Discover more from The Freemen News-Letter
Yes, Boys Will Be Boys
Let's hope that never changes.
In the popular Netflix original movie Bird Box there is a powerful moment when a man takes off his blindfold (a really bad thing in the movie) in order to defend a woman and two children. It was a completely selfless act where he sacrificed himself for those he felt compelled to protect.
The moment is not unlike several powerful moments in another Netflix original development, the re-boot of Lost In Space. The father in the movie is estranged from most of his family and is constantly reminded of his past failures. Despite this, he constantly comes to the defense of his family in critical moments and also performs many selfless acts and sacrifices to protect them and regain their trust and love.
The reason I mention these two examples is because neither of these men are fathers and husbands in what might be considered a healthy or conventional family situation. The first is an African American veteran who helps the main character (who’s white) survive and protect two young children in a post-apocalyptic environment, neither of which are his own children. The second is a man divorced from his wife with children who still resent him for being absent for much of their lives.
Neither of these men had the full traditional responsibilities of what might be considered the patriarch of these families. Yet, despite the one being spurned and the other being a total stranger, they each choose to live up to responsibilities they could have walked away from. Each of them lived up to the inherent manly instincts to protect and provide for others. In summary: they were men being men.
This leads me into something that was a bit of an uproar a few years ago: the Gillette “boys will be boys” commercial. There were three observable reactions to this commercial. The first would be those that cheered, clapped, and wiped tears from their eyes. The second were those who got very angry and even threatened to boycott Gillette over the commercial. The third were those who really didn’t understand what all the hubbub was about. It all really just came down to perspective.
When I watched the commercial, I wasn’t impressed. You could definitely place me pretty solidly in the second category and, while I didn’t participate in a full-out boycott of Gillette’s products, my eyes have definitely strayed to competing brands a lot more since the commercial came out.
For those who were part of the first and third categories, don’t worry. I’m not going to launch into a tirade about how “You are what’s wrong with this country!” or “How blind can you be?” and what not. I recognize that different people gain different perspectives based on their life experiences and core beliefs.
I can totally see how those who have been bullied to a level of traumatization far beyond what I ever experienced or women who have been degraded by slimy perverts or disrespected by chauvinists could empathize with the message and feel of the commercial. I can also why the reaction of many was, “It’s just a commercial, dude.”
But, as a man who is trying to be a man in the fashion of the examples I began with, I would like to offer you my perspective and I hope you are inclined to listen to what I have to say.
I’m a Latter-day Saint, and there’s a passage of our scripture that says the natural man is an enemy to God. I suppose this natural man is what many are referring to when they talk about toxic masculinity. In that sense, that the man who gives in to his carnal desires and seeks dominion over others is a natural man, there really is such a thing as toxic masculinity.
But my religion also teaches that the natural, or corporeal, part of man is only half of what makes a man who he is. One saying that is often repeated in my church is that “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience”.
So, in the theology of my church we believe that, while the natural man is an enemy of God, the true man has a divine origin that compels him to become something more. From a secular perspective this would mean that within all of us are equal capacities for good and evil and, specifically for men, that there is such a thing as being a good man or an evil man, absent of whether a man is more or less manly.
I hope I didn’t lose you. The point I’m trying to make is that being manly isn’t an indicator of being toxic and that men are no more or less disposed to being toxic than women, or even children, are. In fact, men are disposed to having unique manly qualities that incline them for great goodness if they are taught to listen to their good instincts and choose to do so. And you know what? Most men do.
For my beginning examples, I chose characters from popular movies and television so that most people who read my article could put faces and scenes to what I’m talking about. But I didn’t need to go to the movies to find similar stories.
Men all across the United States, across the world, and throughout all of human history have sacrificed to provide the basic necessities of food, shelter, and protection. Nature, if not nature’s God, has made man the default protector and provider of the species. And man, for the most part, has lived up to that calling.
Has man made mistakes? Sure. But often, individual men have only done what they thought was right based on upon the beliefs and culture of their times. At the beginning of the American Republic, only men could vote. I think most reading this article would agree with me in declaring that as the wrong choice and that it was right to fix it. But, do you really think that the men of those times loved their wives and families any less than fathers and husbands do now? I would not presume to judge them so harshly.
Bullying, chauvinism, perversion, discrimination, and exploitation are all realities that have existed, still exist, and will probably continue to exist despite our best efforts. But I feel that an honest accounting of men now and throughout history would suggest that these are outlying actions of a gender which has time after time demonstrated a strong and solid capacity for selflessness and greatness. This is where I disagree with the message represented by Gillette’s commercial and what has become the major sticking point for the many who have become angry and frustrated with the growing trend to denigrate men as inherently faulted by innate gender tendencies.
In the commercial we are presented with many harmful occurrences, specifically bullying and sexual harassment. All are perpetrated by men. Bystanders, once again all men, are shown to be dispassionate and aloof. They offer up the excuse, “Boys will be boys”, which is repeated until it becomes a mindless, zombie-like mantra.
The commercial takes a turn to the positive when it says, “We believe in the best in men” and it begins showing men intervening in all the previously shown circumstances. The commercial ends with text on-screen, telling men “It’s only by challenging ourselves to do more that we can get closer to our best.”
Where you might see a simple commercial against bullying or just another “feel-good” ad that isn’t really much of anything, I see something disturbing. How can that be? Think about all of the things I have laid out up to now. Are the men who, through sacrifice and dedication, have already given their best and are continuing to give their best to their family, their loved ones, their country, and all of humanity personally responsible and accountable for the actions of a few morons with whom they happen to share a common chromosome? Can you, maybe a little, understand the stinging rebuke many have felt when they’re essentially told that they’re mindless males foolishly allowing horrible things to happen and that it’s time to step-up?
Let’s say that Gillette decides, this year, to focus on their Venus line of women razors and does an ad focusing on the vicious cycles of gossiping and how it’s contributing to an increase in high school age suicides among women.
Could you really level with me and tell me there wouldn’t be an outcry above and beyond anything we saw over the Gillette commercial a few years ago if an ad ran showing only women gossiping and back-biting with all-woman bystanders droning about how “girls will be girls” and is concluded with the message telling women to step-it-up if they want to be their best selves? Most people would immediately point out that it would be unfair to single out only women in what is obviously a far more complicated and all-encompassing problem, and I would be the first to agree.
Going after “toxic masculinity” like the Gillette commercial did clearly comes from good intentions. But often, these efforts overshoot what should be its proper target and in doing so ignores the universal reality of many of these problems. By focusing only on toxic masculinity, we’re undercutting something society needs more of and not less of: manliness.
I shouldn’t have to cite The Proposal, The Devil Wears Prada, or Mean Girls to point out that bullying is far from a male dominated activity and I shouldn’t have to bring up the many news stories of male students who have been taken advantage of sexually by female teachers or mention the Katy Perry unwanted-kiss episode of American Idol to point out that unwanted advances, perversion, and exploitation are perpetrated pretty frequently by women as well as men.
The things we all agree are bad in society, especially bullying and sexual harassment, are things we can come together and combat effectively without throwing good and honest men under the bus. Men and women can work together to help those in need and protect those who can’t protect or stand up for themselves because both men and women are uniquely gifted with strengths and instincts to fight that fight.
If all masculinity is derided as toxic and if all men are labeled as at fault for negative things in our society, then great heroes in the fight to provide safety, comfort, and love will be cut off at the knees. I can say with good certainty that things would not get better, and in fact would get much worse, if it weren’t for boys being boys.