I suppose I should probably be insulted by the recent wave of faddish books and essays about how young men aren’t really men anymore because feminism/hipsterdom/Judd Apatow has turned us all into slackers/little girls/total basket cases. Mostly, though, I don’t get it. I mean, yes, there exist young men with no direction or ambition. If you look hard, you can also find some young men who are resentful, sexist assholes. And I’d be pretty surprised to find out the majority of men haven’t, at one point or another, felt some anxiety over what they felt was insufficiently masculine behavior or impulses on their part.
But what, I’m supposed to believe that this shit didn’t exist before the 80’s? All of these challenges and failings strike me as rather mundane and irrevocable aspects of the human condition. I seem to remember life being hard before Knocked Up came out.
I suppose I could be persuaded it’s particularly bad now if someone cared to show me some statistical evidence. But so far all I’ve seen is a whole lot of anecdotal evidence and wild speculation. What statistical case has been offered up looks pretty dubious.
So maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Not: “What is the cause and nature of the modern crisis in masculinity?” But: “Why the fad in shirt-rending over a supposed crisis in masculinity?”
Allow me to engage in some wild speculation of my own and suggest a few factors: One is that being “counterintuitive” about feminism will always be lucrative for social critics, especially female social critics (who get extra points for novelty and are insulated from charges of misogyny). Even though the orientation of American culture is essentially conservative and rather atavistic, it’s still considered innovative and revolutionary to blame a lot of bad things (real or imagined) on second wave feminism. That’s especially true if the victims of said bad things are white dudes, the eternally persecuted martyrs of the modern world.
Another factor: for a number of reasons (including second-wave feminism) the definition of what is acceptable masculine behavior has relaxed to the point that men can get away with doing all sorts of things in public that their grandparents would have derided as girly or undignified. This is, on balance, a good thing, but it can be frightening and disorienting for people with a very particular vision of what it is to be a man. These frightened, disoriented people end up concluding that the whole gender has fallen on dark times.
And one more biggie: We actually do have, I think, an epidemic of hedonism and self-absorption. But it’s exceedingly easy epidemic to misdiagnose in a way that conforms to one’s preexisting prejudices and absolves one of any complicity.
That last one is an entirely different blog post. Hell, it’s probably a whole book, albeit one that would sell very few copies. Instead, I should just write one about why Seth Rogen is the face of the decline of Western Civilization.