The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Josh Hawley is unfit to raise the flag on behalf of males

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) appears at the Capitol in Washington on Oct. 1, 2020. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) isn’t wrong about the left’s efforts to demonize mostly White males for their “toxic masculinity.” Still, there are times when shooting the messenger, figuratively speaking, holds some appeal.

New to the gender wars, the boyish Hawley butched up his act during the Jan. 6 Capitol riots when he raised his fist in solidarity with the insurrectionists who forcefully tried to block certification of the 2020 election.

To Hawley’s mind, presumably, the men (and the smattering of women) who breached the U.S. Capitol that day, where legislators huddled in fear for their lives, represented the sort of masculinity he now says will be his signature issue. Hmmmm: Why is it that the guys who look as though they’ve never so much as pushed a lawn mower are always the ones who want to saddle up and save the womenfolk?

In a keynote speech last month at the National Conservatism Conference, Hawley called for “revival of strong and healthy manhood in America,” and said the left is trying to redefine masculinity as toxic. He mentioned man’s important role as father, husband and protector — and you’ll get no argument from me on that — but if Jan. 6 wasn’t an example of toxic masculinity, what was it?

In Hawley’s worldview, the modern, conservative-male model isn’t only a good father and faithful husband; he’s also a strongman willing to take up arms to defend his beliefs. If you believe, say, that Donald Trump really won the 2020 election, despite all evidence to the contrary, then the manly thing to do would be to crush Capitol security and go searching for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), sing-songing “Nancy! Oh, Nancy! We’re looking for you!” as captured in a video of the rampage.

Or so one might think given Hawley’s fistful of brotherhood.

To his credit, Hawley says he’s not trying to paint all men as victims but that the left wants to redefine “traditional masculine virtues,” such as courage, assertiveness and independence, as a “danger to society.”

“Can we be surprised that after years of being told they are the problem, that their manhood is the problem, more and more men are withdrawing into the enclave of idleness, and pornography, and video games?” he said.

Again, although Hawley’s not wrong about some of his observations, he’s rather late to the revelation. Liberal attempts to equalize the sexes in all aspects of life, from combat to childbearing, are decades-old now. Welcome to the front lines, Josh! Along with a handful of others, I began writing about these deeply concerning societal shifts in the 1980s and ’90s — spurred, in my case, because of having birthed a boy. Having until then been a gung-ho feminist myself, I was unpleasantly surprised by what I was seeing as a growing hostility toward my son and his kind simply because of his sex alone.

Incremental policy changes in education and across social institutions seeped into our lives without much notice, until one day Americans woke up and wondered what happened to their world. Women now outnumber men in college and the workforce, which isn’t so much a negative as a question of why this has happened and what it signifies.

More to Hawley’s point, the left’s assault on masculinity recently has morphed into focused attack on the White-male-Christian point of view. Social media is rife with negative-to-hostile commentary on the WMCs, specifically evangelicals. To help us understand why, NPR naturally interviewed a professor at Calvin University. Thus, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation,” worries that the typical White male Christian believes that “men are protectors, women are designed to be protected. This vision of gender difference really runs through conservative Christianity and through American conservatism more generally,” she said.

True that. But it’s hardly news. The broader political splits in our country between red and blue and left and right are matched by even deeper differences about the traditional roles of men and women as America nears its 250th birthday. Those differences in belief and behavior can be traced both to some mostly unalterable biological differences and some fast-changing attitudes about who can do what now.

These points of view are unlikely to be reconciled anytime soon. What badly needs attention now is that men, either by choice or conditioning — or some zero-sum feminist engineering — are being left behind. There’s plenty of evidence that our boys and young men are slipping behind their powerful, encouraged sisters and future bosses and spouses. Things were bad enough when I began writing “Save the Males” 15 years ago. They’re quantifiably worse today. I applaud anyone who wants to put his (or her) shoulder into fixing that problem.

It’s too bad Hawley has designated himself as champion for the much-maligned male of our species. The messenger really does matter — and his raised fist for the wrong cause signifies every argument against his qualifications to hoist the flag for real men.