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Statement # 32

Man in the 21st Century, immature or mature?

September 2004


‘And he shall rule over thee’

It remains an interesting and current discussion: the gap between both sexes, man and woman. The story goes that the first woman on earth, Eve, was punished because of her disobedience toward her Creator. Her punishment: 

“[…] I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

The Qur’an says about this:

“Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other […]” [1]

History has taught us that man and woman are indeed not equal. Furthermore, those differences have even lead to irritations and misunderstanding. Yes, even to conflicts and deep-seated arguments. For centuries long man has dominated over woman and the cited Bible text appeared to be the solid truth. 

Woman has however come into resistance, and two feminist waves followed. These have really caused a lot of stir, and brought uncertainty to man. It caused man to develop. And this article revolves around this: man in the 21st Century: immature or mature? 

A special friendship

Some time ago there was a movie in the cinema called “About a boy”. This movie was about a single modern man who lives in London. He sees his friends change, from being reckless and rebellious to become responsible husbands and fathers. The man, Will, does not change with the flow. He would rather stay modern and hip, and tries to chat on women. 

Gradually he realizes that women are wary of a man who behaves like a big child. But then he meets the 12 year old Marcus, a boy who is totally different from Will. 

Marcus does not really belong in the group, and he is often bullied. Also at home he has pressing problems with his single and depressive mother. A special friendship. The great thing is that you see them both change. Marcus became soon a more stable boy, he develops more self-esteem and makes friends. Will appears to become grown up. He empathises with the fates of others and begins to behave more responsibly. 

Macho, metro and Highly Involved Man

What does that movie have anything to do with the topic that I am raising? I want to talk about the modern ma: there are different types of men that I would like to review in passing:

The machoman, 
The metroman and 
de Highly Involved Man. 

In this movie two of those types of men appear, which is the reason why I used it as an introduction. Of course, this summary is far from complete, but I limit myself to these three interesting types of men. With this, I hope to explore the terrain of the modern man anew, in order to initiate a social consciousness in this manner. My approach shall be the role of the man in our society. I begin with a short historical exploration in order to clarify the whole a bit.

The hunting society

To begin with that last point: how was man before? I limit myself here to the situation in Europe and America , because cultural influences greatly determine how man manifests himself. The dominant idea is that in the past the role patterns were much clearer. On this there is no dispute.

Let us, as an example, begin with the hunting society. Social unity was based on a local group of some dozens of people. Such a group is called a tribe. They are on the whole self-sufficient. It is through hunting, fishing and the collecting the first necessities of life of that one survives. There is a division of labour based on sex and age, of which hunting and fishing is exclusively assigned to the man. Women occupied themselves with collecting necessities, cooking and taking care of children [2]

This division of labour had a strong influence on the man. He was thereby a real hunter: rugged, strong, fast and alert. Just think of Jacob’s son Esau:

“And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter” [3]  

And according to the children’s bible, was Esau not a rugged, tough and stupid womaniser? 

The Middle Ages

We jump further to the Middle Ages, the period between around 450 and 1500 A.D. here we see knights and noble ladies appear on stage. The knights are courageous and gallant, romantic and heroic. Of course, this is only a romanticized picture, but it does reflect a nice image of the role patterns. The man is in action, gallant but determined. He has the role of gentleman, but also that of mister and master. The woman is more passive and submissive. She ought to be conquered, and then protected.

The typical ‘macho behaviour’ of men today can be explained by the Middle Ages. Boys were taught nothing other than to advance sexual pleasure and acquire glory. For this, codes were developed, the so-called knight’s code [4].

The influence of the Church, the sexual revolution and the ‘de-pillarisation’ 

Especially in our Western society, Catholicism has had great influence on our morality. But the Reformation of the 16th Century has also clearly played a fair share.

The woman mainly had a function at home, while the man outside of the home. He was responsible for a stable income, she for the upbringing and nursing of child and husband. The woman was submissive to the man, because it is written:

“[…]the head of the woman [is] the man; and the head of Christ [is] God” [5].  

With the abuse of this and other Bible texts, women have been oppressed for a long time.

In the last century, the role patterns were intensely discussed. Especially the process of emancipation was the cause of this discussion. The woman received the same rights as the man. Women went to work outside of the home, became independent and equal in value. This brought uncertainty to the man.  

Other than this, the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the ‘de-pillarisation’ [6] also changed a lot. The role of the man was no longer so clear. Society changed drastically, and the man had to change with it. He had to measure up to new roles.

