The problem, Gillette, isn't that "boys will be boys." It's that fewer and fewer boys are becoming men.
''Toxic masculinity." The phrase makes me furious, as does the latest intervention by the American Psychological Association, society's self-proclaimed moral compass and arbiter. "Traditional masculinity," which they have identified with "stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression," is "psychologically harmful." Allow me to rephrase: regulating one's emotions, reaching for excellence, exercising responsible leadership, and protecting the weak are detrimental to the fabric of human society. Really?
Take a look around you. What do you see? Young men who have little confidence, who shun responsibility for as long as they can get away with it, who refuse to commit to much of anything -- or anyone. They've been societally re-formed into something more acceptable and less threatening for the sake of that elusive level playing field we've all bought, hook, line, and sinker. But that something isn't even vaguely who they are, and even less who men are called to be.
The problem, Gillette, isn't that "boys will be boys." It's that fewer and fewer boys are becoming men. Too many guys are failing in school. Almost every college has more female students than male. Too many young men are afraid of physical labor. Too many males have bought into the lie of sensitivity. Sure, it's important to feel your feelings. But what good is that if you can't keep yourself from riding your emotions off a cliff?
Even worse, nobody seems to know what masculinity looks like. Remember the Greatest Generation? They knew. What we're seeing is mostly experimental. We get the overtly emotional and artistically expressive men on one extreme and the grunting, bearded, man-cavers on the other. And then there are the basement-dwelling video-gamers. This is an identity crisis if ever there was one. And it is evidence of just how completely misguided and angry feminists hijacked our culture.
Yes, inequities needed to be addressed. When I was a kid, I was told that it was a man's world. Anything I wanted to accomplish outside of traditional female roles would entail swimming upstream, against the current, and for a long time. I had to petition my public school system to take wood shop instead of cooking. Boys could take cooking, sewing, wood shop, or metal shop. I was told it was because they might want to be chefs or tailors. In high school, I was often asked whether I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse. "None of the above" wasn't an answer most people knew what to do with. Professional success then usually demanded that women learn how to be "less feminine."
Now, pink is the new blue. Girls, who used to be less academically competitive, are now at the top of the honor roll and winning every award. They're taken to special programs for women in science. They join women's empowerment clubs and are taught to champion "girl power." They can even join the Boy Scouts. This has been, however, a pyrrhic victory. The men women are looking to form lasting relationships with are a culturally endangered species.
Instead of making room for everyone, instead of giving everyone access to what they need to fully develop their potential, boys are being given the short end of every stick. I saw this trend begin when our sons were growing up. Constantly ordered to be less physical and more emotional, the message that boys are less valuable, less important, and less capable is being broadcast to them in a hundred ways. Boys are, in essence, being told that it's a woman's world; that there is no place for them; that their natural and God-given strengths are weaknesses; the virtues they aspire to aren't virtues at all. In other words, boys simply shouldn't be boys. If they want to succeed in today's world, they'll have to check their masculinity at the door or expect to see it slammed in their faces.
The Church should be a place where the fullness of humanity -- both masculine and feminine --is respected, supported, and welcomed. Free from all gender stereotypes about what men and women can or should do, we all ought to be empowered to be who we are, and become who God created us to be.
In the beginning, God created us male and female in his image. True masculinity isn't any more toxic than true femininity is. What is toxic are the false caricatures of male and female and a society that seeks to create a world in which some are more equal -- and more acceptable -- than others. If we want more than just a few good men, let's stop demanding that they be something other than men. Let's start affirming the men in our lives and encourage them to be their best selves. That can only happen if they are allowed to be themselves. That's what I'd call doing the right thing.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.