Culture: If you want to be a real man, find a sassy woman

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The Independent Online

Can the decline of the American male be traced in the career of Dennis Quaid (pictured)? He started out as a strapping, hot-headed youth (The Right Stuff), matured into a bona fide sex symbol (The Big Easy), then got relegated to playing guilt-ridden fathers (The Day After Tomorrow). In Smart People, opening next Friday, he is cast as an embittered college professor who somehow combines a stoop and a paunch.

As if to confirm just how unglamorous the traditional he-man has become, the European Space Agency (ESA) last week announced it was no longer looking for the kind of daredevils who pioneered space exploration in the 1960s – the men immortalised in Tom Wolfe's famous non-fiction book. "We're not interested in 'The Right Stuff'; we want the right staff," said an ESA spokesman.

Remarks like this have triggered a bout of soul-searching among middle-aged males on the other side of the Atlantic. In the book The Decline of Men: How the American Male is Tuning Out, Giving Up and Flipping Off His Future, Guy Garcia argues that men have become demoralised by the non-stop assault on traditional masculinity. "Trapped in the Reebok canyon between The Vagina Monologues and Brokeback Mountain," he writes, "many men are afraid to even stand close to other guys, paranoid of looking gay just when they most need to give each other a helping hand."

Or perhaps it's the fault of Donald Trump. That's the view of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in The Broken American Male (and How to Fix Him). "If wisdom's highest manifestation is the human ability to discern a cause greater than oneself, then Trump is mired in an abyss of self-absorbed darkness so thick that it blights any ray of hope," he writes.

Fortunately, there is a cure. At least, that's the view of Smart People. Dennis Quaid tries a number of different ways to reclaim his masculinity, including breaking into a car pound, before finally hitting on the right one: Sarah Jessica Parker. Apparently, sleeping with the star of Sex and the City can rejuvenate even the most depleted male.

The notion that a "broken" male can get his mojo back by becoming involved with a sassy career girl is a popular theme of recent Hollywood comedies, from Knocked Up to Superbad. It's the story of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, with the gender roles reversed: men can only be roused from their emasculated slumber by the kiss of a bold, confident woman. Testosterone is still with us, it seems. It has just migrated from men to women.