• SumoMe

William Bennett worries about men as the butt of jokes.

We recently covered William Bennett’s thoughts on modern manliness, and although I didn’t agree with a lot of what he said, I still consider it one of the more insightful articles on manliness in the mainstream media. Bennett recently wrote a similar article, also equally interesting, about men as the butt of jokes in modern advertising:

If popular culture is any indicator, manliness is on our minds. Six new TV shows this fall focus on man’s role in society and the family, according to the Wall Street Journal. Three are appropriately titled, “Last Man Standing,” “How To Be A Gentleman,” and “Man Up!” Something is going on here.

“In all these shows, men have become the butt of the jokes. From weakness to irresponsibility to immaturity, the modern idea of manhood is in doubt. A shift in cultural norms, a changing workforce and the rise of women have left many men in an identity crisis. It makes for good comedy, but bad families.

Although men remain at the top of the heap in terms of compensation and job status, particularly in fields like science, business, and politics, things are changing. This year there will be more women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies than ever before. And for the first time, American women now gain more advanced college degrees, as well as bachelor’s degrees, than American men.

Like I mentioned last time, this “shift in cultural norms” might not indicate a deficiency in men, but growing equality between the genders. While this is an important point of consideration, something is definitely wrong with the modern man. I agree that the three shows mentioned (and covered on this website) might make for good comedy, but bad men (rather than families). I emphasize that difference because a family is more than a man, and he overstates the influence of a television show. I’ve never heard of a television show making bad families… let’s get real here.

Most feminists are not celebrating the decline of men and shouting it from the rooftops. Certainly, the far-left feminist movement has sought to diminish the role of men, but a majority of women want able, competent men of their equal. Strong men make stronger women (and vice versa) and stronger families, and women want that. Many men today aren’t sure what they want.

“Certainly?” I’m not so certain that it’s “certainly.” The “far-left feminist movement” has not sought to diminish the role of men, but rather to fight for the rights of women. Contrary to how Bennett views the world, I don’t think that life is a battle for power between the genders. Feminism seeks to rectify the many many years that women were oppressed, ignored, and degraded. If gaining equality is the “decline of man,” then consider me on board. I don’t subscribe to this view, nor do I think any other man should. Men, while showing concern for the rights of others, should mainly focus on their own shortcomings–excessive video gaming, loss of chivalry, disregard of education, and general apathy–rather than focus on which gender is “in the lead.”

In developed Western countries, man has unprecedented freedom to chose, to a degree heretofore unknown, a life of his own wanting and design. A mere hundred years ago, man couldn’t afford to dawdle in limbo between adolescence and manhood; manhood was thrust upon him for survival. Today, more opportunity lies at his feet than ever. Yet with this increased opportunity comes increased confusion, and the response on the part of some men has not been encouraging.

This is why I cover Bennett’s articles. This is one of Bennett’s poignant points mixed in with his general fear of women taking over the world. Read this point again–“manhood was thrust upon him for survival.” This is an interesting way of viewing manhood in general–some duty or obligation created for someone. I generally view manhood as a method of living, a journey, rather than Bennett’s destination–“you are now a man.” Nevertheless, his observation that increased opportunity creates increased confusion is also interesting. This is really something I’ve heard from a lot of men struggling to find their way: “There’s just so much out there to do.” Choosing which path to take is the modern day hurdle for many men, and this is a strange pseudo-problem because it leads men to refrain from choosing, for fear that some choice is the incorrect one. The key to fixing this problem is recognizing when you’ve made an unwise choice, and then learning from that decision. Easier said than done; more on this later.

Take the Occupy Wall Street movement, for instance. While diverse and scattered, some of the mottos and slogans on display are in stark contrast to the traditional and time-tested ideas of manliness. Instead of industriousness, responsibility and entrepreneurship, these men demand free college education, required living wages and greater distribution of someone else’s wealth. Rather than look inward and rely on their own self-sufficiency, they look for a handout. A man’s livelihood once depended on his hands, back and brain. Today, the government can do all that for him, if he lets it.

And banks being “too big to fail” promotes “industriousness, responsibility and entrepreneurship?” This is not the time for a political debate, and I recognize that Bennett is a political commentator, so I will move on.

Boys become men through mimesis — the Greek word for imitation. Boys look to role models, from parents to coaches to teachers to fictional characters, for actions they should imitate. The forces of imitation can be either constructive or destructive, making it essential that boys imitate the right kind of men. My brother and I were raised by a single mother, but she went through any pains necessary to put good men in our lives — good priests, teachers and coaches.

As a child, I had many heroes. I was drawn to Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane in “High Noon.” He wasn’t the toughest and coolest guy, but his compassion and strength were inspiring. Through the instruction of my family and teachers I was exposed to other heroes and heroines, like Lou Gehrig, Abraham Lincoln, King David, Esther, Mother Courage, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and so on. Today, heroes like these are in shorter supply.

Ask a boy today who his hero or heroine is. The answer, or lack thereof, will speak volumes. We must teach our boys what is to be loved and imitated. As the writer Tom Wolfe said, we must engage in a great relearning. It is our generation’s task to instruct and train our boys to be men. As Proverbs says, train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Bennett closes strong. These are all salient points that the reader should take from this article. Imitation is very much alive and well in younger boys, which is why we are concerned about how men are portrayed in popular media in the first place. This is also why having a good father figure can often keep our youth away from gangs and street crime. We owe it to future generations to instill values of being well-rounded, educated, honorable and brave men. Far too many men shirk this role in life, and perhaps this is why Bennett is so concerned in the first place. Whatever the cause, the problem is clear, and the solution is voluminous. These discussions into the problems of modern men are important starting points for the larger dialogue in society.