• SumoMe

William J. Bennett, the former Republican secretary of education says, "It's time to bring back men." Photo: ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

While I disagree with most of William Bennett’s political views, it is important for any well-rounded man (or person in general) to have the ability to take a level-headed approach when evaluating statements.

Mr. Bennett was the Secretary of Education under George H. W. Bush, and he recently wrote an article about manliness. Some parts I utterly disagreed with, and some parts I found very provocative. Below are some particularly interesting excerpts:

Today, for the first time in history, women are better educated, more ambitious, and arguably more successful than men. Society has rightly celebrated the ascension of women. We said, “You go, girl” and they went. We praise the rise of women but what will we do about what appears to be the very real decline of men?

The data shows that there is trouble with men today. In 1970, men earned 60% of all college degrees. In 1980, the figure fell to 50%, by 2006 it was 43%. Women now surpass men in college degrees by almost three to two. Women’s earnings grew 44% from 1970 to 2007, compared with 6% growth for men. In 1950, five percent of men at the prime working age were unemployed. Today twenty percent are not working, the highest ever recorded.

These are very interesting numbers, and I wish I knew where to find the studies that he cites so that I can read the full version. Education is important, and as a law student I notice that far many more women succeed than men. That said, I have a hard time agreeing with some of the conclusions drawn from laying these numbers out.

First of all, there should never be a competition between genders to be “better” than the other. The fact that women are succeeding in more instances than men does not mean that men are any less than women. In fact, I propose that the very reason women are succeeding more in society is their growing rights over the past 100 years. As society has come to recognize women as people with an equal ability to contribute to society (rather than simply serve as birthing and cooking machines), the scales of success are naturally equalizing. Yes, women have come a lot further than men in recent history, but that’s only because they had further to come, given the long history of male-dominated society.

Secondly, Bennett proposes a few social reasons for this trend, namely that fewer men attend church and more children are born out of wedlock. I submit that these findings have a correlative rather than causative relationship. I see no reason why attending church would create more college graduates or solve male unemployment, nor do I see a reason for the opposite, why abstaining from church would create the problems. The two are mutually-exclusive trends, and Bennett fails to prove how one causes the other, but merely asserts it as true.

So what’s the problem? Increasingly, the messages to boys about what it means to be a man are confusing. They mistake the machismo of the street gangs for courage. They fill the vacancy left by missing fathers with video games, television, and music. Gay culture, with its flamboyant display, often challenges traditional masculinity. Hollywood films glorify male characters who refuse to grow up. Too many men today treat women like toys, easily discarded when things get complicated. Through all these different and conflicting signals, our boys must decipher what it means to be a man, and for many of them it is harder to figure out.

Whoa, pump the brakes a little bit on this one. The first few sentences are spot on; what “being a man” means is becoming increasingly confusing, this is surely true. Additionally, many males fill the void of missing fathers with gangs and media which serve as sources of how a man should behave.

However, I wholeheartedly agree that gay culture challenges traditional masculinity. The fundamental assumption underlying this statement is that “traditional masculinity” means doing “everything that isn’t gay.” This not only greatly stereotypes the very concept of manliness that Bennett claims to want to uphold, but it greatly stereotypes gay culture by calling it a “flamboyant display.” This is hardly the open-mindedness that I’d like to see come along for the ride in this restoration of manliness. If gay men aren’t allowed on our mutual quest to restore gentlemanly values, leave me behind.

After that dreadful sentence, Bennett continues to make some pretty solid points. I’d agree that men treat women like toys to be discarded. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that most men treat their lives as toys, considering the vast amount of time and money most young males spend on video games.

It may be time to say to a number of our young men, “Get off the video games five hours a day, pull yourself together, get a challenging job, and get married.” It’s time to bring back men.

Take Bennett’s article and my thoughts on it with a grain of salt. Everyone has their own notions of manliness, mine falling in a younger and perhaps more progressive school, and Bennett’s falling in a more old-fashioned 1950s school. Where do you fall?