Manliness and Modernity

Although we’re not at all the macho type, and try to maintain a gentlemanly demeanor whenever possible, we can’t fathom the modern aversion to masculinity. We notice it daily, in the stories about schools cracking down on the most traditionally boyish behaviors, in the sit-coms and chick flicks that ridicule regular guy activities, in those Obamacare ads with the cocoa-sipping boy in his pajamas, and in almost every encounter with those bearded and tattooed and yet oh-so-sensitive hipsters at the local dives. We’ve recently come across two articles, however, that take it to an infuriating level.
One was at a newly-discovered web site called The College Fix, which reported on Vanderbilt University’s “Healthy Masculinities Week.” Kicking off the event was a speech by Jackson Katz, apparently the first man to minor in Women’s Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, who showed clips from his film “Tough Guise” and fretted about how the G.I. Joe toys and action movie stars have been flexing ever big arms. There was also a screening of the film “The Mask You Live In,” which features a former National Football League player warning that “The three most destructive words that every man receives when he’s a boy is when he’s told to ‘be a man.'” There was also a panel on “Maintaining Bro Status,” in which one panelist, ironically named Bill Savage, expressed his contempt for the phrases “man up” and “don’t be a pussy.” Other panels addressed such topics as “Masc 4 Masc: Policing Masculine Identity in the Gay and Bi Communities,” and “Masculinity XXL: The Portrayal of Manhood in ‘Magic Mike.'”
One shudders to think how the famously rough-and-tumble Cornelius Vanderbilt, eponymous founder of a suddenly ridiculous university, might have reacted. We’re certain Vanderbilt would not have fretted that America’s fictional he-men lately have bigger biceps, or that even point guards and other formerly lean athletes are also sporting them, which apparently went unmentioned at the panel but is something peculiar that we’ve noticed the last several basketball seasons, and we expect he would advise the panelists to man up and not be a pussy. This is not to say the southern gentleman and educational philanthropist would be urging rape and pillage and unrestrained flatulence and similar sorts of fraternity hijinks, just that he wasn’t the sort to advise not being a man and being a pussy. There is a middle ground, in our experience, and by our reckoning Vanderbilt occupied that area better than any of the panelists at his namesake university.
We can’t even guess what the late Col. Vanderbilt might have thought about policing masculine identity in the gay and bi communities, or that illiterate “Masc 4 Masc” in the title, and we’re not even sure what we think about that. If the panelists are talking about banishing all the bulging biceps and leather-jacketed machismo in those Tom of Finland cartoons that all our homosexual friends seem to adore, we suspect the gay and bi communities will respond by manning up and not being pussies. Although we haven’t seen “Magic Mike,” and can’t comment on whether it promotes an XXL or otherwise unhealthy masculinity, we are given to understand that it’s about a male ecdysiast whose bulging biceps and otherwise buff physique make him wildly popular with a female audience, which seems plausible enough. All sorts of people seem to like bulging biceps, and it’s going to take a lot of hectoring from academic panels to change that.
One can always count on The New York Times to help with the effort, though, and it’s latest contribution is a list of “27 Ways to Be a Modern Man.” Not all of them are awful, and we even rather like the idea that “The modern man won’t blow 10 minutes of his life looking for the best parking spot,” and “The modern man uses the proper names for things,” and although we’re not familiar enough the terminology to be sure we also like the sound of “The modern man has never ‘pinned’ a tweet, and he never will.” Most of the rest is pure bosh, though. We’ll not argue with the part about knowing a spouse’s shoe size or showing consideration for one’s fellow movie-goers, even if the former does seem a bit excessive and the later is merely common courtesy, but other rules for the modern man are far more modern than manly. “The modern man listens to Wu-Tang at least once a week,” for instance, or “The modern man has thought seriously about buying a shoehorn.” The modern man also has a melon baller and all of Michael Mann’s films on Blu-Ray, prefers daughters to sons, re-charges his wife’s batteries and buys her flowers for reasons other than special occasions or apologies, makes sure the dishes are dry before putting them in the cabinet, and otherwise act in a manner that the pre-modern man described as “whipped.”
The New York Times’ version of the modern man sleeps on the side of the bed closer to the door in order to protect his spouse from an intruder, but its 25th rule is that “The modern man has no use for a gun. He doesn’t own one, and never will.” In this case we hope the modern man has some awesomely bulging biceps to deal with that intruder, who probably doesn’t read the Gray Lady and is old-fashioned enough to be carrying a firearm. We’re also told that “The modern man cries. He cries often,” and that “On occasion, the modern is the little spoon. Some nights, when he is feeling down or vulnerable, he needs an emotional and physical shield.” The modern man will presumably hope that won’t occur on the night an armed intruder enters his marital bedroom, but if it does he’ll be entitled to a good cry.
So much for modernity. Say what you will about the old-fashioned variety of manliness, but back in the bad old pre-sexual revolution days no one was complaining about a “culture of rape” on the nation’s campuses. The dad of yesteryear might not have been checking the dryness of the dishes he’d done or buying melon ballers, but it was far more uncommon to find a home with no father at all. The husband of yesteryear might not have been so solicitous of his wife, but he seems to have suffered a far lower divorce rate. The old notion of manliness also entailed self-reliance, a willingness to defend family and country even if it required a gun, and an instinctive disdain for the pointy-headed drivel that lately emanates from academia and the elite press, so perhaps we can understand the modern aversion to masculinity.

— Bud Norman

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