Last Friday the New York Times Men’s Style section published an article that I’m still desperately hoping is satire: “27 Ways to Be a Modern Man.” If it’s not, then the state of modern manliness is a sorry one indeed.
We’ll get to that article in a moment; it wasn’t the only recent commentary on contemporary manhood. Writing last week in National Review, for example, David French expressed disgust with our “unmanly” “victim culture” that encourages us to cultivate “a sense of weakness and fragility.” It is a mindset that is “killing manhood,” he warns.
The College Fix reported this week that Vanderbilt University recently held a “Healthy Masculinities Week” (who knew there’s more than one masculinity?) featuring programs that helpfully deconstruct America’s “narrow definition of masculinity” for impressionable students.
A short video from Huffpost Women that openly equates masculinity with sexism (tagline: “Because sexism hurts men too”) has been making the internet rounds again. In it, a handful of rather effeminate hipsters suffering from vocal fry struggle to answer the question, “What does masculinity mean?” One of them comically posits that, “historically,” masculinity has been “a way to differentiate yourself from women.” Well, duh.
The video pushes the concept that masculinity is entirely an artificial social construct, an unnatural façade, a learned set of aggressive, domineering attitudes that prevents men from accessing and expressing the full range of their gender fluidity. The men in the video complain that society’s expectations of masculinity suppress them emotionally and prevent them from being who they really are. In a perfect world, they claim, masculinity wouldn’t even exist. “Ideally, there would be no such thing as masculinity or femininity,” theorizes one man, who describes himself as LGBT and says masculinity is “irrelevant” to him. “We would all just be people.” I was reminded of the title of comedian Adam Carolla’s book, In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks. If this Huffpost video is any indication, Carolla’s vision of the future is already upon us.
But the pinnacle—or rather, the nadir—of all this recent musing about manhood was the aforementioned New York Times piece. It begins by stating that being a modern man is all about adhering to principle—so far, so good. Then it quickly degenerates into a whimsical list of behaviors ranging from polite to pathetic, that supposedly define modern masculinity. Here’s a sampling:
#17: “Does the modern man have a melon baller? What do you think? How else would the cantaloupe, watermelon and honeydew he serves be so uniformly shaped?”
#18: “The modern man has thought seriously about buying a shoehorn.”
#20: “On occasion, the modern man is the little spoon. Some nights, when he is feeling down or vulnerable, he needs an emotional and physical shield.”
(I’m willing to bet that if modern man needs to be “the little spoon” on too many occasions, he’ll end up the only spoon in the drawer.)
#24: “The modern man doesn’t get hung up on his phone’s battery percentage. If it needs to run flat, so be it.”
(Now that’s living on the edge!)
#25: “The modern man has no use for a gun. He doesn’t own one, and he never will.”
(And yet, according to #16, the unarmed modern man is also expected to fend off an intruder in the bedroom to enable his wife to get away. He’d better hope the intruder is an unarmed modern man too.)
#26: “The modern man cries. He cries often.”
If this list is so off-base, you ask, then what does masculinity mean today? For thousands of years it has boiled down to three essentials: procreating, protecting, and providing. But the modern American lives in an age of comfort, prosperity, and peace unparalleled in history, so all three roles are less critical today for the average man—particularly that of protector, which has been outsourced to a (diminishing) warrior class.
One of the items on the New York Times list perfectly exemplifies this. Whereas there was once a time when a man did not sleep before securing his family against wild animals, the elements, and human enemies, the modern man retires to bed only after he “makes sure his spouse’s phone and his kids’ electronic devices are charging for the night.” Is this what modern man has been reduced to—not a protector, but a mere butler?
There is a broader, more complex discussion to be had about exactly what constitutes “manly” characteristics and virtues, and how modern man can reverse his slide into gender confusion and irrelevance, but the essential takeaway here is that traditional, universal standards of manhood are under cultural assault today by radical feminists and gender activists who hope to redefine masculinity out of existence, or at the very least to marginalize it. This effort to blur gender lines has been in progress for decades, but seems to be accelerating thanks to its very active movement on college campuses and in popular culture.
The good news is that I predict it will lead to a massive pushback from the silent majority of American men and women who accept and prefer their different but complementary roles, and who don’t want to see masculinity, well, emasculated.