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Dear Jonah Hill: The Problem With ‘Superbad’ Isn’t Masculinity


Actor Jonah Hill is issuing a bit of an apology for the bad-boy behavior in his wildly popular 2007 comedy “Superbad.” Enlightened to the “evils” of traditional masculinity, he has now decided to aim for a more emotionally sensitive masculinity in his new film “Mid-90s.”

The movie is about a 13-year-old boy who comes of age while hanging with a group of skate punks in Los Angeles. Hill, who wrote the script, says it shows the harm kids cause when they speak to one another in misogynistic and homophobic ways.

Hill told Variety magazine that traditional masculinity is a problem because men are expected “not to show emotion, not to show sensitivity, not to show vulnerability, because it’s ‘feminine’ or, God forbid, ‘gay’ to do so. What that does, and what we’ve seen, is that it leads to a lot of horrible behavior, and a lot of bad actions.”

Hill says that with maturity has come a new perspective, and he wants to “illuminate” fans of “Superbad” to the movie’s toxic masculinity. “It’s where my heart is, and what I want to make. But at the same time I’m learning I’ve got to unlearn a lot of stuff, and maybe some of the people that liked ‘Superbad’ will come with me on that journey.”

I respect Hill’s decision to produce a more sensitive movie that shows a greater breadth of human development and relationships. I respect that he wants to see people in minority groups treated better. No one likes to be made fun of or ridiculed, though this is a big part of comedy and always will be—just ask Southern Christians. In a culture that desperately needs a dash of irreverence, there’s still a place for films like “Superbad,” even as Hill decides to take a different path.

Masculinity Isn’t Inherently Toxic

My problem with Hill’s comments isn’t his newly found sensitivity in filmmaking, but his claim that the bad behavior represented in his previous film is rooted in traditional masculinity. I’ve written on this before, that “men behaving badly” isn’t masculinity of any sort. It’s just bad behavior—something not foreign to women. They have their own issues. Yet we never call out mean girls for their toxic femininity.

Women get a pass for their bad behavior, but men don’t. Individual men are maligned by merely being a part of the male group, and masculinity itself is labeled as toxic—at least the “traditional” kind. Critics of masculinity are open to a new range of masculinities, just as long as it’s not the kind recognized by most of human history. Feminist critics of masculinity today reject the idea that there’s an objective standard of masculinity and claim that it is as varied as the number of individuals on the planet.

While it’s certainly true that masculinity is expressed differently among individuals and even entire cultures, there is a core aspect of masculinity that is objectively true, and always has been. This is true for humanity in general.

While there are billions of unique human beings in the world, there is an objective reality to being human. Every human being shares characteristics that make him or her a part of the human race. This label of humanity isn’t imposed on them by other people. It is an objective identity determined by their Creator.

In the same way, while all individual men are different, all men share the same masculine nature. That masculinity isn’t a label imposed on them by others or by the culture (though expressions of it can be); it is an objective reality.

What Masculinity Truly Means

All men, by nature, are masculine except for a minority of individuals who deviate from that identity through genetic variance or their choices in how they express themselves. These deviations don’t change the objective reality of masculinity, no more than a baby born without a rational center in his brain changes the fact that rationality is an objective characteristic of being human.

The essence of objective masculinity is tied to a man’s role as protector, provider, and procreator. Both men and women procreate, but men are the aggressors, the initiators, the invaders, if you will. Women are receptive; they are the ones who carry the product of that union. Their bodies are designed to bear and nurture a child. A man’s is not.

These roles are not culturally or socially constructed. They are designed by nature for men and women to function in community, not in isolation with each individual going his or her own way.

Because women are weaker than men and tasked by nature to bear children, men naturally provide and protect. Women can certainly share in these roles to a degree, but not in the way of a man. This is particularly true when it comes to the role of protector.

A core element of human existence is survival, and it hasn’t changed in our modern era. Nature has tasked men with that job, despite advances in technology that empower women. Technology, however, doesn’t change nature, and technology can disappear, leaving humanity with masculinity as its greatest defense.

Men are stronger than women. Testosterone is higher in a man, his bones are denser, his hormones help him take greater risks and stay more focused, and he can’t get pregnant, making him more expendable than a woman. A man is perfectly designed to protect his family and community, making life possible.

The More Masculine Men Are, the Better

Men instinctively measure each other on this scale—how worthy are you and what can you contribute to the community’s protection? How masculine are you? Being strong, competent, emotionally controlled, and willing to risk your life for others is the core of masculinity. The more men act on it, the safer we are.

When Hill said men have been taught not to show emotion, sensitivity or vulnerability because it’s thought to be feminine or gay, he’s ignoring the fundamental aspect of being a man. Men are made to be protectors. As such they must be self-constrained in a way a woman isn’t. It’s built into his DNA.

His masculinity, however, doesn’t mean he’s stoic or insensitive—a mischaracterization of traditional masculinity. Men are very emotional and sensitive, just not in the way women are. They express those qualities as men, in a masculine way—in a way that makes them better guardians of those entrusted to their care.

Recognizing Reality Doesn’t Require Abuse

If a boy or a man, however, adopts a feminine way of expressing himself, then he has objectively deviated from the masculine identity. He is, in fact, acting like a woman, hence the self-admitted femininity of his behavior. If he is a gay man identifying and behaving in a feminized way (not all homosexuals do this), then he too is acting like a woman. For whatever reason—genetic variance or personal choices—he has rejected and shed his own masculinity.

