In modern society, many of the ways we talk about male identity have either negative connotations or encourage disparaging, eye-rolling satire. If the term is man, then common terms we hear are “man flu,” “manspreading,” or “mansplaining.”
If the term is dad, then there is a droll shaking of the head at a “dad bod” or at “dad jokes.” If the term is guy, it is often in relation to stubbornly self-defeating behaviour: ‘I got sick, but I did the typical guy thing, and didn’t go see the doctor.” Or: “I was battling with my mental health, but I did the typical guy thing and didn’t ask for help.” If the term is masculinity, it is often used in relation to things males must atone for or confront: “toxic masculinity,” or “the crisis in masculinity.”
If educators, psychologists, and the media want to dissect emerging troubles in masculine identity, then a good place to start would be to acknowledge that many of the ways we talk about male identity undermine this goal. This is a problem that affects us all, because boys are growing up in a culture that is increasingly questioning what’s wrong with them, whilst perpetuating casual cynicism towards them.
There are several reasons why this kind of thing gets overlooked. One argument is that it’s just light-hearted ribbing, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously; but many of the examples above are not light-hearted, and it all adds up to a big picture of masculinity being an obligingly easy target. It seems that women are in many ways entitled to “punch up” at a fracturing but still prevalent male entitlement, and that therefore putting male-chauvinist antics or clumsily wayward men “in their place” is an amusingly empowering thing to do.
1. Start Calling This Bias and Negativity Out
So, the first change that needs to be made is simple and attitudinal: When boys see this kind of stuff on the TV, they should get in the habit of calling it out for being lame, and if anyone starts talking in a lazily derogatory way about men, they should tell them to take a hike.
Do we still believe that the male hierarchy remains rigidly oppressive? Certainly not boys, or at least not as much as they used to. When they look out at the world, they aren’t seeing a society dominated by a tyrannical patriarchy. They’re seeing their sex through an increasingly disorientating lens of negatively reinforcing pop culture and politically correct ideology, and they’re seeing themselves, as a sex, continuing to fall behind.
Women make up 60 percent of university graduates, and dominate education, health care, and law. Yes, there is a pay gap. While some of that is due to bias, it’s actually more to do with the fact that men do most of the dangerous jobs, work outdoors more than women, are in arduous trades more than women, tend to pick higher-paid occupations when they’re in training, and are more willing to move to get higher-paying jobs.
In many big urban and metro areas, women are also outperforming men in wages. In highly upskilled New York, for example, women are earning on average 8 percent more than men. In domestic life, boys see that women make the decisions on big-ticket items, and are responsible for 65 percent of new vehicle purchases.
Boys see that girls and women have better prospects, but don’t see anyone ever questioning the structures behind those developments, and they are culturally disincentivised to question such developments themselves. Psychologist and author Bettina Arndt, in her book “#Mentoo,” asks: “Why are boys doing so badly at school when the whole curriculum is set up to advantage girls? Why do women have such power in the family courts to shut men out of their children’s lives?”
Boys are being made to feel that their sex is in disarray, in crisis, and in decline, and that they are part of an enduring tyrannical patriarchy for which their sex must continuously account and atone, and they ought to help tear down.
2. Boys Need Balanced Information about Discrimination
So, the second change that needs to be made is contextual. Boys need to be given a clear and balanced context that reiterates there is still work to be done breaking down bias and encouraging inclusivity, but equally confronts the ways men are being marginalised academically, in multiple leading fields, and in domestic decision making, and encourages them to question and contest these things openly.
The issues young men face are often linked to the idea that there is something wrong with masculinity itself, and therefore the expression of aspects of masculinity should be limited. We see this in the fact that male behaviour is increasingly diagnosed as attention deficit disorder, the limiting of competition as a valid and empowering form of human interaction, and in the failure to recognise that competitive sports are deeply cooperative.
This leads us to the root of the problem: the social-constructivists. This social pressure grew out of a desire to advance women, by arguing that if we acknowledge that women are biologically different in any way, that could be used as justification for why they don’t deserve to be treated the same as men, or are not as capable as men.
The ideology then went after masculinity, and argued that the sexes are essentially the same, and that raising boys in the traditional way “socially constructs” their gender identity and sets them up for a life where they’ll be entitled to succeed and be aggressive and dominant. You’ve probably seen this framed as the emotionally heated, poorly argued issue of “making” boys play with trucks, and “making” girls play with dolls, and forcing kids to conform to gender “roles.” (It is impossible to discuss this without a deluge of ironic quotation marks.)
Now, to be fair, this is sometimes appropriate, such as in our emerging understanding about transgender children. It is vital to prevent them being forced to conform to characteristics of a sex they don’t identify with. But they are a tiny percentage of the population, and even then, it still leads to a rejection of the social constructivists, because women transgendered to men are often quite proud to show off their buff physiques as a statement of traditionally ideal masculinity. In other words, they had an innate gender; they just had to go through a transition to express it.
There is a fundamental problem with social constructivism: Most of it, upon analysis, is rubbish. Dr. Debra Soh, a former sex researcher and neuroscientist, has said of it, “If you read the social studies, you cannot come away from them believing that gender is a social construct.” We’re talking about multiple studies by multiple independent researchers who didn’t have an axe to grind and were just neutral psycho-scientists studying data.
