Is ‘Fragile Masculinity’ the Problem with Our Men? – The American Spectator

Boys and men in the United States are doing poorly by essentially every objective measure. Sources as diverse as the New York Times, National Review, The Brookings Institution, and the American Psychological Association agree. It’s bad and getting worse every day.  

Compared to females, males’ performance in school is worse and worsening at all levels; males comprise an ever-lower proportion of college, graduate, and professional school degrees, have fewer close friends, have sharply declining labor participation rates, make up a higher and increasing percentage of suicides and homicides, have higher rates of incarceration, and have worse health outcomes and declining life expectancy. (READ MORE: Observing the Laws of the New Masculinity)

There is no disputing that boys and men are in crisis. What is in dispute, however, is how best to explain why this crisis is happening and what to do about. In this essay, I want to explore key aspects of the debate by focusing on two fundamentally contrasting views.  

Let’s call the first view “fragile masculinity.” Fragile masculinity, and the large body of research around it, concludes that “traditional masculine norms” (particularly stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression) and societal expectations around them are the root cause of the harmful behaviors and negative outcomes we’re seeing among boys and men.    

How and why do bad things happen when society foists traditional masculine norms upon boys and men? Here’s a very brief overview.  

An overarching proposition of fragile masculinity is that when society imposes traditional masculine norms on men and boys, they will be highly driven to avoid behaviors perceived as “feminine.” When this happens, they tend to succumb to negative peer pressure to fit into these norms, resulting in classically risky, aggressive, and self-defeating behaviors.

Furthermore, traditional masculine norms discourage the expression of emotions, causing men and boys to suppress their feelings to avoid being perceived as “unmanly.” This exacerbates emotional isolation and reduces the likelihood that boys or men will seek support or address mental health concerns.  This in turn, leads to an increased likelihood of aggressive and harmful behaviors. (READ MORE: Men Is Not About Toxic Masculinity)

Fragile masculinity also posits that traditional masculine norms create anxiety over displaying vulnerability, thus impeding healthy communication and stunting emotional maturation. The greater the expectation to conform to masculine norms, the more boys and men will struggle to form empathetic and mutually supportive bonds.

What is more, societal expectations of success and financial stability contribute to the fragility of masculinity and its bad effects by propping up unattainable standards. The resultant feelings of inadequacy, performance anxiety, hopelessness, and depression feed and fuel the vicious cycle.  

This is not an exhaustive treatment by any stretch. Requisite caveats and qualifiers are certainly offered in the literature.  But the fundamental thesis of fragile masculinity is clear. Traditional masculine norms ignite sensitivities and distorted thought processes in boys and men, especially when their masculinity is challenged. Numerous self-perpetuating malaises ensue.  

A further critical aspect is this: it’s an essentially uncontested premise of fragile masculinity that “traditional masculine norms” are mere social constructs that carry few, if any, redeeming qualities. Nor does it appear that there is genuine consideration given to the possibility that traditional masculine norms might be the inevitable result of biological and/or social evolution or that they might be normal, natural, and even critical to social order.  

But Biblical manhood equally emphasizes the protective role of men, mirroring God’s design as the protector of humanity.

Nope. Traditional masculine norms are mostly bad, ipso facto. They are “toxic,” in fact. To break the cycle, these norms must be de-emphasized or dispensed with entirely. Such a solution is viable and preferable because of the very arbitrariness of traditional masculinity itself. There’s no hard wiring here, so snipping what wires there are ought to be easy and without meaningful downsides.      

What’s to dispute? Well, needless to say, the premises, diagnoses, and prescriptions associated with fragile masculinity are wide open to serious challenge from many different angles and perspectives.

Among these, an especially powerful perspective is provided by the Bible itself, which has volumes to say about masculinity and manhood. Let’s call this “Biblical manhood,” which offers a view that couldn’t contrast more sharply with fragile masculinity.  

The Bible on Masculinity

First, Biblical manhood views traditional models of masculinity as perfectly designed by God and representative of a crucial element of the God-designed, natural order of things. Traditional masculine norms are the farthest thing from arbitrary.   

However, Scripture offers a profoundly more nuanced view of “traditional masculine norms” than the narrow straw man that undergirds the questionable connection between traditional masculinity norms and “toxic masculinity.”

Yes, the Bible offers a model of manhood rooted in traditional virtues like strength, courage, leadership, and responsibility (ex: Joshua 1:9, 1 Corinthians 16:13).  According to Biblical manhood, embracing and perpetuating such virtues contributes to a strong moral foundation and a sense of purpose. Boys and men who embody these traits become leaders who positively influence their families, and communities. (READ MORE: Josh Hawley: To Be or Not to Be (A Man))

But Biblical manhood equally emphasizes the protective role of men, mirroring God’s design as the protector of humanity. It cultivates a sense of duty to safeguard those who are vulnerable, fostering (even commanding) a mindset that seeks the welfare of others (Psalm 82:3-4).

Biblical masculine norms also call upon men to be providers and nurturers of their families (1 Timothy 5:8) and offer very strong commandments for men to love their friends, children, and especially their wives “as Christ loved the Church.” (Ephesians 5:25)  

Arguably the very epitome of Biblical masculinity is seen in Christ’s sacrificial love for humanity (John 15:13). Emulating Christ’s love fosters compassion, empathy, and a willingness to serve others. Fulfilling these roles contributes to family stability and enables children to grow up in nurturing environments bolstered by strong family bonds.

Finally, Scripture clearly calls on men to instruct others in the principles of Biblical manhood (Titus 2:6-7) and directs men to encourage and hold each other accountable (Proverbs 27:17). Importantly, such mentorship fosters healthy growth and instills values that contribute to the development of well-rounded boys and men, secure in their distinct and critical roles in society.  

The latter point is a key to this rejoinder. Yes, Biblical manhood principles are God-designed. But God doesn’t just breathe them into all men. He relies instead on men and the relationships, families, and communities within which men play the crucial role of socializing Biblical principles of masculinity.  When this happens successfully, the result will be a perpetually growing cadre of men who model God’s nuanced and beautiful design for masculinity.  

So it’s no accident that outcomes for boys and men have gotten so much worse, just as we are increasingly abandoning our faith and religion and demonizing Biblical principles and beliefs. Biblical norms of masculinity should play a crucial role in shaping boys and men into responsible, productive, and caring, members of society. When we demean and diminish traditional, biblical masculinity, we simply deprive society of possibly the most important driver of family, community, societal health, and stability: Godly men. The result is as dismaying as it is predictable.           

The worst thing we can do is distort what healthy traditional masculinity is all about, adding poison to what is already too often put forth as an ugly caricature. What we actually need is a true revival of our efforts to teach our boys and men what the Bible actually says about manhood, thus reestablishing the wholly virtuous cycle envisioned by our Creator.    

The Biblical rejoinder to fragile masculinity emphasizes the positive aspects of a much fuller, more nuanced view of traditional masculine norms. Biblically masculine qualities like strength, courage, proactivity, responsibility, nurturing, and sacrificial love not only form the basis of strong family structures but also contribute indispensably to a healthy, stable, and virtuous society.

What’s the problem with our boys and men?  The…

Read More: Is ‘Fragile Masculinity’ the Problem with Our Men? – The American Spectator