Masculinity, Where Art Thou?

Is too much masculinity a bad thing? If it was possible to be too manly, is that somehow dangerous? I’m of the opinion that the answer to both of these questions is no, and that it’s actually a lack of masculinity that causes the problems most attributed to “toxic masculinity.”

Bonobos, a men’s fashion retailer, recently launched the ad campaign #EvolveTheDefinition, where the company seeks to change what it means to be a man. Now, as a free market capitalist I must admit this is a great way to expand the male wardrobe — allowing themselves to increase their collection as well as their profits. And kudos to them for their innovation. But the underlying idea that men must change who they naturally are (according to Bonobos the current definition is “narrow”) is asking society to move away from nature entirely, not evolve with it.

It’s no secret that the feminist movement in Western societies has become prominent in recent years. With such a vehement dislike of the current U.S. president and movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp coming to the forefront of the body politic, feminism has an energy matching the levels of the women’s suffrage movement. But with this rise in feminism come criticisms — one of which claims that feminism doesn’t want equality with men as much as superiority over them, both in pay and in power. Another criticism says modern feminism is worse for women, leaving them depressed, working in careers they don’t care for while refusing to raise families. These arguments go back and forth and I won’t discuss them now. What I want to talk about is whether or not this rise in feminism, along with other factors, has deteriorated masculinity in America.

It wasn’t long ago when Man of Steel actor Henry Cavill said the following in an interview with GQ Australia:

There’s something wonderful about a man chasing a woman … I think a woman should be wooed and chased, but maybe I’m old-fashioned for thinking that.

Cavill was immediately convinced by scores on the internet that this statement was taboo and made a public apology. Apparently the idea of the “chase” is misogynistic and repulsive. So what’s that mean for a man who desires a woman? What does that mean for masculinity? And further, are love and romance dead? The only reasonable alternative to traditional courtship is a mutual agreement before even meeting a potential partner. Perhaps that’s why hookup apps like Tinder are so popular — they eliminate the need to actually meet and court a partner. This begs two questions: have apps like Tinder changed the dynamic between man and woman? And is this change welcome?

Cavill’s “old fashioned” men are at a disadvantage when it comes to finding a partner, whether to simply have sex or to get married. They must change what it means to be masculine in order to find a woman — no more approaching an attractive woman for an introduction, no more flattery and charm in a face-to-face setting, no more courage, because getting rejected now doesn’t even require telling you you’re not their type. They just swipe left. To think that the “old fashioned” way of meeting women is a thing of the past as opposed to being a chivalrous way of doing things is, well, rather unfortunate. What happens when the phone battery hits zero percent or the internet connection is lost?

With this new innovative way of engaging in relationships comes a lack of social development, a deficiency in masculinity. Men that become too dependent on the internet for connection forget how to act when a flesh-and-bone woman enters their midst. And it’s not only mobile applications that contribute to this downfall in the masculine appetite. Another culprit is the porn industry.

Pornography is so readily available that even Tinder can’t match it. It eliminates the need to meet women at all. But what’s most disturbing is how much it deteriorates the male psyche. There’s a fascinating TEDx video by Gary Wilson on the subject of pornography. Wilson’s research leads him to the conclusion that the novelty of pornographic images — that is, an infinite variety of women and sexual proclivities — releases dopamine much faster than if that man were to be with the same woman again and again. To me, this means that men who watch (and masturbate to) pornography — which is vastly different, in general, from actual sex — are subjecting themselves to fantasies so far from reality that real sex just doesn’t measure up.

What this comes down to is that men don’t need a woman to get themselves off. All they need is an internet connection and some privacy. But this also removes the need for masculinity. Men don’t need to talk to women thanks to Tinder and other dating apps (Tinder is the most popular which is why I keep bringing it up), and pornography removes the need to meet women at all. Masculinity isn’t needed in this new world of online dating and pornography ad infinitum, and it’s detrimental to men and society at large.

Viagra and other erectile dysfunction (ED) pills were once marketed to men in their 60s and 70s — men who were at an age where they needed a boost in libido. But now ED isn’t just a problem for elderly men. Two companies that I see ads for on the subways all over Manhattan are Hims and Roman — both offering a boost in libido as well as thicker hair among other manly (masculine) things. These companies aren’t marketing to men in their golden years though. The men in these ads aren’t a day past their 35th birthday. Is there a connection between the rise in virtual relationships — whether they be dating apps or pornography — and a fall in the male libido, or rather, in masculinity? It’s entirely possible that the answer is yes.

Now let’s talk about fatherhood. The father and son relationship isn’t something we see glorified on television or in movies very much. The father is portrayed as an idiot on programs like The Simpsons and Family Guy. It’s the same in commercials that show men as incapable dimwits, unable to fix a hole in the ceiling or even drive safely. Dads aren’t revered in entertainment like they were in the days of Steve Douglas, Ward Cleaver, or, my personal favorite, Philip Banks. It also doesn’t help that children are growing up without fathers.

According to data from the United States Census Bureau, as of 2016, 20 million children under the age of 18 live in a house with no father. Now, a majority of children (about 60%) have two parents in the home, but this number is down from 81% in 1970. To break this down even further, 57% of black children, 31% of Hispanic children, and 20% of white children live without their biological fathers. A poll taken by the National Center for Fathering in 1999 (old I know, but fatherless families have only increased since then) found that according to 72% of the US population, “fatherlessness is the most significant family or social problem facing America.”

Young men without a father in the household have no guidance on the true nature of masculinity. In other words, boys aren’t learning what it means to be men, i.e., strong, protective, responsible, ambitious, and respectful of the opposite sex, among other countless, positive attributes.

We must recognize that the problem with masculinity isn’t that there’s too much of it, or that it’s “toxic,” but that there’s a total lack of it. Before we do, there can’t or won’t be any real progress. Real progress meaning healthy relationships, less depression, less prescription medicine instead of parental guidance, and more unity as a national community. Social programs like welfare incentivize single motherhood by eliminating the need for a provider. And modern feminism plays a part, whether we’d like to admit it or not, in rendering the role of the male obsolete. But no matter how “equal” men and women become, and no matter how many social programs offer free food, housing and education, the absence of men, the absence of fathers, the absence of true masculinity, is the most significant problem facing Western civilization.

Image credit: Wiki Commons

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