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(HT: Justin Taylor)
If popular culture in the United States is to be believed, we are now a country of tough females and weenie males. A gradual emasculation of the American male has been under way for quite some time now, accelerated by things such as the aggressive branding of overactive boys as "ADHD" and the subsequent over-drugging with Ritalin, etc, or through the way the media and culture portrays the male.
Salvo Magazine has run a very interesting article titled "Girly Men - The Media's Attack on Masculinity". In the article, author S.T. Karnick points out how not only has "femininity become the human norm", but "women have become the new men" (quoting from a Salon article). Karnick points out how popular culture is replete with examples of wimpy males and that even the toughest of the tough guys must somehow be shown to have a "feminine side."
“Even roughnecks such as these, however, are subject to cultural education into the joys of femininity. The hero of the movie The Game Plan, an NFL quarterback played by hyper-muscular Duane "The Rock” Johnson, is narcissistic, arrogant, egotistical, and selfish—both on the field and off. Only after dancing in a ballet and being reeducated by his 8-year-old daughter, his sister-in-law, and the daughter’s dance teacher does he finally win a Super Bowl ring. In today’s culture, women even make the best football coaches.”
As I read the article, I had to admit that I am hard-pressed to come up with a male figure on TV that possesses strong (traditional) male characteristics and who isn't some sort of bombastic oaf who is all tough and no brains. Where are the Ward Cleavers, Mike Bradys, Cliff Huxtables who used to populate TV? I guess the closest thing I could come up with is the dude from CSI, but even he is often portrayed as somewhat wimpy. I loved Karnick's portrayal of the current crop of TV males:
“Thus, the war against boys seems to have created three main character patterns for the adult male of our time: sensitive guys who want to please women; weenies and dorks who want only to be left alone to drink beer and play video games with their dork buddies; and thugs who, in rebellion against their unnatural education, are perpetually concerned with proving their toughness through increasingly loutish behavior. There are, of course, examples of decent, positively masculine males in the culture, but they are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the products of educational and cultural feminization.”
To tie this to the 2008 election: I think the Barack Obama/John McCain dichotomy is a classic example of this - a guy who seems to be in touch with his feminine side (BHO) versus an older guy who is being painted by the MSM as another brainless cowboy like George W Bush. And the conditioning that has been applied through popular culture will simply reinforce these stereotypes. Since the current hero of TV is the feminized male, Barack should fit in quite nicely.
Also consider the following pop culture contributions to males:
Manscaping (hair management like waxing, shaving, trimming, etc.)
The tendency of the nation’s schools to suppress boys’ natural way of seeing and doing things, brilliantly documented by Christina Hoff-Sommers in her 2001 book The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men, is becoming increasingly evident in the culture.
According to Hoff-Sommers, programs in America’s public schools are set up to obliterate all that is masculine and establish femininity as the human norm:
This book tells the story of how it has become fashionable to attribute pathology to millions of healthy male children. It is a story of how we are turning against boys and forgetting a simple truth: that the energy, competitiveness, and corporal daring of normal, decent males is responsible for much of what is right in the world. No one denies that boys’ aggressive tendencies must be checked and channeled in constructive ways. Boys need discipline, respect, and moral guidance. Boys need love and tolerant understanding. They do not need to be pathologized.
Hoff-Sommers goes on to note that "it’s a bad time to be a boy in America. . . . Routinely regarded as protosexists, potential harassers and perpetuators of gender inequity, boys live under a cloud of censure." The school curricula, she observes, are skewed toward girls’ strengths and away from those of boys. That’s why classes emphasize word problems in math class and writing essays in science class, for example.
Boys mistreated by our educational system must advance into society and try to become men, having been taught to disrespect masculinity and suppress it in themselves. One obvious coping mechanism is for males to act more sensitively, making a determined effort to "share their feelings" and be less aggressive and competitive.
Hence a recent Associated Press story describing how TV’s new primetime schedule "puts the softer side of men on display":
In a number of broadcast ensembles premiering this fall, men are opening up about issues beyond sports, money, power and sexual conquests. They’re expressing their feelings—often to other men—on fatherhood, intimacy and love.
The AP story goes on to quote Nicole Vecchiarelli, entertainment director of the men’s lifestyle magazine Details, as saying of today’s men, "now it seems they can, on the inside, feel a little bit more like girls and that’s still OK."
The central characters of the new ABC show Big Shots exemplify this elevation of emotions over achievements. These men are the heads of four big corporations, and the hook is that although their businesses are doing well, their personal lives are a mess. One is enormously henpecked, another is divorced and has a young-adult daughter who openly hates him (or seems to), another is distressed by the close friendship between his wife and his mistress, and the other’s wife has been cheating on him with his boss.
Get the irony? At work they’re Masters of the Universe, but in the social realm they’re ineffectual schlubs. Women can do whatever they want to them, and the men can’t find a way to get control over their personal lives. They spend much of the program discussing their feelings about the terrible things that are happening to them.
