I almost hesitate to stick my nose into Robert and Carol’s interesting debate about “hooking up,” but I’ve got to come to Robert’s aid on one point — while the “alpha” and “beta” designations in men are reductive, they are still instructive. Yes, there are men who might be alpha in some areas (quite accomplished in their careers) but beta in others (quite insecure around women), and I’m sure there are alpha and beta elements in us all. There is, however, an enduring constant in at least the way men perceive female attraction: The “bad boys” get the girls. Heck, if this perception weren’t widely shared, about half of all teen literature would vanish overnight, the entire “rom-com” genre would go extinct, and people like, well, me (“the nice guy” — at least until I went to law school) would stride across the dating landscape like a colossus, crushing all those who would oppose us. Suffice to say, that was not my experience.
But why is the “bad guy” so attractive? I’m going to go way out on a limb here and say that these bad guys are at least classically masculine in some important senses. They’re perceived as strong, as aggressive, and in some strange ways, as honorable (especially if they are part of a “brotherhood” like a gang, a mafia crew, or even a perennially alcohol-poisoned fraternity) and protective of their own. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that as our culture (including our heavily feminized Christian evangelical culture, by the way) continues to discourage the positive development of those qualities in men — by discouraging military service, for example — you’re more likely to see women drawn into destructive lifestyles than you are to see them change their fundamental attraction from masculine to more feminine men.
Recently, I got a thoughtful e-mail from a campus minister regretting the lack of available, virtuous men to date and marry the women in his campus ministry. This is an excerpt from the e-mail I wrote in response:
Basically, when I think of what a man is and should be — the ultimate expression of manhood — I think of the men who stormed Omaha Beach, or charged the Confederate line at Cold Harbor, or (to take a nonviolent example) braved the firehoses at Selma. First, there was the brotherhood: the bond between the men in the unit that civilians can’t ever experience or understand. There was the honor: the connection to the high purpose of the mission (the defense of the defenseless and the triumph over evil) and the legacy of those who’d served before. There was also courage: to get onto the landing craft meant that they might die, to leave the landing craft meant that they probably would die, yet they did it anyway. And there was also aggression: Their ultimate purpose was not to go die but to go kill, and they performed their mission with excellence.
I mention those elements because I think they describe something essential about the highest elements of manhood — the combination of the aggression with courage with duty with honor with brotherhood. You see shadows of these things in good sports teams, in some fraternities, and even (but rarely) in some men’s groups. But you often see perversions of them as men — without an object upon which to focus their aggression, without real brothers to stand beside, and without a higher purpose to motivate them — flail around aimlessly, often violently or petulantly. Unable to express their natures, culturally condemned as those natures are misunderstood by a feminized church and education system, and without a higher call, there is nothing there but pursuit of the hookup, aimless adventures, and effortless access to porn.
We’re not raising sons to storm Omaha Beach. We’re raising them to . . . what? Have any higher purpose? Any higher calling? And if not, is it any wonder that women aren’t finding them attractive — as “nice” and otherwise accomplished as they might be?