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Home » Opinion | Is Masculinity in Crisis?

Opinion | Is Masculinity in Crisis?

by News Desk

To the Editor:

Re “The Right Is All Wrong About Masculinity,” by David French (column, May 29):

Today’s men, Mr. French writes, “are in desperate need of virtuous purpose,” and he’s spot on about what’s wrong. Propagandists, politicians, pundits and the polarizers of social media are eager to exploit the need men have for meaning and community, and they do so by fostering the collective fantasy that real men are vessels of virtue lifted on the rising tide of legitimate outrage, heroes on the march into a just war, with their orders and armed with AR-15 rifles.

No, we should not discourage masculinity defined by a willingness to fight or even die for what is right, to show strength, purpose and idealism. This drive is a virtue, to be sure, but it needs to be informed by critical thinking, literacy, facts and compassion rather than meanness, blind self-righteousness, incivility and dehumanization.

Sure, “stand your ground,” but make sure you’re not standing on real estate you bought in a Florida swamp; be proud boys, for serving the powerless; keep an oath, to practice empathy; be a human rights supremacist; raise your fist, Josh Hawley, but for peace.

Tim Maxwell
Menlo Park, Calif.

To the Editor:

Men don’t come with a surgeon general’s warning: Being a man may be hazardous to your health. But it is nonetheless true — far too many men lead lives of quiet desperation.

If a man takes the supposed masculine virtues of self-reliance and honor too far, he can destroy himself. Self-reliance can be deadly when a man who is beaten down by the world turns a gun to his head instead of reaching out to people who can help.

Honor not met — “I am a failure as a man” — may drive a man toward dangerous substances to soothe his soul or to lash out violently toward those whom he loves.

So, if you are a man who is beaten down and one who may even hate the sight of your own face in the mirror, turn away from your defeats and self-loathing and reach out your hand. There are people who can help.

Bruce Kirby
Rockville, Md.
The writer is a clinical social worker.

To the Editor:

David French talks about the value of traditionally masculine traits of stoicism, competitiveness and aggression. Surprisingly, liberal, queer me pretty much agrees with him. I also agree that the right has screwed this up in an effort to turn its cause into the cause of real men (in this case we’re talking about the real men of 1959).

People like Josh Hawley view these qualities as being essential to being a man and are threatened by any other view. Stoicism, competitiveness and aggression are simply human qualities.

One of my favorite people has all of those qualities in abundance. She also happens to wear elegant dresses more often than not, she always sports over-the-top stilettos, and her makeup and hair are always perfect. She’s everything that stereotypical femininity is supposed to look like. I respect her and trust her, and you don’t want to get in a knife fight with her (it will not end well for you and she will still look perfect as she walks away).

When I looked up the definition of femininity, I came up with: intuitive, creative, compassionate, nurturing, cooperative, communicative, sensitive and caring. None of these are exclusively linked to gender. They are human qualities that all of us can embody.

When society (or in this case the right) tells us which qualities we are allowed to express, feel or experience, we all lose.

Mark Petersen
Park City, Utah

To the Editor:

David French’s column is right on. There is this myth perpetrated by the right that proposes that courage and bravery are necessarily represented by belligerence, force, combativeness and displays of threatened aggression.

When I am working with my psychotherapy patients, people frequently describe construing others’ aggressive or controlling behavior as signifying a kind of personal “power.”

I have proposed that this construction is a cognitive distortion. In response to people who are intimidated by antagonistic behavior in others, I have often suggested a reframing involving the behavior of dogs: A dog will snarl at you only if it feels weak, threatened and insecure.

Stanford M. Singer
New York

To the Editor:

David French agrees with the political right’s defense of “traditional masculinity,” but argues that the right routinely fails to exhibit masculinity’s “best virtues,” such as stoicism and courage.

I think most reasonable people would agree that approaching adversity with stoicism and courage can be desirable. But the problem with “traditional masculinity” has never been with the traits that comprise it.

Instead, the problem is that these traditional narratives of masculinity normalize and perpetuate restrictive, blanket pressures for how men “ought” to act and emote. And these value-laden standards (where masculine = strong and powerful) suggest to men that their masculinity is a core feature of the self, making deviation lead to feelings of weakness, failure and humiliation.

We can recognize the value in being calm without upholding insular standards for proper behavior.

Nathalie DiBerardino
Orangeville, Ontario

To the Editor:

While I acknowledge many of David French’s points about channeling rather than suppressing certain traits common in boys, I want to offer an unorthodox perspective on a possible role model: the Asian male.

I have endured a lifetime of people questioning my masculinity and belittling my “manhood” on account of my being Asian. This is a unique problem that Asian American boys have to deal with all our lives — from schoolyard taunts to subtle condescension in the dating sphere.

I believe deeply in the power of Asian masculinity. My own immigrant father was hardworking, kind and deeply committed to his family — tough without being belligerent, angry at injustice without lashing out. Many other Asian men like him were taught the values of discretion, thoughtfulness, stoicism (in the right situation) and love.

Many women I talk to tell me — somewhat sheepishly — that they don’t feel physically threatened by Asian men. We’re perceived as respectful, dependable and safe. We do well in school and, increasingly, in the professional sphere.

So why aren’t people pointing to Asian men as role models for American boys? Instead, we’re saddled with derogatory stereotypes about our physical shortcomings and flat personalities.

I sincerely believe that the Asian male can offer a viable alternative to the American model of manhood, and deserves mention in any discourse on the “crisis of masculinity” in America.

Don Yuan

To the Editor:

Senator Josh Hawley certainly proved his bravery during the attempted coup on Jan. 6! But there’s a bitter irony in the photo of him raising his fist in the gesture made most famous by the anti-fascists fighting Franco in the 1930s and by the Black Panthers in the 1960s.

Who knew that Mr. Hawley was an antifa?

Maurice Wolfthal

To the Editor:

David French’s thoughtful article on masculinity brings to mind the word gentleman. The word is appropriate not as a description of a social class, as it is sometimes used. Rather, the word should be seen as a compound of gentle and man.

“Man” invokes the concepts of personal strength, assertiveness and reliability. “Gentle” describes how you treat other people. It implies respect, consideration and accommodation of others. The words modify each other.

In order to be thoroughly masculine, men should act gentlemanly.

Joseph C. Bright
Bryn Mawr, Pa.

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