Women, minorities, and other so-called marginalized groups have multiple champions. All well and good, even inevitable, I suppose.
Picture right now in your mind’s eye: Hillary Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, Black Lives Matter. Hey, even the redone Caitlyn Jenner.
Yet no one has spoken for the average American male in a very long time, it seems. These are the John Wayne or even Jimmy Stewart kind of guys—men who made America great, who are now long gone, left on the roadside, passed over, or passed away.
It’s taboo even to mention them. If you did, you’d be called misogynistic, sexist, racist, homophobic, “toxic,” whatever. That’s part of why Donald Trump’s campaign took off like a rocket—he crossed over the forbidden lines of corrosive political correctness.
Can we at least raise the issue? Well in a closet, perhaps.
What we need, finally, is a champion who will not back down in the face of progressive opposition—or any other kind of hate speech or disrespect and begin to—speak up for men. Did I just say that? It was very ballsy of me.
This is what lies underneath the populist phenomenon. The so-called “smart people” (global elitists) are telling themselves that we are going through a post-industrial revolution. Yes, yes . . . men had to come from the farms, into the mines and factories. Now they have to come out of the factories and head into the cubicles and become part of globalized supply chains. But that’s far from the whole story.
Industry remains alive and well around the world—there’s just less and less of it in the “old” places these days, such as America’s rust belt states. We have chosen to extend privileges to capital that maintains a small, and getting smaller, strata of managers (call them big bosses) at extraordinary income levels, while outsourcing our manufacturing to poorer nations.
And what happened to our manhood in the process? That got outsourced, too.
Statistically, American males are doing less well in school these days. Boys are seen as intrinsically bad and warned constantly about their potential as bullies. Men live shorter and more unhealthy lives compared to women. They are more prone to die early and even to shoot and stab each other. Lower middle-class communities have been decimated by the combined forces of the never-ending sexual revolution and by enduring economic stagnation. Charles Murray documented all this in his frightening sociological tome, Coming Apart.
The globalist white men who occupy boardrooms do not care about this saga or about the travails of the working class so long as they and their progeny remain in control of finance and all of the elite institutions. On the face of it, why should they?
But will their sons become men?
Do you remember James Dean’s line in the 1955 classic film, “Rebel Without a Cause?”
I know that dates me but it is a classic, no?
He asked his father this telling question, “What do you do when you have to be a man?”
His father didn’t know the answer. Worse still, he had no sense of the question. There were no guidelines to follow; no rules to master; no script to read. Hell, there were no profound answers to that question.
That is the dilemma our whole culture faces today. We don’t know or have forgotten about manliness.
Now, I am not some crazy, deep backwoodsman, drum beating warrior type, who wants us to go native or primitive. I don’t wear a loincloth or kill my own dinner (though I do shoot ducks and pheasant, on occasion).
I just think we need to get back to basics about manhood if we want to make America great again.
We need to figure this out or we will be (are already being) replaced. A woman can go to the doctor and get fertilized by donor sperm and never see a man, have a husband, or have sex. God forbid they have sons—as they would have no examples to emulate. Is that the future?
So using a technique that is utilized in the intelligence world (yes, spy-dom), in the military, and in corporate life, I want to suggest—if only for heuristic purposes—four scenarios about “The Future of Manhood.”
More proverbially, I want to ask: Who’s your Daddy? And let’s place this question in the year—let’s say, arbitrarily, 2025. That’s far enough off that we can’t really know but it is not too far off that we don’t care.
So get out a piece of paper for me and let’s do an exercise in futures thinking.
Think of it as strategic planning to consider the longer term. Foresight, if you like, through more than one lens. It entails using a macro-scope, instead of a microscope.
You don’t have a macro-scope? Just pretend.
On one side (axis) of your paper, write down strong; and, along the other axis insert, weak. Got it: strong versus weak. See? It’s easy… you’re a born futurist.
I get paid a lot of money for this kind of heady stuff, so don’t laugh.
There are four boxes on your paper, right?
Can you see them?
The header is Manhood. Write it down.
Lower left box, let’s call that strong/weak, or “Father Knows Best.” It was a great TV series that I grew up on and it is the standard, old-fashioned view of manhood.
Let’s inspect and list its characteristics.
This middle class, probably non-urban and traditional values/family man is good, humble, but all-knowing. And he is the head of the house, which is after all his castle. He is firm but fair, decisive and modestly aggressive. As a man, he knows both his own place and is responsible for his kinship band—the nuclear/extended family. The man is pragmatic but principled and self-aware. He is faithfully monogamous and unambiguous about his manliness. He is comfortable in his own skin and believes in power and tradition both.
Second Box upper right, is super strong or better, “Superman.”
What are its characteristics?
As a superhero, rooted in comic book fame, there is a fictional side to this man. Since he was born on the planet Krypton and raised in America as Clark Kent, there is something quite unreal about him. With super born-human abilities, he not only wears a red cape with the letter ‘S’ emblazoned on it, but he is capable of larger-than-life deeds. Hyper-able and super athletic, this man is influenced by Nietzsche’s concept of the Ubermensch. Typically, he dominates women. (Latter-day portrayals of the Man of Steel, alas, are as gelded as most everyone else in popular culture.) Super rough and overly aggressive, supermen attack and terrorize wrongdoers and all gangsters, as only a ruthless vigilante would do. Superman actually comes in two flavors: good and bad; moral and immoral.
The lower-right quadrant is weak. Let’s call it “Girlie-Man.”
What are his characteristics?
