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Books about heroic ‘white blokes’ are under threat, claims Ernest Shackleton expert

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 4 days ago Craig Simpson
Ernest Shackleton - Royal Geographical Society © Royal Geographical Society Ernest Shackleton - Royal Geographical Society

Books about “manly” heroes are on “borrowed time”, an expert on Ernest Shackleton has said, as society dismisses male virtues as "toxic masculinity".

Joanna Grochowicz, the polar historian, has claimed that the traditionally “masculine” attributes of the men she has written about are falling out of fashion amid a drift towards a “gender neutral society”.

The author said that histories of “white blokes” - such as the great Antarctic pioneers Robert Falcon Scott and Shackleton - were now under threat.

Speaking at the Chalke Valley history festival, she added: “I’m really worried that we’re moving into a gender-neutral society where gender-specific attributes are not revered.

“Rather than trashing all of these qualities, I think we need to broaden them and start discussing them.”

Robert Falcon Scott writing in his journal in Antarctica, 1910 - Royal Geographical Society © Provided by The Telegraph Robert Falcon Scott writing in his journal in Antarctica, 1910 - Royal Geographical Society

Ms Grochowicz has cited figures such as Sir Douglas Mawson, the Australian polar explorer - who was the sole survivor of a fatal mission to the Antarctic - as displaying traditionally “manly” virtues of physical courage and stoicism, which she said were no longer celebrated as they once were.

She said: “This idea we need to shut down the discussion because of toxic masculinity - or we can’t talk about this, or these sex-specific qualities - because we are entering a gender-neutral, new way of living: think that is crazy.”

New Zealander Ms Grochowicz has said she was lucky that her chosen subject - explorers of the Heroic Age of South Pole exploration - did not displace any indigenous populations on the frozen wastes, as her subject would be even more unfashionable in modern historical circles.

'Lost virtue of manliness'

As it is, the author has said that she felt that she could either “defend” her subject, or be forced to move on to more modish areas of study, saying she may have to “start writing about women in some historic period”.

Ms Grochowicz was discussing the “lost virtue of manliness” with retired general Patrick Cordingly, and the pair debated the qualities of explorers who endured hardship and stoic deaths in the Antarctic wastes, including Titus Oates, who walked from Scott’s tent to certain death rather than slow down his comrades.

The pair commented that there had been a “decline in manliness”, but identified certain key virtues in the traditional idea of masculinity, listing strength, emotional restraint, care for the vulnerable, and understatement or humour in the face of adversity, as key qualities.

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