Untimely Observations

High and Low “Masculinities”


In a variation on a current meme for The Baltimore Sun, Andrew L. Yarrow writes:

Thanks to a long-sour economy and radically changed gender roles and expectations, American masculinity has fractured into an "Up in the Air" male and a down-in-the-dumps male. On the one hand, the corporate masculinity of the early 21st century is based largely on a soft power conveyed by money, prestige and education and their corollaries in grooming, clothing and elan. These mostly urban, upper-middle class (to rich) men read their Economists, know their pinot noirs, and speak in politically correct, complete sentences. Working-class, poor, and much middle-class masculinity is defined by declining fortunes and capabilities in school and the labor force (and even the marriage market), feeding gender- and class-based anger. The "angry white man" losers of Bruce Springsteen ballads often react with a politically conservative hypermasculinity, replete with authoritarian and homophobic streaks.[...]

We need to create the conditions and the role models so that one category of men isn't arrogant and entitled while another is angry and defeated. Multiple masculine identities are OK, but they can't be ever more molded by an economy of glamorous star running backs and benched, injured second-stringers.

And yet, like Hanna Rosin and others, he can offer no real suggestions as to how we might transform masculinity thus. What sort of second-string, less triumphant, noticeably weaker and obviously less impressive masculine ideal will allow our hearty but aimless working class men to feel good about themselves again? No one can really say, but everyone is certain that average men had better hurry up and get over themselves and stop wanting to be men in the way that their ancestors have always been men since the beginning of recorded history.

One good question to ask when someone like Yarrow asserts the “need to create the conditions and the role models so that one category of men isn't arrogant and entitled while another is angry and defeated” is: or else what? 

We need to do this, or else what?

What happens when a huge portion of the male population feels increasingly angry, defeated, dishonored and desperate?

Ask history.

Daydreams of violent upheaval aside, Yarrow’s picture of multiple masculinities here is a bit distorted by the “gender studies” language he employs. Are there really two masculinities there, or is one simply a more refined and luxurious version of the same thing? The manhood of upper class men is not defined by their ability to select a fine wine or talk intelligently about business or literature. These things are simply different adaptations to a different social environment; they are add-on modules. I suspect that there has often in history been a sense among the hard working classes that the porcelain boys of the upper classes were laughably soft and fragile. And wealthier, more educated, more cultured fellows have often regarded their counterparts across the tracks as stupid thugs. There is probably a little more truth in both positions, generally speaking, than either side would like to admit. But when it comes to their most basic sense of honor and what it means to be a man, the two groups have far more in common than it would seem from superficial appearances.

These two “masculinities” are not parallel, unrelated phenomena competing with each other, nor are they opposite sides of the same coin. They are branches on the same tree. The primal, essential, paleo-masculine root of masculinity is strength, defined as the ability and drive to exert one’s will over objects, over nature, over other men, and over oneself. The root is violent, terrible and brutish. Teeth bared, the eternal masculine asserts and exerts itself, seeking triumph and dominion.  For men living in a civilized world, the pure masculine is a Jungian shadow. We see the ecstasy of its bestial abyss in the wild, flashing eyes of rabid sports fans and fighters. We tap into it during sex.

Recognized as different manifestations of the same atavism, upper and lower class “masculinities” can be understood more completely and accurately. We’re not talking about apples and oranges, here. More like Ferraris and hot rods, yacht racing and stock car racing, adventure novels and comic books, Gustav Host and Mötorhead. It’s about a man who lives in a castle and a man whose home is his castle. It’s the developer, the architect and the bricklayer. It’s a barroom brawl and the mensur.

Yarrow connects the masculinity of the “angry white men” he openly despises to political conservatism, authoritarianism and homophobia. He associates all three with “hypermasculinity.” I would agree insofar as masculinity is hierarchical and therefore more naturally at home on the right. Young men are often attracted to the “rage against the machine” strife of the revolutionary left’s youth rebellion program, but their talents and temperaments will ultimately prove inconvenient to any secure, bureaucratic, egalitarian socialist government.

The word hypermasculinity seems to have seeped from the realms of gender studies, psychology, sociology and art criticism into the vocabulary of more mainstream writers, so it is worth unpacking a bit. There’s a lot of unpacking to do, so I’ll handle that in a follow-up piece.  At the moment, it is enough to say that hypermasculinity is a word of the left, best defined as masculinity that has been insufficiently civilized, according to one’s taste or nagging sense of inferiority.

If the masculinity of wealthier men seems somehow worldlier and more “secure,” this is simply because money is power and these “up in the air” men can afford to be more relaxed about the way they are perceived by their male peers.  Men from wealthier backgrounds are more secure, especially in uncertain times. They have more options, more support and better safety nets. Even if he is henpecked at home, a man of means can throw some money around whenever he wants to feel dominant. He can yell at the gardener or upbraid an intern. Feminists, in collusion with the upper class men who manage our society, have decided that men should no longer be heads of their households. Non-destructive outlets for the exertion of atavistic masculinity are ever more carefully managed, neutered and safeguarded by meddling bureaucrats. Globalists outsource many of the kinds of jobs that appeal to average guys. So when average and lower class men find themselves less and less able to provide for even themselves, and end up relying on wives and matriarchs who treat them like bad little children -- yes, you are going to start hearing rumblings that sound like trouble.

The smug and dismissive Andrew L. Yarrows of the world have no workable solutions; that much is clear.