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Culture

In Search of the Real Man

Traditional German men are lamenting the loss of their hunter-gatherer identity and bemoaning the wilful ways of their contemporary wives, but is it really such a big deal?

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Who is really on top in Germany?

Apparently it is. Bookshelves across the nation are laden with a colorful array of do-it-yourself volumes on love and relationships, handy hints for dealing with wayward women and guidebooks which claim to have all the answers to making marriage work.

Perhaps the only surprising thing is just how much is written by men for men. One such example is thirty-something German author Jens Schäfer, who recently published a book about the supposed last bastions of masculinity in an otherwise female-dominated world.

Rauchverbot in Italien lässt die Köpfe qualmen Zwei Männer stehen rauchend in einer Bar in Mailand (undatiertes Archivfoto).

Are these the faces of real men?

Entitled "Echte Männer - Ein Leben im verborgenen" (Real Men - A Secret Life), the book highlights the sad lot of the free-thinking German man, driven into darkness and despair at the hands of independently-minded women. While it doesn't pretend to be profound, the book does raise some issues about the male German psyche. Do men, for example, really harbor a desire to be captain of the domestic ship on which their first mate wives and girlfriends are to follow orders with a sweet salute?

Your wish is my command?

Rainer Volz, a sociologist and researcher who specializes in gender issues says there are four types of men floating about in Germany.

"There are the traditionalists who want to turn back the process of emancipation," he said. "They are very insecure but hide behind their macho exterior. Then we have the modern men who don't believe in competing with women, and who are genuinely happy to help with the kids and housework."

"It's worth belonging to that group, because they are genuinely the happiest," he added.

Then there are the 60 percent of German men who fall somewhere between the two stools, according to Volz.

"Uncertain men are the ones who can't decide if tradition should outweigh modernity or vice versa, while pragmatic men say that women should go out to work, but really believe it would be better if they didn't bother."

Symbolbild Männerdominanz Gender Mainstreaming Gleichberechtigung

Safety in numbers?

So just how much resonance do books like Schäfer's, which look at the dying breed of "real men" -- albeit with a degree of humor -- have with the country's male population?

"There has long been a debate on what should become of the classic male territory now that women are world soccer champions and drink beer from the bottle," a spokeswoman for Schäfer's publisher, Piper, said.

"The issue is that men no longer always know who or how they are supposed to be," she said.

New norms

Uwe Lohsa, psychotherapist who offers advice to men struggling to keep afloat in the modern world, says the situation in Germany is in a state of flux.

"The old norms are no longer acceptable and men are faced with the conflict of having to be softees at home and competitive men in the working world. And that poses huge difficulties to some of them," Lohsa said.

Mutter und Kind mit Galeriebild

Women in Germany can stay home until their babies outgrow babyhood

But the reality is that in the working world at least, men still rule the roost. A recent study conducted by the Federal Statistics Office shows that women are still under-represented in managerial positions, holding just 33 percent of the country's top posts. In addition, it is still widely regarded as acceptable in Germany for women to take an extremely long maternity leave. Employers are bound by law to hold a new mother's job for three years, and many women take full advantage of the generous offer.

Getting over it

So if it is not the working world which is proving too much for the traditional man, what is? According to Volz, it's the challenge of defining new male role models, and the quandary of choosing among them.

"There are some men who have already rejected the old image of the way a man should be, but then there are others who are hanging on bitterly," said Volz. "Thirty years ago there was only one model of a man, the traditional man. But that is over once and for all."

Junge Männer im Gespräch

The next generation of modern men?

Rather than a crisis-inducer, both he and Lohsa see gender equality as a great opportunity for modern men to shrug off some of the responsibilities they have been carting around with them since their dawning day -- the pressures of being the sole breadwinner, for example.

In order to take advantage of such modern perks though, German men first need to get beyond their own insecurities.

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