Somewhere along the way American politics got very confused about manhood. And if you didn’t know any better, you might think that rabid misogyny is one of the pillars of being a man.
On one level, the phenomenon that we’re watching take place is about Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton and all the social tensions that are exposed by that kind of match-up. But this is also larger than just Election 2016. With growing intensity over the years, women have basically become scapegoats in America. And it seems no course of action they take is free from intense political criticism at the national level: when they seek public office, when they collect welfare checks for their family, when they try advancing in the business world, when they star in movie remakes, when they want sex, and when they don’t want sex. From Welfare Reform in the 1990s to Sandra Fluke’s views on contraception and beyond, it’s possible to see just how much progress we have not made when we’re talking about women.
That’s not to say that men have to agree with women on every issue, but you can disagree without being disagreeable and that’s probably manlier than being a chauvinist. Fortunately for all of us, this involves guys getting back to basics rather than them doing something totally new. Years ago, Frank Sinatra put it this way:
I may sound old-fashioned, but I want to think all women should be treated like I want my wife, daughters, and granddaughters to be treated. I notice today that good manners – like standing up when a woman enters the room, helping a woman on with her coat, letting her enter an elevator first, taking her arm to cross the street – are sometimes considered unnecessary or a throwback. These are habits I could never break, nor would I want to. I realize today a lot more women are taking care of themselves than in the past. But no woman is offended by politeness.
The fact is being a man has a lot of positive traits and includes substantive contributions to society like fatherhood, friendship, and being a mentor. But collective hostility towards women is not on that list. Meaning that men who act that way are deviations from and not the epitome of manhood. In their bizarro version of being a man, women are to be scrutinized and ridiculed at every turn for their private lives and their professional decisions. But far from making someone a standard-bearer of strength and masculinity, this reveals so much lack of character it’s insane! It’s also worth pointing out that these can’t possibly be the most secure among us if they harass women online or eagerly wait for them to fail. It just doesn’t sound like someone who’s brimming with confidence.
The trouble is men as a group are being defined by a vocal and hotheaded minority that’s stuck in the worst parts of the past. In modern America, I think we need the chivalry that Frank Sinatra was talking about as well as the clear understanding that we’re not that different from each other. And if guys are all trying to be this strong, confident pinnacle of manliness that starts with not tearing other people down.