Where Have the Good Men Gone?

by Michael on February 23, 2011 · 4 comments

The mythical perfect family.

I’ve already written about the “New Macho,” the idea that men have to somehow “find a new manhood” to “adapt” to “modern life.” But the onslaught continues (I refuse to call it “misandry,” that’s become a code word for the men who feel the whole world is their enemy).

A piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “Where Have the Good Men Gone” pimps the new book, “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys,” by Kay Hymowitz, author of an entire series of books on how life has supposedly gotten confusing and complicated in our “post-modern age.” Judging by the sales status and number of reviews of her book on Amazon, it’s likely the WSJ article will be far more widely read, so let’s concentrate on that.

It’s Always the Women’s Fault

First, the rationale that women are responsible for men becoming boys is a slap in every man’s face. Women have been in men’s lives since there have been men and women on Earth. They’ve held jobs en masse for a half century, yet the supposed “evidence” that they’re taking our jobs, and therefore our manhood, is embodied in a chart that logs only the past five years. (Let’s see: women make less on average than men, in a depressed economy companies would rather lay off the more expensive workers…this hardly adds up to a “radical reversal of the sexual hierarchy.”)

In fact, her article (and I would assume book) is all over the place, claiming the “problem” began variously with the industrial age, in the ’70s/’80s, and/or when the economy tanked four years ago.

Then random observations on the average age we first marry suggest what—that women are spurning us until we grow up? It’s more likely that higher education means we no longer marry at 20, instead choosing to get at least our first job before tying the knot. But blaming grad school and a desire for stability would shoot this whole men-are-becoming-idiots thing in the foot, no?

The point is, Mrs. Hymowitz’ book is not a study, it’s an observation. And observations are highly colored by one’s background. She’s spent years writing about how the world’s gone crazy, so it stands to reason that’s what she’s going to see in the tea leaves.

What Are Men Doing Anyway?

The one point I’ll give the author(s) is that more men are visibly acting immature. I say visibly because reality TV and YouTube have basically taken the dumb crap young men used to do in the privacy of their own backyards and put it on public display. A guy like Tucker Maxx can blog the dumb stuff he’s done and find an audience.

So what? Men have always drifted at times in life, and done very dumb or lazy things. Young men in the 1950s didn’t spring up all-knowing (the authors have apparently never watched “The Wild Bunch” or “Rebel Without a Cause”). What caused us to seek marriage at 20, babies at 21 and a “career” at 22 were society’s pressures to do so. In fact, the cherished 1950s were an anomaly: Americans married younger in that decade than any time before or since. That “traditional roles” are somehow defined by what we did in one semi-mythical decade is one of the biggest problems we have with facing the present.

While “slacking” wasn’t the word for it, men have backpacked through Europe, hitchhiked across the country, “found themselves” and/or lived in big communal houses for more than a half-century now. Because now you see them doing it doesn’t make it much more insidious.

And in answer to the female comedian who seems to only attract boys and not men: there are plenty of women making similar life choices and behaving as negative stereotypes. For example, a lot of comedians.

An Embarrassment of Riches

While an author with clear vision would see that this all means society now offers freedom and choices for both sexes, she chooses not to celebrate it. Instead, she decides that we’ve been herded like cattle into the slacker-boy-man corral, and our despair over women’s “power” and the pressure of the media have caused us to devalue strength of character:

Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.

Embarrassing? Really? Tell our young military men in Afghanistan their courage is embarrassing. Tell Captain Sullenberger we don’t value his fortitude. That no one admires Kurt Russell’s fidelity (oh, and P.S., he still isn’t actually married). The fact is that the qualities of strength are never “obsolete” and never “embarrassing.” They’re almost always respected. Men are in the news every day for their valor and courage.

Men are hungry to learn resilience, to make their way in the world. I talk to them all the time, and the links and Google search strings men use to find articles here show they value integrity, fitness, and how they carry themselves as men in various situations.

The “fathers are now optional” line is simply too stupid (yes, stupid) to even address, considering all we know pointing to an even greater knowledge of the need for male role models.

Furthermore, today’s “post-modern world” actually means that anyone, man or woman, can learn any skill they have the mental capacity to take on, and be anything they want to be. The reality is that we’re “held back” less than at any time in our history.

Junk Food Journalism

It’s the junk food junkie who looks past the dozens of great Italian, Vietnamese, Southwestern restaurants in their city because they’ve allowed their existence to be framed by the McDonald’s and Taco Bell whose big signs are right there at the street corner.

Mrs. Hymowitz seeks out society’s junk food, gorges on it regularly, then complains that she’s surrounded by junkies. Maybe she should get out a little bit.

