- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

The Crisis of Masculinity is One of Scarcity, Not Excess

I had my eye on the prettiest girl at the party. We’d met a few months earlier in high school biology. When class had let out one day, I’d shouted her name, Lindsey, and said, “Good to meet you. It’s my lucky day, I guess.” She’d turned around as if she was on a runway, and her long, bright, blonde hair flipped, forming a frame around her beautiful face. She’d flashed me a smile. I’d felt volts of electricity charge my body.

Back at the party, as I broke the law by nursing a Miller Lite, I watched with bewilderment and envy as Lindsey flirted with a dork named Steve. All of our conversations before and after class, my attempts at charm and wit, my transparently weak excuses for greeting Lindsey at her locker before first period, had gotten me nowhere. I stepped outside to commit my second crime of the evening.

As I took slow drags off my cigarette, I heard a shout that contained subtle hints of Lindsey’s melodious voice—“Get off me!” Making my way around the house to the backyard, I noticed that the screams were becoming increasingly angry and desperate. A deeper voice issued vague commands—“Come on!” “Stop it!”

Steve had his hands on Lindsey’s hips as he pressed her against the aluminum siding of the split-level home. Without thinking, I threw my smoldering Winston into the grass, dropped my beer, and escalated my illegal activity. I pushed Steve away from Lindsey, and then punched him in the face. The blow knocked him back, but he managed to regain his bearings before falling to the ground. He spat some obscenities at me before walking to his car, which was in severe need of a muffler, and drove away.

A few minutes later, Lindsey gave me a kiss with more power than my right hook.

Between the noble exhibition of strength and the romantic affection from an attractive woman, the party had become a moment of idealized manhood. I felt as if I was Elvis Presley in the films I’d enjoyed watching on Turner Classic Movies every night before I went to bed. It’s abhorrent to view a woman’s pain and potential suffering as an opportunity for male edification, but there are moments when an evil act of victimization requires masculine intervention. Elvis’s characters lived according to that ethic, as did the literary hero whose triumphs I’d read during study hall, Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe.

Today, in the contemporary context of sexual misconduct, masculine intervention is the subject of fear, ridicule, and diagnostic examination. The deluge of harassment and assault accusations against major political, media, and entertainment figures following the exposure of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as a sexual criminal has understandably provoked many writers, especially of feminist ideology, to identify and lament the “crisis of masculinity.”

Slate recently ran an analysis of sexual harassment with the headline “Men Aren’t Monstrous, But Masculinity Can Be,” and a writer for the New York Times explored the “unexamined brutality of the male libido.” Charles Blow, for the same paper, declared, “We have to re-examine our toxic, privileged, encroaching masculinity.”

While it doesn’t hurt to negotiate and navigate the meaning of masculinity, contemptuous generalizations about men are unhealthy and dangerous, because they flirt with prejudice. Even Jessica Valenti, one of the most recognized and committed advocates of feminism, objected to the New York Times’ sloppy headline on the male libido, writing, “Men’s sexuality is not inherently predatory and claiming it is normalizes assault.”

Sweeping indictments of the masculine also deflect attention from one of the most elementary truths to emerge out of the reckoning of sexual predators. The crisis of masculinity is not one of excess, but scarcity.

Rich literary, historical, and cultural traditions depict masculine heroism as protection of the vulnerable and powerless. Stories of military valor, the selfless acts of bravery from firefighters and rescue workers, even the New Testament allegory of Jesus Christ rescuing a prostitute from the mob preparing to stone her, demonstrate that masculinity at its apex is the employment of power, force, and authority for assistance and guardianship of those who, at least temporarily, are unable to save themselves.

The most obvious of masculine virtues inform the presentation of masculine heroism—responsibility, gallantry, and integrity. Ernest Hemingway’s heroes illustrate an impervious stoicism that is easy to parody when coming from writers without his genius, but when done right, it shows the crucial connection between pride and manhood.

