I’ve come to realize that this (now darned-near mythical) blog post I’ve been promising, “In Praise of Men,” is a book, not an essay. And it’s a book I’m not going to write.
So I’ll to try doing what I can in a series of posts.
Today I’ll just state my premises and lay some groundwork. This step has been a stumbling block for me and I need to get it done so I can move ahead.
Let’s get some basics down on pixels.
Premise #1: BIOLOGY
Sex is biological and overwhelmingly binary. Are there exceptions? Of course, and they deserve to be acknowledged and respected. Those exceptions may be intensifying (see below).
But neither cosmetic surgery, hormone treatments, wishful thinking, nor politics can cancel millions of years of evolution or the fact that there are thousands of DNA differences between men and women. Nor can modernity cancel the fact that there are reasons men and women developed so differently, both in body and mind.
Premise #2: TOXICITY
Toxic masculinity is a real thing. So is toxic femininity. We’ve all encountered both.
The controlling spouse, the soul-crushing boss, the brutal thug, the conniving mother, the road-rager, the competitor who doesn’t merely want to “win” but to destroy all opponents, the “helpless” woman who nevertheless manages to rule the roost through manipulation, the person who views his or her partners as mere props for an inflated ego, the sexual predator, the promiscuous user, or a thousand other painful, dangerous, and soul-sucking examples — they’re all variations on the toxic theme. While mavens natter on the Internet about toxic masculinity, the truth is that neither sex and no gender and no individual is immune from having toxic traits.
We’ve all also had the misfortune of being in company with people whose goodwill and good mental health matched our own, but with whom we could simply not forge any happy meeting of minds. Being human is a damned tricky business. Your toxicity may be someone else’s joy and strength.
And the war between the sexes is as eternal as every other kind of war.
Premise #3: HISTORY
Throughout all time, cultural norms and laws have intensified existing disgruntlements between the sexes. Women were artifically kept down for thousands of years — less valuable, less responsible, less able to determine their own fate, but (the lucky ones) more pampered and protected; now the dialectic has begun to swing the other way.
As a result, a lot of modern men are bitter and a lot of women are flexing their new entitlements while still resenting the past. And a lot of boys are being raised to be ashamed of who and what they are.
Premise #4: MODERNITY
We also face the problem (although hardly anybody cares to address it) that boys today are physically less masculine, having about half the testosterone that their grandfathers had. Whether that precipitous drop was triggered by diet, environment, culture, or a combination, it’s an unprecedented alteration of our species.
Very likely, the cause is a combination of things, from plastics that mimic female hormones to drugs to the constant messages boys get about how “bad” masculinity is.
Agree or disagree with my premises (and thank heaven we still do — for the moment — live in a world where people can disagree without dismissing each other as evil morons) they’re the basis on which I begin.
There are also some personal factors that both drive me to want to take on this topic and yet make it hard for me to do so without stumbling over some pretty high barriers.
Interlude: MY PERSONAL HISTORY
Long-time readers know I’m the product of an abusive hellhole of a home. Although my father perpetrated most of the physical brutality and a goodly share of the psychological pain, dysfunction was a family affair.
Part of this dysfunction was a belief — culturally reinforced but intensely personal — that men were superior to women in all ways. Smarter. Stronger. More capable. More responsible with money. Better drivers. Born leaders. Entitled to unquestioning and unstinting obedience from women and children. Little gods on earth, supervising the helpless, foolish, stupid, masochistic, flutterbudgety females of the species and their offspring.
This sucked and it was stupid, to boot. My mother far outstripped my father in common sense, management skills, money handling, and several other vital traits. The only “leadership skill” my father possessed was uncontrolled violence.
The fact that Mom had to carefully diminish herself to attempt to meet female norms and my father lived in perpetual rage because things in the real world didn’t match his grandiose expectations … well, trying to live up to stereotypes made a mess of both of them individually, their marriage, and our family.
There was nothing the slightest bit unusual about that. Rinse and repeat throughout American culture. If you grew up in a loving, respectful, and well-balanced home, know how fortunate — and rare — you are.
My background, naturally, colors everything I have to say.
It’s important, though, that despite the brutality and prejudices I suffered as a young girl, I never hated men; on the contrary, I identified more with males than with females when I was young (because who wouldn’t want to be part of the “better” half of the human race?).
Today, a lot of my thought processes and interests seem more traditionally “male” than female, while I’m nevertheless wholely and happily a woman.
To me it’s all about balance — and about being the person you were born to be, regardless of stereotypes.
It took a long time for me to get here.
That said … those stereotypes developed for good reasons. The mistake was (and still is) in expecting diverse individuals either to force themselves to fit rigid stereotypes or pay heavy consequences for diverging from the norm. And that’s true no matter what the particular stereotypes are.
So balance. And freedom. Always important.
Premise #5: PRAISE
“In praise of men” doesn’t mean uncritical acceptance of all that’s masculine. It doesn’t mean that I believe (or that I believe “society” should believe) that men are superior to women. Each sex has its own strengths, as does each individual.
“In praise of men” means recognizing, valuing, reinforcing, and if necessary re-teaching and re-learning traditional masculine qualities that have helped build, sustain, and protect our species and our societies. We, as a society, are actively rejecting crucial traits necessary for the survival of a healthy culture — and the traits being so cavalierly trashcanned are traditionally identified with males of the species.
The increasing rejection of masculinity (along with a myriad other factors) means we’re facing not only a crisis, but the possible dissolution of the only society on earth that ever recognized the primacy of the individual. As things fall apart, those male traits are going to be needed more than ever.
That casual rejection also means we’re raising a generation of boys that’s not only weakened, but made to feel bad about themselves merely for being born. Nobody should be made to feel bad about themselves for some inborn trait, whether it’s sex, skin color or something else.
In the case of what’s being done now to young males, the tragedy of prejudice is especially dangerous. We are going to need those boys someday to be strong, good men. And they need the rest of us right now to stand up for them.
Despite the efforts of the woke to demonize them or shout them down, there are quite a few men boldly, sometimes eloquently, taking up the cause of manhood. And more power to them.
On the other hand, quite a few of those taking up the cause of males or manhood are doing so in unproductive, even toxic, ways — the whole Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) movement, for instance. It seems well-intentioned, but it’s anger-driven and tragic. Or gods forbid, what about the desperate young men who’ve proudly taken up the flag of being incels?
Those folks are about as unproductive and angry as the feminists who believe all men are rapists.
We don’t need deeper divisions and more bitterness between men and women. We need shared strengths — especially those of us who see cultural chaos coming at us and aim to save what we can.
But I’m female. What do I know about the ideals and struggles of manhood? In “woke” terms, aren’t I merely a “cultural appropriator” when I attempt to speak for the good in men?
Well, maybe. But it turns out that wise women and wise men know quite a lot about each other. From different perspectives, sure. And often through learning hard lessons. And even more often through making big mistakes.
After eons of imbalance, I say let those differences and those hard lessons bring us together. Because after the luxuries of civilization, we may be facing survival mode again and need the best strengths Mother Nature in her evolutionary wisdom chose to bestow upon us.
More to follow. Probably four or five posts worth. We shall see.