A month ago, I shared Andrew Sullivan’s take on this Peggy Orenstein article, The Miseducation of the American Boy. Subtitle “Why boys crack up at rape jokes, think having a girlfriend is “gay,” and still can’t cry—and why we need to give them new and better models of masculinity.” As if that’s the sum total of all things male.
What’s tricky about this is that I agree with almost everything Orenstein writes:
Young women believed there were many ways to be a girl—they could shine in math, sports, music, leadership (the big caveat being that they still felt valued primarily for their appearance)—young men described just one narrow route to successful masculinity.* One-third said they felt compelled to suppress their feelings, to “suck it up” or “be a man” when they were sad or scared, and more than 40 percent said that when they were angry, society expected them to be combative.
“Those who rigidly adhere to certain masculine norms are not only more likely to harass and bully others but to themselves be victims of verbal or physical violence. They’re more prone to binge-drinking, risky sexual behavior, and getting in car accidents. They are also less happy than other guys, with higher depression rates and fewer friends in whom they can confide.”
Indeed. Anything taken to the extreme is unhealthy. There’s a reason people say, “everything in moderation.” What Orenstein is discounting, in my opinion, are two things:
This demonization of all things masculine is unfair and unhealthy.
- She’s surveying teenage boys. Some of those boys will turn out to be the emotionally shut-down, bro-culture men of the future. But many, if not most, will grow up. None of the men I know call women bitches, brag about infidelity or think bullying is cool. I recognize that I live in an educated upper-middle-class bubble, but this bubble gives me hope that men are not getting worse but, rather, better than our fathers and our grandfathers.
- Men are different than women and, as Sullivan said, cannot be expected to think or act exactly like women do. This demonization of all things masculine is unfair and unhealthy. A close friend who is fluent in the archetypes of masculine and feminine shared with me these definitions of traditional masculinity/femininity:
Feminine: capacity for pleasure, create beautiful environments, activate all senses, candid, feel pain, hold steady, care for, relate, empathize, receives, intuits, requests, feels and expresses gratitude.
These are wonderful qualities that women tend to have in greater amounts than men and they are the primary reasons that men seek companionship from women. Men get something else out of being with men – and that is the POSITIVE part of masculinity that Orenstein doesn’t acknowledge, some of which is included in these archetypes:
Masculine: pragmatism, practicality, straight-forward, fierce, analytical, plan, protect, rescue, provide, take action, strength.
Remember, this doesn’t mean that women don’t have these qualities, any more than it means that no man can feel pleasure, relate or empathize. It just means that when I talk to my guy friends, it’s a different vibe than talking to my wife. Guys talk business, politics, sports, and yes, when I’m involved, relationships as well. Are these men all as sensitive, empathetic and patient as their wives? No. Do they provide a different element that is equally valuable in the world? Yes. My friends are hardworking, straight-shooting, shit-talking, funny, direct husbands and fathers. Together, with their wives, they provide a balanced worldview and a healthy paradigm for their children to emulate.
So, could men stand to embrace aspects of feminine energy: to be, in general, kinder, gentler, and more understanding? Hell, yes!
But you can just as easily say that women could stand to be a little less sensitive to perceived slights and communicate their needs more directly to their male partners. In other words, be more masculine. And you wouldn’t be wrong. Thus, there isn’t a crisis. There is just a spectrum of masculine and feminine behavior and certain extremes who give a bad name to masculinity.
Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.