There are several ways to quantify the woefully dilapidated state of masculinity at present, but maybe one of the best indicators of failed masculinity is the rise of the manosphere and the Red Pill movement.
As Michael Foster has succinctly pointed out, the manosphere—comprised of everyone from pickup artists to psychologists—can best be described as “men helping clueless bastards get a clue.”
In an article that appeared in The Guardian, Stephen Marche offered his summation of the movement, which has grown exponentially in recent years around figures like Jordan Peterson, Roosh V, Rollo Tomassi, and Jack Donovan.
“In the hours upon hours I spent wandering this online neighbourhood,” Marche writes, “I saw mostly feral boys wandering the digital ruins of exploded masculinity, howling their misery…craving the tiniest crumb of self-confidence and fellow-feeling” (emphasis mine).
Feral boys running around in the bomb-stricken remains of a once-masculine world, shell-shocked by tyrannical feminism and fatherlessness, trying to figure out what it means to be a man—that’s a pretty good summary of the state of masculinity today.
How did we arrive at this, a generation of lost boys who tend to put off responsible life decisions (marriage, children, career) longer than previous generations, are emotionally unstable, undisciplined, and crying out for any last vestige of masculinity they can find?
Here’s the main point: We have a generation of fragile boys because we’ve had at least six or seven decades of steadily increasing fatherlessness, burgeoning divorce rates, single-mother homes, and children born out of wedlock. It is nothing less than the bastardization of American culture.
For the remainder of this article, I want to unpack the specific ways in which fatherlessness has contributed to the coddling of the American man.
The Coddling of the American Man
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.7 million children currently live without the rearing influence of a biological father. Compare that to the post-war generation, in which almost 90 percent of children grew up in a two-parent home. The Greatest Generation won a war but lost its sons.
Absent a masculine hand of discipline and direction, the predominant influences on a young boy’s life are his mother, female teachers, and an age-segregated (and equally immature) peer group. In that case, a boy won’t enter the world of work alongside other men until his mid-20s (and counting), long after the most significant formation has occurred. Little wonder he doesn’t possess the masculine skills of interacting with the opposite sex, building a career, or changing the oil in his car.
Since the rearing of America’s youngsters has been relegated largely to women, several trends—each along the spectrum of effeminacy—have dominated:
First, our sons have been raised by over-protective helicopter parents.
Our parenting has been guided by what Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt describe as “The Untruth of Fragility” in their book, The Coddling of the American Mind. Mistakenly believing our children are like fragile little teacups always in jeopardy of irreversible brokenness from the slightest bump, we do our best to protect them from pain, difficulty, or even opinions that might upset them. We’ve developed “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” to shelter them from “traumatizing viewpoints” that might “do violence” to them.
The irony is that our best efforts to protect our children have actually been the primary cause of their increasing fragility. Mental health among teenagers has reached crisis levels, so poorly equipped are they to deal with the once normal stress of adulthood.
In truth, our sons are adaptive and antifragile by nature. They require stressors, challenges, and adversity to grow and flourish. Pain, suffering, and hardship, in the right measures, are vitally good for them.
Organs are made for action, not existence; they are made to work, not to be; and when they work well they can be well. — Dr. Henry Hyde Salter, 1864
In past generations, this was the stuff fathers incited and mothers lost sleep over—jumping dirt bikes across the canal, tackle football in the cul-de-sac with the neighborhood kids, or letting a son sort out his differences among school bullies with his own two fists. A boy learned masculine work ethic and virtues from an early age as he labored alongside his old man, much the same way the clueless Thao learned from Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino.
Fathers have an essential role in introducing some measure of danger into their sons lives and guiding them through it. It may be the danger of a chainsaw or the presence of a beautiful woman, but it’s from fathers that a boy learns how to navigate these daunting obstacles with skill and come out the other side with confidence.
Our sons, however, are generally raised in an over-regulated world of safetyism, often with far too much motherly oversight. Their lives are obsessively manicured from birth so they can be the next Tiger-Woods-like Outlier. We fret over their grades, schedule parent-supervised play dates, and idolize the hope of a college acceptance letter from a prestigious university. Not surprisingly, our sons turn out to be risk averse and timid, unable to build a career or embark on a lasting relationship.
The solution is simple: Let them fail. Guide them. Encourage them that challenges and frustration are important teachers. Welcome scraped knees, bruised noggins, multiple stitches, and crushing disappointments. In a wind-swept world of adversity, teach your sons to be a fire wishing for the wind to energize them, not a candle afraid of a slight breeze.
Second, our sons have been trained primarily in emotional reasoning.
Ours is predominantly a feelings-based culture, something that could be said far less about previous generations (can you imagine a soldier on Omaha Beach telling his sergeant that he didn’t feel like fighting that day?) We’re a bunch of sissies. A lot of this can be traced back to Dr. Spock and other parenting manuals in the 70s and 80s that touted parenting for self-esteem.
In essence, the theory goes, you protect a child from anything that negatively impacts his sense of self-worth and instead shower him with praise. All sugar, no cane. Cue the onslaught of participation trophies, white college freshmen named Jaxson with more entitlement than a Kardashian and less accomplishments than a ham sandwich, and you get what Time magazine called the Me, Me, Me Generation.
Our sons, as a result, have learned from parents to idolize their feelings. What matters is not the objective truth but subjective feelings. If I feel entitled to a six-figure job right out of college, then I am. If I feel traumatized by competing worldviews, then it must be true. The result is fragile, soft-shell crab men who crumble in the face of criticism or rejection.
Fathers in previous eras didn’t tolerate this sort of thing. Teddy Roosevelt’s father, for example, looked upon his sickly, weak-bodied son and challenged him to a higher standard: “Theodore, you have the mind, but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. You must make your body. It is hard drudgery…but I know you will do it.”
Instead of falsely inflating his self-esteem or allowing him to play the asthmatic victim, Teddy’s father laid out the boy’s shortcomings and challenged him to work vigorously on a solution. He told him it would be hard. But he also shared his fatherly belief in the boy. It will be so hard. But you are up to the challenge.
How do we stop raising a generation of soft men? We stop coddling them. We call them to the strenuous life. We set hard things before them and call them to rise to the challenge. We make things harder when they could be easier. We discipline them in love. We call our sons to rule their emotions rather than be ruled by them.
It only works if we’re out front, embracing the adversity and challenges ourselves. Men, you have to be in the fight.