Since I began writing about masculinity roughly 15 years ago,  it now appears that the “gender wars” are really heating up.  As a “gray-haired” male, I have lived through the evolution of the gender discussion and have a kind of rearview mirror perspective.  It seems we are coming into some kind of “cultural clearing” where observers on both sides of the gender battles are calling for resolution, for the future of our divided nation.  

Recently, I was fascinated by an article in UnHerd written by Matthew Crawford.  It was entitled, “The sexual holy war is coming for you.”   I was struck by phrases like “smothering self consciousness,” “the feeling of suffocation,” “the minor civil servants of moral orthopaedics,” “the feminine mode of competition,” and “the therapeutic para-state.”  They all strike a chord with my own male perspective, which at times seems to be rather countercultural.   

Crawford is asking “what it means to be a man.”  At the end, Crawford states that “being a responsible man today would seem to involve a tricky double task: to be respectful and protective of women in private, and to confidently disregard women’s tears in public.  This would be made easier if women – the silent majority of them who probably value self-reliance – did likewise, forming an alliance with men against a metastasizing force of moral orthopedics that diminishes us all.” 

So what is Crawford espousing that grabbed me, possibly opening me up to criticism and misunderstanding in even attempting to write this blog?  Crawford sees the school system as a expansion of pedagogical authority, with “the dead hand of the educator reaching deep into childhood, redesigning life as a ‘learning experience.'” It means that “unsupervised domains of life [are now] subject to systematic study and control.”  Nothing is taken for granted since “the colonization of the life-world [is] organized, leaving little room for vitality. An administered life can lead to the feeling of suffocation, especially among boys.”  (I praise God for all the unsupervised time I had growing up as a young boy .)

Crawford sees this moral-therapeutic supervision as leading to a “hyper-vigilant concern for emasculation resulting in the smothering of the human spirit.”  Since the therapeutic para-state is staffed disproportionately be women, Crawford notes, “You may not be interested in a sexual holy war, but the sexual holy war is interested in you.”  The feminine perspective brings a different kind of conflict.  “…In this dynamic, a ‘hurt’ may be attributed, a victim identified, as an act of aggression against the putative offender.”  A feminine mode of competition results in conflict where, as Richard Hanaia notes, “Women’s tears win in the marketplace of ideas.” We are all in a position of victims.  We employ the rhetoric of rights to show the sense of violation.  

Our culture produces men who are fragile. How does a man become mature, responsible and courageous in our today? Moving from childhood into adulthood means a departure from the safety of parental protection and affirmation. How does a man face hard reality without feeling like the victim?  A man should not feel like a “fragile being afloat in a field of incipient traumas.”  What does it mean to be a man? 

For my part, I have struggled mightily!  Here are some tips:  1) Be a soulful man – get in touch with your wounded male soul;  2) Work hard at integrating your head and heart; 3) Learn to tell your story – the good, bad and the ugly to another man;  4) Learn to be tough and tender both in public and in private. 

I personally believe the day of the “tough and tender” man is coming – and he will carry a “velvet covered brick.”