By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion
Take it like a man, steady and strong
Not a lot of fuss and carrying on
True to a promise I can write in stone
-“Take It Like a Man” recorded by Michelle Wright in her 1992 “Now and Then” album
“..Masculinity ideology is a set of descriptive, prescriptive, and proscriptive of cognitions about boys and men. Although there are differences in masculinity ideologies, there is a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence. These have been collectively referred to as traditional masculinity ideology….”
-The American Psychological Association “APA GUIDELINES for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men”
“Come on you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?”
– Sergeant Major Dan Daley, USMC at the Battle of Belleau Wood in WWI
I don’t watch a whole lot of television, but I do read a lot of news and political commentary. As a result, I had read a great deal about a new ad from a razor company before I saw it. Judging from the commentary, I was expecting kittens, rainbows, unicorns and getting in touch with one’s feelings, with a strong probability of glitter. I was quite surprised by the ad when I finally saw it. While the advertisement would never be mistaken for a Marine Corps recruiting commercial, it was far from the anti-male screed I was expecting based on the commentary. While I did not find the advertisement offensive, neither did I find it particularly effective. It is, as is much in these days of overwrought and manufactured outrage, a tempest in a teapot.
In the kind of happy coincidence that occasionally graces the hard working punditry, the American Psychological Association released its APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men at about the same time as the advertisement came out. The 36 page work is as nearly perfect an exemplar of political correctness as one will find with the possible exception of a theoretical lovechild between pajama boy from the Obamacare commercials and a group of Supreme Court protesters dressed in costumes from The Handmaid’s Tale. The language is stilted and a true challenge to read without a guffaw or two breaking out. The guidelines are, in short, beyond parody.
How did an advertisement for razors and what would have been, in different times, an obscure set of professional guidelines become yet another flashpoint in the nation’s worsening cultural divide? Anyone who has worked with young people knows that William Golding’s 1954 Lord of the Flies is only nominally a work of fiction. Bullying, hazing and other forms of bad behavior have to be constantly guarded against. The veneer of civilization is indeed thin and has to be constantly applied and maintained. If there ever was a conservative value, a realistic view of human nature and the necessity of shaping and forming the character of the upcoming generation would be it. Power left unchecked will inevitably lead to temptation and corruption. The only thing surprising about Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and the rest of the lot that ignited the “me-too” movement is how long their corruption went unchecked. Humanity’s fallen nature and the need of constant vigilance and work to keep it in check is a neverending necessity. The razor company’s ad might not have been a celebration of masculine virtues, but a call to do better, to be “the best men can be” is hardly politically correct claptrap. To say it is does not make it so.
What is lost in the protests is that the process of shaping young people, young men in particular, is apolitical. I spent eight of the most rewarding years of my life as a Scoutmaster. The Scout Law knows no politics. A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.
The situation is not as dire as either side makes out. The upcoming generation is neither a bunch of insensitive louts wandering through life in a boozy haze nor mamby pamby bozos to whom a tire iron or a set of jumper cables poses too much of a challenge. While examples of each type are easy enough to find, the truth is in the quiet middle. Parents, churches, Scout troops, coaches, teaches and any number of caring people bring out the best in our young people as they always have done and will continue to do. There is work to be done. Let’s get to it!