So yesterday I was cooking lunch for my wife while flexing my biceps manfully, and I was thinking about why the Internet is going nuts over that photo of beefcake actor Chris Hemsworth making a birthday cake for his four-year-old daughter. You know, this one:
Yeah, that’s pretty much what I look like when I’m in the kitchen, too.
It’s a cute photo because we like to see parents showing their devotion to their children, and because we like to see celebrities doing ordinary things that show they’re Just Like Us. But it’s been getting special attention because of the idea of a muscular giant like Hemsworth, known in America for playing Thor in the Avengers films, volunteering for such a quintessential act of domesticity.
Ah, but in this our modern, enlightened age, there always has to be someone to spoil the fun by finding in it the specter of inequality and microaggressions. So enter Bunmi Laditan (of the very funny Honest Toddler Twitter feed) to alert us all to the supposed double-standard. “Why is it that when a dad does the bare minimum required to parent that’s he’s given a trophy and a parade?” This complaint was echoed in all the usual fashionable lefty places.
It turns out that this is really misdirected when aimed at Hemsworth, who is known as a dedicated family man and who moved back to Australia so he could have more time with his family, telling a reporter, “Once the kids arrived, I was like, ‘Wow, this is what life is about.'” Sounds like he’s really phoning it in. There’s also a bit of a “damned if you don’t, damned if you do” element to this. After all, if you want men to do more of the nurturing of the children, maybe you shouldn’t go all passive-aggressive on them when they do.
But what really seems to miss the point is making this into an issue about how men and women divide the housework. Because that’s not really what anyone is responding to when they like this photo. It actually has to do with something much broader about the role of men and of masculinity.
It strikes me that the most relevant thing here is the sheer size of Hemsworth’s biceps. Because those biceps were not developed for the purpose of baking cakes or changing diapers. They’re the kind of biceps developed to lift hay bales or drive fence posts into the ground or bend steel with your bare hands or fight off invading armies and comic-book supervillains. Which is to say that he has a physique suited to hypermasculine endeavors, things that need to be done by men. It’s a burden, you know, but guys like me and Chris, we’ve gotten used to it.
Women (and society at large) need to make sure that this kind of hypermasculine strength is connected to a desire to love and protect the women and children around him. That’s the real purpose and function of masculine strength — to protect and provide for the other members of the family.
I mean that literally. Not all species have such a marked difference in size and strength between the sexes, and the difference is not always in this direction. (A male angler fish is much smaller than the female, the poor sucker.) In species where males are larger and stronger, one of the main purposes for this sexual dimorphism is so that we can provide protection against rivals and predators.
So you can see why it’s vitally important that the guy who’s tough enough to fight off a pack of hyenas also has to want to play with the kids. We need our giants to be gentle, because if they’re not, they’re terrible.
If feminists want to get upset that Hemsworth gets treated differently from a woman, they should go try to bench press 300 pounds. (Between me and Hemsworth, I’m sure we could average that much.) The fact is that men and women aren’t the same. Our bodies aren’t made for the same things, and there’s a reason we don’t perform all the same functions in life.
To be sure, this differentiation is generally less important in an advanced, modern economy, where most of our work requires a lot less heavy lifting than it used to. But our civilization still needs guys like this.
And that’s one of the things that makes people love that photo of Hemsworth. It’s the sight of a very strong man whose strength is directed toward the love of his little girl. That’s exactly how things are supposed to work, and millions of years of evolution conspire to make women swoon at it. Because the survival of the species depends on it.
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