Wounds and last charge before complete kaput, or renewal?
Andrew O’hehir writes:
Is traditional masculinity — assuming for a moment that we have any idea what that term means — under attack? Some of its defenders certainly feel that way.
If the panicky, defensive identity crisis of America’s declining white majority is a principal driving force in our nation’s bitterly divided political and cultural life (as I discussed here a few weeks ago, in the wake of Ferguson), so is the rearguard defense of masculinity. When Rush Limbaugh complains that nanny-state regulations on conduct are “feminizing” football, or the national leader of an elite fraternity writes an op-ed blaming drunken young women as the real villains in a perceived campus rape epidemic (rather than, say, rapists), it’s hard to say which feels stronger — the cluelessness or the desperation. As with the Caucasian rush to define the cop who shot Michael Brown as simultaneously the hero and victim of that tragic episode, this circling of the wagons around embattled manhood seems both perverse and unnecessary.
But the collective male freakout that produces nervous TV gags about “boobs on the ground” in the Middle East, or an Oklahoma Highway Patrol captain advising women not to get pulled over by cops if they don’t want to get raped by them, is not about anything as quantifiable as loss of material advantage. I agree, by the way, that both statements were blunders: The Fox News guy didn’t realize he was coming off as a pig, and the Oklahoma trooper didn’t consciously intend to blame women for the crimes of depraved cops. But that kind of public “misstatement,” by someone who ought to know better, is actually more revealing than all the overtly misogynistic trollery on the Internet. The masculinity backlash is about perception and psychology, specifically the perception that “traditional” gender roles are being undermined and that male-coded zones like the football field and the frat house are being invaded by an alien ideology.
But that kind of parody is a little too easy. It’s more difficult to recognize the genuine cultural split here, and to see that for many men (and more than a few women), this is a subject of genuine pain and bewilderment. It feels as if areas of public life they were raised to venerate as unchanging symbols of American virtue and rectitude are under unfair assault. That’s how I interpret all those Baltimore Ravens fans (some of them female) showing up at the team’s first home game in Ray Rice jerseys, or all those Washington Redskins fans rallying around their team’s patently derogatory nickname. It’s an effort to draw a line in the sand, to resist the high-minded dictates of elite authority, to insist that some things are sacred and that cultural change goes this far and no further. People on the cultural left, with their DIY handicrafts and homegrown tomatoes, have a similar impulse to resist the onrushing force of a political economy built on constant revolution and reinvention, a world, as Karl Marx observed 166 years ago, in which “all fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away … all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.”
As that may suggest, I feel an instinctive twinge of sympathy for this reaction, with its pathetic-nostalgic yearning for a mythical past of conformity and clear sexual divisions, of handsome boys and pretty girls under the Friday night lights, in an America untroubled by Vietnam or feminism or gay rights or a president with a Muslim-sounding name. I don’t say that my twinge of sympathy is entirely healthy. That imaginary world never really existed, and most people who yearn for it wouldn’t want to live there if it had. At best, it’s a blend of fantasy and collective memory, not unlike the “Morning in America” commercial that got Ronald Reagan elected, pretty much on the premise that he would restore a mythical order lost in the turbulent ’70s.
I too was raised by a father who could remember World War II and even the Depression, an immigrant who yearned for and could never achieve that generation’s ideal of undemonstrative, hard-drinking, neatly tailored manhood. As I recently discussed with the actor Viggo Mortensen, who plays an American man of precisely that heritage in the new movie “The Two Faces of January,” there is something praiseworthy and almost irresistible about that model of masculinity, along with much darker qualities. It might be relevant to observe that white men of the “Greatest Generation” disproportionately enjoyed an explosive prosperity that followed America’s ascension to superpower status and the growth of the labor movement. Their mode of confidence and composure rode along with steadily rising incomes and expectations, whereas their sons and grandsons — you and me, buddy — face more straitened circumstances in a vastly different world.