Although used by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pejoratively, taking after a 1990s-era “Saturday Night Live” sketch featuring the bodybuilders Hans and Franz, these men commit the modern-day politically correct horror of insulting gay men. This ironic mockery has become ensconced as more than a comic façade. Easily offended and overly emotional, a girlie-man is effeminate in that he is primped up and weak even when showing an outward appearance of strength. There is a fake understanding about sexuality and a weakness that becomes an overriding feature both physically and emotionally. They are like girls in many ways.
In the last box on the upper far right we have super strong and super weak, a combination best described as “Metrosexual.”
What are his characteristics?
This is the perfectly androgynous male who is neither from Venus nor from Mars. He is very urban (and urbane), enjoys shopping (oh so much!), is into fashion and possesses traits normally associated with women or homosexual men. He can’t walk past a Banana Republic store without making a purchase. He uses moisturizer. His ringtone comes from “Kim Possible.” In their fitted jeans, with “manscaped” eyebrows and perfectly groomed hair (replete with product), these men are the ultimate consumers and exhibit narcissistic qualities. Neither straight nor gay, they have all of the characteristics of gays and the dress. For them, it is “all about breaking gender roles” primarily because they have no concern for the opinions of any but those who are similarly self-absorbed.
Now, looking at these four archetypes in the year 2025 of manhood, where would you place yourself?
Where would you like to see men down the road? Where is culture going long-term? Where do you think your sons will be? Your grandsons? What do you think most likely, given the present trend line? Is this evolving? Set in stone? Reversible? And the implications are?
Email me your complete answers.
Here’s the takeaway: Manliness or traditional masculinity, i.e., being courageous and direct, or—as the true authority on the subject, the Harvard political philosopher Harvey Mansfield, Jr., suggested in his controversial book, Manliness—being assertive, is just plain dying off.
The synonym, virility, has all but disappeared from general usage. The notion that an etiquette exists wherein a man respects himself and earns the respect of others has surely dissipated, except perhaps in the fictional “Game of Thrones.”
Come on, name me a definitive act of valor you have witnessed in real life recently? Is there such a thing as self-sacrifice any longer in the “Me Generation” or its descendants? Certainly, we’ve seen some examples in the late wars. Yet the old-fashioned idea that we are here to serve others (men, women, the elderly or children) seems to have flown away.
Selfishness is the norm and the expectation nowadays. But these other, older values, used to be the themes of true manhood.
In fact, U.S. Army General George S. Patton, who was no wuss, wrote a little booklet just after World War I explaining what it meant to be an officer and a gentleman. He distributed it to his men in the 3rd Army during World War II. Patton wanted real men on the front line. He wanted to beat those fascists. He knew that to be victorious in war, men needed to be taught the basics of manhood.
He could have said since the time of Homer the ideas of manhood and manliness have been the eternal inspiration, the very image, and inspiration of the human race. He could have recounted the creation story or the legacy of the entire history of mankind across all cultures.
We still have some remote but fading remembrance of the days of chivalry, where men showed courtesy to women and children, where they were gentle benefactors to their communities. Hence the word “gentleman.” These knights of yore saw the responsibility of manhood as a noble calling—it had a theological bearing as well as a long-standing and honorable tradition.
All of that is gone. The history of manhood, if it were to be written, would likely start with some distant, unrecognizable stories about a caste of men who won prestige and honor in battle and at war. “War” is part of “warrior,” sorry. But where would that history end?
By the time of the early 19th century, this tale evolved into one about yeoman farmers and then artisans. The Industrial Revolution changed all that. Men moved off the farm and into the factories. There they still made things (well, until recent decades) but they no longer had economic independence. They worked for someone else. The notion of being a “breadwinner” prevailed but manhood was slowly emasculated.
The definition of that word is, to deprive a man of his male identity. Privilege was stripped away and attacked; even their very manhood was questioned or abbreviated, should we add, neutered?
Today, which of the four scenarios best describes reality? And where is it honestly headed by 2025?
Now ponder once more those four scenarios we just created about the future, and ask James Dean’s profound question all over again.
To resolve the present crisis of manhood, should we cling to the past and its greatness? Recreate some new age version of man? Redefine “manliness”? Or should we just bid it farewell and good riddance forever and accept some new form of androgyny?
Is there a normative concept of manliness that works across time, place and culture—or is that too much to ask? Is manliness still a virtue? Are there any virtues at all in a skeptical and relativistic age?
For Aristotle and the ancients, if we care to look back, it was a grave and perennial concern. It meant being all you can be (the Army stole this tagline). It was tied up with excellence. He called it “human flourishing.” Virtu in Latin means masculine strength. It was conceived as the opposite of womanhood and developmentally the graduation from childhood.
Today, we are incapable of making these distinctions. We are lost without a guide, a bible, or a reliable compass.
The best we can come up with is some phony “Five Male Traits” from a silly web search. Yes, there are websites on “muscle for life.” They advertise the benefits of caffeinated energy drinks for men as well as herbal supplements (let your imagination run loose) for other organs.
And those five masculine traits are?
Don’t aim for ease. I like this because it sounds like Teddy Roosevelt and his emphasis on the “strenuous life.”
See the world as it is. A dose of realism never hurt. It could have added—and make the most of it, quoting John Wayne, who is after all a picture of cowboy manliness.
Never complain or make excuses. Stiff upper lip is very British and Churchillian, I suppose. Real men are not crybabies.
Never quit. A bit redundant but who likes a quitter or a loser for that matter?
Never pity anyone. What more needs to be said?
Truth is, we do not lack for the knowledge and wisdom of what it takes to be a man, even in this dessicated age. We live in an era of abundant choice. So . . . choose. I choose to be a man. Be a man.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this essay appeared at SCENES Media in 2016.