Fri. March 1
Tupac Shakur & Helping Men Become Men
I recently came across an old song by Tupac Shakur, “Keep Ya Head Up.” It was another reminder of a phenomenon that has become part of our culture in the last forty years: the absence of men, which has forced women to try and teach men how to be men.
You know it makes me unhappy (what’s that)When brothas make babies, and leave a young mother to be a pappyAnd since we all came from a womanGot our name from a woman and our game from a womanI wonder why we take from our womenWhy we rape our women, do we hate our women?I think it’s time to kill for our womenTime to heal our women, be real to our womenAnd if we don’t we’ll have a race of babiesThat will hate the ladies, that make the babiesAnd since a man can’t make oneHe has no right to tell a woman when and where to create oneSo will the real men get upI know you’re fed up ladies, but keep your head up
Of course, Tupac was no role model. He was accused of rape and his songs and life were full of violence. But his conscience spoke to him clearly in this song.
Tupac was describing the modern crisis of manhood. It has to do with men’s refusal to endure what the Greeks called, in reference to Christ, kenosis—the emptying of oneself in love for another. This can be a thrilling and ennobling thing for a man. To go from comic books, weekend benders, and whiffle ball games to financial responsibility, overnight drives listening to her sleep on the passenger side, and ultimate willingness to give your life for hers is a grand journey into the intoxicating depths of intimacy.
With the breakdown of the family and male flight from responsibility in the last forty years, it has increasingly become the role of women to turn boys into men. In TV shows like Girls, movies like The Mirror Has Two Faces and The Terminator, and books like Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road (which became a film with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), it is the women who have to provide what the Jungians call “animus integration”—suffusing a person with male soul and energy.
In The Mirror Has Two Faces, Barbara Streisand has to grow Jeff Bridges’ passion like watering a small tree. Sarah Connor in The Terminator integrates animus by getting stabbed in the leg, then passes it on to her son. In Revolutionary Road, Frank Wheeler talks about moving from the dull suburbs to Paris to be a writer, but he lacks the guts to pull it off. As literary critic James Wood observed about Revolutionary Road: “But the nice joke of the book is that Frank is the traditionally conceived ‘woman’ of the house: he is hysterical, preening, an effeminate masquerader always checking in mirrors the proper ‘impact’ of the face; a parlor solider.”
The most cringe-inducing example of modern dearth of male animus and kenosis is probably the Yahoo internet series First Dates with Toby Harris. First Dates is particularly disturbing in that it depicts a person who can’t in any sense other than strict genitalia be considered a man.
In every episode Toby has a date that ends disastrously. If a woman has the slightest tick that doesn’t line up with Toby’s platonic ideal of the perfect female, he ends the date. In one case, it’s before the date begins, when he finds out she likes the band 30 Seconds to Mars. When watching the show, I didn’t just feel like I was from a different era, I felt like I was from a different planet. What kind of a man lets a first date drive, pay half the bill, insults her religion and makes her endure his judgmentalism about her taste in music?
It’s important to note that some women can become hectoring and abusive—that kenosis can become castration. But looking at the culture over the last forty years, it seems like most of them are just trying to do us guys a favor.