Culture

Can We Be Honest About Men?

Sen. Al Franken departs the Capitol with wife Franni after announcing his resignation, December 7, 2017. (Yuri Gipas/Reuters)
It’s time to recognize and respond to human nature.

When will it end?

Yesterday, Al Franken resigned. Trent Franks resigned. This week, John Conyers resigned. Nevada Democrat Ruben Kihuen and Texas Republican Blake Farenthold cling to their jobs. Roy Moore soldiers on, campaigning through multiple, credible claims of sexual misconduct, and Donald Trump sits in the White House, persevering as Bill Clinton did — in the face of his own multiple accusers. Meanwhile rumors roiled Twitter that more congressmen would be outed soon — perhaps 20 or more.

The list of journalists and Hollywood titans facing their own sex scandals has grown so long that it’s literally impossible to remember them all. Fox, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, CBS, NBC, and the New York Times have fired or suspended employees ranging from the highest-profile talent to behind-the-scenes managers and producers. Hollywood misconduct has been especially gross, with credible claims of vicious rapes and even outright pedophilia.

Again, when will it end?

The obvious answer is never. At least not until we stare human nature in the face, confront it squarely, and call men to live according to a higher and better purpose. We could endure the zombie apocalypse, and the world would be full of local warlords using their power and status to exploit women.

Here’s a simple reality — large numbers of men enter high-status professions (such as entertainment and politics) in part or even primarily to gain access to beautiful women. Large numbers of men achieve wealth in part or even primarily to gain access to beautiful women. Large numbers of men who enter high-status professions or gain wealth for good and virtuous reasons soon become corrupted by access to beautiful women. As we’ve learned, some men even become so-called “male feminists” primarily to gain the trust of beautiful women.

Object all you want, but it’s true. Indeed, for men, having a beautiful woman on your arm is often seen as the ultimate marker of status. Become successful enough — no matter your looks or social awkwardness or painful dating history — and a beautiful woman is your reward. A beautiful woman is better than a Ferrari. In fact, men buy the Ferrari often to get the beautiful woman.

And make no mistake, power and wealth create opportunity. Henry Kissinger, an unattractive toad of a man, once observed that “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” Ask star athletes or celebrities about their opportunities. It’s an eternal reality. If you could talk to kings, princes, and artists in ages past, they’d tell you the same thing. Fame, power, and wealth are by themselves attractive.

Of course, opportunity doesn’t always turn into abuse (there are powerful “playboys” who don’t resort to harassment or assault), but the very impulse to treat women as the object of ambition breaks through moral walls that make exploitation more possible, more tempting. It’s a short road from opportunity to entitlement, and it’s an even shorter path from a sense of entitlement to outright abuse. Inject enormous power disparities into the mix, and the man can become accustomed to steamrolling his way to gratification.

Sexual temptation is so powerful and omnipresent that no human society will ever be free of sexual scandal, but there are moral systems that — if applied — can mitigate original sin. And when it comes to raising boys to become men, that means a specific, intentional effort to understand their unique nature and specific needs.

While not all men are the same (nor are all women the same), in general it’s a simple fact that most boys have a greater sex drive, more physical strength, and more aggression than most girls. These aren’t flaws. They’re characteristics that can be shaped by parents, churches, and civic institutions to virtuous ends. Original sin and human depravity exert constant opposing pressure — poking and prodding and pushing people to indulge, to take what they want, when they want.

It’s too simple to say that the battle is between restraint and gratification, because — in that case — gratification would win every time. No, the goal of the church and the parent is to raise a boy to live with a virtuous purpose, to use his God-given characteristics to advance that purpose, and to understand that he will always be held accountable to that purpose — even behind closed doors, when he lives only before the Audience of One.

A sex drive channeled into a sacred, lifelong marriage bonds husband and wife together and creates and builds families. Physical strength means that a man can be a protector in the way that many women cannot — and not just from the rare physical threat of another man. In times of crisis, what do we so often see? Men disproportionately emerging to do the hard physical labor of rescue and rebuilding. In times of ordinary physical need — whether it’s repairs or relocation — again, it’s disproportionately men who do the work. In a very real way, a good man can be a shelter from the storm.

Given the reality of male human nature, I can think of few cultural messages more destructive than the sexual-revolution ethics that urge indulgence.

And what of aggression? Channeled into that higher purpose it can be the foundation for the ambition that builds careers or creates the tolerance for risk that empowers entrepreneurs or lays the foundation for the courage of soldiers and sailors.

Given the reality of male human nature, I can think of few cultural messages more destructive — more enabling for sexual predators — than the sexual-revolution ethics that urge indulgence, that often describe sexual relationships as the object of human interaction. It’s as if the sexual revolutionary looks at original sin and says, “Yes please.”

I know the sexual revolutionary objects to my critique. He rightly says that he doesn’t believe that “anything goes.” He erects moral walls against exploitation — the most prominent is consent. But if men fail (and they too often do) when the moral codes are more strict and the call to live a higher purpose is more pronounced, why do sexual revolutionaries believe men will fail less when the moral codes diminish and sexual freedom is considered part of their life’s purpose? Do they not see the linkage between handing out condoms by the armload — and celebrating “sex weeks” in college — and the number of women who feel used, abused, and exploited?

Much of the modern moral struggle is the war between entitlement and obligation. Raise a boy to live for himself, with a sense of entitlement, and he will often unleash that enormous inborn energy in the most destructive of ways. Raise a boy to live for others, with a sense of obligation, and that same energy can build a nation and sustain a culture. We can’t make a perfect world, but we do have a choice. Better or worse? It’s time to recognize and respond to human nature, or — despite the best of intentions — we will continue to choose to be worse.

READ MORE:

Men, Stop Virtue-Signaling and Return to Rules

In the Age of Sexual Misconduct, How Is Mike Pence a Problem?

Beware of Running with the Al Franken Story — Consider Where that Leads

— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.

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