Magazine | March 11, 2019, Issue

The Devolution of Man

Gillette’s commercial on “toxic masculinity” (Gillette via YouTube)

You too may have noticed an uptick in the number of ads celebrating “girl power” during this year’s Super Bowl. To judge from my television, the idea entails women’s engaging in traditionally male-dominated activities such as beating the hell out of thugs in movies or tossing around a football in commercials. Because, as everyone in the real world knows, the average female is keenly interested in violent contact sports.

Though I know it’s politically incorrect to say so, I find the trend of celebrating girls who engage in boyish activities — which often feels more like proselytizing — highly irritating. Not because some girls can’t, or don’t, participate in male-dominated activities. But rather because, outside the imaginary world of woke television, few have any desire to.

Don’t get me wrong, as a father of daughters, I too believe women can accomplish nearly anything they put their brilliant and creative minds to — except, perhaps, playing left tackle for the New York Giants. My conception of an accomplished woman is of someone strong and smart yet still wholly feminine. I embrace what the kids like to call binary notions of gender identity that are tied to biology. And I’m starting to think this reactionary position might just be a manifestation of an ingrained sexism that I am powerless to defeat.

So say the experts at the American Psychological Associa­tion, which newly defines “traditional masculinity” as a pathological state. “For some men,” the association explains, “sexism may become deeply engrained in their construction of masculinity.” Many hours of internalizing toughness by watching Liam Neeson seek vengeance or playing Call of Duty on the Xbox have aggravated this preexisting condition, no doubt.

It’s not just the average Joe, mind you. The APA guidelines, in fact, are designed to help male clinicians who unknowingly suffer from this compulsion properly treat the disorder in other men. If doctors can be fooled, what chance does your weak mind have?

Fortunately, cultural betters are here to correct these testosterone-fueled misconceptions. If anyone has the moral currency to mend the wretched state of gender in America, it’s Hollywood, the National Football League, and the ad department of a $100 billion conglomerate.

Procter & Gamble recently took to the commercial pulpit — through its shaving-products concern, Gillette — and challenged men to “be better.” Gillette claims that it was merely attempting to spark some much-needed conversation regarding masculinity. And here I was anticipating a conversation about adding a ninth razor to my space-age shaving device. How jejune.

Even troglodytes such as I can admit there’s nothing wrong with Gillette’s superficial message. Yes, we should all strive to be better. Masculinity shouldn’t inhibit our compassion or crowd out our sensitivity. Boys should never stuff their fellow students into lockers or act like brutes around girls. Bullies are the worst.

No, the problem with Gillette’s ad, and much of the hectoring over “toxic masculinity,” is that it intimates that men should be rethinking conceptions of manhood that few of them ever actually held, much less acted on, in the first place. Why should men share in collective guilt assigned according to a standard they have not collectively violated?

Another problem with condemnations of traditional masculinity is that they often demand that men abandon perfectly positive characteristics of their sex.

When Oscar-nominated actor Jonah Hill recently complained to Variety magazine about traditional masculinity’s inducing men “not to show emotion, not to show sensitivity, not to show vulnerability, because it’s ‘feminine’ or, God forbid, ‘gay’ to do so,” he was speaking an all too familiar language. Emotion and vulnerability, in and of themselves, aren’t unmasculine. Constantly giving in to all your emotions and constantly acting vulnerable, on the other hand, are unattractive to most females and unnatural for most men because they would mean abandoning evolutionary destiny. This is science! Crying every time someone throws an insult your way doesn’t comport with this purpose.

Aggression, competitiveness, risk-taking, and other instincts that men have relied on to function in society and protect others are born from hundreds of thousands of years of necessity. The physiological and psychological disposition of man balances that of woman in numerous ways. We may evolve in a different direction in the future, but you can’t alter human nature through nagging.

Gillette implored us to start “taking a hard look at our past” and also begin “reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate.” Who represents this heroic man, anyway? In the not-so-distant past, archetypal champions of American manhood were cops, firefighters, astronauts, actors, athletes, members of the armed forces, and great writers or musicians. Champions of justice, defenders of order, and accomplished artists.

Today? Well, put it this way: Nike recently broke from its tradition of highlighting successful athletes to celebrate former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the first player to kneel during the national anthem. I’m old-fashioned and readily admit that I don’t care for Castro-defending leftists who disrespect the flag — even if they claim it’s to highlight social injustice. “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” reads the ad. For Kaepernick, “sacrificing everything” meant being praised widely and making approximately $40 million on his deal. So I guess in some ways I should be impressed.

Of course, it’s not Kaepernick’s fault that our culture is transforming virtue signalers into heroes. These are the same forces, after all, that pummel us with insufferable harangues about appropriate gender roles. Men are acting too masculine while women aren’t acting masculine enough, it seems, and the nation is in the midst of a crisis. So perhaps it’s my pathological masculinity speaking, but it’s all become quite insufferable.

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David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today

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