Is your manhood feeling a little less vigorous than it used to? Sen. Josh Hawley is here to help.
Hawley recently delivered the keynote address to a conservative conference, his subject the dire condition of American manhood. While he was mocked on social media for blaming men’s interest in pornography on their supposed weakening at the hands of leftists (men have been intensely interested in pornography since humans began carving images into stone), his entire analysis was fascinating for what he didn’t say.
While the word “left” (or “leftists”) appears no fewer than 26 times in Hawley’s speech — much of it is devoted to preposterous assertions about the left’s sinister plan to destroy manhood — Hawley says almost nothing about what he thinks manhood should actually consist of, or what he wants men to do.
The closest he comes is briefly relating the story of a group of fathers in Louisiana who started patrolling their kids’ school to stop fights from happening — good for them, we can all agree. But I haven’t heard any leftists complain about it.
The problem Hawley unintentionally reveals is that while the culture war is eternal, even a conservative such as him feels he has no choice but to accept the changes liberals have fought for over recent decades.
Does he say that women should not be paid the same as men for doing the same work? No. That women shouldn’t serve in the military? No. That only men should be in leadership positions? No. That sexually harassing women is men’s birthright? No. That interpersonal violence is an appropriate way for men to resolve disputes? No.
He says none of these things, even if many people still believe them. Hawley wants to defend “traditional” manhood, but he can’t come right out and say what that is. So we get a laughable passage such as this one:
The Left want to define traditional masculinity as toxic. They want to define the traditional masculine virtues — things like courage, and independence, and assertiveness — as a danger to society.This is an effort the Left has been at for years now. And they have had alarming success. American men are working less, getting married in fewer numbers; they’re fathering fewer children. They are suffering more anxiety and depression. They are engaging in more substance abuse.
Are leftists really telling men not to be courageous and independent? Of course not. As for “assertiveness,” I guess it depends how you define it (which Hawley doesn’t); Harvey Weinstein was certainly an assertive man, but so is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), just in a very different way.
But anxiety, depression and substance abuse are supposedly the fault of liberals being mean to men. Hawley doesn’t explain how that might apply to women who also suffer from those problems, but that’s probably liberals’ fault, too.
One of Hawley’s key recommendations is this: “There is no higher calling, and no greater duty, than raising a family. And we should encourage all men to pursue it.” To which liberals would respond, “Sure, and let’s make this easier, with generous family leave and adequate child care.”
To his credit, Hawley has suggested temporary family leave and enhanced child tax credits in the past. But the fact that these are fundamentally liberal ideas has not deterred him from characterizing them nonsensically as a way to “win the culture war” against liberals.
It would be easy to mock Hawley as a prep-school fancy boy trying to give lessons in “traditional manhood” to the rest of us, but that wouldn’t be fair. Hawley doesn’t do much of the ridiculous playacting at manhood that some conservatives do. He’s not out clearing brush on a fake “ranch” or shooting guns to show he’s a real man.
But that leaves him in an awkward position: He wants to be a liberal-hating culture warrior, but about all he’s left with is telling men to build families. I wonder what he thought when Tucker Carlson mocked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for taking paternity leave, saying Buttigieg must have been “trying to figure out how to breastfeed.”
In addition to the obvious gay-baiting, the right’s most popular media figure seemed to be saying that any man who wants to participate in child-rearing can’t be a “real” man. I doubt Hawley would agree.
The broader context here is that Hawley is appealing to a real discontent, particularly among conservative men. Young people are exploring new gender norms. Women are making slow if steady advances: A mere 477 of the chief executives of the world’s 500 largest companies are men, an all-time low! And who are the kings of America today? A bunch of pasty computer geeks.
That’s what Donald Trump tapped into. He said to angry, alienated men: Vote for me and you’ll feel strong again. We’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, we’ll tell all those politically correct jerks what we think of them, we’ll grab women by the … whatever we want. We’ll show them all who’s boss.
Hawley may raise a fist to the angry crowd of Trumpists, but that’s not him. He can’t bring himself to tell his party’s supporters what they really want to hear. Which is why he can’t be the culture-war champion he yearns to be.