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In defense of “Why men are in trouble”

Written by admin, Thursday, October 6th, 2011 in Dating Columns, Sex & Dating

William J. Bennett would like to blame the fall of masculinity on the fall of religion and role models. In my opinion, he’s right — our society has weakened proper masculine roles to the point of outright destroying them.  While some legitimate arguments can be made against Bennett (see, e.g., NeoGAF, Reddit), I’m writing this article to defend him against some of the hate he’s received on the Internet.  In short, we need to stop feeling that video games are under attack and acknowledge the simple fact that Bennett is right.

Before I discuss Bennett, let me cover the basic gist of his argument.  In short, Bennett argues that men are becoming weak and, in a sense, losing their edge in the face of “you go girl” feminism.  Bennett blames this decline on the loss of “founding virtues”: work, marriage, and religion.  Forgoing these virtues, Bennett argues, men are more likely to play around with video games, television, and music, media sources which provide questionable guidance on masculinity.  Bennett concludes:

The Founding Fathers believed, and the evidence still shows, that industriousness, marriage and religion are a very important basis for male empowerment and achievement. We may need to say to a number of our twenty-something men, “Get off the video games five hours a day, get yourself together, get a challenging job and get married.” It’s time for men to man up.

For the most part, I agree entirely with Bennett.  Men are increasingly subjected to a strange, duplicitous sort of definition of masculinity in modern society.  On one hand, movies and TV shows such as The Simpsons, Two and a Half Men, and various romantic comedies depict men as something like mindless sex-robots, insinuating that men are unintelligent and uninterested in anything beyond sports and sex.  On the other hand, more testosterone-laced shows like Jersey Shore and various music artists encourage boys to assume hyper-violent, hyper-sexual roles in order to (ostensibly) “prove” their masculinity.  In short, society tells boys to either be a bumbling idiot using his salary to beg his wife for occasional sex, or to become something between a pickup artist and a street fighter.  This strange juxtaposed message is precisely the “confusing signals” Bennett describes, and insofar as his argument concerns these signals, I entirely agree with him.

I even agree with Bennett’s implicit statement about work — namely, that it acts as a sort of social glue that used to help boys become men.  While the masculinity and values of yesteryear are greatly exaggerated by many, one thing is certain: our ancestors worked a hell of a lot harder than we did.   They studied harder, worked harder, and generally fought harder than we do.  America is as proverbially fat as it is literally fat: we’ve gotten lazy, slothful, and ignorant.  The new trend of lazy Americans posting “We are the 99 Percent” photos and whining about their (mostly) self-imposed debt and financial problems would make our ancestors laugh — where we cry and post pictures with our $500 iPhones on Tumblr demanding someone fix our problems for us, our much more manly ancestors would have simply worked harder and fixed the problem themselves.  Our masculine ancestors — and mind you, I say masculine ancestors because the women were just as “manly” as the men in terms of their guts and effort — wouldn’t have protested their problems.  They would have worked hard and self-improved in a way that would make Horatio Alger cry in happiness.  In contrast, the desire of modern men and women in America to actually succeed in the global marketplace is dead, and it almost seems just that the Chinese economy is at the gates demanding our throne of economic superiority.

I will admit I can’t agree with Bennett on his implied assertion that marriage and religion act as social glue.  While this is in a sense true — arguably, if we all were pious and married we’d probably have to be more organized and less lazy in some sense — such values may simply not interface with our society quite like they did in the past.  Moreover, given our appalling divorce rate, I don’t exactly think we should be pushing boys into marriages they won’t value anyway.

But let me get to the allegedly offensive part of his argument involving video games:

We may need to say to a number of our twenty-something men, “Get off the video games five hours a day, get yourself together, get a challenging job and get married.” It’s time for men to man up.

Okay, I’ll admit this is offensive. There simply is no reason to assume that people who play video games — including myself — are going to be lazy.  Video games, being a recreational activity like anything else, are pretty innocuous by themselves, and video games qua video games aren’t the only progenitor of male laziness.

So is Bennett totally off the mark when it comes to video games?  Actually, no — I’d still say he has a point.  Recreational activities themselves aren’t the problem, but they sure as hell don’t help the situation.  No matter what a boy does that keeps him from being a man — playing video games, obsessing over movies, pretending to be a pickup artist and selling godawful books in order to satiate his insecurities — it needs to stop, or at least significantly slow down.  It just so happens that video games are a common denominator in terms of American male laziness.

Ultimately, Bennett has a solid argument.  Society has all but destroyed proper male role models, and we’ve become lazy and useless as a result of that.  I’d be willing to postulate that it is this laziness that has weakened us in the economy and made us the veritable laughing stock of the world.  Even though Bennett may be a little bit antiquated on his views of proper society, the man has a point, and we need to stop attacking his offhand remarks regarding video games as a proxy for ignoring his argument altogether.

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8 Responses to In defense of “Why men are in trouble”

  1. oddboyout says:

    I can’t follow a website that advocates this bullshit. Bye.

  2. Paul says:

    Bennett (and yourself, from this article) seem to defend some kind of ideal man, but not much is elaborated on what a ‘man’ actually is. I agree that modern male role models pushed by the media are pretty out there, but why not post an article saying what a ‘man’ is?

    You make some relevant points about how laziness and complaceny can hold us back, and I’m sure many people would agree with that. Many American stereotypes could also come from that, I agree there too.

    But I think you took it too far when talking about the current economic situation. The reason for the recession and all isn’t because of American laziness, it’s largely due to economic factors outside the control of us individually. If you’d even taken a look at that 99% site, you would notice that many of them aren’t just whining (okay I’ll admit that some are, yes) — many have been hunting for jobs for ages and have been put into awful circumstances that are outside of their control.

