I just returned from seeing the movie “300,” the fictionalized story of the Spartan defeat of the Persians a very long time ago. Two weeks ago, I saw “Into Great Silence,” the documentary of the life of the Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse. Most people will say that there could not be a better example of two movies so profoundly different – opposite sides of a continuum between quiet serenity and brutal, brash violence. I’m just thinking…
And it is a true statement, but there is a profound similarity in these two movies of men and about men. You see, the men depicted in Into Great Silence and the men depicted in 300 have one thing in common – they all gave and continue to give their lives for something greater than themselves. They sacrifice(d) their lives for something beyond themselves. One group sacrifices for the work of God and the salvation of humanity. The other group sacrificed for freedom and for the salvation from annihilation and slavery of the people of Sparta. Regardless, they give and gave up their own lives, these men did and do. The Religious cast and the Warrior cast, represented in these two films.
What does it mean to be a man? I read again and again of the crisis in the development of boys, the depression of men, the lack of purpose, lack of direction – it is all around us. This is nothing new, but it seems to have reached destabilizing proportions over the past 30 years or so. What does it mean to be a woman?
There used to be a sense that it is a virtue to give of oneself to something beyond oneself. Women gave in the caring for their families and the rearing of children. Men gave in supporting and protecting their families and their nation. These are stereotypic roles, of course, and generalizations, yet in them we find a mechanism for the living for something or someone beyond oneself. There was purpose, direction, and security in knowing what was expected. These “old fashion” notions have fallen away, but what are we left with?
There is coming a time, and I believe we are in the beginning stages, when the true nature of men will be reasserted, but there is no longer the cultural call to and so few examples of virtuous expressions of manhood. They have been expunged for the sake of political correctness. We no longer teach boys how to be “men,” but rather to deny their maleness for androgyny. Maleness is to be engineered out of boys because it is “naturally contrary to the benefit of women’s equality.” Women should be equal.
My fear is, since men have been relieved of the oh, so terrible stereotypical role of provider and protector of families (witness how easy it is for men to relinquish any responsibility to provide for their children and families, too easy to abandon them), my fear is that what will be left are men who are completely self-absorbed and prone to irresponsible expressions of maleness through violence and banality. I fear that maleness will be reasserted in new forms of barbarism to the detriment of a good and ordered society. Do we not see this happening all over the world?
Societal changes needed to come, and they have. As Paul said, there is neither male nor female with regards to the place of each within the purview of God’s good work and will for us. The sexes are equal. Culturally, even within Christendom, this has hardly been the case, and still isn’t. We do not listen very well.
Within two generations, we have generally lost the meaning of womanhood and manhood. There has been a feminization of men and the masculinization of women. I know that there are still those who demand that the two sexes are essentially the same and there should be no distinction made between them – women can do “men’s” work and men can do “women’s” work. Yes, they can for the most part. Aren’t we liberated!
The problem is that the sexes are not the same. Most people understand this, but those with their hands on the levers of power and influence for the last few decades do not agree. They have had the upper hand. The social sciences are realizing the differences, although there are still the die-hards who will never countenance such a surrendering of the politically correct dogma. In the striving to prove that men can be womanly (their feminine side) and women can be manly (their masculine side), we have completely lost who we are as men and as women.
I don’t advocate a return to the 1950’s, but I would push for admitting that the social experiments with gender over the last 50 years have not worked to bring about a new utopia, or even to realize the equality of the sexes.
What has happened? When the women’s liberation movement got into full swing, and there needed to be such a push, what tended to develop was an internalized rejection of what had been traditionally feminine. Rather than women realizing the unique qualities of the feminine and demanding that men give those qualities their equal dew, a good many “liberated” women simply took upon themselves the worst of male characteristics. In order to be free and equal, women had to be like men. Conversely, for women to be free from male domination, men had to be brought down a notch – meaning they had to be “feminized” – the new-age sensitive kind of guy.
What are men, really, if they are not providers and protectors? It is inbred, whether through evolution or by a divine act of God. We can deny it all we want, we can try to force men to be something they are not, but they will return to what they are, eventually. And we are. The question is whether we will realize the best of what manhood really is, or whether we will realize the worst – and the best will not be realized if the push continues to deny what is essentially male. Women are the great civilizers of men, frankly, and if women reject that role as they pursue equality, then what we are left with are men who are, again, brutes and barbarians.
We need to find a new way of expressing the nature of men and the nature of women that does not deny who and what we truly are – our best qualities lived into for the betterment of society and for something other than our individual selves. There needs to be a new recognition that women can really be feminine and men can really be masculine and the qualities of the two are equally needed and should be equally esteemed. Otherwise, we are left with Parish Hiltons who return women to being sex-objects (and women who believe their self-worth comes from objectification), and men who live completely irresponsible, banal, and violent lives, and more then willing to objectify women.