Men and masculinities in modern Britain: Unraveling the Threads of History and Politics in Contemporary Britain

Posted by rhiandavies - Wednesday, 31 Jan 2024


The histories of masculinity in Britain have been a tapestry of ongoing debates, constantly weaving the intricate fabric of men’s lives and ideas since the 1890s. As we delve into the present day, the significance of documenting these narratives with a present-centered and politically engaged lens becomes apparent. This journey not only illuminates the evolution of masculinity but also underscores the intricate interplay between men’s position in public life and the ever-evolving politics of gender in modern Britain.

Unravelling the Threads of History:

The late 19th century marked a transformative period for masculinity in Britain. The industrial revolution had redefined traditional roles, prompting discussions on what it meant to be a man in a rapidly changing society. Debates raged on issues of manliness, work ethics, and the expectations placed on men. The questioning of rigid gender norms gained momentum, setting the stage for a century-long exploration of masculinity.

The 20th century witnessed seismic shifts in societal attitudes, challenging conventional notions of manhood. The devastation of two World Wars led to a reevaluation of masculinity, as men grappled with trauma, loss, and the societal expectations of resilience. The swinging sixties and seventies brought about cultural revolutions, challenging stereotypes and paving the way for more diverse expressions of masculinity.

Present-Centered Histories of Masculinity:

In crafting histories of masculinity, the importance of a present-centered approach cannot be overstated. Understanding the past is not merely an academic exercise but a powerful tool for navigating the complexities of the present. By contextualizing historical debates within the framework of contemporary issues, we gain insights into the roots of existing challenges and triumphs.

Moreover, a present-centered approach allows us to engage with history in a way that fosters inclusivity. It invites marginalized voices into the narrative, recognizing the diversity of men’s experiences across different socio-economic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. In doing so, we create a more nuanced understanding of masculinity that resonates with the realities of today.

Men’s Position in Public Life:

The status of masculinity in public life in contemporary Britain is a dynamic terrain. While progress has been made in dismantling archaic stereotypes, challenges persist. Men find themselves navigating a delicate balance between evolving expectations and lingering societal pressures.

The political landscape plays a pivotal role in shaping these dynamics. Policies and cultural attitudes influence the expectations placed on men, impacting their roles as fathers, leaders, and contributors to society. The intersectionality of gender with other social factors, such as race and class, further complicates the narrative.

Politics of Gender in Modern Britain:

The politics of gender in modern Britain are characterized by ongoing struggles for equality and recognition. As women continue to break through glass ceilings, men grapple with redefining their roles in a more egalitarian society. Gender norms are being challenged, and conversations around toxic masculinity, mental health, and emotional vulnerability are gaining momentum.

Navigating this terrain requires a collective effort to dismantle harmful stereotypes and foster an environment where individuals can express their gender identity authentically. It demands a commitment to inclusivity, acknowledging the diverse ways in which masculinity manifests across different communities.


In unravelling the histories of masculinity in Britain, we find ourselves at the crossroads of past and present. The ongoing debates, the evolving status of men in public life, and the intricate politics of gender demand our attention and engagement. By weaving these threads together, we can foster a more enlightened and inclusive understanding of masculinity, one that empowers men to embrace their identities while contributing to a more equitable society.

Men and masculinities in modern Britain
edited by Matt Houlbrook, Katie Jones, and Ben Mechen

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