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The Manscape

Economic and cultural trends transform the demo—but guys are just as manly as ever

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Men, who needs them?

A loaded and age-old question to be sure. But in this case, it wasn’t lobbed by Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan or even Valerie Solanas—or, for a more contemporary reference, Zooey Deschanel’s Jess on Fox’s New Girl or Lena Dunham’s Hannah on HBO’s Girls.

Rather, that particular jab at half the population was actually the title of a debate-sparking New York Times op-ed last month by Greg Hampikian, a biology and criminal justice professor at Boise State University, outlining the many ways in which men are becoming, as he puts it, “less relevant” for our species. Comparing them to cars, Hampikian asks, “Who would buy the model that doesn’t last as long, is given to lethal incidents and ends up impounded more often?”

Yet chances are that any man reading that article (and some of the hundreds of online comments it garnered) really doesn’t care what the answer is. Maybe his father or grandfather would have, but the modern guy doesn’t have a dog in that fight.

What does it matter if the professor is onto something, that today’s man isn’t so indispensable for keeping the race going?

He’s OK with that. Because he’s liberated.

“It is an exciting time to be a man,” says David Zinczenko, editor in chief of Rodale’s Men’s Health and one of the foremost observers of the hirsute sex. “Guys I know are taking advantage of relaxed male gender responsibilities to really embrace their role as fathers, to question the breadwinner treadmill they have been on and explore what gives their lives meaning.”

Embracing, questioning, exploring. It’s enough to make Oprah proud. But first, a little something to snack on before picturing all those men rocking themselves gently on the sofa, listening to Josh Groban. If a Martian sent his version of the Curiosity rover to Earth, what precisely would it find as it investigated the human male?

Pinterest-for-men social media sites like Dartitup and Manteresting feature rather base guy stuff like snapshots of half-bare beauties, items about belts that double as beer can holders and odes to Chuck Norris. Then there are such cultural milestones as perpetual juvenile delinquent Daniel Tosh of Comedy Central’s Tosh.O, those sexed-up GoDaddy commercials that air during the Super Bowl (this year’s entry replete with lady-on-lady body painting) and The Expendables 2.

Reports back to the Red Planet might not reveal such an evolved specimen after all.

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