None of these qualities—only their polar opposites—are identifiable in the predation of Weinstein, Louis C.K., and their fellow offenders. Their behavior is so thoroughly reprehensible that many have missed its second most prevalent characteristic: it is pathetic.

One of the most baffling oddities to emerge out of these sexual harassment stories is how many men of power enjoy acts of indecent exposure. There is a juvenile “look at me” aspect to surprising a woman with a masturbatory act that, in addition to being odious and repugnant, makes it entirely unmanly. The nearest comparison is not to some high-testosterone lothario, but to an adolescent desperately craving attention through the humiliation of his subjects.

Even the womanizer possesses masculinity that runs in stark contrast with the pitiable onanism of these contemporary harassers. Masculine sexual charisma, whether visible in the charm and seduction techniques of a fictional character like James Bond or a real-life adulterer like Mick Jagger, is desirable because it attracts women and sparks sexual desire, leading to consensual and mutually pleasurable affairs. No normal teenage boy fantasizes about abusing his power to assault women who have no interest in him.

One of Weinstein’s accusers claims that after she rejected his unwanted advances, the film mogul cried, saying, “You rejected me because I’m fat.”

The stories of misconduct making headlines on a daily basis are not the triumphs of masculinity’s winners, but the woes of its losers.

It is clear that the bipartisan parade of groping misogynists lack the most fundamental respect for women, and in their moral failure to view them as human beings, treat them as toys for their own sexual amusement. They also lack the pride that is essential to the maintenance of masculine confidence and bravado.

In the process of harming women, these men have embarrassed themselves. One of the important questions, as always, is why? Why, even if certain men refuse to acknowledge the dignity and autonomy of women, does pride not prevent them from behaving as freaks and fools?

Resolving the sickly lack of masculinity, along with cultivating a culture that has no tolerance for the degradation of women, are the long-term solutions for sexual harassment. In the short term, it appears that many men could use a good punch to the face.

David Masciotra [1] is the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky), Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing), and the forthcoming Half-Lights at Evening: Essays on Hope (Agate Publishing).

62 Comments (Open | Close)

62 Comments To "The Crisis of Masculinity is One of Scarcity, Not Excess"

#1 Comment By JonF On December 7, 2017 @ 4:38 pm

Re: Ancient societies kept the women in the home,

No, some of them (e.g., Athens— but not Sparta, or Rome) kept the wives and daughters of the upper class in the house. Low class women and of course servants/slaves worked like everyone else.

#2 Comment By Mike Garrett On December 8, 2017 @ 3:07 am

In Sparta the women ruled in the streets, because any man worth his salt was off fighting. They threw imperfect male babies off a cliff, but not flawed little girls. In time feminine dominance was total, and the number of men slowly declined until the peoples whom they had enslaved over threw them. The Spartans made homosexual activity mandatory, the centre of their social world. They did not last long. It is very weird indeed that Western textbooks celebrate what a grand thing it was that the Zoroastrian Persians never managed to take Greece. How terrible it would have been if the people who sent the Wise Men to see Jesus had taken control of Sparta.

#3 Comment By Youknowho On December 8, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

I am more sympathetic about the Persian empire these days. Since the Greeks wrote so well, we get their viewpoint, not the Persians.

But in fact the Pesians ruled an empire – which meant peace within their borders. The Greek city states warred against each other constantly, which was great for epic poems, not so great for many other things. Women had to stay at home because of the possibility of being taken by pirate ships.

(I advice you to read the novel “Black Ships” – a historical fantasy novel that gets one thing right. The difference between an empire and a collection of city states is that when a strange ship comes, in an empire the children go out to watch it pass, while among city states they hide).

When it came to slavery, in Persia slavery was incidental to the economy, while in Greece it was a substantial part of it. In other words, in Persia it was a bug, in Greece a feature.

