THE NEW MAN

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Eight years ago, in college, I wrote my English honors thesis about the “New Woman:” a character trope in late Victorian literature that was kind of a proto-feminist.

In novels, this character was usually single, middle class, and either employed or trying to get a job. She walked around without a male escort (gasp!), and sometimes, she cross-dressed. For Victorian England, this meant wearing a pair of pants.

Because of the New Woman, I spent many late nights in the computer lab, and the computer lab probably spent lots of money replacing the keyboards that I drooled on. I found my old thesis online the other day, all 50 painstaking pages of it, and totally dorked out over my beloved New Woman. What a fascinating character! Just like we make fun of hipsters today, everyone made fun of the New Woman – who, in addition to a fictional trope, was also a real person walking around in England. Magazines did cartoons of New Women riding bikes and wearing huge ugly bloomers, smoking cigarettes and looking generally dudely. Some male novelists went the other way, portraying her as kind of a slutty harlot. That happens in Dracula, when one of the characters, Lucy Westenra, starts sleepwalking in her sexy underthings and eventually turns into a sexy vampire.

So basically, the New Woman was any woman who challenged female gender convention. Edith in Downton Abbey? Classic New Woman.

Anyway, I got to thinking about all this the other day because we are experiencing a New Man. Aren’t we? ¬†Yeah. We are.

I see him in Austin all the time.

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Recently, I have absolutely fallen in love with WTF with Marc Maron, a delightful little interview podcast. Have you listened yet? Oh. SO GOOD.

Anyway, what makes Marc so compelling is his feelings. Which he talks about, all the time.

You know who else does that? Louis CK.

And? Mike Birbiglia.

Three comics who have been in the game for a while, but they all made their names recently by being deeply confessional. Personal. They each reach into their soul’s crevasse, and pull out something extremely intimate for us to stare at.

We (and by “we” I mean Fox News) always talk about masculinity in crisis, and while that makes me giggle, it’s also maybe true. Are uber manly men en vogue anymore?

The stoic ones, the Don Drapers? The Vin Diesels?

We just don’t see them around as much anymore, do we?

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The Internet has made us all more confessional, so maybe that’s a part of it. We’re letting it all hang out a little more, so maybe this New Man, this personal version with all the feelings and the reflection, just makes sense for our time. At first I thought it was just me, that I in particular was attracted to these kinda guys – but no. It’s bigger. The whole Judd Apatow comedy complex is populated by guys, guys like Seth Rogen and Jason Segel, who wear their hearts on their sleeves and a dopey grin on their faces. We as movie goers pay millions of dollars collectively to watch those guys do their thing.

So, is it that? The Internet?

Or a deeper cultural shift?

When the New Woman came along, it was largely an economic thing. Finally, a middle class woman could go out and get a job, and not have to make her way in the world financially via a dowry and strategic marriages. But it’s something different with the New Man – I just can’t put my finger on it.

And like I said earlier, I see these New Men in Austin every day. Hell, I’m pretty sure they’re all my friends.

So I’m thrilled that they exist. I just can’t figure out why they exist. Why now? Why this very moment?

Explain it to me, men.

Especially you New ones out there.

(Listen to two of my favorite New Men, Marc Maron and Seth Rogen, talk to each other on WTF.)