I know it’s facetious to say that sometimes I feel like a lesbian trapped in a man’s body. How can I, a cisgender heterosexual male, know what it is like to be a lesbian? But whenever I read about masculinity, it seems I don’t know what it’s like to be a man in a man’s body either.
The meaning of masculinity has been contested for as long as I can remember. I was an adolescent during the rise of the ‘new man’, who was not only happy to eat quiche but keen to bake it and clear up after himself too. Boorish machismo was out and quiet sensitivity was in. But then came the ‘new lad’ backlash. It transpired that most men thought this touchy-feely reboot was a wimp, and many women agreed with them. Ever since, we’ve seen alternative, competing visions of manhood, from the metrosexual to the hunter-gatherer Iron Johns. The question of the right way to be a man still hasn’t been settled. The most common adjective put before ‘masculinity’ these days is ‘toxic’.
The historian Ivan Jablonka and the philosopher Nina Power are the latest to try to sort out the mess of manhood. Jablonka advocates a masculinity that allies itself with feminism in all its guises, without anyone needing to choose which one is right. ‘The theoretical quarrels among the