It was a typical college night for the party crowd—drinking, flirting, and drinking more. Michael, a former football player from a small southern town, went out with friends from high school and found himself with one of the most beautiful girls he had ever seen. After several shots and pitchers of beer, they headed back to campus with his friend and her roommate.
Stumbling to the front door, the girl leaning in Michael’s arms looked up at him, her brown eyes glazed and inviting. She smiled and kissed him. Her lips tasted of tequila. She fumbled for her key and staggered into the room. Michael’s friend and the other girl were already kissing, not caring that they weren’t alone. They fell into bed, tossing clothes to the floor.
The girl with Michael giggled as she pulled him to her side of the room. Lights from streetlamps slipped between the shades and onto a pile of pink pillows, posters of bands on the wall, and a string of pearls hanging from a prom picture beside the bed.
She fumbled with the buttons on her shirt and leaned back on the bed. She reached for Michael, but he pulled back. “I think it’s best if you just go to sleep,” he said softly. “We can talk tomorrow.”
The girl glared at him, feeling rejected. She turned her head away in a pout, but as he pulled the blanket over her, she looked up at him. Her eyes softened and she whispered, “Thank you.” Michael kissed her forehead and left, returning to his dorm alone.
This is a true story, one that many men might identify with either as Michael or his friend who took advantage of an easy situation. It’s also a story of masculinity—the “traditional” type we hear so much about today—or, rather, the kind we don’t hear about.
Pathologizing What Makes Men Themselves
The American Psychological Association has released a report that says “traditional” masculinity is the cause of an array of pathologies, including sexual abuse, murder, mental illness, and even suicide. Masculinity, it claims, “encourages men to adopt an approach to sexuality that emphasizes promiscuity and other aspects of risky sexual behavior, such as not learning a partner’s sexual history or engaging in sex without protection from pregnancy or disease transmission. Indeed, heterosexual men’s adherence to traditional, sexist aspects of masculinity has been connected to sexual assault perpetration, as well as decreased condom use and increased casual ‘hook-up’ sex.”
This description of “traditional masculinity” is far from the truth. Yet it’s the premise psychologists, educators, activists, and politicians use to form judgments about men and masculinity—judgments that affect not only policy but relationships.
The truth is, masculinity is good—or at least morally neutral. Men’s physical strength, sexual drive, emotional reticence, and raw competitiveness are simply natural traits that can be exercised for good or bad.
The same is true with feminine traits. A woman’s sexual power, emotional awareness, intuition, and guarded competitiveness are merely aspects of her femaleness. They can be noble or degraded, according to how they’re applied.
Why, then, do so many steeped in modern feminine ideology consider masculine traits toxic? Why do they oppose cultivating them in our society and encouraging boys and men to express themselves as they are designed? Why do they call masculinity toxic?
The obvious answer is they have misidentified masculinity as something it’s not. They have assumed that “men behaving badly” is masculinity itself. As a result, they have concluded that this natural aspect of a man must be rejected, suppressed, reconditioned, and manipulated into something else—something more feminine, or, as they have posited, a new kind of masculinity—a subjective, socially contrived masculinity, which is individual-centric and sensitive to men who struggle to be masculine, and bears little relation to actual masculinity.
This effort to eradicate masculinity from society is dangerous because it disrupts social cohesiveness and the relationships that depend on the complementary nature of masculinity and femininity to flourish. The idea that masculinity can be transformed through the sheer willpower of social awareness means that a person can be redefined through external social conditioning, either voluntarily or involuntarily, depending on the extent of the powers granted to those who deem masculinity a threat to society.
The real problem the APA and others are concerned about is very clear if only we open our eyes to see it. Consider my opening story. Here we have two men, one who used his masculine sexual urges for good and one who used them for his own selfish ends. One guy took advantage of the drunken girl, but the other exercised self-control.
No doubt he was tempted. He wanted her—she was beautiful, sexy, and available. His blood rose to his cheeks, he felt desire course through him as he held her in his arms. But he took charge of his sexual desires, tucked her safely in bed, and returned home. His strength was true masculine strength.
The APA says traditional masculinity is violent, but consider the fact that in the 18th century there was a stark decline in individual violence—murder, rape, abuse, and domestic violence. There were still wars and conflicts between groups of people, but the individual violence was nothing compared to the 20th and 21st century, despite their ebbs and flows.
What was going on, then? If masculinity was so toxic, why was there such a decline in individual violence when masculinity was fostered and held in high esteem? Violence declined because men, informed by a religious worldview that coupled a man’s nature with his rational and moral ability to mold it, exercised self-control. Boys and girls were taught what it really meant to be a man.
The culture sought to develop and train men to use their masculinity for the good. Key to this development was self-control.
Society did not seek to, in essence, rewrite men’s genetic code or recondition them to be something they weren’t. The culture sought to develop and train men to use their masculinity for the good. Key to this development was self-control. This, more than anything else, was a sign of manhood.