Update: yet another take on the unmotivated, lazy American man was posted by Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. His premise: young men have lost their will to succeed because, as he puts it, “sex is cheap.” Interestingly, new studies show the opposite: over a six-year period, virginity increased significantly in both males and females age 15-24. Maybe even sociologists are fooled by media images of constant sex.


The “New Macho”?

by Michael on September 23, 2010 · 0 comments

The ONLY people I want to hear the word "macho" from. And even then...

Newsweek’s recent series of articles describing the “New Macho” appeared on my radar this week, and I can’t say I was impressed. The idea is that we need to “reimagine masculinity” to deal with the pressures men face in our changing world. Men—specifically American men, and judging from the examples, white American men—are in danger of becoming an anachronism. Our manly jobs are drying up, and we’re shirking our duties as parents, choosing instead to act out a Dan Draper/moose hunter fantasy as a “coping mechanism.” (And in doing so, the authors called out one of the best sites for men on the Internet, The Art of Manliness.)

A good story needs a hook, even if you’ve got to make one up. And some made-up hooks make for interesting, discussion-building reading. But this one doesn’t pass the smell test. Show me the hordes buying “designer axes” and socializing in hunting garb or overalls. I can understand the erroneous idea that Mad Men is some kind of weird new infatuation with 50’s/60’s cocktail culture, but I fail to see the logic that connects it with Dirty Jobs or The Deadliest Catch.

Then the article gets bogged down in politics. There’s a reason Swedish families can be forced to split 390 days of paid leave between a father and mother: they’re getting 390 days of paid leave. The meager amount of paid post-natal leave the US is likely to end up with in a Tea Party environment makes little dent in those 18 years a child will be at home. Spending time with the children has always been manly, but making sure the kids aren’t homeless is a bit of a priority.

But I Want to Be a Miner

Our current unemployment woes are summed up just as neatly: men need to consider “less manly” careers.

And so it goes. Anecdotal evidence is paired with these “signs of change” to indicate that we as men had better get off our high horses, unholster our guns, stay at home with the kids and consider a career in nursing.

Yes, nursing (where, by the way, the number of men has steadily increased without having to shame anyone into trying it). The evidence that men refuse to work in hospitals as anything but doctors: a scene from Meet The Parents. But, Newsweek continues, that’s where we must turn, because men are now “exiting” the work force in record numbers:

Discouraged by the dearth of “manly” work, they’ve simply given up. New high-school and college graduates have it even worse: the unemployment rate among young men is a dismal 20.5 percent—a full 3 points higher than the rate among their female peers.

Apparently, our new grads are showing up en masse at the dockyards resplendent in their designer peacoats, but finding their dreams of a career as a stevedore shattered. To think I was fooled by the vans full of them interviewing at Microsoft.

The Myth of Macho

The article goes on to coin the phrase, “The New Macho”: the modern man who has no problem changing a diaper, and who can work as a librarian with the same gusto that he would apply to a career as a machinist.

The problem with this is two-fold. First is the fact that men in general have traits missing in women, and vice versa. The social abilities of women are more evolved than those of men, while we are still genetically stronger. There are simply jobs men are better suited for, and vice versa. That does not mean a man can’t teach preschool, far from it. It does mean that most men may not be ideally suited to teach preschool. Wishing for complete—or even near—gender equality in the workplace is a losing battle.

Second is that the traits of a good man—actual manliness—have never changed. A good man protects his loved ones and helps his friends. A good man is resilient and understands that setbacks are hurdles, not dead ends. A good man is constantly developing and honing his life skills. A good man finds his calling and pursues it with vigor, whether it’s bull riding or blogging.

Telling that good man to go be a nurse, if he has no interest in nursing, is not making him “New Macho.” It’s just telling him to be something he’s not.

All That’s New

Look, I do a lot here to help men get out of their comfort zones, urging them to meditate, helping them eat healthy and exercise, and to adapt their social skills to a changing world. None of this changes their masculinity. It only changes their value to themselves and the world.

All that’s new are the choices and tools. And it’s great that men now sometimes have the option to spend more time with their children (being a positive role model has always been manly). It’s great that fewer people will look down on them for working as administrative assistants. We’ve been taking these very paths in increasing numbers anyway, and it’s nice that the media can bestow their seal of approval on that.

But the traits of a good man persist, and those traits aren’t “musty,” and they’re much more than a “coping mechanism.” They’re as necessary now as they ever were. Maybe more.

Make no mistake, the “New Macho” is exactly the same as the “Old Macho.”

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