"Real Men: They're Back" proclaims The American Enterprise magazine in its September issue. The firefighter, policeman, fighter pilot and even the spy enjoy renewed respect in a nation that has rediscovered danger and finds that heroes are not all "anti."
All well and good. But when it comes to defining what "manliness" is, watch out. The spirit of feminism still stalks the land, casting withering spells on any sprouts of traditional masculinity that push green shoots through the earth.
The contributors to the "Real Men" issue are not brutes (well, I should hope not, since I'm one). Amid the paeans to hunting, military service and fast cars, there are more circumspect appreciations of male virtues. Harvey Mansfield, for example, writes that "Manliness can be heroic. But it can also be vainly boastful, prone to meaningless scuffling, and unfriendly. It jeers at those who do not seem to measure up, and asks men to continually prove themselves. It defines turf and fights for it -- sometimes to protect precious rights, sometimes for no good reason." So true.
As the mother of three males, I consider myself something of an expert on masculinity. Our eldest, Jonathan, is the Ur-male. Never one for sitting still, Jon was allowed to run around the lawn and shrubs at the outdoor theater called Wolf Trap near our home. When the show was finished, my husband instructed Ben (then 5) to empty his pockets of the pebbles, bottle caps and other treasures he'd collected from the lawn during the performance. "You too, Jon," he instructed. At which point Jon reversed his pockets and let fall a veritable petting zoo of worms, beetles, fireflies and slugs. That's my boy.
David has been known to stick his feet right under Ben's nose, proclaiming, "Inhale the perfume!" Out of respect for the sensibilities of some readers, I'll refrain from repeating the bathroom humor -- but trust me, their creativity on this score is prodigious.
There are people who love masculinity -- with all its undeniable untidiness, rudeness and mayhem, and those who don't. Roughly speaking, those in the former category are known as conservatives and the latter as liberals. Lovers of masculinity recognize that boys need to be civilized, their aggression properly channeled and their boisterousness constrained in church, synagogue and school. But they also know that a boy's heart can be made of pure gold, that his capacity for unselfishness is vast, and that his strength and courage, when he becomes a man, is still necessary in this fallen world.