Channeling Testosterone

Review: Jack Myers, ‘The Future of Men: Masculinity in the Twenty-First Century’


According to Jack Myers, the future of men in the twenty-first century is bleak. And he thinks men know it. He quotes men to whom he explained his book project asking, wryly, "You mean we have a future?" Women are on the ascendant, and men are being eclipsed: the male dominance that has been the norm for millennia is a thing of the past. Hooray?

That’s the part that’s never clear. It’s hard to figure out in this book, a sweeping jog through advertisements, TV shows, statistics about college students, and Mars/Venus generalizations, how Myers feels about the changes he insists have occurred. At first glance it would seem that he’s all for the change. There isn’t much to recommend men in his version of them, after all: Men have a "destructive instinct to lie" (about extra-marital affairs and everything else)—a whole chapter on that. Men suffer from "Personal Intimacy Disorder" (another chapter). They don’t communicate well (much of yet another chapter).

Or at least there isn’t much to recommend straight men. Gay men fare better in Myers’s telling: they are the ideal partner for women in what he calls "The New Relationship," empathetic and non-destructive partners for women. Still, the overwhelming majority of men are straight, which is apparently a problem. Or not? Myers suggests that men are simply outmoded. Women are the majority of college students (so that men are "the undereducated gender") and almost half of MBA students at some prestigious schools (though he admits the schools actively recruit them), and better as business executives (women are more empathetic and better at consensus building). Indeed—here he draws heavily on and quotes from the recent book by Hannah Rosin, The End of Men—women are better adapted in all ways to a post-industrial service economy than the heavy lifter males who were necessary for the Industrial Revolution. So good riddance to bad rubbish.

Most of the time, the book seems a contribution to what is called "men’s studies," where men explain to men how dysfunctional they are. Yet there were moments when suddenly I was convinced this whole book was an elaborate post-Modernist joke, like the famous "Sokol hoax" of decades ago when an NYU scientist wrote a purposely left-wing jargon-filled article about how science was completely subjective, got it published in a trendy humanities journal, and then exposed the hoax to show how gullible the journal’s editors were.

Did I see the corners of Myers’s mouth twitching in a suppressed guffaw? It almost seemed so when he writes about Viagra and Cialis ads on TV as evidence of "a culture of emasculation." Ads for both products seem aimed at women, all gauzy romanticism, and men are to be on the little blue pill so they are "ready when she is." "Things are no longer in a man’s control," writes Myers. Surely there is bitterness or at least regret in this assertion? Or are men supposed to cheer?

Or how about when Myers interviews a woman whose problem is that even when she makes eye contact with a man at a party to indicate interest, he "turns around to see who [I’m] looking at and then goes back to his drink." He doesn’t come on to her, or respond to her signals of receptivity. She’s exasperated and disgusted. Aren’t we? Isn’t Myers?

So wait. The problem is that men are too male? Or not male enough? Myers doesn’t actually seem to know. Nor does he know whether the change has already happened or whether he has to convince men to help make it. Is he the prophet of a far-off age we have to bring faster? Or dancing a jig on the grave of a dead witch?

Myers paints with far too broad a brush to be able to figure out what he thinks. Are men becoming more clueless as women are clued in? Or were they always so? Is their negative portrayal in the media a cause or an effect? Do more empowered women necessarily produce childlike men? Kay S. Hymowitz suggested that this was so in her recent Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, in which she went over much of the same ground as Myers more thoroughly—but never convincingly proved her assertion. Myers doesn’t either.

Both Myers and Hymowitz confuse the 20th century way of being a man with the more general fact of masculinity. It’s not true that the only way to be a man is to push around a heavy machine—men before the 18th century didn’t, after all, and as an English professor, neither do I. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t strive to be a man, or that there isn’t a positive masculinity, one that isn’t mere defeated watered-down femininity, that I can and should model to my sons and male students at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Masculinity is a good thing—as I argue in my own book-in-progress, Channeling Testosterone: Men Aren’t Women Waiting to be Fixed. Just because testosterone can’t flow in the same channels as it used to, masculinity hasn’t gone away: it just changes form. Nor is being a man the same as culpable male extremes. Why can’t we flag aberrations like rape and male insensitivity as exceptions to be avoided, rather than tarring 49 percent of the world with the sins of a few?

Myers is certainly correct, however, in saying that our airwaves are dominated by women: all academic considerations of what we call "gender" are derived from feminist theory—which is to say, these theorists see being male as an aberration. This may have been a useful alternative position back when men were taken as the norm to which women were the strange alternative, but now it’s shut the male perspective out of any public arena except for ugly counter-currents like late night shock jock radio, and of course Donald Trump.

It’s the feminized world of academic gender discourse that produced these pushbacks. University "gender studies" departments are run by and for women and yes, a few "emasculated men" (to use Myer’s phrase), to talk about the wrongs done women. (Google "gender studies" departments and read their web sites.) And nobody else can talk. Just try floating a pro-male point of view on today’s college campuses, or running such an argument by university presses. You won’t get far. Sure, wrongs were done women in the past—but Myers’s point is that they’ve made up for lost time.

Myers is quite right that men are confused nowadays. Nobody shows them that being a man is a positive thing, and how to be a man: many households, white as well as black, lack a father, and powerful societal males bite their tongues to avoid seeming part of the Bad Old Days of (Myers again) "Male Dominance." But we have to try. The alternative is childlike men without a clue, or frustrated lashing out. We can’t dam up testosterone: we have to channel it. And nobody’s channeling it. Many women seem to be either doing a victory dance at the Death of Men, and others regretting the time when men were men rather than indecisive wimps. But I don’t think it was the success of women that made men wimps or violent criminals. I think it was our unwillingness to say, as a society: being a man is a wonderful thing. Here’s how you use that gift properly, son. Here’s how it can be mis-used.

Young men won’t listen to someone who starts by telling them they’re defective because they’re men. Yet that’s just what we do nowadays. And as a result nobody can steer their behavior away from dangerous extremes. Everybody loses.

Channel testosterone. Don’t try and dam it up. You won’t anyway, and when the dam breaks things get ugly. But that’s not because "boys will be boys." It’s because nobody has shown them how to be a man.

Bruce Fleming

Bruce Fleming   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Bruce Fleming has taught English at the U.S. Naval Academy since 1987; his books and articles are noted on his Web site

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