The Wussification of American Men

Posted on | December 20, 2011 by Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. |

Wendy Wright and I heard Bill Bennett pitching his new book last Thursday night in New York. Bennett’s thesis in The Book of Man is that men are becoming wimpier because society no longer teaches them what it is to be a man.

Bennett says that unlike his last book, The Book of Virtues, this one has not provoked any response from feminists. Maybe that’s because he does not blame them for the disappearance of good men. He says it’s because they agree with him. The bottom line is that men are failing to take up their responsibilities as husbands (nuptials and faithfulness in marriage reaching all time lows), as workers (1 in 5 young men is unemployed or underemployed, while 95% were employed in 1970 he said). This isn’t helping young (educated, employed) women, who still dream of marrying their prince charming.

Bennett’s facts are sobering: that more women than men graduate from college is well-known, but he said men 18-35 years old play 2.5 hours of video games a day while those 12-17 years old play much less: 1.5 hours a day. He told several vignettes, among them the typical girl out of college moving in with her boyfriend and three other guys who sit around playing video games while she goes off to work.

The answer, he says is memesis, a Greek word for creating heroes to emulate (he was a Philosophy professor before his famous career as Reagan appointee and radio celebrity). I noticed he used male-exclusive icons when possible, and his talk and book both feature the Navy Seals (“While there are only 2500 in that elite force, hundreds of thousands of men in bars all over America are claiming to belong,” Bennett said.)

I considered this, and the fact that, according to Mara Hvistendahl’s book on sex selection the walls of boutique IVF clinics in LA are painted pink. American parents who choose pick girls, she says.

And this led me to think that perhaps society is just not ready for the re-emergence of the Real Man.

Women of my generation and younger were told about all the things they could do when they grew up. Pushing boundaries, like the frontier spirit, is essentially if not exclusively American. What Bennett is proposing, is that boys will thrive again when they are told what they should do, what they must do.

The question is, in a world where books like Bennett’s are rare, can we convince our sons, and our daughters, to aspire to the heroism of the ordinary? Or will doing one’s duty be so rare that it becomes the new extraordinary. And if it does, who will celebrate it?

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Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.

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