"'We live in more of a pussy generation now,' Clint Eastwood told Esquire magazine last year." So begins Katherine Miller's rant on — you guessed it — the decline of manhood. Did you know that guys wear scarves now?
Miller's essay appears in Jonah Goldberg's Proud to Be Right, "a collection of essays by 22 young conservative writers." You can read an excerpt at the Student Free Press Association, where Miller is an editor. Here's her thesis:
America's elite has a problem. It's skinny jeans and scarves, it's Bama bangs and pants with tiny, tiny embroidered lobsters, it's Michael Cera, it's guys who compliment a girl's dress by brand, it's guys who don't know who bats fourth for the Yankees. Between the hipsters and the fratstars, American intellectual men under the age of twenty-five have lost track of acting like Men-and these are our future leaders. We have no John Wayne, no Clint Eastwood. And girls? Girls hate it.
We have, of course, heard things like this before — and the trope of lamenting for the Manly Men of yesteryear is (at least) as old as ancient Rome. Miller's is actually a confusing formulation — she complains that today's girlie-men are both too committed ("Backstreet Boy No. 16 informed his girlfriend of three months when he would propose") and not committed enough (the Homme Fatale who leaves behind a "trail of unconsummated, unsatisfying, undefined faux-relationships"). But it's as good an opportunity as any to implore opinionators everywhere: please, can we put this shit to bed?
Miller's own blog post about the essay is a great place to start. She says,
I don't do a really spectacular job in the essay of separating out that I don't exactly take all this stuff above at face value, but, really, that when people start making advertisements about acting Manly, there's some desire for decisiveness and action. I think we've had enough of pretending intangibles and sensitivity matter more than decisiveness, directness and action.
Well, sure — nobody likes indecisive, unreliable dudes. Not even us lesbian shitasses. But I don't like those qualities in women either. Miller may miss some notional era when men were assertive and women were passive (she writes on her blog, "I'm not very good at being a girl, but I'm better at it than I used to be when the occasion calls, and I think there's some real value in it") but even insofar as that era existed, "traditional" gender roles didn't solve people's relationship problems. Nor did they make us as a society any less fucked up than we are today.
"Man up" is such an evergreen prescription for social betterment (seriously, read Cicero or Livy) because patriarchal cultures are always suspicious of femininity. So calling people girly is a great way to criticize them without a concrete, clearcut reason. And rather than address whatever your real concerns are — are men proposing too early? Leaving women in the lurch? Buying ugly outerwear? — it's easy to throw up your hands and declare a manliness shortage. But ultimately, this tactic is everything Miller says guys shouldn't be: vague, intangible, and indirect. So rather than going on and on about pants and the Yankees and John Wayne, Miller and everybody else need to ask for whatever specific social or political change they want to see. In other words, human the fuck up.
Man Up: An Excerpt From An Essay In Jonah Goldberg's New Book [Student Free Press Association]