Modern Manhood

Faludi’s fallacy and other thoughts

By Christian M. Chensvold

RECENTLY A NEW breed of feminist has emerged that finally admits that to be born male doesn’t guarantee you an easy life of social privilege. Since many feminist ideals have become a part of mainstream society, women such as Susan Faludi (author of the new book Stiffed) have found they can now turn their attention to the opposite sex without being threatened that their own cause will suffer in the process.

And for good reason.

After all, the conclusion that simpatico feminists are drawing is that yes, men do suffer from society, and for the same reason that women do: patriarchy. Thus feminists can earn sympathy points by addressing the suffering of men while staying true to their belief that the male-dominated social structure is the root of all human misery.

But in truth, the reason boys lag behind in school and go on shooting rampages, and the reason men feel worthless and dispensable, is not because society is still too masculine, but because it has become too feminine. Feminists argue that a competitive, hierarchical patriarchy that rewards high-achieving, physically dominating Alpha males causes undo angst to lesser males striving to live up to a masculine ideal of physical strength, financial success, and sexual prowess. It is this age-old standard, they say, that must be destroyed; society still socializes boys to be tough and “take it like a man,” and shames them for crying–and guys everywhere are just burning to blubber in public.

The problem men are feeling today, however, is really the tarnishing and the devaluing of the masculine ideal, not its perpetuation.

In previous eras, when America was predominantly agricultural and life was rougher, masculinity was quickly channeled into social utility. Boys on farms were given backbreaking work demanding strength and stamina, and were taught how to use a firearm in order to bravely defend precious livestock from coyotes and bears. When my grandparents came west in a covered wagon, the men and boys in the family were undoubtedly needed for things like hunting, physical defense, and pulling the wagon out of mud. During the 20th century, rural hardship has been a less common experience for American males, but they have been appeased by their fathers and brothers who came home from various wars not only with tales of horrible violence, but also of unquestioned valor.

But today hardship means a failed hard drive, and boys are raised primarily in feminized environments. The schools are vastly dominated by female teachers who, as many have pointed out, prefer a model student who is more of a quiet docile learner than a rambunctious kid whose nature tells him to go outside and build things. At home, boys are increasingly raised without any direct male influence. Granted this is partly owing to absentee fathers, but over the past few decades their numbers have been overshadowed by the enormous rise in out-of-wedlock births.

So it’s no wonder that so many boys act out aggressively in their formative years, or sit glassy-eyed playing violent video games. When they become grown men they will see a further decay in their masculine ego. At their megacompany (which has an on-site child-care facility) they will take orders from a female boss, attend seminars on sexual harassment, and work jobs in which the greatest physical exertion is sharpening a pencil. In their personal lives, men will wander confused to the point of neurosis between women who talk about marriage on the first date to those who refuse to settle down for fear that marriage will nix their chances of making senior partner.

To appease his bruised ego, which was battered by nothing less than modernism itself, the contemporary American male retreats into a fantasy realm of pornography and the simulated warfare of sports. In both instances, masculinity is merely acted out in the man’s mind as he sits passively in front of a TV set.

IN AN ERA increasingly bereft of trials and rites of passage, men have found they possess fewer tools with which to construct a masculine identity. So while I applaud the truce suggested by simpatico feminists, I find their sympathy misguided. The crisis of contemporary manhood goes much deeper than Faludi’s notions about the competitiveness of consumer culture and men’s fears of being laid off.

Nor are outdated John Wayne ideals of manhood the problem, as they have always existed. To constructively address the male crisis, it must be understood in all its ugly nakedness. This includes a frank understanding of men’s natural physical aggression and how this needs to be channeled into socially useful activities, how men will always create hierarchies among themselves and will actually suffer from a lack of competition, and how their mating instincts do not take well to the social gelding that occurs in today’s enlightened PC culture.

Either men will create a new and constructive form of manhood, or more and more young males will spiral irremediably into the lower depths of aggression, misogyny, and crime. Masculinity will never return to its former glory, and men will forevermore have to reckon with being cultural has-beens of a sort.

Their challenge is nothing less than defining manhood in a culture that views traditional masculine ideals as outdated, in which masculinity itself is devalued, and in which women and children no longer need men as providers.

From the November 4-10, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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