#4 Comment By Chuckie On December 9, 2017 @ 11:17 am

Unlike many of well written posts here, I’m humbled in that I have nothing intellectual to add. That said, my wife and I were chatting at the kitchen table about all the endless sexual harassment issues coming to the forefront. We came to the conclusion that maybe a defacto separation of sexes in the workplace isn’t so bad (I know, this isn’t politically correct). Maybe it’s not so bad if women hire mainly women and men hire mainly men. Both my wife and I worked for different large department store businesses back in the day and they were both dominated by women employees…and there were no sexual harassment issues. I worked for multiple construction companies for summer jobs that were dominated by men and there were no sexual harassment issues. While in the Marine Corps 1988-1992, women comprised only a very small percentage and the sexual harassment issues were scarce and dealt with severely (although a few women Marine friends I had were always cognizant of the young male testosterone filled environment and the glass ceiling in their careers). Maybe the Catholics had it right in historically maintaining male-only and female-only colleges. I always thought it was kind of weird, but my 16 year-old daughter is strongly considering a female college. I work with many small businesses that are too small for an HR department and this is already a defacto arrangement for many; where survival is more important than paying lip service to “diversity” of sexes.

#5 Comment By Philly guy On December 9, 2017 @ 12:31 pm

Are we not men? We are DEVO.

#6 Comment By DRK On December 9, 2017 @ 5:24 pm

Re: When Americans granted women driver’s licenses…

Were women ever legally banned from driving in the US?

No, they were not. Anne Rainsford French Bush, the first woman to get a driver’s license in the US (for a steam car, ironically) did so in 1900. In 1909, Alice Huyler Ramsay became the first woman to drive coast-to coast. Though there was an advertising push in the ‘teens and early twenties for women to drive electric cars, felt to be more “womanly” because they were lower-powered and quieter than gas engined cars, it was to no avail and was never enforced by law anyway.

Mike Garrett’s imaginary driving bans are of a piece with the rest of his alternate history. The “woman’s place is solely in the home” idea peaked back in the Victorian era and in any case only ever applied to middle and upper class women. Unmarried servant women, and wives of shopkeepers, butchers, fishmongers, farmers, and innkeepers never stopped working in the marketplace, all the more since in many cases, they were living in or right above where they worked. Even in the Bible, the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31 works fine linen into garments, and delivers them to the merchant. She buys a vineyard and raises grapes. And she is praised in the marketplace for her hard work. In our own era, not one of the counties that keep women in purdah are doing particularly well by most measures. Keeping half the adult population under house arrest is not conducive to healthy families or societies, shocker, I know.

#7 Comment By pepi On December 9, 2017 @ 7:33 pm

[EliteCommInc. says: December 7, 2017 at 3:21 pm
But they are not left to themselves. The point of fact is that men on the whole actually have historically taken up the mantel in their defense. The subsequent comments rest on the expectation that men as servants sacrifice for women and children. So m ale power that is exists is a power to serve.
The number of men assaulting women and children, while tragic is hardly a general practice or ethos among men.]

Explain then, the extremely low rate of prosecution much less conviction of rapists, and those who commit sexual and/or domestic assault. Do a little research into the domestic assault numbers and the numbers of women KILLED by domestic partners and then tell me how they aren’t “left to themselves”. We, as a society, sure as hell don’t help them.

We are only now figuring out that we need to punish the abusers instead of the victims.

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 10, 2017 @ 11:30 am

“Unlike many of well written posts here, I’m humbled in that I have nothing intellectual to add. That said, my wife and I were chatting at the kitchen table about all the endless sexual harassment issues coming to the forefront.”

Ohhh goodness. Don’t say such things . . . returning to a traditional ethos that men and women are different and it might be a good idea to actually accept that difference in various social practices —

That there actually might be a good idea to have female doctors treat female patients and vice versa.

But the reality is that women have not been kept underlock and key. I would grant that there are women who operated in fields for which they did not receive the credit for work they should have However, the record is also clear that a woman who had the means could venture into whatever field or business for which she could demonstrate the ability to be successful.

Our history is replete with outspoken women and influential women. Maybe I am unique, but my mother and the mothers of my friends, worked outside the home.

