washing, the cooking and made cups of tea. Then the country went to Vietnam. Oh dear, do we ever learn?
In the ‘60s, San Francisco was blossoming, and the people wanted peace. The Haight Ashbury love-ins carried messages of love and peace into the ‘70s, bringing with them social action and rebellion against the dinosaur thinking of ‘might is right’. We gained new freedoms. Love was happening. The Vietnam War was one war too many, and—for the first time in history—the American people did not claim the returning soldiers as heroes. They treated the Vietnam Veterans returning from that horror as social outcasts.
For Blacks in the USA, Martin Luther King led the great move to freedom. In South Africa, it was Nelson Mandela who led the freedom movement. Although incarcerated for many years, Nelson Mandela, along with others such as Desmond Tutu, was a man of his times. Together, these leaders brought about great and dramatic change that became part of a larger cultural revolution.
Men began to have ‘feelings’ and girls ‘could do anything’. Time passed and expectations changed. Wives wanted men to change wet diapers and be endlessly enchanted by conversations with them. While ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ caught on as great concepts, in the reality of daily life as people came up against two millennia of cultural and gender conditioning it was a bit harder to accomplish.
Even liberators who had freed a nation had their personal challenges. One day Nelson Mandela was waiting for a cup of tea when his wife, Winnie, complained that although there was a revolution going on she was still stuck in the kitchen making tea! He had never before questioned the gender dynamics of their relationship. With that nudge from Winnie, however, Nelson Mandela understood that for men to be free of oppression, women must be free of oppression too.
He saw that to gain true freedom for his people, he must be free of all his own expectations including those based on gender. Nobody must be subject to inferior status and menial work just because of the color of his or her skin, or his or her gender. As he demanded that Blacks not be subservient to Whites just because of the color of their skin, he realized he could not expect his wife to make and serve him his tea - just because she was a woman. There could be no more expectations for Winnie to make and serve him tea. Nelson was a conscious man. He was able to put his cause above his personal needs.
Within the greater scheme of things, we are supposed to evolve over time. But one century is a very short period in which to change the conditioning and personal habits of a species. Is it any wonder that both men and women are a bit confused about their roles within the theory of social change? So what can we (particularly you older alpha males) learn, know or begin to understand that we may have missed in the messages from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
We must learn, as Nelson Mandela did, that life is just as much about the small things we do as it is about the great social moves we make. This is not rocket science. This is about the small, personal decisions we make. Small decisions made from the heart did not make Nelson Mandela less of a man; they made him more of a human being, more of a conscious human being.
So what is it exactly that is confusing people? Is it a lack of thinking consciously? Are we confused because we are still stuck in limited thinking patterns, programmed by past events and responding to old social expectations? With thousands of years of gender stereotyping behind us, it is hard to make free, conscious decisions in the small daily matters of our life. If we want real change, then we must make our thinking conscious. We must become more aware, questioning the little things we do and why we do them.
To go back to the question of whether Nelson Mandela ended up making the tea, unfortunately, I cannot tell you the answer. I suspect, however, he now has crowds of people wanting to make his tea, so they can be in the presence of his grace and wisdom.
So, if you're a confused young man, do not look to dinosaurs like American fraudster Bernie Madoff for answers to new world questions. Look instead to the peace lovers like Nelson Mandela.
The New Man is about understanding the little moments in your relationships, like who is willing to make the tea. It's about being aware of the small things in life while fully participating in the greater flow of its evolution. It’s about expanding your heart energy beyond the tightness of self-interest and the restraints of outmoded social dogma. It’s about being conscious.