An alarming study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal offers more proof that the writing is on the wall for the modern male. The study of more than 600 young Filipino males demonstrated that the men who were single and childless at 21 who had higher levels of testosterone were more like to find a partner and have children by the age of 26. But here's the kicker — once they became fathers, their testosterone dropped sharply compared to the single men without children. Further, the study found a link between the amount of time the parents spent looking after their kids and their testosterone levels. They fell.
You can split hairs as to what that means all you like. But I would suggest that it is merely one more nail in the coffin of man as hero. More proof, as a colleague has coined the phrase in an upcoming essay, of ''peak male''. Because this is as good as it gets to be a man, people. Behold the summit.
And behold The Modern Man. Imagine, if you will, that a typical 45-year-old Mosman (or Toorak) male falls into a peat bog like the Tollund Man of old, only to be dug up millennia later and pored over. What might these future anthropologists behold? And what might corresponding evidence and artifacts for the era suggest?
They would suggest a specimen long passed the peak of his virility. Sperm counts have been dropping for decades.
His belly, something largely absent from men until the large-scale production of junk food and high-calorie, low-value nutrition, hangs over his jeans. Yet despite his flaccid appearance, he still projects an unentitled aura of supremacy. He jingles the keys of his luxury 4WD in his hands as he stands in line in the post office, believing to be the master of all he surveys. But his choice of transportation is yet another mass produced trinket that says nothing about said owner except a certain vanity. It is less distinctive and less heroic than, say, riding a horse. Or even walking, something the Roman empire did a lot of when they conquered the known world.
The hands he holds the keys in are soft, pampered. They eschew manual labour, the fruits of which built the modern world. He lives off "investments" or real estate or white collar endeavours. Indeed, even if he could return to manual labour, the option is unavailable to him. Manufacturing is mostly done overseas. His one comparable advantage — his physical strength — is no longer in demand in the Western world.
The owner of these hands has few practical skills. He couldn't survive off the land in the event of an apocalypse. He could not fashion rudimentary shelter, catch and prepare a meal without an oven, sew up a wound, or probably even defend himself. When his "horse" is damaged, he sends it to the mechanic to be repaired. Rather than relying on his own abilities, he relies on the abilities of others, who he contacts with his mobile phone, the solution to all his problems. Again, he has little choice in the matter: the vast forests and lands where men could live self-sustaining lives are largely a myth, owned by the state or corporations. It's the city of nothing. And the city doesn't require your heroism for you to be fed. Just your money.
His clothes suggest a figure at odds with itself, clinging onto the trappings of youth despite their passing. He fancies he is still attractive to young women despite their instinctive biological disapproval. Hollywood has perpetuated such nonsense for a generation of eternal Peter Pans. His concept of what it means to be a man is confused, a confusion that has persisted for decades. Should he be assertive? Macho? Funny? Sensitive? How about a nightmarish melange of all of the above?
At home he no longer has the primacy of old. To survive in the cities, families need two breadwinners. He is not required for defence: when in trouble, call the police. In his heart, he is still Rambo, Sir Francis Drake, RoboCop. But society requires none of that from him.
There is little he can do that his female partner cannot. Maybe nothing, once the strength element is removed. His children love him, but he is no longer the all-powerful patriarch of old, which is just as well. Women can start families without men. All they require is the genetic essence to do so.
His forefathers fought the Nazis, but his war is the least heroic — yet most important — of them all: to save the planet. Yet this does not require obvious action but inaction: to consume less. It is a feeble call to arms for male imaginations feed on a diet of war movies. The heroes and heroines of this conflict do not gel with those of yesteryear. His conflicts are not existential but manufactured, one sporting team against another, an outsourcing of masculinity to paid professionals.
We are safer, better fed and more secure than ever before, and yet . . . and yet. And there is more to come. Once the artificial intelligence industry and robotics kick in to form the workers of tomorrow, there will be little use for men except as consumers (and maintainers of the robots). We will lead lives of enforced pampering as robots fight our wars, plan our economies and cook our meals. And our souls will weep without knowing why.
Charles Purcell is a Sydney Morning Herald writer.