Russian and American men

From the above, it appears that the role of the man is very much dependent on his environment. A man from the hunting society is different from a man from the Middle Ages. Also today, you see great differences between men in different cultures.  

Russian men are in general very introvert, real thinkers and brooders. They are cool, but passionate. They bear suffering with melancholy (and with drinking). They search for contact in a mysterious view on life. The average American man, on the other hand, is very different. He is fat, short-sighted and linear. They are extroverted and get a kick from their achievements (which everyone must also appreciate).  

In America , then, more of a culture of achievement dominates. Also, people there live like in Big Brother—everything receives great coverage and is publicly accessible. Russian society (even though it has become ‘americanised’) is introverted and also depressive; from tragedy it conceives more tragedy. Even so, they remain hopeful, and inspire themselves with their love of art, poetry and the Orthodox faith. From this, it appears how very much the environment, culture and upbringing determines the character of the man.

Do men doubt themselves? 

Nowadays, you often read that men are doubting their own identity and role pattern. Why are men starting to doubt? Why are they so afraid of femininity? Women are powerful—even though men do not like to admit that. The man is so dependent on her, and he would try to do everything so that it does not appear that way.

According to Professor Mineke Schipper, literature scholar, that fear consists of two basic fears:

1) 1.      The fear that he is uncertain whether he is the father of the child that she is bearing;
2) The fear that he would lose his household privileges if he can no longer subdue her. That is the fear that she would trump over him [7]

Every person has a need for order and association. We need order so as to understand and define the external world. This applies to understanding ourselves as well: without order consciousness would not be able to exist. And it is that order exactly which appears to be dying for men. Our role has greatly changed in the past decennia.

How do we learn to understand our gender?

A small child learns from the contrasts between day and night, hunger and satisfaction, warmth and cold, outside and inside, pain and joy, good and wrong. In the same way, the child also learns to understand the sexes, man and woman. In the ideal situation of upbringing through his mama and papa. This two-fold division is essential for the survival of man.

Even though a child is quick to be refined, I believe that the simple ordering of the world are useful to the extent that they have a decisive influence on our way of thinking and experiencing the world, on our way of being. We are assisted by a clarifying order of things.

Further, we need that idea while growing up to understand that what exists today also will exist tomorrow. Imagine if we keep on thinking that mummy is gone is goes to stand behind a tree. Knowledge is then a knowledge of the certainties: the wheel is then not reinvented every day. We are in this sense assisted by a ‘conservative’, preservative order.

The conservative boys’ code 

We also have the tendency to attach this conservative order to our world-view. World-view can be described as ‘the whole of one’s fundamental perspectives of belief with regard to reality' [8].

 These perspectives of belief are broader than religious vision. It concerns here our vision of society and of mankind as well, and therefore also our perception of man and woman. As a child we acquire a certain perception of how men and how women are (or ought to be). Dr. W. Pollak has written an very interesting book about this: the boys’ code. We already talked about this in Opinion 6 aboutboys.

1.  Being ‘cool’
Show no weakness or feelings like pain, sadness or shame.

2.  Being hard
Here we see daredevilry, bravado, challenging and a fascination for violence.

3.  Being the boss
You must acquire authority and status, win and dominate.

4.  Being tough
It is absolutely forbidden to be a sissy or a softy. 

The machoman

This code shows with what perception of man many boys have grown up with. The boys’ code contributes to the development of the well-known macho man.

The macho man is ‘cool’, in other words, he does not show his feelings. With this, he wants to show that he is above them, that he is the boss over his feelings. In reality, that is all an act. Moreover, the man can lose the contact with these feelings and therefore lose contact with that part of himself as a result.

The macho man is the boss, he is in charge of the ‘stage-management’. Others must bend themselves to suit him (whether willingly, or unwillingly).

Further, he is tough. Being tough is being hard as stone to the bone — boys may not cry, girls do. In this vein, feelings of affection, dependence and devotion are extinguished as soon as they appear.

In concluding, we can put forward the idea that the macho man is an immature personality. He is stuck in an unrefined perception of man, based on a boys’ code which was exceptionally useful in the hunters’ culture, but is nowadays hopelessly defunct. What is striking is that this boys’ code is very similar to the knights’ code that was already mentioned.

The metroman.

Fortunately not all men are emotionally stuck in the Middle Ages. Man has also changed with time, be it with great resistance and difficulty. As a reaction to the emancipation of the woman, man has also changed. A new kind of man presents itself, the metro man.  