Can the virtues of that lost masculine ideal be redeemed without buying the whole toxic package? That question has no clear answer, and may not for years to come. Those who try to preserve its last self-parodying scraps and vestiges by rescuing the NFL from feminism and political correctness, or by blaming rape and spousal abuse on women’s autonomy — after all, if women left the driving to their fathers and husbands, they wouldn’t be at risk from pervert cops! — are fighting a contemporary version of Pickett’s Charge. It’s a misguided and self-destructive crusade on behalf of something that can’t be attained and wouldn’t be worth fighting for if it could. Very few of the Confederate soldiers who died at Gettysburg personally benefited from slavery. Yet the myth that there was something noble or sacred or romantic about their sacrifice on behalf of a brutal and toxic economic system continues to poison our national discourse, many generations later and into the indefinite future. We can only hope that the ripple effects of the battle for American masculinity don’t take quite so long to subside. ("Rape, domestic violence and football," Salon.com)
Those who try to preserve its last self-parodying scraps and vestiges by rescuing the NFL from feminism and political correctness, or by blaming rape and spousal abuse on women’s autonomy — after all, if women left the driving to their fathers and husbands, they wouldn’t be at risk from pervert cops! — are fighting a contemporary version of Pickett’s Charge. It’s a misguided and self-destructive crusade on behalf of something that can’t be attained and wouldn’t be worth fighting for if it could.
The challenge is to see if we can think of historical periods where so many men feel like they've lost their masculinity, where the follow-up isn't just their disappearance into irrelevance. The early 1900s was apparently one. The "New Women" were believed to be challenging male supremacy -- all those monstrous women on bikes! -- but the Great War made men feel masculine again. Another would be the 1930s, where all of the Western world went the German way -- that is, from liberal growth to puritanism.
My guess is that a lot of men wouldn't mind being deemed on a Pickett's charge. Whatever else was said about them, they'd be won over just by the comparison. The image that comes to mind is of worn men who've accumulated a lot of wounds, prepared to sacrifice themselves over something vital to themselves but incomprehensible to everyone else -- Why are you doing this? You have nothing to gain from it! You're just being used! The person saying this has already positioned themselves as the feminine, and so in their "incomprehension," lend strength. They charge, because they are men.
If we want to dis-sway, we should probably avoid such an image. How about instead they're just distraught children, which is what they are.
About the future ... The thing that ends up putting a halt to progressive times is growth panic: collectively, people begin to feel they've outgrown what has been allowed, and end up feeling horribly abandoned. Terribly alone, they cut their growth short and align with their parents' culture -- with regressives -- so to regain approval and feel like good boys and girls again. We should look to see what's happening in our attitudes towards children. If it's all "Go the f*ck to sleep," a powerful need to shorn our increasing need to be sadistic towards our children of guilt, we may be seeing a turn already away from liberal permissiveness. Those men currently bathing in being on a hopeless military charge, may end up retooling upwards.
Also a bit worrying is Brittney Cooper's recent article on childrearing, where she positioned what is in truth the most loving, the most progressive way of raising children as as about as bad in its indulgence as physical abuse (spanking) -- the 100-year-old"style." She certainly isn't FOX, but battling to become the progressive mainstream.
And oh, last comment: if I read him right, Andrew believes leftists who think we can get along without a revolution are extremely childish. I must say that however much I believe revolutions can be made a thing of the past -- like small pox, and child sacrifice -- they're with us for awhile yet.
What revolutions do, is produce a lot of death, a lot of sacrificed lives. When the total becomes high enough, body after vital young body, full of possibility, we feel a giant demanding maw is satisfied that all the independence in the world has been garnered together and brought forth to be devoured, out of awareness of its contemptible presumption. Afterwards, golden years -- successful complete reorganization of our culture.
Childrearing has been so bad for so long, our sense of our intrinsic spoiled sinfulness so strong for so long, we think it's an inevitability ... but we're in the process of evolving on out. We'll get to a point where advances in childrearing mean societal advance and reorganization (shucking the old) without anyone getting too stymied by it.
Some might point to the sky, fearing the loss of "God's" approval. But by that point s/he'll be an atheist and prepared to recognize that part of themselves is under influence of an older voice; that being at the back-end of society, while regrettable, also no true source of shame.