On Masculinity and It’s Decline
Some insist that the world currently suffers from an excess of masculinity. But...is this really true? And, if there is an excess, then it’s an excess compared...to what?
While there are some countries where machismo is still the order of the day, its seems that masculinity, especially healthy forms, is on the decline most everywhere. In many ways the toxic machismo we witness today may simply be a false bravado attempt to overcompensate for the systematic emasculation of men in many cultures.
We can observe that emasculation, for instance, in Western pop culture. Though most are too young to remember, television shows and advertisements once portrayed at least some fairly healthy masculine stereotypes. TV shows like “Father Knows Best” (can you imagine any network releasing a show with THAT title today?), “Leave it to Beaver”, “The Waltons” and many more portrayed stable, stern and loving father figures. This was true even up through the 1970s (with shows like “The Brady Bunch”).
It’s difficult to find anything comparable today. By the 1990’s, men started being feminized and masculinity started being portrayed as either scary and disturbed (e.g., Jack Bower in the show “24”) or disempowered and buffoonish (e.g., Dan Conner or “Roseanne”).
Two of the most popular TV shows of the 90’s—“Friends” and “Seinfeld” offer us a good example. Don’t get me wrong, I loved both shows, but consider the main male characters in each for a minute. In Friends, Ross is basically a girl, Chandler is a barely functioning neurotic, and the only character that displays any real classic masculinity, Joey, is the ultimate buffoon. All of them are single. Likewise in Seinfeld all three male leads are neurotic buffoons, also single.
This trend from the 90’s regrettably persists to this day. The four male characters on most popular sitcom of the last decade, Big Bang Theory (one of my favorite shows, by the way), consists of four anxious, neurotic and mostly single man-children.
It seems that the only way to make masculinity, or even males in general, politically correct and non-threatening to modern (feminists?) sensibilities is to make men into harmless goofballs. Most every modern sitcom today incorporates this theme. Even advertisers have seized upon the technique. Consider, for instance, the Sonic commercials.
Interestingly, this cultural trend corresponds to actual biological changes in males. Average sperm counts in men in the West have declined by a full 50% over the last four decades alone. Yep, Western men produce less than half the sperm that their grandfathers or great-grandfathers did. And Average male testosterone levels have likewise plummeted, declining an average of about 1.4% per, or about 30% in total, since 1987.
So, where’s all this masculinity that people are so concerned about? I mean, truly, where is it? Maybe in India? In Saudi Arabia? Fair enough, but I don’t think that people are generally speaking about those places when they lament this excess of masculine energy. Rather, they are speaking of their own place, which for folks in my social circles generally means the West.
Some argue that our excess of masculinity manifests in the West’s overemphasis on logic, reason, rationality and observation (i.e., science) and and under-appreciation of more feminine ways of knowing and relating, like intuition and mysticism. But can anyone look at social media today, or even mainstream media, and seriously contend that the world suffers from an excess of rationality? I mean...really? Can anyone look at our politics today and seriously contend that we suffer form an excess of reason and cold, objective, unemotional analysis?
Of course not. Both media and our politics are positively overrun with cognitive biases anchored in emotionality. Appeals to authority, non sequitur, confirmation bias, tribalism, straw men arguments, red herrings, etc. are the rule rather than the exception (and if you don’t know what each of those things are, you kinda prove my point!). And these irrational biases are almost invariably employed in defense of an emotionally held belief system rather than a rationally developed one.
So, again, where is this excess of masculine rationality that allegedly permeates our Western culture? It’s not in our media. It’s not in our politics.
Some have responded that it’s on “obvious” display in our “rape culture” and in our penchant for violence and war. But, even if those are indeed the measures of excess masculinity (which is debatable), then the world is less masculine now than at any time in known human history! Wars and genocides are at all time lows (and not just by a little, but a lot!), continuing a trend that began centuries ago. Rapes and other violent crimes are down 75% or more just form the 1980s, likewise continuing a centuries-long trend of overall decline.
I’m inviting correction, but I can’t presently think of hardly any objective statistic supporting the proposition that the West presently suffers an excess of masculinity. That so many people nonetheless believe such an excess exists (even in the absence of rational evidence) proves that, if anything, society is presently overrun with feminine energies (e.g., emotionality) rather than masculine ones (e.g., rationality).
Disclaimer> I’m using the words “masculine” and “feminine” to describe archetypes, not genders. Masculinity does not necessarily correspondent to maleness nor femininity to femaleness.