In his New York Times column, David Brooks revisits a great Civil War story juxtaposing perceptions of masculinity that, no doubt uncoincidentally, involved a group that called itself the Independent Order of Trumps. You can’t make this stuff up.
In the middle of the Civil War a colonel named Robert McAllister from the 11th Regiment of New Jersey tried to improve the moral fiber of his men. A Presbyterian railroad contractor in private life, he lobbied and preached against profanity, drinking, prostitution and gambling. Some of the line officers in the regiment, from less genteel backgrounds, rebelled.
They formed an organization called the Independent Order of Trumps. In sort of a mischievous, laddie way, the Trumps championed boozing and whoring, cursing and card-playing.
It is, of course, a loaded story, since the Trumps were vulgar ruffians, while McAllister was a gentleman.
It was a contest between two different ideals of masculinity. McAllister’s was based on gentlemanly chivalry and self-restraint. Trumpian masculinity was based on physical domination and sexual conquest. “Perceptions of manliness were deeply intertwined with perceptions of social status,” Foote writes.
Social status was far more serious then. The upper crust didn’t hobnob with the groundlings, and their snooty behavior distinguished the classes, which is how they liked it. Today, class distinctions are something to be eradicated rather than admired. Brooks either doesn’t consider this or ignores it. It doesn’t serve his point.
These days we’re living through another great redefinition of masculinity. Today, both men and women are called upon to live up to the traditional ideals of both genders. So the ideal man, at least in polite society, gracefully achieves a series of balances. He is steady and strong, but also verbal and vulnerable. He is emotionally open and willing to cry, but also restrained and resilient. He is physical, and also intellectual.
Today’s ideal man honors the women in his life in whatever they want to do. He treats them with respect in the workplace and romance in the bedroom. He is successful in the competitive world of the marketplace but enthusiastic in the kitchen and gentle during kids’ bath time.
Says who? Not that I take issue with Brooks’ redefined masculinity, but who makes these rules as to what constitutes a manly man? He’s “emotional and open”? Frankly, that doesn’t sound like most men I know. It’s not that they aren’t gentlemen, or don’t treat women respectfully, but that means holding doors open for them (and other men as well, since only a jerk lets a door slam in another person’s face). I don’t know many men who prefer to watch Rom Coms with a box of tissues close at hand.
Are we doing it all wrong? According to Brooks, we are. But it strikes me that this isn’t so much Brooks’ offering his personal redefinition of manly men, but Brooks’ acquiescing to the demands of outside agitators. This is what comes of spending too much time reading the New York Times and going to parties with the Manhattan elite. You begin to believe that their sensibilities are the right sensibilities, and that any differing sensibilities are, well, those of vulgar ruffians.
One might suspect, if one takes Brooks too seriously, that the options for masculinity range from adopting some version of the feminists’ dream date to today’s Trump’s misogynist. If you don’t want to be a misogynist like Donald Trump, then you have to be “emotional and open.” This, of course, is utter nonsense, even though this is being taught to students at college as if there are rules of good and evil masculinity.
Are “emotional vulnerability, cooperation, and sensitivity” really “valuable human traits”? Or are they feminine traits, and therefore deemed valuable because gender correctness wants to force them down guys’ throats? I hate to be the one to say this, but emotional vulnerability isn’t something I care to possess.
I’m quite pleased with the extent to which I’m in touch with my emotions, and really have no desire to wear them on my sleeve to show my vulnerability. If some other guy wants to cry, to sit in a circle and discuss his feelings with other people who want to hear them, and share their feelings about his feelings, that’s fine with me. But I won’t be there. I’ll be watching the game, because that’s what I want to do.
Some have responded to this pressure to adopt the new masculinity, as externally dictated, aggressively, as a force to be attacked as destroying their right to be the sort of men they choose to be. Ironically, this too involves someone else dictating what constitutes masculinity, just from the Independent Order of the Trumps perspective.
This, too, is utter nonsense. If anything, taking man lessons, by definition, misses the point.
Be who you are. Who gives a damn what someone else tells you to be? So what if “society” tells you to be more feminine, more sensitive? If you don’t like to eat sushi, don’t eat sushi. Do you really need to study this in college? Just man up.
There is nothing wrong with liking pink and having a burning desire to do the vacuuming. If that’s your thing, then that’s what you should do. And if it’s not, you still have to do the vacuuming, because rooms don’t vacuum themselves. But you don’t have to like it.
These external dictates, whether from McAllister’s gentlemanly perspective, the Trumpian’s debauchery perspective, the feminist perspective or Brooks’ perspective, are meant for people of weak minds and will. These are for people who suffer internal confusion, and so need someone else to tell them who and what they are. These are for people whose self-esteem is so low that they can’t decide for themselves what they like or don’t, who they are or aren’t. They need someone to tell them. And there are plenty of people who want nothing more than to teach you how to meet their vision of the ideal man. Despite what they say at Everyday Feminism, irrationality is not a virtue. Not for men, women or anything in between.
Brooks tries to marry his masculinity to social and intellectual class status; it’s a way to simultaneously denigrate the dumb, low class Trump supporters while extolling males who possess the sensitivity that won’t offend women and intellectuals. Who wants to be the misogynistic, low class dumbass?
Masculinity is no more a political weapon than a social construct. Real men vote for whomever they want to vote for. Real men enjoy whatever movies they enjoy. Real men eat bacon or not, as they prefer. Real men don’t look to David Brooks, feminists or academics, to teach them what gender values they should hold. They don’t take orders from the red pill, blue pill or purple pill manly men either. They are what they choose to be. No more, no less. And they vote for whomever they think will be the best, or at least not worst, at the job.