In recent years, I have pursued two characteristically manly activities, both with mixed results. The first of these is hunting. The second is poker.
Last night I played what must by now have been at least my half-dozenth game of poker. Though I am getting better at taking individual hands, I have as-yet won no pots.
This past hunting season, I took more than one opportunity to go elk hunting, but came up short. I will say that on the first elk hunt I actually saw my first elk in the wild, unless a family vacation through Yellowstone counts. And on the second elk hunt this past season, my friend Jeff and I tracked a sizable bull’s fresh tracks in the new-fallen snow for a good hour at least before losing them in a field.
Before that, my elk hunts two other seasons were also unsuccessful.
How many hours have I spent on unsuccessful elk hunts? And how many hours playing games of poker without ultimately winning? We may be talking about 100-hours over three years. It could easily be 200. I honestly could not tell you.
Regardless, have all these hours been wasted if I have so far not brought home any elk or poker winnings? Should I hang up my hat on throwing good money – and time – after bad, and just accept that I am neither a skilled elk hunter nor a talented poker player?
I hazard a guess what the American Psychological Association would say, given their recent release of guidelines concerning ‘traditional masculinity.’ They would probably say my fruitless pursuit of these things out of a desire to be accepted by society as manly is ‘toxic’ and unproductive.
What then should I do?
First off, let me point out that men who embrace the APA’s new guidelines are not avoiding conformity to peer pressure. They are merely trading peer groups, and choosing which they want more to impress and gain the affirmation and approval of.
Second, I will say that I believe pursuing the affirmation of a peer group regarding your manliness should be at best a secondary or tertiary goal, if it should be a goal at all.
As I wrote in my March 2016 piece, ‘How To Be A Real Man In Three Easy Steps’, a good start to being manly is not being so insecure that you need everyone around you padding your ego as to how manly you are in order to feel good about yourself.
More than that, however, the APA’s new guidelines have it exactly wrong where they suppose it a bad thing that traditional masculinity makes men more likely to engage in risky behaviors.
Furthermore, it is clear that the APA’s new guidelines concerning men and boys are born of a time of unprecedented ease, comfort, and convenience in American economic and technological development.
Yet wisdom saves up for rainy days rather than becoming complacent.
A popular quote comes to mind here:
“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”– G. Michael Hopf
Wisdom recognizes the cyclical nature of history and human events; it prepares for hard times during the good times. Prudence stores grain away in the silos when the harvest is bountiful because years will invariably come again when it is scarce, as such times have come before.
Just so, we should beware of heeding reckless folly, and regarding as antiquated old notions of manly strength and resilience.
What Women Want (Or Think They Want)
Along these lines, I am reminded of a conversation I had during my most recent breakfast at Sunny’s Family Restaurant with my cousins Micah and Sterling. We were discussing gender roles in romance, and the whole notion that “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is now regarded as “date-rapey” by modern social justice warriors.
Micah brought up an article he’d heard Dennis Prager discussing in which a feminist recounted her dating life with men who were everything she thought she wanted. Not only with physical intimacy, but in everything from where they would go out to dinner to what they would talk about, the men were pathologically deferential. “What do you want to do?” They asked her at every turn. Yet, in the end, this feminist realized just how profoundly unattractive she found all her dates’ lack of assertiveness and leadership.
It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis.
“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function; [making] men without chests and [expecting] of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”– C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Whether that feminist realized it or not, she had gotten just what she thought she wanted – or at least what other feminists had told her she should want. Yet on a more fundamental level, this was not at all what she really wanted.
I do hope the light-bulb comes on sometime soon for the women of our age that these newfangled ideas which are targeting traditional masculinity and femininity are more restrictive and oppressive than the old ones ever were – and on a deeper level.
Manhood, and Traditional Masculinity
Before the light can come on for women, I suspect it must come on for men first.
Let us return to the question of unsuccessful elk hunts and poker games, for instance. Are these risky endeavors? They are indeed.
Elk hunting in all manner of rough country is physically tiring and dangerous. Where the wild elk are, there also will probably be the non-human predators which feed on elk – and which will gladly feed on you too!
When I play poker with my friends, I put forward an amount of money to go as winnings to the one who comes out on top. To the victor will go the spoils.
There is risk in these two endeavors; indeed, they would hardly be worth doing otherwise. But I have not yet gained anything by said risk-taking. Or have I?
When the feminist finds the man unappealing who defers to her in everything, she is reacting to his weakness and lack of determination. Yet if ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ must be abolished for its disregard for any deviation of “No means no,” then men cannot pursue women.
And if men will be denounced and pilloried for persistence with women, then we will see every fruitlessness C.S. Lewis eluded to when he wrote that bit about making men without chests.
Elk hunting and playing poker out of an insecure need to be affirmed in one’s strength and manliness by others may be lousily repressive. I grant you that. Yet still more oppressive is forgoing such things to be affirmed in one’s androgyny and weakness by still others.
Yet the better way still is for men to embrace persistence. Only when men persist despite risk, adversity, and opposition can they become strong, wise, and capable.