Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Twilight of Masculinity

A couple of articles highlight, from different perspectives, the changing nature, or, more precisely, the disintegration, of masculinity in our society. The first is an interview with feminist scholar Camille Paglia who asserts that our civilization is committing suicide by trying to erase traditional masculinity. Here are a few excerpts:
"What you're seeing is how a civilization commits suicide," says Camille Paglia.... When Ms. Paglia, now 66, burst onto the national stage in 1990 with the publishing of "Sexual Personae," she immediately established herself as a feminist who was the scourge of the movement's establishment, a heretic to its orthodoxy. Pick up the 700-page tome, subtitled Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, and it's easy to see why. "If civilization had been left in female hands," she wrote, "we would still be living in grass huts."

But no subject gets her going more than when I ask if she really sees a connection between society's attempts to paper over the biological distinction between men and women and the collapse of Western civilization.

She starts by pointing to the diminished status of military service. "The entire elite class now, in finance, in politics and so on, none of them have military service—hardly anyone, there are a few. But there is no prestige attached to it anymore.

That is a recipe for disaster," she says. "These people don't think in military ways, so there's this illusion out there that people are basically nice, people are basically kind, if we're just nice and benevolent to everyone they'll be nice too. They literally don't have any sense of evil or criminality."

Ms. Paglia argues that the softening of modern American society begins as early as kindergarten. "Primary-school education is a crock, basically. It's oppressive to anyone with physical energy, especially guys," she says, pointing to the most obvious example: the way many schools have cut recess. "They're making a toxic environment for boys. Primary education does everything in its power to turn boys into neuters."

She is not the first to make this argument, as Ms. Paglia readily notes. Fellow feminist Christina Hoff Sommers has written about the "war against boys" for more than a decade. The notion was once met with derision, but now data back it up: Almost one in five high-school-age boys has been diagnosed with ADHD, boys get worse grades than girls and are less likely to go to college.

By her lights, things only get worse in higher education. "This PC gender politics thing—the way gender is being taught in the universities—in a very anti-male way, it's all about neutralization of maleness." The result: Upper-middle-class men who are "intimidated" and "can't say anything. . . . They understand the agenda."

Politically correct, inadequate education, along with the decline of America's brawny industrial base, leaves many men with "no models of manhood," she says. "Masculinity is just becoming something that is imitated from the movies. There's nothing left. There's no room for anything manly right now." The only place you can hear what men really feel these days, she claims, is on sports radio. No surprise, she is an avid listener. The energy and enthusiasm "inspires me as a writer," she says, adding: "If we had to go to war," the callers "are the men that would save the nation."

A key part of the remedy, she believes, is a "revalorization" of traditional male trades—the ones that allow women's studies professors to drive to work (roads), take the elevator to their office (construction), read in the library (electricity), and go to gender-neutral restrooms (plumbing).
Actually, I'm not sure why she says there are no models of manhood. The Obama team a couple of weeks ago famously offered, presumably for our emulation, a stirring example of its paradigm of American manhood:

On the other hand, there is much to what Paglia says. When boys are suspended from elementary school for shaping a pop tart like a gun or kissing a girl on the hand then its clear that maleness is being suppressed and boys are being taught that to be a normal boy is somehow inherently bad.

The title of the second article states that men are, or are becoming, obsolete, but the article itself, written by Hannah Rosin, argues for a more modest proposition. She maintains that traditional masculine roles are no longer the norm in American society, a fact in which she seems to take no little delight.

She gives five reasons in support of her thesis and elaborates on each in her essay. Here are her reasons for believing that we're witnessing the end of men:
  1. It’s the end of men because men are failing in both school and the workplace and women are succeeding.
  2. It’s the end of men because the traditional household, propped up by the male breadwinner, is vanishing.
  3. It’s the end of men because we can see it in the attitudes of single mothers in the working and middle class who decline to marry because a husband would be "just another mouth to feed."
  4. It’s the end of men because men have lost their monopoly on violence and aggression.
  5. It’s the end of men because men, too, are now obsessed with their body hair.
Rosin adds this:
Obsolete does not mean worthless. It means outmoded. The twin combustion engine made the bicycle obsolete but that doesn’t mean we hate the bicycle. We just use it the way we want to, while recognizing the necessity of efficiency and change. We don’t have to turn men into eunuchs. We can keep whatever we like about manhood but adjust the parts of the definition that are keeping men back.
Now what do you suppose the reaction would be were a man to write a paragraph like this about women? Would the media not be filled with apoplectic shrieks and howls about a "war" on women? Yet Rosin can write this about men and her readers wistfully picture Pajama Boy and smile knowingly at Rosin's description of outmoded maleness.

Here's her closing thought:
I dedicated my book to my son because he is one of those boys who gets in trouble a lot, who thinks the institutions are rigged against him. I see my job as accepting him as he is, and teaching him how to adapt to the world as it is.

When I think of the world after the end of men, I think of the world my son will inherit, where, if he chooses to take his kids to a playground at 3 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, no one will look at him funny, no one will wonder if he’s out of work, no one will think, “What a loser,” and no one will think he’s from Portland or Toronto, they will just walk on by and not think anything of it at all. He can be his own lovely obnoxious self and also be at home in a new world.
I wonder if Rosin's son has a father around. If not, that might explain a lot.