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The Measure of Manhood, Pt. 2: Crisis

— November 3, 2016

In Part 1, I mentioned that the current election cycle is bringing the meaning of manhood into the national conversation, and discussed the biological roots of the differences between males and females. This is basic knowledge, but why is it important now?

For most of our history, the collective was more important than the individual. The transition to manhood was an important signal to the community that the man in question was ready to step into a more responsible role, that of defender, breadwinner, and leader. He took responsibility for the good of the family and the community. Because responsibilities come with rights and privileges, men who stepped up were accorded respect, deference, and were allowed to marry (that is, achieve sexual rights to a woman, almost always younger) and potentially one day become pater familias: the head of the family. To this end, people often subordinated their individual proclivities to better conform to the gender roles assigned to them. It meant that a woman who preferred to hunt, for example, might not be allowed to do so, or that a man who was gay would stay in the closet and marry a woman, starting a family anyway. Although this was likely to be miserable for the individuals involved, such as wives eschewing intellectual interests to stay in unhappy marriages, this set-up was culturally useful in times of resource scarcity.

Gender roles and the ideals of manhood were therefore ingrained in children from a young age. Ideals such as courage and honor were instilled, with violence if necessary. Weakness was not to be tolerated, and manhood hinged on how well one could provide, and how much pain one could endure. These are powerful images that still resonate in red-state America. Witness Charles Bronson talk about a father’s responsibility in The Magnificent Seven:

and the Sheepdog speech from American Sniper:

If manhood depends upon being able to protect and provide, though, it means that one can feel like less of a man when one is unable to hold up his end of this cultural bargain. Outsourcing and automation of traditionally male jobs has left both urban minorities and country families in a lurch. Currently, one of the most common jobs for men (especially rural men) is driving a truck. The widespread adoption of self-driving trucks will put these men out of work, and the concept is no longer hypothetical, as the first beer delivery by a self-driving truck shows. Even men in cognitive jobs are losing ground. One of the most dangerous trends in America today is the sheer number of idle men: not working, not looking for work, they seem to be losing the ability to fulfill the traditional responsibilities of manhood.

These men, whether idle or merely in danger of being made unnecessary to the economy and therefore to their families and communities, may not be willing to give up the rights and privileges traditionally accorded to their gender, and therein lies a big problem. It leads to men thinking of sex as their due, for example, even if they are not in any position to support a resulting family. It leads to more abusive forms of misogyny as men feel like they are losing ground to women, who now outnumber them in college campuses, and who are currently 46.8% of the workforce after briefly outnumbering men around 2010.

Males, as I briefly mentioned in part 1, are traditionally more expendable, and it seems like they are currently being expended, through job loss, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, and increasing mortality overall. It’s easy to understand why they would start looking for someone to blame, whether it’s immigrants, women (including the one currently running for president), government, Muslims, the “gay agenda,” or any of a number of potential bogeymen (not usually including the masters of industry who are inflicting a lot of real damage on the male population). Not every male who hits puberty becomes a man, whether there’s a manhood ritual or not. In Part 3, we’ll take a look at where we can go from here.


Family Life in Ancient Rome
Raising Boys to Men
On Man’s Duty to Defend the Weak and Vulnerable
Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck
Uber’s Self-Driving Truck Makes Its First Delivery: 50,000 Beers
Male Average is Over
Seeing options shrinking, white men in America ask why
America’s ‘quiet catastrophe’: Millions of idle men
Why Do Women Outnumber Men in College?
Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
Sex Is Cheap: Why young men have the upper hand in bed, even when they’re failing in life.
Men are committing suicide more than women everywhere in the world. Why?
Inside the gunman’s head: Rejection, jealousy and vow to kill ‘beautiful girls’
Why Elliot Rodger is being linked to the men’s rights movement

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