Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
If you weren’t spending last month on sabbatical in Tibet, you probably saw that notorious Gillette ad that set the internet watercooler buzzing. The razor blade manufacturer, which once modestly promised the finest shave a man can get, now pontificates on how men can be their best—and what’s wrong with that?
Absolutely nothing, but to a male populace already pulling prickly charges of “toxic masculinity” out of its hide, the ad was a sermon too far. Scrolling past scenes of bullying, catcalling, and sexual harassing, as dads robotically intone “Boys will be boys,” the narrator insists things have to change: “because the boys of today will be the men of tomorrow.” This is all true, but having been lumped indiscriminately with the sexual predators and serial killers of this world, numerous right-leaning commentators, of both sexes, lashed out at the enlightened mansplaining of it all.
As many have pointed out, we need more masculinity, not less: the good kind, where fathers teach their sons to be strong and brave as well as thoughtful and courteous. But who can tell us what masculinity even is?
The American Psychological Association (APA) takes its best shot with Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men, published in August. In 17 pages, the eight guidelines set forth some observations that are true, some that are useful, many that are confusing, and one that is glaringly wrong.
First, what’s true: Men are far more prone than women to sociopathic behavior and acting out; they are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficits leading to poor school performance; and they commit far more violent crimes and constitute the vast majority of the prison population. Also, the APA acknowledges that fathers are very important, if not essential, to a young man’s development.
In attributing causes, though, the document gets confusing—and confused. Throughout, “studies show” and “research indicates” that “traditional masculine ideology” is causing most of the problems. The APA helpfully defines this ideology as “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.” That’s quite a viper’s nest, but after teasing out the obvious negatives, what’s the problem with strength and ambition? Or being adventurous and taking risks? Even violence has its place in defense of one’s country or family.
No one doubts hyper-masculinity can get out of hand, but the APA, while exposing male stereotypes, assumes its own stereotypes. Reading through Guidelines brings to mind all those barbecue dads chanting “Boys will be boys.” Traditional male ideology is much more nuanced. Most men understand that their sons won’t grow up to be Captain America, General Patton, or Moses, but that doesn’t mean responsible, attentive fathers shouldn’t encourage their sons to be resolute and courageous. And maybe even restrain their emotions, sometimes.
More confusion comes from the APA’s constant referrals to “alternative masculinities” expressed in the LGBTQ spectrum (which must also make room for “feminine identities”). They seem more solicitous of trans men than biological men, and while floundering in all these alternatives, the reader can’t find any footing for defining legitimate masculinity at all.
Hence the glaring inconsistency: From the beginning, Guidelines claims that all defining characteristics of masculinity are socially constructed. All of them. Men are that way because they are taught that way. Testosterone? A trifle. DNA? Forget it. The only place, oddly, where the APA even suggests that nature may play a part is in the supposed genetic makeup of trans men (i.e., biological women).
This is the big disconnect of all current gender theory. Assuming these professionals are firm Darwinists, why don’t they attribute anything to natural selection? Whether God designed them, or evolution did, men and women are physiologically different from birth. Social science is denying that, to society’s ruin.
Being “traditionally” male is not a psychological problem. But if we don’t figure out that men and women are, by and large, a certain way because they’re created that way, and learn to work with it rather than against it, some psychological mainspring within the collective culture is certain to break.