Clinical scientist and professor of psychology Jordan Peterson points out that over the last four decades the Scandinavian countries led the world in policies that were designed to eliminate the cultural variations between men and women. They have done the most work trying to create a gender-equitable society. The idea was to eradicate the differences between men and women by social transformation.
“So what’s happened?” Peterson asks. “Well the personality differences and gender traits between men and women in these countries have actually widened. The exact opposite of what the social-constructivists said was going to happen. So guess what, social-constructivists: you’re wrong, and that’s that.”
3. Reject Social Constructivism, and Support Men as Men
So, the third change that needs to be made: parents and educators need to call out and reject social-constructivist teaching and thinking, and affirm to boys that there are inherently male characteristics and inclinations that are good: loyalty, practicality, competitiveness, quiet dignity, and many more.
As author D.C. McAllister reported in a recent Federalist piece, “The American Psychological Association has released new guidelines for psychologists to help boys and men overcome pathologies researchers say are caused by traditional masculinity.” Despite their ideas being based on extremely dodgy theory, the ideologues have managed to mainstream the idea that for boys, masculine behaviours and characteristics need to be regulated or subdued, to prevent them from growing up to express what is dubbed “toxic masculinity,” traits of which are being violent, unemotional, and sexually aggressive.
The vast majority of people are not criminals. A small fraction commit one or two crimes. The vast majority of the crimes—almost all of them—are perpetrated by a miniscule professional hardcore. The same thing applies with sexual assault and harassment. A terrible mistake would be to take the actions and behaviours of a tiny amount of men, and attribute the instincts for those behaviours to all men, or say it is a broad problem of entitlement, and testosterone, and aggression latent generally in men. It’s important to get that distinction right, and we are not at all.
The Me Too movement, as we all know, was borne out of good intentions, genuine outrage, and an urgent need for change. But many people also acknowledge that it has, in some ways, gone too far. Boys will have hopefully learned, from witnessing the downfall of a stream of terrible men, that it is wrong to be sexually aggressive. But all this has made a lot of boys uncertain whether they can be sexually assertive.
This has crucially become a less-clear distinction, and a hard thing for boys to try and navigate, and they are not being given guidance, and especially not proper role-modelling from men. A boy being sexually assertive does not mean him being sexually aggressive.
Regarding a relationship and sexual activity, a boy should first and foremost be a gentleman: respectful, trustworthy, decent, understand consent, and be able to demonstrate emotional maturity. Once that has been established, boys should revel in their physique, their stamina, their raw physicality, and find that top-gear of rhythm and intensity, of male prowess that has a special exhilaration that all guys (who experience it) can relate to. That is a boy being sexually assertive.
Being a decent young man and wanting to be sexually assertive are not mutually exclusive. Rather, the positive attitude creates the context for the positive sexual expression. That mindset needs to be articulated openly and clearly to boys, and reinforced.
4. Affirm Boys’ Instincts While Helping Them Mature
So, the fourth change that needs to be made: boys need to have their instincts to be maturely, sexually assertive, legitimised, and affirmed.
Little questioning has been made of the root causes of young male depression. I’ve started to establish a pretty clear through-line: a routed, satirised, and inadequately modelled masculinity that leads to uncertainty, cynicism, and withdrawal. If boys are faced with the burden of all this negative complexity, why wouldn’t a large number of them want to step aside and disengage?
That is exactly what’s happening. Society is reading things the wrong way around: It’s not that a lack of emotional engagement and expressiveness is undermining boys, it’s that boys are being undermined, and it is making them less emotionally engaged and expressive.
This is leading to a dissipation of young masculinity, not just culturally, not just in the limiting of their potential, but literally. The rates of testosterone men produce has been decreasing for years. The reasons aren’t known for sure, but there are some clear contributing factors: increases in body-mass index, increased medication, and depression.
As young men become less willing to engage in a cultural landscape that extreme feminists and other ideologues of politically correct social engineering have made uncomfortably negative for them, they are more inclined to passively withdraw and to display traits we associate with a lack of resilience: weight-gain, increasing varieties and dosages of medications, and developing rates of depression. These are all factors various studies have identified as contributing to the lowering rate of testosterone.
Furthermore, traits associated with depression include low self-esteem and social withdrawal, which help lead boys to the compensation of online porn, with its further problems of unrealistic notions of sex, misogynistic attitudes, and addiction.
Boys are over-cluttered with mixed messages, mostly negative. They have grown up with a constant narrative, bolstered by statistics, that their sex is falling behind across the board, and that it is their innate behaviours as young men that are holding them back socially, emotionally, and academically.
The cultural message says their sex is historically to blame for oppression, and that they should accept a dilution of their status, and expect to be treated contemptuously if they don’t participate in that dilution. What has become permissible in flirtation and initiation of sexual expression has become dissonant and uncertain, and they are not receiving strong role modelling from older men.
5. Men Need to Champion Boys Again
This is the fifth and last necessary change: men need to be more assertive role models by pushing back, culturally, on behalf of boys.
Society needs to encourage boys to push back against the cultural satirising of their sex; give them a sense of balance about lingering male bias and overcompensating female dominance; parents and educators need to call out and reject social-constructivist teaching and thinking; boys need to have their instincts to be maturely sexually assertive legitimised; and men need to be more forthright and clear about reinforcing all these things.
Clear out all the crap. Give boys discipline and boundaries. Then let boys be boys. Sounds radical, doesn’t it.