Culture Friday: Masculinity

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 11th of January, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. According to the American Psychological Association, here is what marks traditional masculinity. 

Stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression. The APA says, quoting here, “this vision of masculinity may summon up an image of a closemouthed cowboy, à la John Wayne.”

AUDIO: Cherry was right. You’re soft. You should have let ’em kill me, ’cause I’m gonna kill you. I’ll catch up with ya. I don’t know when, but I’ll catch up. Every time you turn around, expect to see me. ’Cause one time you’ll turn around and I’ll be there.

EICHER: Of course, the APA says there’s more to it than macho swagger. But in its just-released new guidelines for psychologists, the professional association says on the whole, traditional masculinity is harmful.

Men, for example, are more suicidal. More homicidal. More often victims of crime.

They have shorter life spans. They are less likely to seek healthcare, particularly mental healthcare.

And here’s the crucial piece: traditional notions of masculinity are problematic for gender and sexual minorities.

Clinicians are urged in the guidelines to recognize this harmful socialization while at the same time to fight against things like homophobia and transphobia.

Well. It’s Culture Friday and John Stonestreet joins me now. John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick.

EICHER: John, maybe it goes too far to say this is calling on psychologists to engage in a campaign to wipe out maleness, as such.

But it isn’t as though we find zero sensible observations here: it’s not unmanly to seek help, for example, or to engage with children, or to refrain from unnecessary risk.

But a good bit of these guidelines seem designed to tailor psychological treatment to our new ‘cultural enlightenment’ on gender issues.

What do you make of this?

STONESTREET: Well, I think that the campaign to wipe out categories like maleness, that’s been part of the APA’s agenda for quite some time. I mean, to remove, for example, any sort of inherent connection between biology and gender, like they’ve done in previous guidelines, and what they’ve talked about in terms of homosexual behavior and transgender, gender dysphoria, I mean, that is a campaign, really, to wipe out any objective understanding of maleness.

And that’s embedded in this report from start to finish. So, the first thing you get is the worldview assumption in this report that masculinity is nothing but a social construct. Now, there’s no question that there are socially constructed aspects of masculinity that in certain cultural contexts to be a man looks like this and in others it looks like that. I mean, it doesn’t necessarily look like a man, in our culture, to be able to rope and ride, to quote that Toby Keith song. But it was in other cultural contexts.

But those things are expressions of deeper objective realities of what it means to be men, and these things are actually built into our nature. I’m more convinced of that than ever, having raised three daughters and now raising a son 8 years later. Sometimes my daughters look at this little boy and go, “What the heck is he doing? Is something wrong with him?” And the answer is yes, something is wrong with him, but no, this is kind of what it means to be a boy. And this is inherent. It’s innate.

The other thing, too, is that traditional masculinity is seen as a social construct of a past time. And so lumped in together are things like anger and violence and being anti-woman. As if being kind of strong and taking risks and that sort of thing goes along with being violent. And one kind of gets the impression at the end that the perfect male is just someone who is going to be nice to gays and lesbians and transgender individuals.

So there is kind of a deconstruction here going on of anything traditional. But it’s based on this worldview assumption: Is our identity as male and female inherent to our lives as created by God? Or is it made up? And so much of what’s passing as social science these days rest on that fundamental divide. Is there a givenness to reality or is everything that we think to be true and genuine and real nothing but a social construct?

EICHER: We talked about traditional masculinity and I want to turn a corner and talk about a traditionally masculine association of Catholic men, the Knights of Columbus.

I bring up the Knights of Columbus, because the group has become the subject of a Senate confirmation hearing for a nominee to the federal courts.

Brian Buescher is a presidential nominee to be a judge on the U.S. District Court for the district of Nebraska. His membership in the Knights of Columbus came up in written inquiries by Senators Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Kamala Harris of California. Harris complained that the Knights are “an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men.” She added that the Knights oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. Hirono specifically wanted to know whether Buescher would end his membership in the Knights if he’s confirmed to the bench, in order, her words, “to avoid any appearance of bias.”

Now, I learned about this several days ago when reading an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by a pastor, who called this in his view an unconstitutional “religious test.”

The writer is Eugene Rivers, and I’d like to quote a passage from his piece:

“As a leader of black Christians, I feel particularly strongly about the Knights of Columbus. For more than a century they bravely defended minorities. The group ran integrated hospitality and recreation centers for troops in World War I—the only charitable organization that did so. To confront prejudice in the teaching of history, in the 1920s the Knights commissioned books on black and Jewish history in America. They stood against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, the height of its power, helping fund the Supreme Court case that defeated the Klan-backed ban on Catholic education in Oregon. The Knights spoke out against the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany as early as the 1930s. Today they assist victims of Islamic State.” Eugene Rivers in The Wall Street Journal.

Again, I bring this up in the context of a United States senator suggesting a Knights of Columbus member is unfit for the bench because he’s a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Now, one more point and then a question: Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat who opposes this nominee, by the way, called out her colleague for religious bigotry. She is a progressive. She is a liberal congresswoman, but she’s a Hindu and perhaps as a religious minority in this country, she sees a danger here. But she’s also taking some flack from her colleagues on the left.

Is she right?

STONESTREET: She is right, yeah. There’s no question about it. We’ve seen an alarming trend of violations of this kind of what the Supreme Court long ago said was unconstitutional—any sense of religious test to hold public office. I mean, this isn’t the first time we saw it. We saw it in the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett. But, you know, it’s amazing here, again. Catholics believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. Catholics believe that life begins at conception and the taking of innocent life is wrong, and that would include abortion.

What’s happened now is kind of a new zeitgeist, a new spirit of the age, in which these beliefs have gone from being central to the American experience, to being different from other Americans, to being outcast. When you talk about Senator Hirono of Hawaii and Kamala Harris of California, you’re talking about secular radicals. We’re no longer talking about those with just a secular worldview. We’re talking about secular totalitarians, in which these ideologies are now the mark of what is progress. And, you know, I’ve just been reading through a remarkable take on progressivism from Anthony Esolin. It’s a book called Nostalgia, in which he talks about the problem of progressivism.

The late modern, hyper-secularist, post-modern vision of what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery is not necessarily that anything newer is necessarily better, it’s that anything bad has to be deconstructed for its patriarchy, or its intolerance or for its homophobia or, you know, whatever else. But the problem is progressives are anti-the past without any real vision of where we’re going or how to get there.

It’s kind of like we’re going to reject everything that we’ve always stood for because the future is going to be this evolutionary utopia. And that has become so clear in these two senators in particular—Hirono and Kamala Harris—that it’s really hard to overstate it. This is just the new reality of confirmation hearings when you have these radical secularists in the Senate.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. John, thank you.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, speaks to reporters on his way to her office at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. 

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