Jul 13, 2023

people need codes

Christine Emba is a national treasure:

For all their problems, the strict gender roles of the past did give boys a script for how to be a man. But if trying to smash the patriarchy has left a vacuum in our ideal of masculinity, it also gives us a chance at a fresh start: an opportunity to take what is useful from models of the past and repurpose it for boys and men today.

We can find ways to work with the distinctive traits and powerful stories that already exist — risk-taking, strength, self-mastery, protecting, providing, procreating. We can recognize how real and important they are. And we can attempt to make them pro-social — to help not just men but also women, and to support the common good.

Influencers on the right have found an audience by recognizing and exaggerating these tropes. What else is an incel but a stymied procreator building an identity out of his failures? Who are Tucker Carlson’s tire-flipping civilizational guards but the protector, made absurd? Right-wing political figures such as Josh Hawley have clearly latched on to many men’s desire to provide, but their solutions are often 1950s throwbacks that depend on castigating women for providing for themselves.

What critics miss is that if there were nothing valid at the core of these constructs, they wouldn’t command this sort of popularity. People need codes for how to be human. And when those aren’t easily found, they’ll take whatever is offered, no matter what else is attached.