Fashions change. When we were kids we used to laugh at the very idea of bell-bottoms and side-burns. What is old becomes new again, of course. I don’t imagine that any adult today would like the fashion trends of young people. I know I don’t. And yet, I think there is an objective element here too, that is to say, an element involved in fashion that isn’t just a matter of mere taste and how old you happen to be.
I don’t know why, but being masculine isn’t very popular in some circles. Generally, I am speaking of the high-fashion world of the big city. It has sort of always been this way, but sort of not so too. There is a newer element at play too. It’s not new in the sense that for a long time men have been told to dress like woman in haute couture, the world of high fashion. Romans complained about that. The Bible complains about that. Look at the paintings of the court-dandies from Versailles, the royal palace of France, and you will see some pretty un-masculine images. Over the centuries the Church has, rightly, criticized this kind of thing. When you study history you’d be hard-pressed to find defences of this kind of thing. The literature you will find is overwhelmingly of the kind that condemns the fashion of dandies.
That is, until recently. Until recently only serious people wrote books. The dandies did not. Today, not only is it the case that everyone writes, but also, women vote and have their own money independent of men, and since women are not hostile to dandyism in men, we suddenly find ourselves with magazines and lots of other things that celebrate the un-masculine in men.
The first thing that is done to discredit masculinity is what is done to discredit anything: show it at its worst. Doing this repeatedly creates a false association in people’s minds. All priests are pedophiles, all religious people hate science, all masculine men are unlearned brutes who are mean to women. Say it often enough and the worst lie becomes the truth, observed Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda man. He was dead right. And people are as easy to manipulate today as they ever were.
But what is the point of this lie? Why are people trying to do something as seemingly pointless as discrediting masculinity? The attack on masculinity, believe it or not, arises from the basic attack on the traditional Christian worldview. There is a very strong desire in many people today to undo the influence of anything old-fashioned, anything Christian. What could drive such an un-categorical, all-pervasive disdain? I am sure the causes are many and varied. Why does one come to espouse left-wing views? Some have pointed to the role that familial relationships have played: weak, negative experiences with fatherhood, for instance. A recently published book examines the fatherhood relationships of some prominent atheists: they all seemed to have bad or non-existent relationships with their fathers. It is a well-established fact that the father-relationship is the key one behind the homosexual orientation. Christianity becomes the defender of the old fashioned and the oppressive, in the minds of these people. How could that be when Christ came to ‘declare liberty to captives’? Well, it was not Christ who treated these people badly. Nor, were all of them actually treated badly. Imagined injustice is just as powerful as actual injustice.
Totalitarian regimes have always sought to undermine the rights of the family, especially the rights of the father. The Marxists were the best theorists of this. Why did they do it? Because they wanted the state to be all-powerful and the only way it could be was to dismantle the family. And if today people don’t come right out and say, “the masculine is bad,” they do so in so many words. Up until recent times, fathers ‘owned’ their children. Today, for as horrible as such a notion of ownership is, it is mothers who own the children. Why? Because women are always better parents? That can’t be the reason, because it’s simply not true. But that is the unconscious perception of our society. Tell enough stories about abusive fathers (but never of mothers) and we will all simply grant that women should ‘own’ the children. They own them enough by law to always be awarded custody of them in divorces and—not to mention—to be able to kill them in the womb as they like. You would have to go all the way back to Ancient Rome to see men with that kind of power over their children.
In the midst of such flagrant legal and ideological hostility, it is no wonder masculinity is on the run and unsure of itself. Oftentimes the Church does not help. In their homilies priests often reinforce the tired hilarious cliché of the bumbling idiot husband who needs to be led and taught by his wife. They never joke about the opposite being the case. St. John Paul II rightly spoke about the feminine genius, but did he ever mention the masculine genius? Not that I can think of.
And then, some might want to offer the horrible, reflexive defense, “Well, men deserve this kind of neglect because history has always been easier on men.”
Is that a good defense? People should be harder on black people because I once saw a black person do something bad.
In fact, we are all impoverished by an impoverishment of masculinity.
But to enrich our understanding of and appreciation for masculinity does not necessarily involve a canonizing beer, beards, wrestling, and guns – but it certainly can involve those things, because they are man things. I am not saying that to be a real man one must drink beer, but I am saying that it is interesting that men tend to like beer, and that that fact should be understood and respected, not apologized for and poo-pooed.
A little boy was sent home from school for biting his sandwich into the shape of a gun. Little boys are told to wear pink on Tolerance Day, or whatever it is called. These are just two absurd but predictable outcomes of a culture that has lost a-hold of the innate goodness of the gender of 50% of itself.
What, then, is true masculinity? I would say it arises from two things: 1) our nature as men, 2) our actions as men. Without getting into it too deeply—though it deserves to be—I would just suggest that men and boys have to have the comfort and freedom to do what befits their energy, their testosterone, their ‘humour.’ Men need to seek out, if not more physical jobs, at least more physical recreation. A man will never know himself so well precisely as a man other than through back-breaking physical labour. One thing I suggest: plow a garden by hand, with a mattock. Or, install a woodstove into your house, not because it is a cheaper means of heat, but because you and your sons need to learn to chop your own wood.
And pray. Not only to become meeker, kinder, and more loving, but to become strongly, a harder worker, braver. St. Paul had a few analogies for a Christian. Some of these were pretty masculine: the Olympic athlete, the boxer, the soldier (Jesus mentioned this one too), the farmer (Jesus mentioned this one too). We should take a cue from these.
It doesn’t matter that someday life as we know it might end – that the industrial economy might end and we will have to go from computer programming to hunting and farming. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that a man is always a man no matter what. His goodness lies in part in his physical strength and the endurance of his will. He was born to lead, perhaps to lead nothing more than his family. But he needs to learn how to do that. Everything that goes into that should be the focus of his education and training in the home, by his dad. A man should no more look like a woman than he should think of himself as a failed one. Clothing and lifestyle are powerful teachers. You are what you wear.
Colin wrote this Article for the Knights of the Holy Eucharist. He has been married to Anne-Marie since 1999, and they are proud to raise their six children, in a small town in Ontario, Canada. Colin has a PhD in Theology and works tirelessly to promote the Gospel. “Just share the Word,” is what he believes the Lord says to him – and so he does. He recently founded The Catholic Review of Books, a printed journal and website dedicated to “all things books” from the perspectives of faithful Catholics. He is fascinated by the concept of chivalry as it applies to being a man and a father in today’s crazy world.