Scholars studying 19th Century culture often like to point out, in response to “new” cultural trends and social movements, that there is nothing new under the sun. The Magazine article “Whatever happened to the term New Man?” seemed to be relying too heavily on the OED origin of the term, “New Man.” New Man may have been re-popularized in mass media during the 1980s, but its origin stretches back to Victorian era feminism.
In her 1882 novel, Doctor Zay, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps introduces to the world an independent, professional rural Maine doctor named Zaidee Atalanta Lloyd, who is called “a new kind of woman.” But, as Phelps writes, “The trouble is that a happy marriage with such a woman demands a new type of man.” Doctor Zay is one of many late Victorian texts that are categorized under the heading of “New Woman fiction.”
Patrick Thomas Morgan is a scholar of 19th Century American literature at Duke University, US. His “Aesthetic Inflections: Thoreau, Gender, and Geology” was published in The Concord Saunterer: A Journal of Thoreau Studies
The term New Woman was coined in 1894 by feminist Irish activist Sarah Grand to describe the emergence of a new socio-political category – the educated, emancipated, and self-sufficient woman. The term New Man followed soon after – around 1911 – to describe any man who was sympathetic to the New Woman philosophy, including the belief in egalitarian marriages. These terms were used widely in a form of mass communication that was popular in the early 20th Century: newspapers. As Lucy Delap, Maria DiCenzo, and Leila Ryan write in Feminism and the Periodical Press, 1900-1918, quoting the Anglo-American actress Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale: “In the United States, New York ‘advanced feminists’ referred to their husbands as ‘fellow-feminists,’ and welcomed the ‘new man’: ‘every son born to a feminist, and every man married to one, has the opportunity to develop into the new type.'”
Regardless of their precise linguist lineage, the terms New Woman and New Man are the conduits through which radical fin-de-siecle demographic and political changes found expression. The New Man is not an “exotic new species” of the 1980s, but a fin-de-siecle species that dived below the radar of mass media for a few decades before recovering at precisely the time when – much like the 1890s – women were redefining gender roles within the professional workspace.