The last month has been a whirlwind of allegations and accusations of sexual assault from the heights of Hollywood to the halls of Congress, Big Media, and beyond. Men from all walks of life, political beliefs, and social classes are losing their marriages and livelihoods, not the mention their reputations, due of the assaults and unwanted attention they have perpetrated on women (and in some cases men) in their lives.
The irony is that in many of these situations the ones being exposed (pun intended) reside within the warm cocoon of the liberal cultural elite. Most of these people have spent a lifetime—and a great deal of effort and money—sneering at and debasing the culture of practiced faith, respect for women, the institutions of traditional marriage and family, all the while portraying men of that “debased lifestyle” they disparaged as unenlightened peasants and troglodytes.
Now it appears the men who mounted these assaults—both literally and figuratively—are nothing but patriarchal misogynistic perverts. But unfortunately we’re seeing commentators—including women such as Michelle Obama—who actively enabled the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Bill Clinton, and John Conyers, pinning the problem on “toxic masculinity” as if all men are responsible for (and capable of) abusing the people around them in this way.
While there is delicious irony in seeing those individuals who treated traditional culture like their personal scratching posts run out of town on rails, there remain in their places those who share these hateful views about the “rest of us” and who are seizing upon this time as an excuse to launch a modern day Salem witch hunt. Hate of all things male has been rallying cry of the left over the last 100 years on behalf of the equality movement. The movement for women’s equality under law was and remains a good and just endeavor. And it should also be acknowledged that there remains much to be done, due in no small part to the actions of the Weinsteins and Frankens of the world who clearly did not practice what they preached.
How did we get here?
In Search of Lost Virtues
When you consider that the “sex positive” culture of the 1960s and ’70s turned sex from a function of emotional love and committed relationships working towards the goal of procreation into a casual, transactional exchange at the whims of the participants, it’s not hard to understand how the likes of Clinton, Spacey, and Conyers “evolved.” The former put the emphasis on the other, the latter on the self. Five decades of Hollywood and the media assaulting the institutions of marriage and the family, culturally objectifying women in print and in film, and normalizing abhorrent behavior and lifestyles can do that.
Beyond mainstream Hollywood, we have another serious problem: easy access to pornography for young men online who are conditioned thereby to view women as objects. After years of conditioning, we are “shocked” to find their behavior in line with their conditioning? Are we not being irrational to think there will be rational behavior in the face of such conditioning?
Moreover, as we have embraced the worthy effort of opening up all doors to women—and by extension girls—the culture has also embraced what I think is an unintended consequence of taking the “boy” out of the boy in our educational and organized activities systems. Christina Hoff Sommers’s almost two-decade-old research looks downright prophetic on the effects our culture wars have had on the next generation of men. What’s even more disappointing is that this campaign, given the recent news cycle about bad male behavior, appears to have accomplished little.
So, how do we continue to empower women while ending the campaign against masculinity that has, in part, created this crisis in our culture?
We all make choices every day: to objectify or not, to harm or not, to respect or not. Whatever happened to self-control and dignity? While we’re at it, whatever happened to being faithful and being true to a promise? Whatever happened to being virtuous? The Latin root word of virtue is “vir,” meaning man. Definitionally, to be a “man,” means to partake in virtue. “Manly” does not mean showing off with Gaston-like bravado, boasting about one’s power over others, but instead possessing strength of will, honor, and compassion.
The “masculine gentleman,” focused on self-sacrifice, self-discipline, honor, and gentle strength was a character Hollywood used to embrace—with Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne filling the roles. But somewhere along the line, in an effort to “equalize” the sexes, these values became deficiencies. Service for others, using strength to sacrifice for families and communities—once paramount to being a true and good man—became demerits that undercut the standing and role of women.
But these are the very values that required discipline, holding back passions and base desires, and building out of self-control some dignity and respect. Isn’t self-control what in many ways sets us apart from the beasts?
Toss them out and it’s not a surprise that we become more like beasts than men.
Set a Noble Course
Without virtue, self-sacrifice, or self-discipline, the world in many ways devolves into nothing but a collection of objects. When objectification occurs—whether it is men or women doing the objectifying—a human being, an eternal soul of unfathomable value, is reduced to nothing but an object for selfish pleasure. But then again, if the teaching is that we are nothing but products of chance, with no particular value beyond, say, a tree or a light bulb, then perhaps all of this was inevitable. Is it possible that this really does come back to what we believe about who we are as human beings, the immortal soul, and what our purpose for existence really is?
I am trying to teach my sons to be noble, to be magnificent, to be epic, to be courageous. The word noble is an archaic one, but it’s one that should come back into fashion because it captures the essence of everything we seek in men; the ideas of self-sacrifice and discipline and courage and gentle strength. So we must seek to be noble in a world that wants us to be anything but—a world that wants us to conform to it. A quarter-century ago, the nonconformists were the likes of Weinstein and Clinton and their ilk.
How ironic that today, I am raising my boys to be the nonconformists, pushing back, making the right choices every single day. We had a friend of the family growing up who was an air traffic controller. He said if a plane started off wrong by just an inch it’d be off by miles in the end. Little choices make the man, and by degrees, people shift with daily decisions to find themselves years later miles off course.
The world is a better place with masculine gentlemen. It’s just we need more of them.