Look around and you’d almost think American manhood was pinned down in a kind of Custer’s Last Stand, driven to desperate means of defense. The feminine, it seems, is the enemy. Last week journalist Amanda Hess laid out a sickening catalog of the violent, highly sexualized threats she and many other female bloggers face from men online. She makes a chilling case that these avatars of manhood strike their anonymous postures of threat not because of the women’s arguments, but because they’re made by women. Why the insecurity? Men today generally do worse in school and worse in the job market than women; their “natural” dominance can no longer be taken for granted. We heard the lament this week from Fox News commentator Brit Hume, who said that embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s real problem wasn’t the George Washington Bridge (see Main stories); it’s that he’s “very much an old-fashioned, masculine, muscular guy” enmeshed in a “feminized” political atmosphere.
Definitions of masculinity (and those of “muscular”) are open to question, of course. And like any social construct, they’re prone to change. BabyBjörn markets its baby carriers to a generation of men far more likely than their fathers to see active child care as perfectly masculine. Gay men have emerged from society’s shadows to broaden the palette of manhood. At the same time, there’s a booming business in helping men who aren’t feeling their manhood ferret out their inner Daniel Boone (see The last word). I have no problem with any of that. But a version of masculinity that needs shoring up with bullying or violence isn’t long for a world changing as fast as ours.