People today don’t want to be honest about this distinction because it causes conflict within the male experience and too many homosexuals have suffered abuse on account of it. The feminized man feels harmed not only when he is actually being attacked but by when he is simply not accepted into the broader group.

Many men in this minority, feminized group want to be accepted by the male group; they feel compelled to be included. This is not just a cultural compulsion. It’s an objective urge. Wanting to be a part of a group for which you were designed is human nature.

We’re not meant to be isolated. When a feminized gay man is recognized as not being masculine, he feels rejected by the group—and in a way he is, even if no one actually says a word. That’s because masculinity at the core is distinct from the feminine, and human beings are sexually binary.

This fact doesn’t mean we can go around and make fun of men who are different, men who act more feminine. We are to treat our fellow human beings with respect, no matter their differences. We are to speak truth in love, choose gentleness over strife, and show grace instead of judgment. The bad behavior Hill mentions is born of a culture of judgment and vice, not a culture of masculinity.

Instead of Respect, Men Get Demands for Reform

Unfortunately, because a subjectivist ideology that is rooted in conflict between groups has saturated our nation’s psyche, we do not seek to become more virtuous and good, treating other individuals with kindness and inclusiveness in fluid social groups. Instead, we seek to deconstruct, redefine, and then reconstruct objective identity groups to accommodate our subjective experiences.

This is evident in recent literature on “traditional masculinity,” particularly the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men. In those guidelines, the plight of those who deviate from masculine norms is a determining factor in how masculinity as a whole is perceived.

“Boys with feminine identities or expressions may face especially negative reactions to non-normative gender expressions, including emotional expressions such as passivity or crying, and experience strong pressure to demonstrate and conform to masculine expressions,” the report states. “Research has demonstrated the more boys violate norms of masculinity, the more verbal and physical abuse they may face from peers. These experiences may lead to mental health problems, including depressive symptoms.”

This is a serious problem and one Hill echoed. But what is the solution here? The APA chooses to redefine masculinity to accommodate the personal experiences of the minority group that identifies as feminine rather than admit that the feminine identity itself automatically puts them outside the masculine group (although this shouldn’t result in abuse or persecution). They seek to redefine the objective according to a subjective standard.

They do this by claiming that masculinity is culturally and socially constructed, not an objective reality determined by nature. They nonsensically claim that some “masculinities” can be more feminine, rather than sticking to the fact that masculinity is not feminine but men express their masculine emotions in different ways. They erase the distinctions between the masculine and feminine claiming there is “no longer just this male-female binary.”

They also redefine objective masculinity into something it isn’t. They claim that traditional masculinity is “marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression” as well as sexual abuse. Having reduced masculinity to negative behaviors that are not the definition of masculinity historically, they conclude that traditional masculinity is the problem—it is “on the whole, harmful.”

Their solution to the problem of feminine men suffering at the hands of immoral people and not being accepted into the masculine group is to change the masculine group to fit the feminine men. They go so far as maligning masculinity by conflating bad behavior with masculine identity. In practice, this portrays all men who express objective masculinity as being misogynistic and homophobic, and psychologists are directed to reprogram these men to be more feminine in how they emote and act.

What Society Should Do Instead

Contrary to the APA’s approach, the logical solution to this issue is to (1) respect the objective standards of masculinity and accept them as the norm designed by nature and (2) either gently help feminized men understand what it means to be masculine as they have been designed, or accommodate feminized men by tolerating their choices and accepting the formation of their own group outside the norm.

The “experts” oppose this, of course. First, subjective and deviant choices have been normalized despite conflicting with objective standards. Our culture has fully embraced relativism.

Second, feminized, or “non-gender–conforming,” men have tried to create their own communities where “they develop cultural standards, norms, and values that may depart from dominant masculinity.” But, according to the APA, it hasn’t “worked” because, while the individuals now have a group “home,” the group as whole is labeled and rejected by the dominant masculine group. So we’ve come full circle.

The APA’s goal, therefore, is to change the dominant masculine group, a.k.a. traditional masculinity, a.k.a. toxic masculinity, into something it isn’t—something more feminized and “diverse” with a long stream of contradicting characteristics across the sexual identity spectrum. The objective is being broken into a billion subjective units.

The problem with this is all of these unique units will still long to be a part of a group. It’s human nature. As long as there is no objective standard defining the group, there will be no functional group. There will only be individuals who have defined themselves struggling for recognition, approval, acceptance, and dominance.

This problem can be solved if we recognize that there are objective realities and identities in life created by God, not man, and that we are to treat each other with respect. When it comes to being human, or being a man or woman, you either conform to those objective standards or you don’t. If you choose not to, accept that you will always be seen as different and outside the dominant group.

As for those in the dominant group, when they interact with those who are non-conforming, they should treat them with grace and dignity without feeling guilty for being a part of the dominant group or feeling pressured to become feminized merely to make those who are non-conforming feel more comfortable.

These are hard lessons in life, and they’re fraught with slippery slopes and elusive nuances, but if we abandon objectivity for the subjective, then we will be at the mercy of the most powerful who will seek to redefine us according to their own view of reality. If that happens, we’ll all suffer.