I was recollecting an incident I witnessed some 20 years ago during a tour, in which a number of hip, “sensitive,” male passengers stood by with glazed eyes and did nothing while the tour guide, a five-foot-tall woman, confronted a violent man that actually hit her in the face, before he ran away.
I like to raise the question of what this sort of behavior implied about the state of manhood today. And I suggested that the real question is whether or not we wish to remain a warrior society. Should we continue-as past generations of Americans have always done-to raise our children as fighters? Or should we teach them to fear weapons, to stifle their aggression, and to submit to the demands of enemies, bullies, and tyrants?
This touches the question of manhood itself, and feminism as well. Because we can’t talk about one without the other.
Ideological feminists have long taught that it is insulting and demeaning for a woman to accept a man’s protection. That notion has now filtered into the mainstream. All male behavior has been affected, from opening the car door, to letting the woman get on the safety boat first if the cruise ship is about to sink.
The “m” word
An article in the March 1998 issue of Los Angeles Magazine talked about “power trippers” – high-powered Hollywood executives who take death-defying adventure vacations. It opened with a description of movie producer Charles Schlissel inching his way up the 6,000-foot, near-vertical face of the Eiger Nordwand in the Swiss Alps, against a wind-chill factor of forty degrees, with a bruised tendon in his foot.
“Outward Bound-style action-adventure vacations like this have become a required Super Male ritual for some of the most influential and highly paid executives, producers, agents and managers in the entertainment industry,” said the article. Why do they do it?
Warner Brothers executive vice president of production Tom Lassally offered this explanation: “I don’t want to feel like some pampered pussy. I want to feel – not like a ‘man’ – but I don’t want to feel like some Hollywood executive who gets manicures and pedicures and facials.”
Notice the phrase “not like a man.” It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that feeling “like a man” is precisely what Mr. Lassally and his fellow “power trippers” are after. But they can’t say it. Mr. Lassally feels perfectly comfortable pronouncing the word pussy, which is both obscene and offensive to many people. Yet he shrinks from the word man. In today’s society, manhood is practically a taboo subject.
The men’s movement
In the 80’s and 90’s the Men’s Movement got some attention in the media. Groups of men would go to retreats in the woods, in an attempt to get in touch with their masculinity. They would beat drums, paint their faces, do war dances around bonfires, and cry on each others’ shoulders, grasping for some hint of what it meant to be a “warrior” in modern society.
In the seventies many of us began to see all over the country a phenomenon that we might call the “soft male.” Sometimes even today when I look out at an audience, perhaps half the young males are what I’d call soft. They’re lovely, valuable people – I like them – they’re not interested in getting in trouble or starting wars. There’s a gentle attitude toward life in their whole being and style of living. But many of these men are not happy. You quickly notice the lack of energy in them.
These men had tried to live by the feminist code. They had attempted to suppress all traces of aggression and drive within them. In so doing, they had lost their spirit. Retreats for men were an attempt to mend such broken souls, but it was an uphill battle. Many seemed to regard manhood almost as a dirty word.
Most men have been brainwashed to the point of not being able to distinguish between any gesture of confidence and a gesture of aggression. They are so conditioned to suppress aggressive feelings that they end up recoiling from any demonstration of confidence, and the result is very soft and uncertain body language.
American men have tried too hard to be “sensitive” and soft. “If his wife or girlfriend, furious, shouts that he is a `chauvinist,’ a `sexist’ . . . he doesn’t fight back, but just takes it…. He feels, as he absorbs attacks, that he is doing the brave and advanced thing…… However, dangers lurk in such passivity. “The fading of the warrior contributes to the collapse of civilized society. A man who cannot defend his own space cannot defend women and children.” Americans nowadays seem to be forgetting what it means to be a warrior. They don’t value preparedness. They think the government will always be there to defend them from enemies and criminals.
Rituals of initiation
What is missing in our society is a rite of initiation. In traditional cultures, a clear ritual marks the moment when a boy becomes a man. After that, he is recognized as an adult, with all the privileges and responsibilities that accrue to his status. He becomes a warrior. In the most literal sense, he stands ready to fight in defense of his people or homeland, should the need arise.
Our society has no rite of male initiation. A man goes through life unsure, at every stage, whether he has attained manhood. Does it happen when he turns twenty-one? When he sleeps with a girl for the first time? When he gets his first job? When he marries or fathers a child? Nobody knows.
Perhaps that is the question those Hollywood “power trippers” are seeking to answer. Each time they test their mettle in death-defying adventure vacations, they seek some reassurance, some connection with the heroes of past ages. Yet no matter how hard they seek, they come back empty-handed. They may scale the Alps or scuba dive off the shark-infested coast of Australia. But they cannot say the words “I am a man” without irony, embarrassment, or apology.
