PwC has committed itself to fostering global gender equality by engaging men as advocates for change, and by acknowledging and challenging the gender bias that exists both in the workplace and at home. As a part of this effort, WiE was invited to participate in a panel discussion on the concept of masculinity at PwC’s first International Men’s Day event, held on 19 November 2019, at the PwC office in Luxembourg.
While participants acknowledged that the concept of binary gender itself is complicated and contested, in order to maintain a structured debate within the given time limitation, they accepted discussing gender in the mainstream dualist (man/woman) analytical lens.
During the debate, different panellists attempted the impossible task of deconstructing what it means to be a man in this day and age. The goal of this exercise was to explore concepts of maleness and to converge towards a certain description of masculinity that is fit for contemporary social dynamics, starting from the workplace and expanding to the private sphere.
Despite differences in perception and methods of rationalisation, the discussion focalized around one key conclusion – listening needs to be a principal characteristic of modern manhood. In other words, traditional views of an alpha male’s role need to shift from a managerial, hierarchical type of leadership towards attentive collaboration with other participants in his realm, be that a working, friend or familial group.
The panel was moderated by PwC editorial project coordinator, Paramita Chakraborty and composed of:
- Mike Koedinger – CEO of Maison Moderne
- Vania Henry – Board member of Equilibre
- Jonathan Jagger – Founder of The Luxembourg Daddy Group
- Iakov Frizis – PwC economist, Co-Founder and Chief Editor of WiE
Despite the short duration of the discussion, the panelists were able to consider a wide range of topics influencing the concept of masculinity, including but not limited to social expectations, gender norms within contemporary capitalism, the division of family duties, and leadership. Below we present excerpts of different parts of the panel discussion, briefly situated within a theoretical framework that is aimed at contextualising and motivating further discussion among readers rather than promoting certain viewpoints as valid.
Viewing gender as a social construct manifested through a male-female dualism commonly groups human characteristics into two gender descriptions, the man and the woman. As in Platonic idealism, these gender ideal forms do not exist in the real world. Instead, they are social artifacts used for the understanding of the observed by comparison. Such conceptual simplifications, which may have been deemed useful for bringing about order in the past, are the cause of trouble for many in society nowadays. Given the human need for socialisation within a world understood by many through reference to ideal forms, individuals are often presented with two options: conform to the ideal, thereby adjusting one’s behaviour to what is socially expected, or challenge the ideal and expect society to adjust to one’s behavior.
While the ordering of reality is one reason for social groups to fashion ideal forms, the institutionalisation of a given balance of power is another. This might be because the given balance of powers benefits the entire body of the society (optimising social benefit), or because it benefits the current dominant group (optimising private benefit). Thus, ideal forms are possible to redefine.
The family unit
The family is a social group strongly characterized and ordered by gender ideals. At the same time, the family unit is the social group within which ideals can be best challenged and transformed or most brutally enforced. The privacy of the family unit simultaneously gives the opportunity for its members to redefine or abandon the socially expected precepts, as well as the entrenchment and perpetuation of toxic gender roles, gender-based violence and coercive control.
The family unit is not a mere sphere of social interaction but also an implicit educational environment. Masculinity is fabricated, not inherited by birth.Observing the behaviour of the parent(s) can be the first channel for children to order the chaos of social interaction, prior to identifying (through adoption or rejection) of the resulting ideal form.
The traditional masculine ideal often subsumes the traditional notion of leadership. In a world where a top down approach to leadership is becoming increasingly outdated, so is a masculine ideal that does not embrace the importance of compassion and active listening. Even if imperfect, this type of ideal would do less of a disservice to men, and to the society. Male abstention from the gender revolution is equivalent to squandering a unique opportunity to redefine gender expectations.
As always, we invite people with research in these fields to share their work and ideas with us in the form of comments. Alternatively, please reach out via email to express your interest in being feature in the WiE podcast series.
At WiE we recognise that this is an often harmful simplification of gender identity and expression that needs to be questioned and expanded to allow all people to fully and freely participate in social, economic and political realms. However, this was not the topic of this particular panel.
See. Jablonka I., Des hommes justes, pp. 88-91