On Sunday, as images from Hurricane Harvey stunned the nation, one particular image stuck out for many Americans as indicative of the heroism of Texans in the face of disaster: a picture of a man in a baseball cap carefully carrying a woman through the water; the woman, in turn, holds close a baby curled up on her chest.
The picture struck a chord with many people because it seems so instinctively right: the woman protecting her child, the man protecting the woman, carrying them all through danger.
This is the vision of humanity that carries us through our darkest trials: men as protectors, women as guardians, children as innocents.
And yet our society has devoted itself wholesale to the destruction of this image.
The men we look up to are protectors. As Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman writes in On Combat, in a paragraph later paraphrased in American Sniper:
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath — a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.
But all men must strive to be sheepdogs — and that doesn’t always require violence. The sheepdog must be willing to do violence but must also ensure protection of the flock against all manner of horror. That’s the role of men in the social fabric. That doesn’t mean that women can’t participate in that task — but a society of men who refuse to protect will be a society that collapses in short order.
And yet this vision of what it means to be a man has been shattered over the course of the last several decades. Now we’re told that manhood no longer has a meaning, or that it has so many different meanings that it’s indistinguishable from other, more malleable concepts. We’ve been informed by the feminist movement that the vision of man as protector is degrading to women — that women don’t need protection, that women can be protectors just as men can. We’ve been informed by the transgender movement that women can be men, and that men can be women, that gender is entirely malleable. We’ve been told by the social Left that men’s protective nature is inextricably intertwined with toxic masculinity — that the aggressive instinct that undergirds man’s defense of family also undergirds his violence against others.
We’ve been informed that the vision of man as protector is degrading to women — that women don’t need protection, that women can be protectors just as men can. We’ve been informed that women can be men, and that men can be women.
The result has been manhood in retreat. Men feel unmanned — they feel that their innate value has been tossed aside. Too many men revert to the posturing of wolves, refusing the responsibility of protecting the herd. Some men cower in the face of protection, feeling that to overstep their boundaries would be to bolster the patriarchy.
But when disaster strikes, men are there.
Then there is the woman in the picture, holding her child. The traditional role of women has been the guarding of children. That doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t work — far from it. It doesn’t mean that female value lies only in guarding kids — of course not. But a vision of societal femininity that doesn’t include guarding the innocence of children isn’t a vision of femininity at all. All of humanity relies on motherhood, and the mother’s role doesn’t end at birth.
Yet the social Left has targeted even this innocuous standard, too. Women have been told that abortion is mark of virtue. They’ve been told that a career is inherently more important than child-rearing. They’ve been informed that children can take care of themselves, that self-fulfillment should take priority over care for children. Stay-at-home moms have been scoffed at; women who believe in the sanctity of the unborn have been castigated as sell-outs.
But when disaster strikes, women are there.
Finally, the sleeping child. The role of the child in society isn’t that of decision-maker, as Senator Kamala Harris seemed to suggest this week; children should be able to sleep through crises. The adults are in charge.
Yet even this simple notion has been tossed aside by the social Left, which insists that children are sophisticated enough to decide their own sex, their own standards of education, and their own standards of morality.
But when disaster strikes, men and women will protect children.
Many Americans have spent decades at war with manhood, womanhood, and childhood. We’ve tried to demean the glorious diversity of sex and age into the box of perfect sameness, and we’ve failed. When horror strikes, however, those differences rise to the surface once again — and if we’re lucky, we’re reminded why a society that cherishes those differences survives.