Douthat belatedly pushes back against DeBoer’s declaration that the “association of male value with aggression, dominance, and power is one of the most destructive forces in the world, and so it has to be destroyed”:
[H]e’s making an argument about “traditional masculinity” as something distinct from “sexism,” as a cultural problem unto itself — an unworkable model for male aspiration, a life-ruining ideal, that straitjackets today’s young men with its toxic, sex-and-violence-saturated demands.
And I just don’t quite know what he’s talking about, because in our culture — Western, English-speaking, American — the traditional iconography of masculine heroism doesn’t really resemble this “Grand Theft Auto”/”Scarface” description at all. I mean, yes, if the “tradition” you have in mind is Pashtun honor killings, then I agree, traditional masculinity would be better off extinct. But where American society is concerned, when I look at the sewers of misogyny or the back alleys of “bro” culture, I mostly see men in revolt against both feminism and our culture’s older images of masculine strength and self-possession, not men struggling to inhabit the latter tradition, or live up to its impossible/immoral demands.
I’m with Ross on this one, and largely because I’m convinced that many of the traits that Freddie wants to eliminate are integral to any creature, male or female, with high levels of testosterone. Now perhaps it’s worth elaborating on that a bit. The thing about testosterone is that it is affected by environment and can diminish in certain contexts. One of those contexts is fatherhood:
Among all of the fathers [studied], testosterone levels fell right after birth, and men who showed greater concern for and responsiveness to baby stimuli or had couvade symptoms [morning sickness] had larger drops in testosterone and larger increases in cortisol and prolactin. Men’s hormone levels correlated with their partners’; that is, in a man, testosterone and fellow travelers respond to the biosocial context—in this case the partner’s hormonal state.
There’s also evidence that marriage also lowers testosterone. In other words, it is possible to use culture to shift underlying biology to some extent. The disciplines of fatherhood, responsibility, marriage, domestication: all these help mitigate the ordeal of maleness. At the same time, the huge gap in testosterone levels between men and women means that the core reality will never go away: aggression, risk-taking, egotism are just part of the male package, to be mitigated but never erased.
And that’s why I have a core objection to the attempt to abolish what makes men different. In many ways, it’s an attack on our nature, a position of extreme prejudice against the essence of maleness. Yes, it’s sexist, demonizing an entire group of people for something over which they have no ultimate control. And I’m kinda tired of it, to be honest. Yes, it’s vital that male impulses be channeled and disciplined and educated in ways they tragically are not. But it’s also possible, even necessary, to celebrate male identity, to see in much of it the dynamism that fuels our societies and families and lives. Testosterone exists as the sole real distinction between men and women. And we would be far worse off without it.