These otherwise powerful men show that no man is safe from the myriad humiliations women and life in general are apt to heap upon them. A Salon.com article summarized the depiction of men in the current TV season as follows:
There are guys whose wives cheat on them, whose girlfriends get promoted over them, whose mates make more money than they do; guys who get left out of baby-making, who date women with penises and at least one who gets anally raped by a monkey.
That last instance occurs in the ABC comedy Carpoolers. Similarly, in the pilot episode of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, two brilliant scientists are "pantsed" by their attractive neighbor’s angry ex-boyfriend and spend the next couple minutes of screen time walking around in their briefs. When attempting to gain entry into a locked apartment building, they are outsmarted by two 8-year-old girls. In the pilot episode of Big Shots, the divorced man (Dylan McDermott) explicitly ties the men’s sense of powerlessness to a social trend toward the feminization of males: "Men—we’re the new women."
Naturally, if men are the new women in today’s culture, "Women are the new men on TV," as the aforementioned Salon.com essay noted:
When you turn on your television this fall, you’ll be watching more women kick more ass than you can possibly imagine—physically, economically and sexually. Hard-bodied and smart, rich and aggressive, confident and independent, the chicks who populate the prime-time lineup are being cast in roles that once belonged almost exclusively to men. These broads are cops and lawyers and masters of the business universe. . . . Julianna Margulies will star as a nasty Nancy Grace knockoff, Angie Harmon as a police lieutenant, Lucy Liu as a publishing executive, and Patricia Heaton as a news anchor; there’s a new Bionic Woman and a whole show about the world’s leading incubator of the future, The Terminator’s Sarah Connor. The flinty Cagneys, Laceys, Murphys and Buffys of yore aren’t the exceptions in the new TV season; they rule.
The same trend is evident at the movies. We have the vigilante killer played by Jodie Foster in The Brave One, the ferocious female zombie-killer played by Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil films, the werewolf hunter played by Kate Beckinsale in the two Underworld movies, countless machinegun-toting female police officers of extraordinary fierceness in all sorts of action movies, and the increasingly common occurrence of female characters punching men in the face, especially in comedies. As these cultural products indicate, and as Hoff-Sommers notes, masculine behavior is acceptable as long as the person engaging in it is not actually male.
Of course, something as natural as masculinity cannot be completely eradicated except by exterminating every man in the world, and thus many young men rebel against their indoctrination, consciously or otherwise. The culture is thus also replete with both real and fictional males who take masculinity to decidedly unattractive and even dangerous extremes.
Consider, for example, the brutish ex-boyfriend in the pilot episode of The Big Bang Theory, the Russian thugs at the center of the film Eastern Promises, the foul-tempered chef Gordon Ramsay on FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, and the misogyny and glorification of violence in current hip-hop music. Real-life sports heroes are increasingly being arrested for drunken driving, drug possession, physical assaults, and in the case of former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, running a dog-fighting ring.
Even roughnecks such as these, however, are subject to cultural education into the joys of femininity. The hero of the movie The Game Plan, an NFL quarterback played by hyper-muscular Duane "The Rock" Johnson, is narcissistic, arrogant, egotistical, and selfish—both on the field and off. Only after dancing in a ballet and being reeducated by his 8-year-old daughter, his sister-in-law, and the daughter’s dance teacher does he finally win a Super Bowl ring. In today’s culture, women even make the best football coaches.
Other men respond to the cultural denigration of masculinity by simply trying not to grow up at all. This, too, is evident in pop culture. Writing in National Review Online, Justin Shubow notes that "porn-addicted, video-game-playing man-children are the subject of so many recent comedies like Knocked Up; The 40-Year-Old -Virgin; You, Me, and Dupree; and Failure to Launch. Not having been effectively socialized into masculinity, adult males have become less manly but more boyish."
The central characters of the new TV programs Chuck and Reaper are afflicted with just such a Peter-Pan syndrome. Chuck Bartowsky (Zachary Levi) is a young man of positively stunning ordinariness who works at a Buy-More store, fixing computers and cell phones and being bullied by a jerk coworker who has the inside track on the open assistant-manager job. The two main characters of the new CW series Reaper are college-age (though not college-attending) males who work at their local big-box retail store. Although one is definitely intelligent enough to go to college, he has low self-esteem and little ambition and so decided not to. He spends his time hanging out with his friends and wishes he had the nerve to make a date with an attractive female coworker.
Thus, the war against boys seems to have created three main character patterns for the adult male of our time: sensitive guys who want to please women; weenies and dorks who want only to be left alone to drink beer and play video games with their dork buddies; and thugs who, in rebellion against their unnatural education, are perpetually concerned with proving their toughness through increasingly loutish behavior. There are, of course, examples of decent, positively masculine males in the culture, but they are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the products of educational and cultural feminization.
The fact is that people learn what you teach them. And the consequences of the war against boys—and the broader social war against masculinity in general—are increasingly evident in both the culture and the world at large. We should hardly be surprised that the results are anything but pretty.