Entry from February 16, 2010

“Homophobia is literally and figuratively killing our youngsters — especially young, straight boys whose lives, relationships and aspirations are cut short as they strive to be seen as ‘real men’.” So writes John Amaechi in today’s Times of London.

In school, for a boy, being clever and interested in academia is gay; being kind and thoughtful is gay; being respectful to a parent, authority figure or woman is gay. For a man, being sexually considerate — that is, not sleeping with every female that moves — is gay. Having non-sexual friendships with women is gay. Being nurturing and considerate is gay. Talking your way out of a fight is gay. Choosing not to drink until you puke is gay. Having a friend who is gay is gay. To be a “real man” you must be the opposite of anything even remotely considered feminine. We wonder why our boys run away from academic pursuits in school. Why violence against women is rising. Why the Government is having to spend £2 million on this new advertising campaign to combat the psychological and physical abuse all too regularly occurring in teenage relationships.

Mr Amaechi, who enjoys the distinction, according to Wikipedia of being “the first openly gay NBA player after coming out in his memoir Man In The Middle” and is now a writer and broadcaster in Britain, has a point, but it is not quite the point he thinks he has. He should ask himself, if these mixed-up and “homophobic” youths are deluded into thinking this is what it means “to be a ‘real man’,” what does it mean to be a real man? Is there, in other words, any such thing as a real man unprovided with those saving quotation marks? The trouble with Mr Amaechi’s take on the subject — and what those quotation marks tell us — is that he doesn’t believe there is any such a thing as being a real man. These kids do. That is simply a fact. And it is a fact that has applied to young men throughout history. Culturally, manhood has never been simply a given; it has always been something to be proved.

So how are they to prove it today? To that, Mr Amaechi has no answer. He simply wants to wish away such non-progressive, anachronistic ideas of manhood. By his own reckoning, to telling them that they are naughty boys for believing in them, he only makes these ideas the more attractive. Offering nothing to put in their place, he leaves the boys free to adopt the crudest and most savage ideas of manhood on offer, a lot of which correspond to his list as given above. If the official culture gives them no guidance as to any proper definition of manhood, of the sort which used to be the function of our now defunct honor culture, if it simply pretends there is no such thing as distinct from personhood, they will default to the sort of feral honor culture that we see in gang culture and the posturings of rappers and other pop-cultural heroes.

A hundred years ago, when the Western honor culture still existed, it was well-recognized that part of what it meant to be a real man was to respect women and to be ashamed to pick on those weaker than or different from oneself. It also meant being able — in a now almost forgotten phrase — “to hold one’s liquor” and, where the honor culture was at its strongest, it also meant being good at one’s studies. There may never have been a very large number of those who could be described as “a gentleman and a scholar,” but there were few who didn’t recognize that having such a description applied to oneself was one of the highest of compliments. That idea of manhood had evolved over centuries from a much more primitive one resembling that which Mr Amaechi complains of, and if we had not shed ourselves of our honor culture it would doubtless have continued further to evolve in the direction of tolerance towards homosexuals. But without any honor culture and with nothing but moral preachments to offer them, I don’t see these youths ever becoming what he wants them to be.

Perhaps he would agree with Dana Jennings who writes in today’s New York Times and in a completely different context that “True manhood is about love and kindness. It’s about responsibility and honor, about working hard and raising your children the best way you know how, with love, respect and discipline.” That sounds good. But true manhood must be about more than this — for instance, about guts and daring and fighting prowess — or else it loses what makes it distinctively manly and, with that, any appeal to kids eager to prove their manhood. Love, kindness, responsibility and honor, which can now mean anything you want it to mean, working hard and raising your children are equally important for true womanhood. Meanwhile, the boys will say that if there’s nothing extra the dominant culture has to offer that makes us men and not women, then we’ll find something outside that culture that does. It won’t be hard.

Discover more from James Bowman

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Similar Posts