There’s something queer happening among men in America. As society moves toward a more integrated, gender-blind direction, a small yet potent group of men are looking to rise up and reclaim the nation’s reigns. And their mission involves a prescriptive masculinity that, frankly, seems like a step back.
The period after World War II helped solidify the macho man’s role in America. Men were meant to rule their roost, help damsels in distress and answer to no one, not even their wives. As time went on, hippies, homos and women helped erode this image of the “ideal” male and helped men touch their sensitive side. No longer were men afraid to cry. Nor were they afraid of vanity, as seen in the “metrosexual” movement and arsenal of body sprays. Shit, men are even being used to peddle low-fat yogurt! Now the only images of “macho men” are on a screen, fictional etches of masculinity gone by. But certain groups want to change that.
Rutgers University Professor Lionel Tiger and some of his penis-wielding peers have been rallying to establish a “men’s studies” program at Rutgers University. Men have reached a point where “they’re experienced a considerable amount of dismay and uncertainty,” says Tiger to CNN. Men today feel “somewhat scorned, in principle by women.” Tiger’s work has been born from a fear that men are being feminized. Thus, men must explore what it means to be masculine; both on a social and biological level, and reclaim their territory.
Professor Tiger’s not alone in his masculinity mission. Just ask Harry Reid. The senator enraged “men’s rights” activists last month when he claimed unemployed men are to blame for increased domestic violence. Said Reid, “Men, when they’re out of work, tend to become abusive.” Men’s News Daily Editor Paul Elam described Reid’s remarks as “bizarre and unfounded” that “reveals an unimaginable disconnect from the millions of unemployed Americans who are not abusive.” The National Organization for Men, Men and Fathers for Justice, Men’s Equality Conference, the Fatherhood Coalition and at least a dozen other “men’s rights” groups joined the fray and called for Reid to apologize. He did not.
These organizations not only protest the feminization and demonization of men. They also rally against what they describe as widespread inequality against men. Marty Nemko, president of the National Organization for Men, insists that men are consistently put on the back burner for women and “minorities,” “When boys start to look into college, the very first thing they see are the colleges’ brochures and websites, with far more pictures of women and minorities; the subliminal message: we don’t care about white males.” Thus, they feel like a “disposable sex.” He goes on, “In our attempt to lift up girls and women, we have destroyed boys and men. Just as we are assiduous to avoid unfair treatment of women and minorities, we must do the same for boys and men.” Other members of this men’s movement are making a career out of revitalizing America’s men.
A man named Brett McCay has become something of a leader for the “retrosexuals,” and wrote a book with his wife called The Art of Manliness, which is chock full of outdated advice on how to keep one’s sack from becoming a purse. Like what? Well, men don’t cry. We have to be “the rock” in a (presumably straight) relationship: “When something tragic happens that affects your family, be a pillar of strength during the crisis. Take care of the business that needs taking care of.” It’s only later, when he’s alone, that a man can cry. I can only assume that these images of “manliness” don’t involve any of the gay or even sensitive men roaming around. And that’s why I’m worried.
Complaints about the “inequality” facing men and the loss of masculinity implicitly endorse an archaic image of the masculinity, one in which only the strong – and straight – survive. Countless boys, whether they be uncoordinated, weak or a bit fey, have been told they need to “man up.” What does that even mean? Who writes the rules of what it means to be a man? It seems to me that such choices should be left to the individual, rather than a group of irate activists who claim men need to embrace “maschismo,” which would basically produce cookie cutter clones. And who in the world wants a man who’s just like the next?