“Keeping half the adult population under house arrest is not conducive to healthy families or societies, shocker, I know.”

Believing of course that the above comment is accurate, the lock and key scenario might make some sense. But it is simply inaccurate relational dynamic regarding our social male female relationships.

#9 Comment By David Lloyd-Jones On December 10, 2017 @ 6:01 pm

“Today, in the contemporary context of sexual misconduct, masculine intervention is the subject of fear, ridicule, and diagnostic examination.”

I don’t think so, David. You’re gilding the lily. The fact that you were Superman at the beer bash doesn’t give you a license to make stuff up out of thin air.

The fact is everyone supports the 98++% of police who are decent and capable: i.e. we acknowledge the need for a wee bit of the legitimate violence yo have so nobly applied yourself, according to, uh, yourself.

The current revolt against “sexual harassment,” the wide spectrum of misbehaviors from bad manners to beer-bash rape, is not a revolt against your noble self, I’m afraid.

Look in the mirror, maybe, and ask yourself whether you haven’t gotten a wee bit full of your own nobility?

And American Conservative, couldn’t you maybe have a meeting of editors to discuss people like David? He’s obviously an intelligent man and a very competent writer. Isn’t it the job of editors to give him good assignments and stop him from making an egotistical idjit of himself like this?

#10 Comment By Daniel Baker On December 10, 2017 @ 10:51 pm

Ken T, the nitwit on page 1 who castigated the author for his “violent” behavior in stopping a sexual assault on a woman, together with the nitwits who spoke up in his support, are very instructive, because they show how the progressive version of feminism has absolutely nothing to do with protecting women’s rights. The important thing is to infantilize and emasculate men, leaving them in a condition of utter dependence on the State. When reports came out that German men had watched passively as hoodlums on train cars raped women before their eyes, I read people approving of this abdication of responsibility and refusal to “take the law into their own hands” (the accuracy or inaccuracy of the reports is of no relevance to the moral bankruptcy of the reaction). This is of course of a piece with cowards badmouthing a man who helped a woman in need. The message is clear; a man’s enlightenment is measured by his helplessness and dependence on the State, and if that means more women will be raped by the unenlightened, well, that’s just tough.

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 11, 2017 @ 10:42 am

“Ken T, the nitwit on page 1 who castigated the author for his “violent” behavior in stopping a sexual assault on a woman, together with the nitwits who spoke up in his support, are very instructive, because they show how the progressive version of feminism has absolutely nothing to do with protecting women’s rights.”

I am not sure those comments have not been taken out of context. Of course intervening in an assault is a worthy cause. I don’t think that is the issue.

It is the seeming gamesmanship and laudatory air afterward.

“The message is clear; a man’s enlightenment is measured by his helplessness and dependence on the State, and if that means more women will be raped by the unenlightened, well, that’s just tough.”

I didn’t for a minute derive some manner of acquiescence to any kind of sexual assault. It took me a bit to parse through the meaning in the position in question. And I am going to walk carefully here. Because i have to admit that the sense of heroism is absolutely ok by me as was the subsequent response.

But should it be. One’s physical prowess in rescuing a woman elicits not only gratitude, but some erotic exchange. What is required to obtain a woman’s desire is not only the rescue but the accompanying pounding. That’s an intriguing question.

The message of man not only as protector but conqueror as well.

Any attempt to turn my comments into a proposition of non-action in protecting a woman’s virtue or anyone for that matter but would incorrect.

#12 Comment By Daniel Baker On December 15, 2017 @ 8:55 pm

Hello, EliteCommInc. Let me say first that when I condemned Ken and those who supported him, I did not mean you. Ken’s “argument” was that the author David Masciotra and the rapist Steve were morally equivalent in that they both used violence on those weaker than themselves (Ken chooses to interpret the word “dork” as referring to some physical weakness on Steve’s part, rather than Steve’s rude and boorish behavior). Ken missed, or more likely chose to ignore, the fact that Steve was using violence to force someone to give sexual favors she didn’t want to give, while Dave was using violence to protect the person being assaulted. I don’t see anything you wrote that adopted Ken’s reasoning; the story you mentioned about your students arguing seems to be a very different scenario, where the “rescued” woman may not have been in any danger, and the “rescuer” may have been poking in his nose where it didn’t belong. I get that.

