Masculinity has been in crisis for years now. It’s hard to pin down exactly when it started, but you don’t have to look far in movies, books, video games, and of course online to see a trend of men trying to either recapture a lost ideal of masculinity or trying to redefine what it means to be a man in the 21st century.
And current events have brought some of the most interesting aspects of this crisis to light. As the Atlantic points out in a recent article, many men supporting Donald Trump are doing so under the impression that their country (and presumably all of Western society) is treating men unfairly. They feel they’re being attacked for everything they say and do just because they’re men. They feel “society as a whole has become too soft and feminine” and as a result, men and masculinity have become demonized.
So what exactly is masculinity? What does it mean to be a man? Well, there’s no shortage of archetypes and examples of the “ideal man” we can draw from. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Steve McQueen’s Cooler King in The Great Escape. Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
These guys, and many more like them, have been held up for years as ideal men. They’re tough, and they don’t get worried or upset easily. They’re clever and wise, always thinking of better solutions to life’s problems. They care deeply about something—whether it’s justice, freedom, or just taking down the bad guys—that motivates their actions.
These men have impossible burdens placed on them, but they are able to overcome and triumph by fighting back, never giving ground to evil, and never backing down when things get tough.
So what does it mean to be a man? It’s about being tough and taking responsibility, keeping your integrity, and defending your values.
At least, that’s what my Dad taught me. And it’s what his Dad taught him. I’m proud to be part of a tradition of men who value taking care of others, defending what they believe, and being a man of your word. My Dad practices this daily and my Opa, who passed away recently, lived his life in a way that no one could ever doubt his integrity.
And of course I’d be remiss to not point out that traditional masculinity causes a lot of damage and hurt. Many men take the idea that men must be tough and skew it to mean they must subjugate and abuse women and other men. Many take the idea that men must have integrity to imply they are infallible and anyone they deem feminine as less capable. Many take the idea of defending their values as an excuse for imposing their beliefs over others and punishing them for not following suit. But this is not masculinity. This isn’t manliness. These are not men.
And neither are these Trump supporters. They use manliness as an excuse to attack, abuse, assault, insult, demean, degrade, demoralize, objectify and “other” women and anyone else they deem not “manly enough.” They claim to defend the values of Christianity yet they do nothing to help the least of these and stoke hatred towards the very humans Christ came to save. Any Trump supporter who is male cannot call himself a man.
I’m not even talking about Trump himself here. I’m talking about every male who has defended his candidacy of malice and cowardice, asserted man’s right to dominate women and anyone not “tough enough,” and who has claimed to follow Christ’s command to love one another and allows hatred to grow and spread. If being a man means being able to stand up to the evils and injustices in the world, then you cannot claim to be a man while perpetuating those evils, directly or indirectly. Whether you commit them or just refuse to stand up to them, you have forfeited your claim to being called a man.
So this “crisis of masculinity” is really the fact that so, so many men have lost sight of what it means to truly be a man. As a result, they wallow in self-pity or lash out against the ones they can hurt, whether of another gender, race, religion, sexuality, or belief. They’ve lost sight of what it means to be a man in the modern day, which the same thing it’s meant to be a man in every era.
And by the way, you may be asking: “Wait, aren’t women also able to be tough, take responsibility, keep their integrity, and defend their values? Aren’t those just as much feminine traits as masculine ones?”
Yes. Yes they are.