Lament of the 21st century man


'21st Century Man' by Chris Johnston. A 21st century man sees a horrific version of himself and his world reflected back at him from a shop window.He doesn't like what he has come to stand for.

He knows that he's fortunate to be born in the right time and place, with the right gender and skin colour, to make him one of the privileged in this world. He knows that he's the beneficiary of a history that has given him wealth and status, while depriving that wealth and status from others.

This history haunts him. There is the dispossession of the Indigenous people, which means even the property he owns is tainted by the fact that it was never legally obtained to begin with.

There was, and is, the exploitation of people and resources in other parts of the world, which adds a human cost to the economic prosperity he enjoys. The relative peace in his home country stands in stark contrast to the world wars his fellow countrymen fought on foreign lands, and the continuing conflicts in less fortunate countries. He might want to forget all this, but the boats that continue to arrive on his country's shores jolt his conscience.

His body itself is a symbol of his inherited power and privilege. He hears women talk about being afraid to go out at night alone, and is conscious of the hunched shoulders of women he passes on the street. He sees the great strides women have made in the workforce, yet sits in management meetings where nine out of ten leaders are men. He reacts angrily at stories of domestic violence, but knows that the anger he feels carries the same seeds of that violence. He sees bikini clad women on his television screen and feels guilty at admiring their bodies.

The power within him both seduces and scares him. Fences are built around his property, just as borders were created around his country, to mark what he owns, and to keep out those who don't belong. As he drives around the sprawling city in which he lives, he sees the pollution filling up the waterways, the smog hanging in the air — the consequences of seeing a place as a possession to be cordoned off and exploited. He wonders if the obscenities he hears when he goes to the football are just a different form of that pollution.

He was brought up to think coldly, to analyse a problem and come to a logical solution. He stays late at the office to meet the deadlines his boss has given him, while wishing he could be there to read to his children before they go to bed. He watches while his company brings in labour from overseas to keep down wages. He invests in stocks, and follows the news stories of global economic crisis. He believes in capitalism, but wonders if there would be fewer unemployed people, less talent and potential wasted, if our society weren't so calculating.

He also knows that what he has come to stand for doesn't have to be what he is.

So he listens. He sits in silence while those who've been hurt share their stories. He opens his heart to Indigenous people as they share their stories of dispossession, and the continuing pain inflicted by vilification. He goes online to learn about the suffering of people trafficked into slave labour. He hears women talk about the double-standards placed on them, and the way even our language continues to marginalise them with words like 'bitch' and 'slut'. He tries to see how his own words and actions contribute to these problems.

He doesn't let the burden of making the world a better place sit on the shoulders of others. He knows that if men are to become better they need to have better role models, and that it's up to his generation to provide those role models. He provides spaces for the voices of the powerless to be heard, and takes up their cause when his turn comes to speak. He finds women he admires and looks to them for inspiration. He tries to change the way he interacts with other men, to show them that there's strength in being vulnerable and open about their feelings.

He doesn't mourn the passing of the age of patriarchy, but instead embraces an age of joint stewardship. He understands that his role is not to protect people by placing walls around them, but to allow them to flourish by ensuring they're free to become their best selves.

In his relationships at home he shares all the roles, caring and providing along with his partner. At work, he's as concerned for the good of the organisation as he is about his own success. In his dealings with others he seeks to be generous rather than just fair. He also knows that if his actions poison the environment, or have a negative impact on the economy, that no one will benefit in the long term. And he tries to embrace the idea that the greatest form of leadership is to wash the feet of sinners.

This 21st century man doesn't like what he has come to stand for. But he knows that he can be redeemed.

Michael McVeigh headshotMichael McVeigh is Editor of Australian Catholics and Province Express. He is also senior editor at Jesuit Communications which publishes Eureka Street, Madonna, and Finding God's Traces.

Topic tags: Michael McVeigh, 21st century man, racism, sexism, middle class guilt



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Anyone who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without feminine upheaval. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex, the ugly ones included. Karl Marx

Annoying Orange | 09 July 2013  

Sadly, what most men (and their women) in this country need is not another excellent diagnosis of their supposed plight (like this one) nor a purported intellectual solution to it as in "it's all up in the mind" as a sort of allowed Parkville or Newton discourse but living examples. I would suggest they have existed and do exist. My prime exemplars, without religious colouring, would be Jesus from the Judaeo-Christian tradition and Buddha from the Hindu-Buddhist cultural world. It is amazing how, in the communities they created in their lifetimes, how much the status of women improved. One of the sad things about humanity is that, as they say in Zen, the answer is always there, it is just that, in most cases, the right question remains unasked. Asking the right question, a real, not intellectual one, is, they say, the possible commencement of the journey. Perhaps, for most men, that journey is too difficult. Carl Jung was of the opinion that if enough individuals followed this process of individuation and changed themselves the world would be changed by them. This is not all that different from the message of Jesus: our prime Western exemplar (even though he was a Middle Easterner).

Edward F | 10 July 2013  

Vote 1: Michael McVeigh for Prime Minister!!

glen avard | 10 July 2013  

This is a great piece. It is an eloquent answer to the modern dilemma of being male. Bravo!

Peter Goers | 10 July 2013  

Nicely balanced article. However, I wonder whether one of the major fault lines in our western society is that we put a dollar value on everything. So women's work is only valuable when it is outside the home ie in the workforce. Men are no longer the main providers for women and children as for eons past. Their roles changed radically when women became empowered economically. Women are 'stepping up' from their perceived lowly role as homemakers, men have had to 'step down' from provider roles to a shared home/work responsibility. Who sold us this social model? Money seems to be the main driver. In significant ways, women and men have less choice now than say in the fifties and sixties. I think children are also the losers. If only they could tell us: would they prefer being at home with their mum rather than being bundled up and taken to spend the day with people who have no relationship to them apart from a monetary one, generally speaking. Women today are not free to stay at home or enter the workforce. Men are not free to choose to be sole providers or ones with shared responsibility. And children have no say whatsoever. We have just exchanged one flawed social model for another. If a greater freedom for men (and women) was the goal, we have been duped.

helga jones | 10 July 2013  

GenerationY (some call Millennials) are the single largest generation in human history and likely will ever be, overtaking Boomers this year. They will also be the only generation to have power for >40 years. They will determine the outcome of every election going forward. - Lament no longer, my friends. Time change happen. :)

Christoph Hewett | 10 July 2013  

I think Helga Jones sees a great part of the problem when she says: "... I wonder whether one of the major fault lines in our western society is that we put a dollar value on everything..." I think this is particularly true of newer highly urbanised Anglophone Western societies, where there is tremendous pressure on people to work inordinately long hours, often double the 40 hours per week. In some professions/managerial positions this is regarded as part of the deal as is the requirement to be on call 24/7. Add the facts that families are often thousands of miles apart and the gradual and continuing breakdown of communities which once existed in suburbs and you do have a problem.

Edward F | 12 July 2013  

Brilliant article Mick.

Nic | 12 July 2013  

What a funny article. The missus and I laughed so, much we cried.

JimmyDee | 12 July 2013  

beautiful words, thank you.

Daniel | 17 July 2013  

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