Perhaps not coincidentally this week, in the wake of gamergate, The New Republic, as part of its 100th anniversary, has republished my June 2000 essay, “Male Culture Should Be More Than Beer, Sex, and Cars”. After bemoaning the often sexist tropes promoted in glossy men’s magazines, I argue:
The notion of the “gentleman,” or indeed any notion of masculinity attached to gentility, has almost vanished from the cultural air. What happened, one wonders, and why?
I guess you could start by observing that many areas of life that were once “gentlemanly” have simply been opened to women and thus effectively demasculinized. A college education, for one thing, along with all the journals, books, and conversations that go along with it, is now thoroughly—and rightly—integrated. Education is no longer a function of becoming a man but a function of becoming a nongendered citizen. There are whole swaths of public life—business, politics, sports, and so forth—that once inculcated a form of refined masculinity but are now unsexed. Even military schools and seminaries, once the ultimate male bastions, have thrown open their doors to women.
I’m not going to quibble with this. Why should I? Greater opportunity for women is probably the most significant gain for human freedom in the last century. But with this gain has come a somewhat unexpected problem: How do we restore a sense of masculinity that is vaguely civilized? Take their exclusive vocations away, remove their institutions, de-gender their clubs and schools and workplaces, and you leave men with more than a little cultural bewilderment. The only things left that are predominantly male—sex with women, beer, gadgets, sex with women, cars, beer, and more gadgets, to judge from men’s magazines—tend to be, shall we say, lacking in elevation.
A certain type of feminism is, I think, part of the problem.
By denying any deep biological or psychological difference between the sexes, some influential feminists refuse to countenance any special treatment for men and boys. They see even the ethic of the gentleman as sexist and regard the excrescences of the current male pop culture as a function of willful hostility to women rather than the clumsy attempt to find something—anything—that men still have in common. So, while women are allowed an autonomous culture and seem to have little problem making it civilized, men are left to their own devices, with increasingly worrying results.
Take a look at education. American boys are now far behind girls in high school. As [Christina Hoff] Sommers points out in her book [The War Against Boys], the Department of Education reports that “the gap in reading proficiency between males and females is roughly equivalent to about one and a half years of schooling.” The gender gap in American colleges is now ten percentage points—55 percent of students are women and 45 percent are men—and growing fast. Yet any attempts to address this problem with single-sex classes or schools for boys, for example, meet with ferocious opposition and more often than not get struck down in the courts. The more extreme examples of this ideology come in the ludicrous attempts to police gender stereotypes as early as kindergarten, even when those “stereotypes” conform to the way little boys and little girls have naturally interacted, or not interacted, for millennia.
You can understand how we got here, of course. For far too long, girls and women were second-class citizens, marginalized, frustrated, punished, and denied the possibility of advancement. But a visit to any American college campus today will show how far we have come from those pernicious days. Instead, we are arguably at the beginning of a different crisis—a crisis of the American male. Until we find a way for men to chart a course that is not dependent on the subjugation of women and yet is unmistakably their own, that crisis will continue.
And the beat goes on …