Over the course of the later half of the 20th Century and now the 21st a new male archetype has emerged and been embraced in American popular culture, the Love-able Idiot. Turn on any television sitcom and the character of Love-able Idiot is readily apparent, usually the hapless husband, father or brother who means well but is constantly making a mess of things. Fortunately, there is always the direction and care of a strong woman to dust off the man and even return some of his masculinity and self worth when convenient.
Masculinity is sometimes referred to as toxic and using reason and intellect, thought to be a more masculine trait, is met with suspicion. I became interested in the subject a few years ago, when I began to notice men resembling their sitcom counter parts and displaying more feminine characteristics. I started my inquiry by looking at how popular media portrays masculinity. It is difficult to find a good example of traditional masculinity in 21st century popular culture, minus perhaps Ryan Gosling. Long gone are the days of Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Clarke Gable and Rock Hudson. These role models exemplified strong and assertive men, but were also sensitive and supportive, they were confident yet smart and gentle. They have been replaced by the sitcom dope, or the hyper-masculine character that is either crude or cocky and uses violence to prove their manhood. Neither impresses me as being a good role model. Being a dope signals incompetence and lack of intellect, and being violent is based in fear which is not a particularly positive masculine trait. Please don’t even get me started on the ridiculousness that gangsta-rap portrays. Even sports have not been left untouched. Indeed there are fewer places for boys to learn to be men.
I wanted to understand what humanity’s collective knowledge over the centuries had to say about the topic of masculinity. There seems to be a great reverence for the masculine, feminine balance. Taoism seems to focus on these energies almost exclusively, Yin and Yang. It also defines these characteristics in ways that make a lot of sense when one considers humanity’s 185,000 years as hunter and gathers and 15,000 years as Agrarians. The genders had defined roles for most of human history, both equally necessary and valued to ensure survival. I have heard it said, “There is no feminism in the wilds.” Men, together, gathered resources and provided protection, while women nurtured the young and community. Different skills, traits, attributes were developed. Even modern brain scans and social science studies show that there are significant differences between men and women (I will write more about this in the future).
Things are much different for men today. A recent survey shows fewer and fewer men identifying themselves as masculine than even just one generation ago. There is even an active shaming of traditional masculine traits in the media and social narratives. It seems that boys are no longer growing up to be men, but remain in perpetual boyhood and confused. With the mass dissolution of family in recent decades, many boys are growing up in an increasingly feminized world. More boys are growing up in single mother households, in daycare and schools that are primarily staffed by women. Too often boys are retreating into the atomized world further cut of from traditional play and athletics. The now common use of powerful psycho-tropic drugs guarantee their submission and docility. Also in today’s high schools it is not cool to simply be straight or even just gay, some sort of multi-faceted gender and sexual identity is becoming increasingly popular. What is on display to learn and mimic in the media, porn and video games serves to only further confuse. Boys, and consequently men, are in crisis. Suicide rates and drug addiction have increased; gender and sexual confusion seem to point to a struggle. Their essential purpose in life to provide, protect and support is being stripped away and subsumed by changing culture, social narratives and state control. To underestimate the power of these would be folly.
This past year on New Years Eve there was a mass sexual assault on women in Cologne, Germany. After the dust settled it caused some to ask where were the German men? The men were unable to protect the women. They were overwhelmed by the aggressiveness of the men from another culture. History teaches us that as cultures become more liberalized they become primed and eventually taken over by stronger traditional cultures.
Recently a survey was published stating that Millennials are having less sex than previous generations. This has some people perplexed. How can this be, in an increasingly sexually liberal, “pornified” and Tinder world? While there are a number of possible reasons for this, many which have to do with attention seeking and validation online rather in person, I think it also has something to do with the confusion of boys. My casual observations in music venues, is that young men do not approach women. Even if a young woman is twerking most men will keep their distance. I can’t say that I blame them in a culture that accuses them of being rapists and in some cases simply talking to a woman is harassment.
So what is left for the average boy who is not comfortable with adopting a hyper-masculine persona and scared, the Love-able Idiot. The Love-able Idiot is non-confrontational, non-assertive, somewhat entertaining, challenges no one and does not express view points that are not widely accepted. For boys/men this has become a “safe space.” I’m just left wondering if this is what women really want and what the future of relationships will look like.