Every society has to answer a few basic questions in order to succeed and even in order to survive. One of them is, "How do we make good men?"
The reason for the importance of this question is simple: Males untutored about how to control their natures will likely do much harm. Conversely, males who are taught to how to control themselves and to channel their drives in positive directions make the world a much better place. The good man is a glory of civilization; the bad man ruins it.
Throughout American history, American society asked, "How do we make men?" (It was understood that "man" meant a good man.) Anyone who thought about the subject knew that boys who are not transformed into men remain boys. And when too many boys do not grow up into men, women suffer and society suffers.
What is a man (as opposed to a boy)? The traditional understanding was that a man is he who takes responsibility for others -- for his family, his community and his country -- and, of course, for himself. A man stood for ideals and values higher than himself. He conducted himself with dignity. And he was strong.
For much of American history, making boys into men was understood to be of supreme importance, and society was usually successful. When I was a boy in the 1950s, without anyone expressly defining it, I knew what a man was supposed to be. And I knew that society, not to mention my parents, expected me to be one. It went without explicitly saying so that I would have to make a living, support myself as soon as possible and support a family thereafter.
When I acted immaturely, I was told to be or act like a man. I wonder how many boys are told to "be a man" today; and if they were, would they have a clue as to what that meant? It would appear that for millions of American boys, this has not been the reality for decades. Many families and society as a whole seem to have forgotten boys need to be made into men.
There are numerous reasons:
1. The distinction between men and boys has been largely obliterated. The older males that many American boys encounter are essentially older boys, not men. They speak, dress, and act similarly (think of men who "high-five" young boys instead of shaking their hands). And they are almost all called by their first names. Even when a boy (or girl) addresses an adult male as "Mr.," many men will correct the young boy or girl -- "Call me" and then give the young person his first name. This is often true even with regard to teachers, physicians and members of the clergy. When a young person calls an adult by his first name, the status of the two individuals has been essentially equated. Boys need men to respect. It's not impossible to do so when they call men by their first names, but it makes it much harder.
2. Boys today have fewer adult men in their lives than ever before. Many boys are not raised by any father. More are not raised by a father who lives in the home full time. Nearly every teacher and principal American boys have in elementary and high school is a female. The boy's clergy person and physician may well be women. And few male figures in contemporary film radiate manhood as defined above.
3. The ideals of masculinity and femininity have been largely rendered extinct. Feminism, arguably the most influential American movement of the 20th century, declared war on the concepts of femininity and masculinity. And for much of the population, it was victorious. Indeed, thanks to the feminist teaching that male and female human beings are essentially the same (note, incidentally, that no one argues that male and female animals are the same, only human beings are), untold numbers of boys have been raised as if they were like girls. They were denied masculine toys such as play guns and toy soldiers, and their male forms of play -- e.g., roughhousing -- were banned.
4. America has become a rights-centered rather than a responsibility-centered society. Aside from helping to produce a pandemic of narcissism, the rights-centered mindset is the opposite of the obligation/responsibility-centered mindset that makes a boy into a man. It is not good for either sex to be rights-preoccupied; but it is particularly devastating to developing men, as men are supposed to be obligation-directed. The baby boomer generation helped destroy manhood in most of the ways described here. One additional example was its widespread slogan, "Make love, not war." One cannot come up with a more unmanly piece of advice: "Don't fight for your country, screw girls." If the greatest generation had adopted that motto, Hitler and Tojo would have won. A few years ago, the city of Chicago named a street after Hugh Hefner, a man who has played games much of the day and night, lived in pajamas and devoted his life to sex -- quite a model of manhood for American boys.
5. There are few places where men can bond with other men. One major way men become men is by associating with other good men. The only places left where this normally takes place are sports teams and the military. The same holds true for boys. And much of society is now working on breaking the most significant all-boys institution, the Boy Scouts.
6. Males no longer have distinctive roles. Men do best when they are relied upon, when needed; and they feel most needed when they do something distinct from women. This exists today in sports and the military. It is symbolic -- significantly so -- that there are no more "men at work" signs on highways. Now "people" are at work. "Men" have disappeared.
7. Many churches and synagogues have been feminized. This has occurred in at least three important ways: Clergy are increasingly female (and touchy-feely males) -- for the first time in Christian and Jewish history; God is often depicted as androgynous and no longer either demanding or judging (He just loves all the time); and religion has been changed from morally and theologically demanding to a therapeutic model. So religion, too, has become yet another place where boys encounter few men, and few masculine models (even in God, as noted, is no longer masculine).
8. Instead of the traditional American model of masculinity, which was a rare combination of masculine toughness and stoicism with doing good (e.g., Superman), boys are now taught to be preoccupied with their feelings and with (unearned) self-esteem. They are not even allowed to lose; all boys playing a sport are given trophies, not just winners.
9. Increasingly, marriage is regarded as optional. The most obvious expression of men assuming responsibility -- marrying a woman and taking care of her and their children -- is no longer a male ideal. Vast numbers of men quite openly admit to having problems with the C-word (commitment) and responsibility of being a family's sole breadwinner.
When boys do not become men, women assume their roles. But they are not happy doing so. There are any number of reasons American women suffer from depression more than ever before and more than men. It is difficult to believe that one of those reasons is not the very emasculation of men that the movement working in their name helped to bring about. And so, a vicious cycle has commenced -- men stop being men; women become man-like; men retreat even further from their manly role; and women get sadder.
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”