University City

'Rewriting the man code': The new masculinity

Chris Blackburn's grandfather worked his farm from sunup to sundown all his life. Chris' dad swung a hammer 40-plus hours a week in construction. Both men came home with plenty of dirt under their nails at the end of the day.

Today's man doesn't mind getting dirty, said Blackburn, 29, a speaker with Campuspeak, an organization that brings relevant discussions to college students around the country. But today's man wouldn't scoff at the chance to buff away the week's grime with a well-deserved manicure, either.

On Sept. 23, Blackburn met with college men at UNC Charlotte for a conversation about the changing roles and attitudes of males in society. It's a discussion he likes to call "Rewriting the Man Code."

"There's an unwritten set of precedents that we as men follow: the masculine way to do things," said Blackburn. "You play sports, and you lift heavy weights, and you have muscles."

But over the past decade, that mentality has changed, he said: "Now it's completely acceptable to take a different path, and I think it is time."

Men are starting to break away from the traditional expectations of past generations. For one, they're starting to pay more attention to their appearance than ever before. Male-targeted beauty products have begun lining the shelves, and men are buying.

"More and more men, for lack of a better term, are fixing their hair in the morning," said Blackburn. "The term 'metrosexual' that came out 10 years ago has really died out, if you think about it, because it's almost the cultural norm now for guys to pay attention to themselves."

And while plenty of guys like sports, hunting and all the other activities men of earlier generations took part in, more and more are finding themselves enjoying pastimes that in the past were not as popular with the mainstream male.

"I use the term 'Renaissance man' as much as I can," Blackburn said of modern men. "It's very accepting for a person to fall into different categories. To be an athlete. To be someone who is passionate about the arts."

Renato Varga, 18, a freshman at UNCC, said it's hard to categorize college guys into stereotypes anymore. He likes action movies as much as musicals and theater, enjoys sports as much as computer programming.

"I consider myself an athletic, in-shape nerd," said Varga.

Changing roles for men and women in society have helped push along this new way of thinking, said Blackburn.

More women are in the workforce today.

More women are CEOs. Men should feel no more compelled to keep up the traditional macho façade than women should feel obligated to submit to a subservient one.

"We're in a place now where it's perfectly comfortable for a man to be a stay-at-home father, to not be the breadwinner of the family, to take a very passive role, I would say almost, in some of those relationships."

Like women who feel the pressure to have it all - a career, a family life and model looks - Blackburn said men feel pressure, too.

"There is a lot of pressure being put upon us, but nobody talks about it," he said.

Varga said the burden to act like a tough guy on campus is nowhere near what it was like in earlier school years.

"I feel like the pressure to be macho and masculine is more prevalent in a high school setting, with high school-aged teenagers," he said.

"It definitely isn't as present in college."