Ten years ago, the British journalist Mark Simpson of The Independent introduced the metro man. This man stands for a modern man who does not shy away from cosmetics and loves fashion. He dresses himself stylishly, goes to the hairdresser often and also knows where to find beauty salons. The metro man loves art and culture, buys his own clothes and enjoys cooking. He dares to talk about his emotions and to put see himself in vulnerable terms. The metro man is not gay. On the contrary, he is a real womaniser.  

The term metro man is supposed to mean a man of the metropolis. A man who lives in a big city so that he has everything that his hearts desires: chic shops, beauty salons, saunas, sports schools, art and culture, you name it.  

The metro man is tough and feminine at the same time. A clear example is David Beckham, who wears sarongs and polishes his nails, but is at the same time an athletic footballer. 

Will is a metroman.

In my introduction I wrote about Will. He is a stereotypical metro man. Will is preoccupied with his outward appearance, cuts his hair weekly and has taste in clothes and music. He is rich and lives like a king in his luxuriously furnished apartment. He loves women and tries to hit on them regularly.

Here, in fact, lies a problem: women cut off the relationship soon enough. Materially will is prosperous, but what about immaterially? What is the metro man as a partner? You can go shopping with him, go to the sauna and talk about his feelings. In fact, it is often about his feelings.

A typical trademark of the metro man: he is very much busy with himself and must also make that known to the whole world. In short, he is nothing other than a narcissistic dandy [9] 

(In the 17th Century, the Gold Age, you had the dandy: a man who liked to dress beautifully, who put make-up on and belonged to the bourgeoisie.)

The metro man appears to be immature as well, despite the fact that he does not shy away from his feminine side. In this respect he is ahead of the macho man. 

What is remarkable is that both men are very much involved with themselves. Their appearance and their behaviour take a central place and make them who they are. Macho or metro, ‘tough and cool’ or ‘straight’, but then feminine’.

The fundamental idea of the man as ruler has collapsed like a house of cards

Mineke Schippers already argued that the man is afraid that the woman will excel him. This fear has greatly increased with advancing feminism. The fundamental idea of the man as ruler has collapsed like a house of cards. And it is also said that men are gradually becoming redundant.

In this vein, the British geneticist Bryan Sykes wrote the book Adam’s Curse, (translated in Dutch as ‘A future without men). In that book, he argues that men nowadays have become redundant for reproduction. It is now possible to breed an embryo from two egg cells. In Japan this is already being implemented. Indeed, there a mouse was bred from the egg cells of two women; not a clone therefore. Lesbian couples can now therefore together become the biological parents of their baby.

Sykes also describes in his book that the fertility rate of the man is greatly decreasing. Our Y-chromosome, more than other chromosomes, is being irrevocably damaged by mutations and cell divisions. It will actually take some time before we become completely redundant. It will only be after some five thousand generations that the male fertility rate will fall down to 1% . Even so, our fundamental disbelief in our own gender is again confirmed with such a discovery.

The man is being further estranged from his natural roots. Cornel Bierens describes this very succinctly: 

“In our time, an upbringing which tears them between the conflicting forces has become common for boys. The natural insistence to manifest and loose oneself in a show of bravado is being upset by the pressure to restrain oneself, to swallow down, or as it were, to behave oneself, in other words, like a girl. Their nature does not fit well in the culture in which girls are the norm. 
In  education, typical boys’ behaviour is being discourage systematically, and many boys detest that [10].”

Men are indispensable

The man occupies a pivotal position in society and cannot be dislodged from there. He is part of society and is important. Despite that some want us to believe that the man is becoming obsolete, I want to argue that this is absolutely not correct. We are still indispensable. I want to express this explicitly here because a positive self-perception and self-value is beneficial to the development of every individual.

The Highly Involved Man

In the movie ‘About a boy’ we see how the twelve year old boy Marcus brightens up from his friendship with Will. It is remarkable that Will is not the father of Marcus. Through the contacts they have, Marcus builds up his self-respect.

From research it appears that a ‘highly involved man’ (HIM) has a positive influence on the development of the child. This man is, as a role model, a key figure in the forging of self-respect and success in the life of boys [11].

From the report, it appears that boys who have had such a relationship are socially the most successful men. This is in contrast to boys who grew up with distant fathers.

The involved man, just like Will in the movie, does not have to be the father of the boy. The boy does not even have to live with the man. The man does have to have genuine importance for the boy, and be involved in the boy’s life [12].

According to Pollak, who we already cited in relation to the boys’ code, boys really need contact with men. This is important because they need a role model.

Also the girls need a man in their lives.

