Are we entering the Bronaissance?

By Gabriela Serpa

Published Jun 21, 2024 at 04:12 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

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In the summer of 2023, the media sounded alarms on a crisis of masculinity. The narrative punctuated the season, but the phenomenon was years in the making. Back in 2016, when the #MeToo movement cracked gender issues wide open, masculinity was put on a stage to be torn off and sent to the gallows. Over these past six years, critical examinations of toxic masculinity, patriarchy, and male privilege have become a hallmark of cultural discourse. In that discourse, feminism found a new voice. Men, on the other hand, reserved the right to be silent.

In more ways than one, 2016 wrenched a knife into traditional archetypes of masculinity. For much of history, the ‘ideal man’ was stoic, dominant, and hopped up on testosterone. But once he was also unmasked as cruel, inconsiderate and inflexible, he shed his aspirational quality. In his wake lay a new landscape of social expectation for what it means to be a man, one that has, for the better part of a decade, lacked a clear roadmap forward.

It’s not uncommon to hear from men that they have, at some point or another, felt victimised and discriminated against in the years post-Me Too. The so-called ‘crisis of masculinity’ of 2023 saw boys and men across the Western world feeling heightened loneliness, with men aged 18 to 23 having the lowest levels of social support.

“With masculinity and culture in flux, many Gen Zers are looking for new cultural scripts,” says Tom Novak, senior behavioural analyst at Canvas8. “They’re seeking direction, and in the absence of a clear new male narrative, confused and vulnerable young men are turning to the safety of ultra-traditional masculinity and male influencers like Andrew Tate.” In the UK alone, nearly eight in ten 16- to 17-year-old boys have watched Andrew Tate’s content, pointing to toxic masculinity as a coping mechanism offering men “safety, clarity, and a sense of aspiration, however misguided,” according to Novak.

Meanwhile, the girl economy has been taking over the world (and the internet), from girl maths and girl dinners to box office hits like Barbie and Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour movie. With social media trends like ‘dump him’ feminism and pages like @Swipe4Daddy, which mercilessly mock men for their sub-par flirting, the message last year felt clear: femininity was soaring while masculinity looked like it was dipping down from liminality into rock bottom.

But times of destruction precede eras of reconstruction, and a more hopeful version of masculinity has been emerging in response. In an attempt to pave the way forward, parents are hiring male nannies as role models for young kids. Supportive masculinity retreats are popping up across the US. Schools around the globe are bringing positive masculinity into the curriculum. A new brand of influencers, dubbed the ‘anti-Andrew Tates’ is popping up online. In a similar vein, boy melodrama sports films explore the struggles of male athletes in a more nuanced, emotional light. The question of how to be a man has even gotten its own documentary.

Though media narratives often fixate on toxic masculinity as the emerging sentiment running through male circles, the quest to redefine the modern man runs across many different lines of identity, politics, and values. On all sides of the debate, there is a growing appetite for new definitions of masculinity, one made evident by the onslaught of labels being thrown onto all things man. For the sensitive, vulnerable types we have the babygirl man and the soft masculinity movement. The sweet, emotionally thoughtful types have been labelled ‘Cinnamon Roll men’. Let’s not forget the ‘himbos’. The manosphere has ‘mascuzynity’. Even marketing and the media are starting to get the bro treatment—from Brozempic to Bromakazes.

@mrlandry

Replying to @guillaumep98 i guess im a himbo 🫢 #himbo #greenscreen

♬ original sound - Landry Grandstaff

The rise of male-centric labels feels emblematic of how difficult it’s become to interpret masculinity under a singular umbrella. It also speaks to a culture that quickly grows uncomfortable with the undefinable. “Masculinity is intrinsically a very fragile identity, rather than some kind of deep biological essence,” says Novak. “From 19th-century anxieties about ‘unruly’ Black men to 1950s ‘gay panic’ and today’s real fears, crisis is a defining feature of manhood.”

For Novak, what it means to be a man in society has always been defined “in opposition to a set of ‘others’” be those racial minorities, sexual minorities “and above all, women and their changing status in society.” It’s no wonder that the bro moniker is being tagged onto everyday activities like sushi and weight loss. As men struggle to find community, bro-ification is helping them claim mundane events as their own, exclusionary spaces. For women, labelling men as ‘so babygirl’ or himbos is, in its own way, a form of othering.

The abundance of male-centric labels, whatever those may be, signals masculinity trying to find and define itself. It sheds new light on men and their crisis, imbuing the concept of modern maleness with a certain dynamism and willingness to explore. For better or for worse, what it means to be a man is up for grabs. With that, people are transforming masculinity into a site of transformation, and possibility. We don’t know what the future of men might hold, but for the time being, it looks like a crisis has given way to a new phenomenon entirely—the era of the Bronaissance.

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