Boys to Men: An Uncommon Event

Posted on October 11, 2011 by


Today, in a departure from the stream of the last few posts, I’ll be talking about Manhood. Women! Wait! This concerns you too! Plus, I promise it’s going to have a lot of interesting stuff.

So, Tuesday, William J. Bennett wrote an article on CNN titled “Why men are in trouble”.  At first, I thought it was going to be some more of the typical male-bashing. You know what I mean, the commercials where the men are shown as being incompetent, even incapable of performing everyday tasks, until the wife comes along to do it for them, or comment to their girlfriends about just how idiotic their husbands are. But, I digress. The article, for the first half or so, seems to be doing similar, praising women for their advancements and condemning men as immature and irresponsible. But, eventually I realized, these are just background details, and sad facts (not about women, about men) such as:

The data does not bode well for men. In 1970, men earned 60% of all college degrees. In 1980, the figure fell to 50%, by 2006 it was 43%. Women now surpass men in college degrees by almost three to two. Women’s earnings grew 44% in real dollars from 1970 to 2007, compared with 6% growth for men.

In 1950, 5% of men at the prime working age were unemployed. As of last year, 20% were not working, the highest ever recorded. Men still maintain a majority of the highest paid and most powerful occupations, but women are catching them and will soon be passing them if this trend continues.

The out-of-wedlock birthrate is more than 40% in America. In 1960, only 11% of children in the U.S. lived apart from their fathers. In 2010, that share had risen to 27%. Men are also less religious than ever before. According to Gallup polling, 39% of men reported attending church regularly in 2010, compared to 47% of women.

There has definitely been a huge decline for men in these aspects.  Men are going to college in fewer percentages than ever, and a higher percent are also unemployed. So, what is at the root of this? Are men actually getting more stupid? Are they devolving into cro-magnons?  It’s doubtful. So, just what is it? Men, more so now than ever, are lost in a sea of everlasting adolescence. We, men that is, are lacking in role-models and teachers to exemplify what it is to be a Man. We have fewer people helping us reach maturity now than ever, with people favoring the “Boys will be boys” attitude, and leaving boys and men alone as though it will take care of itself. And, not to belittle their struggles or over-generalize, women seem to have an easier time reaching Womanhood, than men to Manhood. But why? Perhaps, and this is only one of many possibilities, it’s still strange to breach the topic of vulnerable males, guys who need help, because, well, isn’t manhood inherent? Isn’t it the natural step once they hit 18? Don’t they just get up from the coach, throw down the game controller, put on a suit, grab a briefcase and start putting in their 40 hours for the wife and kids?  If you said yes, you’re not getting it. As Bennett puts it:

The machismo of the street gang calls out with a swagger. Video games, television and music offer dubious lessons to boys who have been abandoned by their fathers. Some coaches and drill sergeants bark, “What kind of man are you?” but don’t explain.

Movies are filled with stories of men who refuse to grow up and refuse to take responsibility in relationships. Men, some obsessed with sex, treat women as toys to be discarded when things get complicated. Through all these different and conflicting signals, our boys must decipher what it means to be a man, and for many of them it is harder to figure out.

So that’s it. Quite simply, society is failing men. They provide so many ideas of what it means to be a man, yet none of them seem to work. Men are left gasping and wheezing as they run after the bus of manhood only to realize that the bus the one they should’ve been chasing turned right six blocks ago.

So, we’ve addressed why it is men are falling behind: lack of a transition into manhood caused by lack of role-models and guides. But what exactly is manhood? How can they get there? Personally I subscribe to Bretty McKay’s (from Art of Manliness)  notion of what Manhood (And Womanhood!) is:

…Striving for excellence and virtue in all areas of your life, fulfilling your potential as a man, and being the absolute best brother, friend, husband, father and citizen you can be. This mission is fulfilled by the cultivation of manly virtues like:

  • Courage
  • Loyalty
  • Industry
  • Resiliency
  • Resolution
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Self-Reliance
  • Integrity
  • Sacrifice

And Mr. Bennett offers a similar, albeit more precise definition:

The Founding Fathers believed, and the evidence still shows, that industriousness, marriage and religion are a very important basis for male empowerment and achievement. We may need to say to a number of our twenty-something men, “Get off the video games five hours a day, get yourself together, get a challenging job and get married.” It’s time for men to man up.

Unfortunately, most men reading this have already entered the age of Manhood, possibly without having reached Manhood. So, we must all work at it alone now. It’s something we all must struggle with, but perhaps, when we figure it out, we will remember to help those that come after us. We may not have had someone to guide us in, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reach for Manhood, that we can’t strive for that excellence in life. I just hope that I’ve helped you understand that, those male-bashing commercials, while rude and crass, are on to a very serious topic about our society, and it’s something we need to give a good, hard look at.

If you’ve been with me this whole time and didn’t leave, I thank you, because I really do believe in this subject, and I hope that it’s something that will find a place, however small, in your heart as well.