In Part 2, I discussed how a crisis in American manhood, sparked by the loss of jobs and opportunity, is leading not just to hopelessness, addiction, and suicide for men, but also in misogyny, xenophobia, and a vicious Presidential campaign. Where do we go from here?
Having a society full of hopeless and jobless men is a ticking time bomb. Angry men with no prospects are ripe for radicalization, whether it is in the form of religious extremism gaining a foothold among unemployed immigrants or homegrown militia movements. Unemployed men are a big cause of divorce and revolution. And unless we find something to do with them, we’re in trouble.
One idea is to do away with the concept of manhood altogether. It’s radical for sure, but manhood was a far more useful status when we needed more people to do hard things. Generations of men (and women) holding their own, supplying and defending their communities, have brought us to a place where a lot of the hard work is already done. Now we live in a land of easy food and desk jobs, and women can do a lot of these jobs just as well as men. Gender roles and relationships are not usually as rigid in societies where there is great prosperity and resources are easy to get, and we live in one of the most prosperous and profligate societies the planet has ever seen. Our culture of individuality is not as collective as we used to be, and it is more acceptable now to take the inclinations and innate talents of each individual into account when deciding how to contribute to society.
Assuming we don’t share those resources equitably, though, there will certainly be roles for people who are willing to do the hard things, just as there are roles for people who know how to raise children or provision and care for a home. A jobless society may provide no opportunities for men, but an incomeless society is just the kind of hard times where manhood excels, even the opportunities open to men have titles like “mercenary.”
However, we have to make sure that Good Manhood doesn’t toggle over into Toxic Masculinity. There’s an important yet subtle difference between starting a family and reproductive coercion; a difference between keeping one’s community safe and being violent for the sake of violence. Just like we lose something when manhood is in crisis, we also lose when manhood metastasizes into something ugly that terrorizes the people who should be treated with dignity and respect. Real strength doesn’t lie in forcing women into sex or scaring boys into abandoning emotional lives in order to “be a man!” It lies in supporting the strength and self-determination of others. It lies in knowing that even though rights come with responsibilities, sometimes there is no prize, even when we’re the best people we can be.
The Mask You Live In (Trailer) by The Representation Project
This is, I believe, where parts of Red and Blue America can come together and agree about manhood. We may express our thoughts and dreams in different languages, but there must continue to be roles for good men to fill in ways that benefit their societies. Whether a man is strong for his family because he is called to emulate the love of Jesus, or he’s is protective because he views himself as a feminist using his privilege to make the world safer for the women and children he cherishes, we must find common ground. Else, we risk learning just how expendable men are just at the time when we need all hands on deck doing the important and hard work of changing the world for the better when nobody else is going to do it for us.
Men have been action heroes for so long that the loss of that role when women take the lead can feel like oppression. It must be really tempting to follow a charismatic leader that promises to make all the problems go away. In the end, though, there will always be problems to solve, and what we need are solid roles and role models, bringing out the best in both men and women, together. Our kids are watching us. What are we teaching them?
How movies teach manhood, a TED talk by Colin Stokes