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Friday, January 08, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Star Wars and the Masculinity Crisis

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

I happened across this column by Mark Judge today in Acculturated, Immanuel Can, and I recognized a favourite hobby horse of yours in the subject of masculinity. So I thought why not exploit the current heat around the new Star Wars movie (which I have not seen, by the way) and discuss this a bit, since even secular writers are now drawing attention to the problem.

Tom: Have you seen the movie, by the way?

Immanuel Can: Nope. But I do like the subject of the article.

Psychic Dissonance

What’s a “real man” today? To hear from the feminist movement, you’d have to believe that a “good man” is that putatively male entity that is most like a woman in terms of its essential values, virtues and conduct. In other words there ARE no “good men” and certainly no “real men”. To be a man is to be something bad, something dangerous, something inferior, and certainly to be something that cannot be defined in terms of a specific set of virtues or character qualities that are good.

Is that fair, Tom?

Tom: That sounds about right. But the problem with a world in which feminism defines acceptable masculinity is that, like it or not, young men have a felt need to become and be certain things which society rejects and for which society no longer can prepare them. Without a sense of direction and purpose to define them, Mark Judge says young men can suffer from “depression, rage and a lifelong inability to handle relationships”. And he points to the character of Kylo Ren in the new Star Wars movie as a perfect example of that sort of “psychic dissonance”.

IC: Well, direction and purpose, yes — but then, can’t young women lack those too?

Tom: Sure, of course.

Masculine Direction and Purpose

IC: I guess the important question, then, is in what ways “lack of direction and purpose” can be construed in a uniquely masculine way, as a problem experienced by young men in some way distinct from feminine self-development. I would argue that what’s missing is a whole concept of what it means to be a man, the steps by which male children can become one, how they can benchmark their development, and any sort of clear model of the end product in view. To put it in technical language, you might say that our boys lack a whole teleology of masculinity.

A Society Badly Out of Kilter

Tom: It seems to me the very fact that we have to talk about such a thing in technical language — or even be conscious of it at all — speaks to how very badly out of kilter our society has become on this issue. I grew up, to the best of my recollection, without any specific awareness of trying to be or become anything particularly masculine. It happened very naturally and more-or-less under the radar for me because I had a good male role model at home. It never occurred to me to try to be anything other than what my father was.

Now I can’t claim to have done a great job of it, but that was the pattern established.

IC: That might be okay for someone with a strong, spiritual paternal role model at home. But that’s clearly a rarity. Still, in order to recognize that you had such a role model at home, you must have held somewhere in your mind some sort of criteria or map to which you were able to refer to judge him as that. Now, we might well ask, “Where does one get such a set of criteria or such a map? What are its items or features?” If we could enumerate some of those, perhaps we could establish some sort of benchmarks to which anyone could refer, whether or not they had such a role model.

Want to try suggesting a criterion or characteristic of a healthy or strong masculinity?

Keeping His Cool

Tom: Unflappability. A real man doesn’t give in to panic, even his own. He doesn’t become shrill or defensive. He doesn’t easily lose his cool. He can display anger, but it’s always under control. I think of the Lord among the moneychangers: “And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple”. That always reads so methodically to me. He didn’t just go in there hurling punches and screaming. Those verbs are very clear. He didn’t scream. He didn’t shout. He “told”. He “said”. I can picture him braiding that whip, his anger pulsing but completely in check, and then working his way from one end of the courtyard to the other while people ran in every direction. That’s genuinely manly.

IC: Hey, that’s good. I like that one.

Telling the Truth

Here’s another one: truthfulness when it costs. A real man has a special relationship to truth. He speaks the truth, not the politically correct falsehoods of the day; and he does not back off the truth when he knows it. He does not seek out conflict gratuitously, but he also isn’t afraid of conflict, since truth is on his side, and truth wins.

And my pattern for that? I’ll take John 8:14-30. Zero punches pulled. Real men choose truth and speak truth.

Paying the Piper

Tom: Amen. But I’ll see that and raise. A real man provides. He goes out, gets a job and pays the bills, and he has extra to give away to those in need. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”. He doesn’t turn down paying employment when he needs money because it isn’t what he studied in college or university. He doesn’t sit in his parents’ basement playing videogames while he figures out who he is and what he wants to do with his life. He’s not afraid to work long and hard to earn enough to be able to share. He’s not looking to be a househusband while his wife brings home the big bucks.

Acting Courageously

IC: Well said. I agree. And now, by way of expansion, let me add that a real man takes courage in the Lord. That is, having sought out and established the truth in his mind, he acts on it with vigour, decisiveness and persistence. He takes leadership in the cause of truth, starting with himself but extending to his family and his community. He’s an asserter of the truth and an initiator of action in light of the truth.

And where might I get this? I will suggest the following two examples: Joshua 1:7-9 and Acts 4:19-20. You’re up.

Taking the Lead

Tom: A real man is able to say no to the women in his life when it really counts. Not about everything, of course. I’m not talking about being a bully. But it’s a little ironic that a man calling the shots for the family is now derisively referred to as “patriarchal” when so many of the real patriarchs make fine cautionary tales regarding the dangers of letting women take the lead in spiritual matters. Adam would have been much better off saying, “Thanks dear, but I’ve eaten”. Abraham must have regretted that he didn’t tell Sarah, “You know, your servant is lovely and all, but you’re my one and only, so why don’t we wait on God a bit more?” Samson could have made it clear to Delilah that any further conversation about the source of his strength was simply not happening. But they didn’t. The good thing is their stories exist to help us not to make the same mistakes.

Strength With Mercy

IC: Here’s something else: a real man’s strength is so great that he can afford mercy. He does not need to bully or badger with his strength, for that would bespeak insecurity on his part. Rather, he can be calm and confident, and know he is still strong when others are weak and errant, and show kindness to the undeserving. For the ultimate in such merciful strength, see Luke 23:34.

Not the Stereotypical Alpha Male

We could go on, of course. But Tom, you’ll notice that we’re listing traits a man could have regardless of his physical size, personal presence, looks, magnetism, age, culture, education, and so on. Is there any reason why any man couldn’t be a real man?

Tom: Not at all. The biblical “real man” is not some kind of alpha male stereotype. He is simply a man of good character. But “good” as defined by scripture, not by society or by third-wave feminism — or, I might add, even by the man’s own wife, who, depending on her upbringing, experience and spirituality, may not be in a position to know which qualities in a partner would really make her life at home most enjoyable and ultimately profitable.

I suspect that these days any attempt to become more manly in a biblical way will be appreciated in some quarters and not so much in others.

IC: Yes. Of course, a real man wouldn’t care. He’d be what he is either way.

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