Ross Douthat has a pretty good couple of posts critiquing both left and right when it comes to the topic of gender – particularly in wake of the Santa Barbara killings. The tl;dr takehome from them is this: the right should be willing to concede that feminist complaints often do come from genuine grievances, and the left should concede that the sense of entitlement that warps people like the Santa Barbara killer is more easily traceable to a post-playboy sexually liberated masculinity than traditional masculinity, chivalry etc. as such. He’s not interested in giving an easy answer to exactly how masculinity should be negotiated in the future; just in shooting down some naive and uncritical responses.
Which is refreshing, since this is more or less how I feel.
I do seem to have, thankfully, dodged quite a few bullets in my own life with regard to masculinity. Growing up, it was just part of the ambiance surrounding us that being a man was associated with sexual prowess and violence. And I have seen, first-hand, boys who have grown into broken men, in part because this sort of thing helped enable the demons they were battling. That I never really could buy into this has saved me a great deal – not because I’m ‘better’ but simply because my personality has never really been compatible with stereotypical machismo.
The gay community I sojourned in for a few years is not much better in this regard. Sure, a sort of straitjacketed masculinity has been short-circuited, and the women have less to fear from the men, but the connection of self-worth with sex, and the attendant self-loathing that comes along with it is there in spades. I don’t mean to say that this is true across the board, but a lot of the culture certainly feeds into this. Again, I feel like I was spared the worst of this (in spite of some of my own best efforts, this time) by a sort of prudish melancholy.
And then you have my big epic Conversion, which, to use an epithet thrown at me by one of my commentators, has made me into a “repressed eunuch” of the sort that both gay and straight men tend to see as a Bad End. The end of heterosexual male virility, or the end of gayness, depending on your preference. So neither of them are really on the table at this point. Circumstance and the grace of God, it seems, have succeeded in making me peripheral to a lot of our cultural meltdowns over gender and sexuality.
(n.b.: please don’t take this as me saying that there are no issues with masculinity and misogyny among the faithful in the Church; I know that’s not true)
It’s difficult to find some sort of broad-strokes “answer” to all this. Yeah, we can all come up with a utopia of our choosing where these sorts of pathologies are non-problems, but we don’t live in that world, and there will always be depraved men to deal with, regardless of what direction we want to steer things in.