Because of their overpowering strength compared to women and their sexual drives, men were trained to control their impulses. Their strength was honed for an honorable purpose. Boys were taught to become husbands and fathers one day. Their masculinity wasn’t just something to express however they wanted. It had a designed purpose—to care for those they loved, to sacrifice, provide, nurture, and die for them.
A “real man” was a man who used his strength to defend and cherish his family, community, and nation. The purpose of his sexual vitality was to bear children and connect with his wife, and his emotional quietude was to endure the hardships of caring for those under his charge without complaint. By controlling his emotions instead of spilling them for the world to see, those under his care were free to express theirs and find strength in him.
Men and Women Are Satisfied in Each Other
Within the bonds of marriage a man revealed his emotional side—with his wife, not with a cabal of babbling cronies. In the context of a trusting, close relationship they intimately expressed themselves as friends and lovers. Wives responded to their husbands, not with demands and competition cloaked as equality, but with appreciation and respect.
An interesting observation Alexis de Tocqueville made in the early days of America was that women didn’t mind “submitting” to their husbands because men and women entered into marriage by choice, not arrangement. They had chosen them, and trust was a strong component of their relationship.
“I never observed that the women of America consider conjugal authority as a fortunate usurpation of their rights, nor that they thought themselves degraded by submitting to it,” Tocqueville wrote. “It appeared to me, on the contrary, that they attach a sort of pride to the voluntary surrender of their own will, and make it their boast to bend themselves to the yoke, not to shake it off. Such at least is the feeling expressed by the most virtuous of their sex.”
This notion that masculine men are automatically unemotional and sexual deviants is contrary to historical evidence. Men were the poets, passionate inventors, and soulful warriors who kept dairies and wrote letters to their loved ones. During the Revolutionary War, one soldier penned a poem about marriage that reveals the longings many men shared:
When on thy bosom I recline,
Enraptured still to call thee mine
To call thee mine for life!
I glory in those sacred ties,
Which modern fools and wits despise,
Of Husband and of Wife.
One Mutual flame inspires our bliss,
The tender look the melting kiss,
Even years have not destroyed.
Men longed to be married because it supplied sexual satisfaction. It also served as protection against sexual immorality—not perfectly, of course, but a strong deterrent. In the early colonies, sex in marriage was so highly valued that they allowed for divorce not only for infidelity and sexual wrongdoing but also for sexual inability.
A man’s sexual vitality was not determined by how many women he had sex with, as seems to be the case today, but how many children he had with his wife. A man who showed sexual aggression toward women or was known for his sexual wantonness, as so many are in these post-sexual revolution times, was not considered masculine. Quite the contrary. He was looked down upon as an embarrassment to manhood because he failed to exercise self-control.
Today, many men and women have little self-control. Sex is too often the goal, not a relationship. The orgasm is the aim, not connection. This causes marriages to become deserts of intimacy and sex. Women neglect men because they want intimacy first, failing to see that sex is the gateway to intimacy. And men only reinforce a woman’s lack of desire because they see sex as the goal and don’t open its door into intimacy and deeper knowledge of the one they love.
Masculinity Can Be Deeply Fulfilling
The APA report says masculinity leads to mental illness, depression, and even suicide, but the truth is that masculinity, which is cultivated and nurtured in a healthy marriage, finds peace and emotional fulfillment in that space. With marriage on the decline, high levels of divorce, and toxic marriages where men are oppressed by anti-male feminist notions, men are not finding the emotional release and comfort in a trusted relationship as they once did.
Instead of exercising self-control, expressing their manhood by leading a family as the protector and provider, and enjoying sexual expression with one trusted woman, they are experiencing loneliness, isolation, and disconnected sex through empty hookups and pornography.
Men are not finding the emotional release and comfort in a trusted relationship as they once did.
A fascinating quote from the 18th century might sound odd to our modern ears, but it has much to say about men and out-of-control sex: “The semen discharged too lavishly occasions a weariness, indisposition to motion, convulsions, leanness, dryness, heats and pains in the membranes of the brain, with a dullness of the senses.”
It might seem a bit funny, but maybe there’s some truth to it that we should heed. One thing is for sure: sexual promiscuity, which dulled the brain and caused more depression than many men might care to admit, was certainly not “traditional masculinity.”
Masculinity is at its best when a man is married, but it takes two. How can a man be a man if women don’t want him to be a man? This is the conundrum and the deleterious consequence of modern feminism and its war against masculinity—and marriage.
Men who want to be men need women who want the same. The loss of marriage as the sacred realm of both masculine and feminine expression has created a social vacuum that has been filled with deviance and degradation.
The ills the APA cites are not caused by traditional masculinity, but by its loss. We have abandoned, devalued, and disrespected the role and nature of true manhood, replacing it with a degraded representation of its former self. We have failed to nurture men and then blame men for their toxic masculinity—a masculinity made toxic only by its neglect and abandonment.