    • Clay says:

      Being a man is about taking responsibility not only for yourself and actions but also for your experience. It’s about facing life squarely – acceptance of who you are now without judgement or emotional bias and recognizing that you can change and grow. It’s about taking contol of your life – transforming negative emotions such as anger and anxiety into confidence and self-esteem using assertiveness and courage as an action. It’s about being in it for the long haul instead of instant gratification while still being focused on the now. It’s about taking care of yourself and those in your social circles as best as you can. It’s about being a living example.

      I could go on and on. Check out David DeAngelo’s “On Being a Man”.

  3. Kirk says:

    I’ll agree with you to a point on the economic issue, but I think it’s really much more nuanced than “economic factors outside the control of us individually”. I’d rather characterize it as a mixture between public issues (i.e. the stuff traditionally out of our control — political favoritism, etc) and private laziness (taking out unrealistic mortgages, excessive credit card spending, etc). By all means, a lot of what’s happened economically in the US is the result of stuff everyday Americans couldn’t have done much about, but a lot of it comes from long-term decisions that Americans COULD have done stuff about, such as refusing to do business with scummy banks and refusing to purchase stuff they couldn’t afford.

    While I may sound like I’m trying to justify the economic crisis by placing the blame upon individuals, I totally agree that there’s a lot that could not be controlled. Nonetheless, we have to accept that our complacency regarding a lot of what goes on in banking and politics more or less caused what we have today.

  4. Dr McKay says:

    I understand the offense taken as a gamer myself, but is anyone here really advocating playing 5 hours of every day? Not a few nights, or a couple of hours a day, but spending almost as much time as you do asleep? Surely this isnt healt by in the long run, better of spending some of it doing paintball.

  5. JP says:

    This article states nothing of what a man is, should be, was, or has been bastardized into (beyond a Jersey Shore crack and some sitcom references.)

    Men still exist, in large numbers, and any factors affecting “masculinity” are affecting women as well. It’s not men’s laziness, it’s people’s laziness. A fat girl never tries to get a job and sobs up a storm at every little thing is surely just as pathetic as her male counterpart stuck in whatever rut he’s made for himself.

    As for the economy, while it can’t be blamed on any 1 factor, it can be noted that given the realization of an economic problem large enough to cause a massive protest, people have decided to ignore any political means to cause change, and their protest is merely them sitting on their asses, not looking for work. It seems like they’ve only changed venue, and in no way are going to put forth true effort into their cause. That in and of itself should be a great example of the article’s validity, and an example of how it easily crosses gender borders, and how video games really have nothing to do with it.

  6. Dana says:

    You lost me at “lazy Americans posting ‘We Are the 99%’ photos and whining…” I agree with the premise of Bennett’s article and your article – to the point where I was just about to click the “Share on Facebook” button when I got to this point. But this sentence belies total ignorance of what’s going on in the world and what has gone on in the past.

    Have you even read anything those people have posted? Are the people with master’s degrees who work 80 hours a week at minimum wage jobs and can’t pay their medical bills “lazy” in your opinion? Collectively, you’re probably right that these people could do something about their situations, but they can’t if they don’t establish institutional structures that help them work together. If you haven’t noticed, that’s what they’re doing. Contrary to media coverage, highly visible protests are the tip of the iceberg of the Occupy movement. When they aren’t posting these pictures (and really, how much time and effort does that take?), these people are creating what they’re asking for and are having success with it both on the level of subculture and in terms of influencing policy.

    But don’t get me started on the politics of this. My point is that when you say things based on personal observation and state opinions that are not anchored to fact, you obliterate the credibility of otherwise good points. As soon as I read the aforementioned sentence, I could think of all kinds of studies, economic data, and historical research that you have obviously not looked at. If you want your opinions to be taken seriously, take the time to do research so you can credibly back up the points you’re making.

  7. Kirk says:

    Looks like I’ve been called on to respond.

    First off, I’m not contending that everyone in America is lazy. What I AM contending is that there is a culture of laziness and self-entitlement that has resulted in a questionable work ethic in America. This does not mean that the current economic system is somehow solely the fault of these people — rather, it simply indicates that, in the sense of “Brave New World”, we’ve been distracted by shiny objects and delusions of grandeur such that our ability to grind away at work like our predecessors has gone down the tubes. I agree with JP in his argument, though — this is PEOPLE being lazy, not men. I just wrote to a male audience.

    As for the Occupy movement, I think that some sort of lofty evaluation of the entire movement should be left until we see what trajectory it takes. While there’s a lot in the movement I can agree with, that doesn’t make it some sort of mobilized revolutionary force. I’m highly skeptical that the entire movement can maintain traction post-2012 elections, especially where the movement is so diffuse and segmented (of course, I said the same thing about the Tea Party in 2008, but then again, they have Republican funding). There are very reputable professors (who I refuse to name-drop) that disagree with me on this, so you guys might have a point.

    To be more clear and to respond to Dana’s point, I believe the Occupy movements are simply not going to maintain the traction that is necessary to put forward much in terms of policy change. The movement is strong and it will change how people view the current economic climate (a very good thing), but it has not manifested an ability to effectuate actual legislative change. I wouldn’t consider it a Constitutional movement under Bruce Ackerman’s theory of constitutional movements (I only do so with the Tea Party very hesitantly), and I really wouldn’t consider it a long lasting social movement.

    But hey, Dana may be ultimately right. Social movements aren’t my forte.

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