Ken’s argument is a very typical example of the radical collectivist egalitarianism that modern “progressivism” is “progressing” toward, where members of “privileged” classes can do no right and members of “marginalized” classes can do no wrong; the double standard is justified as a corrective that compensates for the inequality between the classes. Thus, Ken placed David Masciotra in a privileged class of “the strong,” who punched a member of the marginalized “dork” or “weak” class, and thereby automatically committed wrong. Had it been Lindsey who punched Steve, Ken would have placed Lindsey in the marginalized “female” class and moved Steve into the privileged “male” class, and thus he would praise Lindsey for the same act he condemns Dave for. None of this has anything to do with the after-action denouement of the story; Ken’s criticism focuses on the violence that David used, and the class membership of Steve, even going so far as to assume that had Dave respected Steve previously as a varsity fullback or something, he wouldn’t have minded Steve raping her.

Now, yes, the after-action report raises some questions. First, would David have felt as proud of his actions if Lindsey hadn’t kissed him afterward? To that, I can only say I hope so, but we don’t know because it didn’t work out that way. I think all of us know a feeling of pride in doing the right thing, but I also think for everyone that it feels better to do right and be rewarded for it than to do right and be ignored or punished.

Second, why did Lindsey kiss David after the punchout, when she was previously uninterested in him? As you pointed out, this was not just gratitude, but an erotic exchange, and as another writer above mentioned, a rescued person owes only thanks, not kisses or other erotic favors. If Lindsey bestowed a kiss that she didn’t really want to, out of a sense of obligation, that’s not good for her or for David (who could easily mistake it for real interest, to his later disappointment). But it’s also possible that Lindsey, learning more about the kind of person David is – one who will go to risk and effort to protect another, a traditional masculine virtue – responded with genuine attraction to this discovery. Many people (not all of whom are progressive loons) like to pretend that this never happens; they say that a woman’s reaction to a man is fixed at meeting him and never changes. “She doesn’t like you that way, get over it.” The reason for this pretense is understandable: a man trying to convince a woman to change her mind about having sex with him is usually an industrial-grade pain in the neck. But the fact is, love is usually not at first sight; romance does bloom between people who had no interest in each other initially, just as it often fades between people who once couldn’t get enough of each other. Begging and harassment, of course, is pretty well never successful in convincing women (or men either) that you have hidden depths they didn’t see at first, but showing yourself a mensch as David did here may indeed wake a genuine warm response in someone previously cold. We can’t really know if Lindsey’s new amorousness was from undue guilt or real feeling, because Lindsey’s not writing the article.

Finally, as you asked, is masculinity conquest as well as protection? In other words, would Dave still have got the kiss if his rescue attempt had ended with Lindsey running like crazy while Steve beat Dave to a pulp? Again, it’s hard to be sure, because Lindsey’s not writing the article. Humans are mammals, and male mammals tend to be bigger and stronger than the females because the males have dominance contests with each other for the right to mate, and the female has been receptive to the one who was stronger. That’s a part of our genetic background, and for some people that’s all that romance is or ever will be. But we’re not just mammals; we’ve also got the most complex brain in the entire animal world by far, and we’re capable of feeling sexual and romantic attraction to an amazing variety of things. If Dave had been badly beaten in a rescue attempt, many women might have appeared in the hospital and given him a kiss right above that newly broken nose. Maybe Lindsey would be one such, maybe not. But regardless of that, even if Dave’s efforts to save Lindsey had earned him nothing but bruises and broken bones, I think most women and men alike would still say he had done the right thing. And the manly thing.