A generation of fatherless men
Successful societies harness and restrain male aggression by teaching boys to be “gentlemen” – teaching them that a man’s honor depends on such things as “getting and staying married, providing for and protecting one’s family, protecting all women and children, serving one’s country in the armed forces…” and so on. In the past, these values were reinforced with “adventure stories” of “death-defying heroes” whose sense of honor, chivalry, and warrior spirit would inspire the emulation of young boys. Competitive sports offered physical release for male aggression and also built the fitness, discipline, and team spirit essential to military preparedness.
Philosopher Walter Newell said that “Our fathers and their fathers won women with heroism, honor, bravery and commitment to family life…. We are now raising a generation of fatherless men who do not have those role models.”
It was from their fathers that little boys traditionally learned to become “gentlemen.” But more and more boys today do not have fathers. And those who do, may have fathers so out of touch with their own manhood that they have no power to guide their sons.
In today’s schools, boys are taught to fear and distrust their own masculinity. They learn in history class about the evils of male domination. Their behavior toward girls is constantly scrutinized for evidence of sexual harassment. Competitive play and learning are frowned upon. Teachers and administrators encourage “cooperative learning,” in which teams of students help one another “discover” the answers, and stark distinctions between right and wrong answers are blurred. Even on the playground, competition is discouraged, and games “where no one keeps score” are recommended.
If all else fails, give them drugs
If all the previous methods fail to extinguish masculinity in little boys, today’s gender warriors have a secret weapon: drugs. “It is not uncommon in many classrooms today to find the percentage of children on Ritalin to be 25 percent or greater and the numbers are climbing,” charges Parents Against Ritalin (PAR).
Ritalin is the drug of choice for treating hyperactivity or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). A great deal of controversy exists over ADD. Experts differ on how to define it and even on whether it should really be called a disease. But one thing is sure. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, boys are diagnosed with ADD three times more often than girls. Forty percent of Ritalin prescriptions in the United States are for children between the ages of three and nine. Within that group of Ritalin-takers, 80 percent are boys. The grossly disproportionate rate at which boys are diagnosed with ADD has caused some critics to won der whether, in many cases, it is just a fancy new way of describing boyish behavior.
Boys have always been a discipline problem for teachers. They squirm. They fidget. They fight. They interrupt. Such antics seem to be hardwired into their genes. In past years, such behavior was controlled through scolding and punishment. But modern pharmacology has given teachers a new tool for controlling male unruliness. For millions of satisfied teachers (who at this point are the chief pushers of Ritalin), the proof of the pudding is in the eating: Kids on Ritalin become more focused and more compliant in the classroom. So what’s the problem? The problem is that being a boy is not a disease and therefore should not require medication.
Few things are more frightening than the mass shootings in today’s schools. Violent crime-and youth crime in particular-has been in steep decline since 1994. The 1999 arrest rate for juveniles on murder charges was the lowest since 1966. Yet, the relative rarity of school shootings does not make them less threatening to the soccer moms who view them on television.
Random school shootings by white kids can be traced back at least to 1974, when seventeen-year-old honor student Anthony Barbaro opened fire at his school in Olean, New York, killing three . To what extent such shootings have become more common in recent years is hard to discern. There have simply not been enough cases to chart any clear statistical trend. Yet, it seems plain that such incidents did not form a part of American life as recently as two generations ago. Guns have always been with us, but school shootings have apparently not. Many American men over the age of forty today were first taught to handle a gun at age eleven or twelve…. Yet those people would no more have taken a gun to school and shot their classmates than they would have shown up at school naked.
However rare these shootings might be today, the question is, “Why are they happening at all?” More than a few experts have suggested that the same left-wing educators now calling for a “zero-tolerance” crusade against guns and aggression may themselves – however unwittingly – have helped instigate the violence that now makes such policies seem necessary.
If quelling male violence is a goal for today’s gender warriors, their efforts may have backfired in a spectacular way. A growing number of critics have hypothesized that psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin, Prozac, and Luvox may be contributing factors in the rash of motiveless, unexplained school shootings that have received wide publicity since 1996.
The autopsy of Columbine shooter Eric Harris, for instance, showed that he was heavily medicated with the antidepressant Luvox, a relative of Prozac. Fourteen-year-old Kip Kinkel, who killed two students and wounded twenty-two when he opened fire in a school cafeteria, had prescriptions for both Ritalin and Prozac.
“The list of these cases goes on and on,” writes Deborah Carson in the Las Vegas Review Journal. She notes that the manufacturer of Ritalin has admitted that “psychotic episodes can occur.” Carson continues: Today at least 6 million kids are now on mind-altering drugs such as Ritalin, Luvox and Prozac. In some classrooms, 20 percent of the students are on Ritalin. Yet no research has shown that such psychoactive drugs are safe for minors nor that they remedy any brain-chemistry imbalance.
Not surprisingly, Carson observes, many “Americans increasingly see a link between the torrent of seemingly senseless acts of violence by school-age children and prescription psychotropic drugs – many of which have been known for years to cause serious adverse effects when given to minors.”