“The man does not have to be the father of the child per se, but preferably a man who loves the mother of the child—and vice versa. Such a man serves as a buffer. He can prevent that the mother is fixated to her daughter, or that she shuts out the daughter even. He also prevents the confusion of identities (men are men and women are women, in Heinich’s perspective) and aids the girl in her development to become a woman" [13].

The mature man.

So the man still does appear to have a reasonable function in this era. I think that the ‘mature’ man is himself aware of this function. With ‘mature’ I do not mean in terms of age, but in terms of development. The metro man remains stuck in puberty because of his egocentric behaviour. The macho man is also immature, because he holds fast to a severely outdated boys’ code. The HIM really recognizes his responsibility, stands with both feet in society, is not egocentric and loves himself, by which he can also love others.

Henk Hanssen is such a man. He is a father, the  founder of the website , and the founder of the ‘New Daddy’ workshops. 

“What opened my eyes at the time was the research from which it appears that babies who have a lot of contact with their father are already better off after six months: generally, they have more self-confidence and are motorically more advance than other babies who rarely see their fathers" [14].

Good fathers do not have to sacrifice their career at all. It is easy to combine. Vrij Nederland [15] dedicated an entire article to this. In it, modern fathers speak out. These papas are certainly not house-husbands. They stand with both feet in the world, radiate self-confidence, and have good jobs. Further, they even have their hobbies. They recognize the important to be actively involved in the upbringing of their children.

This is important: 'Bring the father back in society' [16]


In previous opinion pieces of Counter Weight, it has already been said that there are many boys with problems of socialisation.

 (To socialise= to integrate, become part of society)

The causes of this have been greatly considered. And of course in particular the possible solutions have been considered as well.

I do not want to be simplistic, but I believe that the man has an important task here. Whereas the previous century was once termed the fatherless society, in the current century he would have to be more involved with his children again. For that matter, this does not just concern fathers, but also teachers, sport leaders, and men who in what ever possible way are also in contact with children.

Men have a responsibility in society, to which they could contribute to the way it is shaped.  They are still needed. The modern man is a highly involved man, who has a positive self-perception, is not afraid to be dependent, and who loves children.

Notes & sources





 [1] Genesis 3 : 16, respectively Qur'an 4: 34.

































  [2] N. Wilterink, Societies 


[3] Genesis 25 : 27







 [4] See also: Ruth Mazo Karras, From Boys to Men, formations of masculinity in late medieval Europe. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. In this book this historian tries to explain the ‘cockerel behaviour’ of men. 




[5] 1 Corinthians 11,   3



 [6] In the past, you had clear social groupings. In Dutch this is known as ‘zuil’, or pillar. A Protestant family voted CDA [Christian Democrat Party], was a member of NCRV [Netherlands Christian Radio Association], children went to Protestant schools and associations, and they read the [Protestant newspaper] Trouw. You did everything within the Protestant social grouping. A Catholic was member of the KRO [Catholic Radio Broadcasting Company], went to Catholic schools, and so forth. In other words, everything within the Catholic social grouping. The retreat of this kind of thinking and behaviour we call ‘de-pillarisation’.




[7]   ‘The proverbial fear for her; 8 March 2004, Trouw















 [8] A.M. Wolters, Creation without boundary, Buijten & Schipperheijn, Amsterdam, p. 10














































 [9]   Tom Kreling, ‘Herbal bath, crème, depilating tweezer: does the metroman have future?’,10 January 2004, NRC-Handelsblad






















 [10] C. Bierens, ‘Men: stop crying if you can also fight!’, 5 June 2004; NRC-Handelsblad











 [11]   A. Katz, A. Buchanan, & J.A. Brinke, Tomorrow’s Men, Young Voice, 12 Bridge Gardens, East Molesey, Surrey KT8 9HU, Great Britain. 

 [12]   A. Philips, ‘Boy's self-esteem depends on 'Highly Involved Men’, 17 March 1999, The Guardian 

See also: He Turns Boys Into Men; By Jeffrey Marx
August 29, 2004

 [13]   Vinckx, Y; The harrowing  mother-daughter relationship - with examples, 20 March 2004, NRC-Handelsblad

The research: N. Heinich & C. Eliacheff, Mother and daughters: a triangular relation, Albin Michel, Arfbeiderspers 2002 

 [14] E. Kreulen, ‘If you only stayed a man’, 14 June 2006, Trouw


[15]   Van Hintum, ‘Macho dads’, 16 August 2003, Vrij Nederland 

[16] Boff, Leonardo, Give children a chance to follow a plan of life; Bring the father back in society;  11 september 2004; NRC

We would also like to refer back to what we wrote about even younger men: The boy and the need to take the time for him.


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