Manliness, let’s face it, has fallen on hard times. And I’m not just talking about the stuff itself, traded as it has been for the epidemic of beta-ness in our society; the very reputation of the notion–masculinity as a concept–now carries negative connotations. Or, should I say, toxic connotations.
Bonobos, a “men’s”-wear company, illustrates this perfectly in a new ad campaign that seeks, self-defeatingly, to deconstruct its own market base. Enjoy:
Far from needing redefinition, masculinity, I submit, drastically needs recovery. I’ll go further: true masculinity is not only positive for social thriving; it is in actuality a moral virtue.
Let me clarify what I do NOT mean. Much of modern feminism, when arguing against traditional conceptions of “maleness”, focuses on stereotypical negatives such as bullying, arrogance, harassment, and emotional repression. For some, you get the sense “toxic masculinity” is a phrase being used redundantly (fun activity: when a liberal mentions “toxic masculinity”, ask them if there’s any such thing as masculinity that isn’t toxic–you may be surprised at the long, confused pause). I’m absolutely not writing in defense of any of those ugly vices…particularly because they are inherently the antithesis of real masculinity. They’re pseudo-manliness cosplay. Weakness masquerading as strength is what children (and man-children) do. Traditional biblical masculinity comes from actual maturity and strength–not just of body, but character. This is the font from which we produce chivalry–male power exercised selflessly, not selfishly. This is a moral imperative.
The elephant in this room is the assumption that men and women are naturally different. Allow me to make a controversial statement on that: men and women are naturally different. Biology and psychology could certainly be invoked here, but I prefer to simply cite the noted authority of common sense, perhaps best summed up in the peer-reviewed scientific mantra of “Duh”.
Why is domestic abuse primarily an issue of violence against women? The slogan “There is never an excuse for hitting a woman” only goes one way—and that’s right. Men and women simply aren’t built the same. Exceptions exist, of course. Not the point. There’s a reason wives ask their husbands to open a jar for them.
But what we must understand is that this isn’t a slam on women. My wife saves my life daily with her feminine strengths that spackle over my dudely weaknesses. Difference is not inferiority. Difference is not superiority. Difference is complementarity. Diversity as a strength.
Now, in full disclosure, I must admit I’m a lightweight dude. I lettered in TV themes in high school, and I can bench approximately, um…what’s the weight of the bar? And yet … at the end of the day, the heavy boxes in the attic? My job. Jammed garbage disposal? Gonna be me again. Or most importantly, disturbing sound in the house in the middle of the night? It’s definitely not going to be the wife or kids heading to the door checking on it and ready to defend the family with their lives. That’s chivalry; not patriarchal oppression, just love.
See, the qualities of biblical manhood are not about lording strength over others; they’re about responsibility. You know all that stuff about widows and orphans we blab about all the time? Why are those two singled out? Why not wives, or sons and daughters? Well, because it’s assumed wives and kids have husbands and dads to take care of them! On the other hand, addressing men, Paul tells us, “[I]f anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thess 3:10). Get up off your butt, go to work, and care for your loved ones.
The masculinity debate has been falsely dichotomized as a binary (ironic) between the abuse of strength or the “authenticity” of internal weakness. No room is left for actual, constitutional strength employed in service of others. This is a devastating loss for our culture, because we need compassionate, strong leadership, people others can depend on, nowhere more so than the home, where increasingly there is a dad-shaped (and husband-shaped) hole, whether physically, or merely through dereliction of duty.
Actress Jessica Chastain recently epitomized this false assumption, tweeting:
I’ll say the same thing now I said that day–Why would we cherish the vulnerabilities leading them to suicide? It’s obviously tongue-in-cheek, snarky, and rhetorical. But seriously … vulnerability is, well, a vulnerability. I’m not talking about being authentic–authenticity and vulnerability are not synonyms. We can be emotionally honest without capitulating to despair. You know a better solution to emotional frailty than surrender? Emotional strength. That’s not referring to keeping a stiff upper lift and projecting false stoicism while bottling up true pain. Men feel pain, honestly deal with it, and with the help of community, overcome.
We men have an innate bent toward attributes such as independence, aggressiveness, the drive to conquer and pioneer, etc. That is not to say women haven’t got these same qualities, but simply that our primary preternatural drives are differently ordered. What many in the West these days have pounced upon for blanket condemnation is the danger inherent in expression of these traits. Put simply, they sound bad. But the drives in and of themselves are not evil; it’s all about how they’re applied. It’s hard to defend the progressive claim that male aggression is, per se, a bad thing while simultaneously cheering Captain America punching Nazis. The drive to conquer seems jingoistic and oppressive–but it’s necessary if we are to master our own baser instincts to indulge in hedonistic choices, or if we hope ever to bring order out of chaos in our home and work life. The spirit of a warrior is morally good and necessary as applied to righteous and noble ends.
This warrior spirit is being rebranded as gender-neutral on a daily basis by the culture today. Wonder Woman is a great example here. Yes, the character and lore are decades old. But the film last year was received as something of a “moment” in terms of feminism in America. The talk surrounding its epic success often revolved around showing young girls how women can be every bit as strong as a man. Bucket of cold water incoming: it depicted exactly the opposite of that point. Fighting alongside male soldiers in the foxholes of WWI, Diana storms the battlefield and defeats their heavily armed foes with a dominance they could never have dreamed of. Because she’s an immortal Amazon who has Zeus for a dad. Well, yeah. That would work. Sorry to nitpick, but it’s pretty circular to argue that a woman can be really powerful if you give her fictional superpowers. I have three beautiful and brilliant daughters. They loved Wonder Woman. But it doesn’t matter. If they walked out onto that battlefield into the crossfire of “No Man’s Land”, they would get shot, because they’re normal. Women are and can be strong in myriad other ways, but power simply can’t be gender-swapped. That’s not to say they can’t be in the military; they can, and are, and they serve our country honorably. It’s just to say if you send your wife to check for burglars at night, you’re a coward (unless your father-in-law is Zeus).
We have to get back to understanding, as the Left often claims, that those with power have an obligation to defend and care for the weak. That means males, who obviously have more than merely socially-conditioned strength advantages, must reclaim their God-given responsibility to grow strong in their “inner man” (His words, not mine) so that they can exercise power in the service of others and love of the families God has put under their care.
What I’m arguing for is an unapologetic return to a robust non-toxic masculinity. One that protects, rather than exploits women. That faces, rather than represses conflict. That’s aggressive and valiant for truth, not self-gain. We don’t need a redefinition of masculinity; we need its reformation.