Field Notes

What's Wrong With Men Today? By John Bradford

Nov 11
What's Wrong With Men Today? By John Bradford
Posted November 11, 2013

What’s Wrong With Men Today

About a year ago I received an article from a friend entitled “What's wrong with men today?” There are a multitude of examples in books like "Manning up: How the Rise of Women Turned Men into Boys" by Kay Hymowitz or articles like “The War on Men” by Suzanne Venker. These two authors offer a sympathetic look at the plight of men today. There are also hundreds, if not thousands of books, blogs and articles written by second and third wave feminists which are not nearly as kind and spew venom and hate toward men.  What I find interesting about these types of articles and books is that they do a good job of showing statistics and the symptoms of a real problem but don’t go deep enough to reveal the primary causes or fundamental solutions. For example the “problems” named in Suzanne Venker’s piece is that women have stepped forward and taken on positions of economic leadership, and that has led men to “check out” from leadership roles and roles as good husbands. She then follows with a “solution”: Women need to step back and let the men do the leading and all will be ok. Kay Hymowitz’s solution: Men “just need to man up” by accepting current “reality”.  The extreme man haters from the secular feminist camp believe that men have just outlived their Darwinist usefulness so they need to adapt or die.

But if these books and articles only look at superficial symptoms, what are the deeper causes and possible solutions to the man problem?

Evolutionary psychology, like that proposed by David Buss, shows that for thousands of years the human nervous system was conditioned by and endured a hunter gatherer and then later, a farming environment. Men did the heavy lifting; hunting large game, clearing the fields of trees and rocks and fighting the battles against enemy tribes and bands of marauding wild animals. Their bodies and brains were designed to take on the brunt of the exterior natural environment while discerning the threats and opportunities in that environment. Men, and the boys they raised, lived a large portion of their lives on the frontier, focusing their energies from the family, tribe and village outwardly.  They were entrepreneurs whose success depended upon their wisdom of the natural environment and how hard and smart they worked on that frontier. The “theology of a man’s body” was and is made so that it receives and processes information from the exterior environment, differentiates that information, and then integrates it into a ‘provide and protect’ plan to supply safety and resources to his wife, children and village. In a sense the frontier environment was informing the man what was expected of him and what action he should take.

From the perspective of the theology of masculine spirituality, men were created with fundamental desires and skills that enabled them to successfully engage the frontier environment. These skills were continually honed and enhanced by that environment. One of these is for Discovery; or the dogged pursuit of the truth and knowledge of how the universe works. A man’s brain and body is uniquely made to receive exterior information, compartmentalize and quantify that information, events and structures in that environment, and see deep cause and effect relationships; cause and effect relationships that lead to power and environmental transformations.   

Once a man understood these cause and effect relationships he then used his desire and skill to Create. This allowed him to transform his environment by building the structures that helped him provide for his family and village. Making weapons, Clearing and irrigating land, building houses, aqueducts and cathedrals, discovering selective breeding and vaccines are just a few examples of the results of man’s desires and skills to discover and create.

But any man worth his salt does not want to come by success easily. He wants to earn it. He knows that life is a struggle and wants to look back on it knowing that he gave it all he had; that he struggled heroically; that he laid his life down for the One, the True, the Good and the Beautiful. This is the desire and skill for Battle. Not only does a good man lay his life down for his family but it is what pushes him to strive for discovery of the secrets of God’s universe when everyone else has given up. It is what keeps his midnight oil burning as he works on a creation born of that discovery in the watches of the night. It is what causes him to break camp and head into the unknown. It is the desire for meaningful, work, effort, or conflict in the pursuit of justice.

During the millennia prior to the industrial revolution mankind experienced endless cycles of feast and famine, peace and war. These changes in the exterior environment informed men what was required of them. During times of danger and want, men would head out into the frontier, confront the enemy, and find a new source of food or opportunity for survival. During times of plenty, the environment informed men to return to the comfort of the village and the home, fuel up and heal in preparation for the next confrontation with other men or the natural environment. And then something happened.

Men, by using their God given, environmentally honed, talents, transformed farming, hunting and gathering environments, into a wholly new one; a mechanical, technological, apparently safe and warm, nothing, left to be done, provided for or protected from, environment that tells men that there is no enemy, there is no evil. This new environment is flush with resources where food clothing and shelter are relatively easy to come by. Additionally just about every type of work that needs to be done today is accomplished with some type of machinery or technology that allows women to do it as easily as men, and in some cases better. In the traditionally masculine industries, like construction, which women still shy away from, they can do much of the work. Need a ditch dug, get a back hoe. Saw down a tree, use chain saw. Haul large amounts of goods long distances, use a tractor trailer. In essence men transformed a frontier environment into a homestead and feminine gathering environment. Men’s bodies and nervous systems are interpreting this new environment as one of the ancient cycles of plenty where he should sit back, relax, heal, eat and drink. On one hand this cycle seems to never end as many men succumb to a life of softness and irresponsibility where any effort is directed toward self-gratification and avoiding discomfort. On the other hand, men are still engaging those God given skills and desires in pursuit of self-centered discovery, creation and battle further altering the environment and setting up a disastrous feedback loop.

So women and the world have ended up with a plurality of men embracing the warm soft and comfortable, or heeding the sirens call of adventure into a brave new world of technologically created self-gratification.

Where is the trail ahead that will lead men out of this self-created trap?

First we must evangelize and bring men to realize that evil exists and that we are in a life and death battle with the world, flesh and Devil, and that we have created a world where these forces conspire on many levels to enslave us, our families and Church. Believe it or not the Vatican II documents clearly make this point.

"The whole of man's history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God's grace that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity.”

-Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, 37:2.

Next we need to lead men to develop and use those God given masculine desires in Holy and heroic ways, providing, protecting and evangelizing God’s people, and like the new Carthusians, actively building God’s kingdom and an authentic Roman Catholic culture in the here and the now.