“Once upon a time, men wore the pants, and wore them well. Women rarely had to open doors and little old ladies never crossed the street alone. Men took charge because that’s what they did. But somewhere along the way, the world decided it no longer needed men. Disco by disco, latte by foamy non-fat latte, men were stripped of their khakis and left stranded on the road between boyhood and androgyny. But today, there are questions our genderless society has no answers for. The world sits idly by as cities crumble, children misbehave and those little old ladies remain on one side of the street. For the first time since bad guys, we need heroes. We need grownups. We need men to put down the plastic fork, step away from the salad bar and untie the world from the tracks of complacency. It’s time to get your hands dirty. It’s time to answer the call of manhood. It’s time to wear the pants.”
So runs the copy of Dockers’ new “Man-ifesto” ad campaign that’s caused a bit of an uproar among the talking heads. Some praise it as refurbishing the image of “noble masculinity”, bringing it forward not as a threat to women’s rights but as a “valuable and enriching quality”. Others damn Levi Strauss for “waxing romantic for the days of submissive ladies and alpha males” … although there’s nothing in the ad about women being submissive (unless having a door opened for you makes you a servant, which it does in the looking-glass world of second-wave feminist theory).
Frankly, I think the ad copy suffers from confusion of identity. Are we talking some post-postmodern revival of masculinity as a pendulum swing away from androgyny and “metrosexuality”? Or is this a call for men to “cowboy up”, to take individual ownership of various social problems? Perhaps our muddled Madison Avenue mishegoss is looking for both, tying traditional ideals of manhood to manliness and vice versa?
Well, let’s face it: the ideal of masculinity has never gone away. Unisex was never very attractive outside the liberal-arts colleges, where it was championed by radical feminists fueled by hatred of their own womanhood; even advocates of “queer theory” hated it. Androgyny was laughed to death on Saturday Night Live; to call a man’s look “metrosexual” is pretty much tantamount to saying, “Dude, that outfit makes you look gay. Not blatantly gay, not screaming-queen gay, but gay nonetheless.” Despite the so-called feminization of the workforce and society, men have for the most part opted to look butch … even the pale, skinny guys.
Surely Levi Strauss knows this. Surely the overpaid hack who slammed out the ad copy on his aging Dell desktop knows this as well. So let’s go with what’s behind Door #2, Bob:
Part of today’s social malaise stems from the fact that we are taught a crippled idea of citizenship which emphasizes rights and seeks escape routes from duties, and encourages a false notion that humans act in isolation from each other. Another part arises from our desire to protect children: we have forgotten that all childhood is a preparation for adulthood, and that most of the traits we carry into adulthood are part of our personality by the time we’re seven years old.
But what happened along the way was not that men got stranded between adolescence and effeminateness. Rather, men were told—by women!—that they no longer had to be polite. They were told that they weren’t necessary for child-rearing, that women would make all the reproductive choices, thank you very much. Men could help provide a home, but their financial contribution wasn’t essential so much as it was helpful: if necessary and desired, women could go it alone on the breadwinning, too. Holding the door open was chauvinistic and patronizing. Children didn’t need fathers (except maybe as once-a-month nannies to take the whiny little brats off mama’s hands for a short weekend). Hell, the only reason to have a man around the house was that dildos can’t take out the trash!
When women started to cuss, men stopped paying attention to their feelings. When women claimed the right to make all reproductive decisions, men gladly abandoned all responsibility for childrearing, declaring loudly, “You’re pregnant with my child? That’s your problem, not mine.” The more of the financial burden women took upon themselves, the more money men had free to spend on toys. Men not only no longer had to hold the door open for women, they could kick them out of the car onto the curb miles from home. Women were no longer ladies; they became bitches and hoes, sex tools and masturbatory aids.
And so men became dogs.
In Ephesians 5:21-24, Paul tells women to be subject to their husbands, which has been cause for great feminist scorn. But he spends three times the words in the following verses, 25 to 33, in telling men how to treat their wives:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so should husbands love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” [Gn 2:24]. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
I hold this truth to be self-evident: Women are to be cherished, protected and respected.
This truth does not contradict women in the workforce or in politics or in the military; it does not require that public offices be filled solely by men or that women remain “at home, barefoot and pregnant”. Such simplistic equivalences are no longer relevant to the discussion. In fact, more than anything else, men have forgotten how to cherish, protect and respect women because we’re no longer trained into the little acts that paid homage to women, such as pushing in their chairs at the table and allowing them to precede us into and out of buildings. Yes, women can get their own damn doors and take off their own damn coats; it doesn’t follow, however, that extending such courtesies makes them helpless.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how “green” we make our societies as long as we’re busy tearing the human foundations apart. If we completely destroy the ecosphere, once we suicidal maniacs have died off as a species, the earth will regenerate itself. However, we won’t be around to enjoy it. Whatever the sins of mankind are reckoned to be, I’m not so dismayed by them that I’m willing to see us condemn ourselves to death.
Adults may build governments and form armies; but without families and children, there is no home and no community—no civilization—to give governments and armies a reason to exist. It’s not every adult’s vocation to be a spouse and parent; however, men ought to be more than sex tools and sperm donors. They ought to be involved, lifelong fathers. They ought to be faithful, lifelong husbands. For those who can’t or don’t want to be either father or husband: celibacy is neither unhealthy nor unnatural nor impossible.
I honestly think that women still want the behaviors from men that the second-wave feminists openly rejected forty years ago, as long as it were clear that men being men didn’t put women back into second-class citizenship. I have yet to see the convincing argument that one necessarily leads to the other.
We hear a lot of blather about the “right to choose”, mostly so far as it means “right to kill my child without a bunch of nosy sods sticking their beaks into my business”. But if we have free will, then our ability to choose between conflicting courses of action means a responsibility to choose not just according to what’s legal but also according to what’s moral. Any animal can be driven to have sex by its urges; where humans differ is that they can choose not to have sex … that they can resist and even safely redirect into other channels the reproductive drive. We men can therefore choose to be faithful, to be engaged, to be cherishing and protective of women and children.
So on this blessed night, while the rest of the world focuses on the Holy Mother and Child, I remind you of the Holy Protector and Foster-Father who brought them to the manger in Bethlehem. May Saint Joseph, not Ron Jeremy, be the model and inspiration for all men who want to be real men.