Do we expect our men to be Superman?1comment
Man Of Steel, or, as I like to think of it, Superman Redux Again, comes out in theaters today. My guy really wants to see it, so I’ve booked the babysitter and come Sunday evening I’ll be sitting in a dark room sitting next to a handsome dark-haired guy, watching a handsome dark-haired guy… fly around in tights.
I started thinking about the concept of Superman – Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He only has one weakness – Kryptonite. Two, I suppose, if you include Lois Lane.
Between the comic books, the movies, the cartoons and the TV shows, over the years Superman remains an enduring symbol of strength and masculinity. Is he, in fact, our masculine ideal? Is Superman our ideal man? Or is he a little too perfect?
I consider myself a modern gal (I’ve always earned my own money, didn’t want to define myself by my marital status, etc) and have tended, over the years, to gravitate toward modern men in my dating life. What the hell do I mean by modern man? Yeah, that’s a little hard to define.
The modern man does his own laundry and knows how to feed and dress himself. He will pay for the first date, but he will know that doing so will not give dominion over his date. He will open the door for her, but out of politeness, not because he thinks she is weak or unable to do so herself. He’s more emotionally astute than his father was, but not so emotional as to make him an annoying wuss. He must be strong but not impenetrable, sensitive but not weak, capable but not overbearing… We expect a lot from the Modern Man. In the case of the modern man that I married, he had to treat my career with same respect he treats his own, right up until the point that I quit it in order to stay home to care for our baby, at which point he instantly has to become willing and able to be support all three of us financially.
Maybe I don’t expect my man to be a just a modern man, maybe I expect him to be Superman. Which is totally and completely unfair.
Of course, being a modern woman isn’t a walk in the park either. My mother’s generation of women fought to be allowed into the workplace, and then fought to be taken seriously there. But they were also expected to still do all the same work in the home they did before working. My mom woke up every morning before 5am, went on a walk with her friend, got my sister and me ready for school, worked a full day’s work, came home and cooked a balanced dinner for us every single night. I’ve marveled at how she did it all – and managed to date in her copious free time. My mother had to be Wonderwoman. But was she thanked for all this super work? Well, yes. But not enough. Not nearly enough.
I think the following generation, myself included, saw how hard our mothers had to work, how unfair it was, and vowed not to go down the same road. Certainly I wanted to be strong and capable, but I wanted it to be enough to be a woman, I didn’t want to have to be Superwoman – someone who had to do it all. I, like many women my age, rejected learning to cook, associating it with a burdensome, outdated definition of womanhood. Many of the men my age didn’t have the same baggage about cooking, and as such most of the best cooks among my friends are men. My guy is a great cook, but he is able to cook without the burden of feeling obligated to do so. When he cooks, he gets points for doing so. My mother never got points.
Both sexes have undergone radical identity shifts in the last few decades, and notions of gender norms have softened and drifted. As with all radical shifts, there’s bound to be a little instability from time to time. Men are taking on more of the responsibilities in the home and with children, as well they should, but I think it is important to remember that none of us should be expected to have superpowers. It is great that my Modern man can, seemingly, do it all. But he shouldn’t have to. None of us should.
Sometimes we all need to know it is okay to be merely human.