Males are strong, daring, aggressive. Females are gentle, prudent, sensitive. That's the way it was always supposed to be. If a particular male didn't fit the picture by nature, he generally tended to let on that he did. He wasn't free to be himself that way, but at least it was better than drawing unfavorable attention and possible ridicule. Artists of various kinds-together with priests, ministers, and actors-were sometimes exceptions, but everybody knew they were a peculiar crowd anyhow.

When the old stereotypes began to break down in the middle of the twentieth century-a revolution crystallized in the musicalHair-it was of course a liberating experience for males just as for everybody else. Starting with the younger ones, they could put an earring in one ear and wear a ponytail without having their masculinity called into question. If they opposed war, violence, and nuclear power, they might get into trouble with the cops, but most people no longer considered them traitors to their gender. It was even acceptable for them to stay home and take care of the children while their wives went out to earn the family living.

Needless to say, males continue to be as much of a problem to themselves now that the sky's the limit as they ever were. Maybe more so. With females more or less liberated right alongside them, they're not quite as much in charge as they used to be, and that leaves them feeling a little vulnerable and disoriented. Free to be almost anything these days, now they've got a harder time figuring out what to be. With everything pretty much up for grabs, they're not sure what's most worth grabbing.

Father and husband, brother and son, lover and friend-all the old roles are still there for them to fill, but with the old scripts discarded, they're left to wing it as best they can.

~originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words

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