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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Dude. » Dude.

Dude.

D Christian Harrison - June 17, 2009

Father’s Day — in the US, at least — is quickly approaching. So it’s somehow appropriate that I’ve got a hankering to talk about men. Nothing salacious, mind you … just a post on the enigmatic state of being a guy today.

I’ve said it before: men and women are different creatures. I know this, perhaps, better than I know most anything. As a gay man, I am inexplicably drawn to that elusive quality that makes men … men. It’s certainly not anatomy; nor our job or the way we dress; nor our mannerisms or the roles we play in life. But there is something — something preternatural — that resonates within us, Male and Female.

So if it’s not any of that — if our eternal gender is something so obfuscated by culture and genome — why care? Why all the fuss? I can’t speak definitively, of course … but I’ve got a hunch.

Culture, in many ways, is part of a complex survival mechanism. It gives us the tools to both survive and thrive within a given context. Sure, it’s imperfect, but it’s powerful all the same. So being able to internalize and transmit ones culture is a sign of ones spiritual/psychological fitness in much the same way that symmetry in physique is a sign of ones genetic health — and it carries with it the same heady allure.

But something happened over the last century. Culture became unhinged, in many respects, from reality. The feedback loop which kept most aspects of any given culture intimately connected to its milieu was co-opted by technology and our own counter-cultural drive. For the time being — blessed and blinded, as we are, with practically free energy and technology — culture isn’t a matter of survival. It’s an accessory like shoes or cufflinks. So now we pick and choose from myriad cultures the shiny bits that intrigue us, while ignoring the repercussions.

Men no longer enjoy the confidence of living within a cohesive culture.

Sitcoms tell us that men are buffoons. That we are hapless, witless, feckless creatures — outshone in every respect by women (which, I suspect, is equally annoying to women). We’re told that we think about sex constantly and engage in sex at such an early age that by junior high, the virginal male is social equivalent of a third nipple: pathetic and ineffectual. Other players tell us that average men sport genitalia of equine proportions and are either bronzed and polished gods or hirsute demigods. Still others feed on our sartorial sensibilities and dress us up in costumes unbefitting men who actually work and live in anything but Second Life™. I could go on … but you get the idea.

And that’s just in secular life … General Authorities and their comments about the spiritual superiority of women and the odd and pervasive comments about wives always being right are as emasculating as the sitcoms. Moreover, the rhetoric of role-playing and stewardship — which I believe obliquely addresses eternal principles — is stuck in Mid-century America. With the Beavers.

But there’s hope.

A nascent man movement in the US — which has roots both in religious circles and the secular world — seems to be scratching at the surface of the problem … and blogs such as The Art of Manliness and Rules for My Unborn Son are fine products of this renaissance. It’s a hard thing, though, to refashion something so complex and nuanced as culture from scratch. It’s a bit like the scientists of Jurassic Park fame attempting to recreate dinosaurs from incomplete DNA, spittle, and hubris. We’re bound to create a few monsters along the way. It’s not a natural process, after all — cut-off as we are from the bright and instructive light of life outside our technology-induced stupor. Which is why I think that the Church’s role could prove pivotal. And the Proclamation on the Family is a good start. But I fear that we won’t really understand the value of that document for some time — burdened as we are by the muddy mandates of memory.

So that’s it. Like so many things in modern life, what it means to be a man is much less clear — but if we’re careful and given to inspiration, we’ll exit the other side of this fog better men, better sons, brothers, and fathers. Which is to say, in so many words, happy Father’s Day (whatever that means).

18 Comments »

  1. Comments about female spiritual superiority aside, I feel like we Mormons have a culture that fosters a healthy male identity, one that is very much at odds with the broader culture, and increasingly so. Our ideal man is devoted first to his family, is a spiritual leader, sacrifices personal pursuits for the benefit of his family and the Church, and works hard as a provider. There’s none of this namby-pamby prolonged adolescence and livin’-it-up bachelorhood that’s become the model in the broader culture. I don’t know the causes or cures for the male identity crisis, but I’m glad to have role models in the Church and in my family to show me what a man should be.

    Comment by Tom — June 17, 2009 @ 11:16 am

  2. Wonderfully, (if not a little flowery, not that that’s a bad thing:) written, Silus! Huzzah!

    I read an article some time ago about a high school coach that touched on these things and it has helped shape my opinion to largely fit what you’ve said here.

    My biggest beef with our culture (especially American culture, for all that I love about it) is our horribly skewed perception of masculinity. If you don’t like sports, the outdoors, violent movies and video games, hard rock music, cars, and getting rich, then you should be made fun of and are not a man. In reality a man’s masculinity should be judged (if at all) on how he treats others, especially how he treats women and his children. Also, how much does he strives to provide for his family, how charitable and service minded is he? Is he a lifelong learner.

    I mean, who’s the manliest man in the history of the world? What kinds of things did He do?

