Playing the man card—without apology

August 13, 2013
My favorite character on my favorite TV show, Parks & Recreation: Ron Swanson. He's famous for knowing how to be a man.

My favorite character on my favorite TV show, Parks & Recreation: Ron Swanson. He’s famous for knowing how to be a man.

Is it just me, or do you sense that our culture is experiencing a crisis related manhood right now? The fact that I can’t, for example, write the word “manhood” without feeling an impulse to change it to “personhood” is perhaps a symptom of the crisis.

I’ve seen many recent stories in the media related to topics such as the following: Women outnumbering men in college. Young, professional women who struggle to find “date-able” professional men. Young men in their twenties and thirties who refuse to grow up. Married women who increasingly support deadbeat husbands who stay home and play Xbox.

Is this really happening? Are many men failing at being men? Is the very question hopelessly sexist because, after all, there are no meaningful differences between the sexes?

A couple of (male) theologians I admire believe that the crisis is real. Writing on the other side of the Atlantic, in his For Everyone commentary on Ephesians 5, for instance, the Rt Revd N.T. Wright writes the following:

Today, in the supposedly civilized and sophisticated countries of the world, there is growing up a whole generation of young men who feel themselves discriminated against simply for being male. They have energy and drive—often turning into aggression and violence—with nobody to help them direct or channel it. Often they grow up in broken homes where their natural father has gone for good and a succession of other men come and go. Few, if any, care much for them. Still less do they provide appropriate role models.

The teachers at the schools they are supposed to attend—though they often play truant—are mostly female. Often the message they pick up is: it would be much better to be like girls, to think and feel like girls. Girls are better. Boys—and men—are part of the problem in the world. Only by radical change can they be part of the solution.[†]

On this side of the Atlantic, Roger Olson has written similarly:

It seems to me that the root cause of the present male malaise is resentment arising from the perception that males are viewed by society as, at their core, inferior to females. One education expert noted (in Newsweek’s “The Boy Crisis” cover story (January 30, 2006) that in today’s public schools boys tend to be treated as “defective girls.” Boys and young men cannot help but pick up the not-very-subtle messages in the media that boys and men are fundamentally flawed. Many young men were raised solely by women with no male role models other than sports celebrities or rock stars. Most companies give women six weeks to six months off for maternity leave; most give fathers no time off when their child is born. There’s a whole complex of problems that are almost too subtle for most people to notice, but they go deep into social psychology. The feminist movement has done wonderful things for women, but it has had the (mostly) unintended consequence of making young men feel insecure about themselves. The result goes two directions—either toward acting out in anti-social ways or toward retreat from the pursuit of prestige and power into game playing.

My recent interest in the subject was piqued by a website I stumbled upon while searching for decent low-priced men’s hair products—which itself was inspired by my envy for men’s hair-grooming on both Mad Men and Downton Abbey. The website is called The Art of Manliness, written and maintained by a married couple, Brett and Kate McKay.

I feel as if I’ve been waiting all my life for this website! It purports to teach us men things that, well, we just ought to know but probably don’t—practical things that, in an ideal world, fathers teach their sons. For instance, I don’t know how to tie a bow tie. I’ve never worn won. But when or if I need to learn, the Art of Manliness tells me how. Or how about the means of whistling loudly by blowing into your fingers—the way Dad could always do when he needed to get our attention from a distance? Yep, it’s right here.

It talks about deeper issues, too, even spiritual ones—like, how to be a man of integrity. How many of us men wouldn’t benefit from reading this article?

Is there a crisis of manhood? If so, how do you see it manifested today?

N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (Louisville: WJK, 2004), 65.

5 Responses to “Playing the man card—without apology”

  1. shanyns Says:

    Thanks for this. I’m married to a cowboy/farmer and we have so many friends who seem to have missed learning things we just take for granted!

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