    Comment by Bret — June 17, 2009 @ 11:29 am

  3. Tom,

    I very much agree that the Church provides the right role models and principles for manhood, but church culture in general still holds a lot of those stereotypes. I experienced more taunting and teasing in YM than in school or anywhere else growing up because my interests and personality weren’t precisely in line with what a “man” should be. (and from what I’ve heard from many others, I don’t believe this is a local problem)

    Comment by Bret — June 17, 2009 @ 11:36 am

  4. I love this, Silus. I visit the Art of Manliness almost every day, and it is an amazing community.

    Another thing that I believe has kept LDS men more manly is that we still have rites of passage. It begins with conferral of the Aaronic priesthood and early service in quorums, and (for most) peaks in a full-time mission. Obviously going on a mission doesn’t work for everyone, but I think it moderates the transformation of LDS young men into the overgrown adolescents Tom describes in #1 above.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — June 17, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

  5. Something about this article made me weep. I think I just mourned my lost identity.

    Comment by Tristin — June 17, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  6. I got an email from a fellow young dad in our stake a month ago for a session of paintball. Ditched wife and children, drove up into the mountains and with 13 other guys, stalked and shot each other all morning.

    It was really weird how much of a breath of fresh air that was. Like it was tapping into something primal and important that I had been neglecting for… oh… say… the last decade or so.

    My wife is fabulous, and my children are pretty dang cute and all, but… dang it – I do get tired of them once in a while, ya know?

    I came back a bit sheepish for neglecting the family for the day, and found my wife was actually thrilled that I had managed to go out and “hang with guys” for once. She even let me blow a C-note the next week on my own gun (though she made it clear I’m not getting anything but socks and a candy bar for Father’s Day).

    Comment by Seth R. — June 17, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

  7. Silas, as the mother of 4 boys, my first reaction was that I love this post.
    My second reaction was dismay that another post went up on this site so soon after this one. I hope that yours gets the attention it deserves.

    Comment by C Jones — June 17, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

  8. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Mormon men totally rock, you included, Silas.

    Comment by E — June 17, 2009 @ 7:03 pm

  9. Look, it was all clear when I checked. There were no new posts.

    Comment by Seth R. — June 18, 2009 @ 5:44 am

  10. I have to say I don’t quite understand the concern about posts close together. I can’t see it having much effect on the amount of attention the first post gets or the response it engenders. They’re both still above the fold.

    Comment by Tom — June 18, 2009 @ 6:16 am

  11. Bret: . . .but church culture in general still holds a lot of those stereotypes.

    I would see that as more of a case of the broader culture influencing our members, which it’s bound to do, rather than as a quality of Church culture per se. I know I actively teach against those kinds of cultural ideals in my YM classes, and my experience growing up in the Church led me to reject those ideals.

    Comment by Tom — June 18, 2009 @ 6:21 am

  12. Tom,

    I wish all YM teachers would teach against those ideals, but you’re right. It is more the broader culture’s influence:)

    Comment by Bret — June 18, 2009 @ 10:53 am

  13. Nice work Silus. I never miss a post of yours if I can help it. Here’s a bit of my own experience and a question for you….

    General Authorities and their comments about the spiritual superiority of women and the odd and pervasive comments about wives always being right are as emasculating as the sitcoms.

    I’ve been a member all my life and have, in all my travels, associated with thousands of other members in a broad range of locales and cultures (foreign and domestic).

    Outside of the Bloggernacle (repeatedly), I have never heard any male tell me he feels emasculated by these statements. In additiion, I have never felt this way, even in the slightest. Maybe I am not competitive enough or something but I have always viewed my spirituality as a personal journey between me and the Lord – not as an exercise in spirituality comparisons.

    Let’s presume for a moment that GA statements on female spiritual superiority are correct. Why would I feel anything but gladness for their good fortune? Can you explain why this is emasculating?

    Comment by Ryan — June 19, 2009 @ 12:43 am

  14. @Ryan: good call: “emasculating” wasn’t the best choice of terms. I was trying to bridge my comments from the previous section. But I still find the two customs troublesome…

    The advice to always let your wife win perpetuates — with a wink and a nudge — the notion that women are weak-minded or otherwise unable to take criticism (and that men are incapable of offering criticism with finesse). And it paints a picture of home life where the wife has the husband by the short hairs. Is everything to be sacrificed on the altar of peace in the home?

    The notion that women are our spiritual superiors is just plain false. Broadly speaking, women fundamentally differ from men in their approach to all sorts of things — including their relationship to God, the spiritual realm, and religiosity — but such differences are inherent and not qualitative. Like you said: this isn’t a race. Comparisons are neither helpful nor appropriate. You might as well say “black” is better than “white” or “left” is superior to “right”.

    It all sounds very much like the rhetoric of an age when women were gagged, fettered, and then placed on a pedestal — but it was okay, because they were on a pedestal. It’s nauseating.

    Comment by Silus Grok — June 19, 2009 @ 4:27 pm

  15. Here’s an interesting take on the subject (that I’m still reading):

    From Patriarch to Patsy

    A father of three young children discovers the humiliations of being a modern dad.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124243950942426191.html

    Comment by Silus Grok — June 21, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

  16. Interesting article. Where’s the thumbs for this site, by the way?

    I noted today that we had no Father’s Day sacrament meeting even though we certainly had a Mother’s Day one. One more wink and nod:)

    Comment by Bret — June 21, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

  17. Hey Bret … do you mean “thumbs” as in “I like this post”?

    Comment by Silus Grok — June 26, 2009 @ 9:44 pm

  18. I would just like to add to the list of people who are contributing to the ‘man movement’ the name of Dr. Paul.
    He has a great article here about the war on masculinity: http://www.doctorpaul.net/blog/the-war-on-masculinity/

    Comment by Mike — July 17, 2009 @ 5:53 am

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