I admit to watching my 14-year-old’s upper lip.
It’s not long now before he’ll be picking up a razor at the supermarket. But as the mother of three rowdy boys and a girl and the wife of an executive, I’ve got my eyes elsewhere too. We’ve been having conversations about #MeToo, believe you me.
In fact, I showed them the viral Gillette ad—and all of us, my husband included, talked about the online brawl over “toxic masculinity.” I read Jim Mitchell’s excellent response here on FamilyLife.com that, honestly, was significantly better coming from a man than a woman. (I’ve always liked Jim.)
The ad is surfacing in the news yet again, as Gillette attempts to explain billion-dollar losses this quarter. The Washington Examiner explains:
“In devaluing Gillette by $8 billion, the parent company blamed currency fluctuations, fresh competition, and new social norms that have led to men shaving less often. There is no evidence that the ‘best a man can get’ ads pushing back against sexist [sic] and bullying contributed to the $8 billion figure.”
The caption beneath the Gillette ad itself reads, “Bullying. Harassment. Is this the best a man can get? It’s only by challenging ourselves to do more, that we can get closer to our best … Join us.”
So I watched, along with now more than 31 million other viewers. I read a handful of the more than 400,000 comments, which largely argue Gillette is bigoted against men. Then I watched again. As it stands, the 1.5 million dislikes are nearly twice the likes.
I was intrigued. Is there any way this could be wrong?
Back when manhood was classy
Allow me to take a small jag backward to an even more defining moment in American history. On and after September 11, 2001, we saw what Wall Street Journal reporter Peggy Noonan welcomed as a return of masculinity at its finest. Men (yes, and women) rushed into a collapsing, flaming building, while everyone else rushed out.
“I am speaking of masculine men, men who push things and pull things and haul things and build things, men who charge up the stairs in a hundred pounds of gear and tell everyone else where to go to be safe.
… And their style is back in style. We are experiencing a new respect for their old-fashioned masculinity, a new respect for physical courage, for strength and for the willingness to use both for the good of others.”
Yet World Magazine’s Sophia Lee reminds us, “Ultimately, here’s the sad truth: … Man’s culture has always set its own standards apart from God’s design. Even so-called ‘traditional’ masculinity can emphasize self-glory and self-honor, power and prestige, and reliance on self rather than reliance on God.”
The right kind of masculinity
My sons don’t need to be less masculine. They need to be more of the right kind of masculine.
My husband and I don’t stop them from wrestling (though I do move them away from the knickknacks). When my teenager, awash in the aggression of testosterone, gets his hackles up, we are collectively trying (… so hard) to help him steer his anger into productive filters and means. (Last year, it was anger about a few girls in his class being mistreated at home. That’s a justifiable anger.)
Yes, my husband breaks up some of their fighting, and prohibits them from using words like “hot” to describe a girl. (My boys call each other out on any sexist comments, which I find healthy. And it’s easier than me doing it as their oh-so-hip matriarch.) When my youngest wants to jump from the middle of the staircase, I move him down a few steps and avoid blood on the floor and probably a cool scar.
More instead of less
I’m also one of those old-fashioned types that still asks them to hold open the door or help me carry in groceries. Not because women can’t. But because as humans, we show respect, courtesy, and care. Because we make each other sandwiches, no matter what gender we are.
And maybe if I teach them to treat women as sacred in their own right, catcalling and groping might not even come to mind.
I need my sons to become more masculine. Not less.
This cultural brawl of sorts evinces the words of World magazine columnist Andree Seu, who last Thanksgiving wrote, “This year I particularly want to focus on one kind of thanksgiving—being thankful for men. I choose this because it is open season on men as much as on turkeys, which I feel sorry about.”
At the risk of oversimplifying, allow me to admit something. I need to be a better woman. And perhaps in stereotypical ways.
I have been known to bouts of emotional instability. To enabling rather than empowering those around me. And even to indecisiveness. I am often a pushover when someone could sure use me to stand up for what matters. I am reticent and self-flagellating. Also, I can be notoriously oversensitive. I have even indulged in gossip, cattiness, and backbiting (the female form of bullying).
I need to be a better woman. Not less of a woman. Just a better one.
(Side note: My husband makes me a better woman.)
The best a man can get
I am one of those extremely privileged women blessed with a few good men; a number of exceptional men, really. My husband, his dad, my father, even my grandfathers: They were simply men who chose day after day to work hard and love their children and wives.
They work at extracting the “toxic” from masculinity, but not jettisoning a y chromosome that actually contains a lot of inherent value.
In a recent cancer scare over my 13-year-old, my husband transformed into a courageous advocate—the kind of man who held his weeping teenager and then strategized to get the care his son needed.
Men like this are unsung heroes, celebrated every day in the paparazzi-esque shouts and bouncing hugs of kids when they walk in the door, and by wives who feel advocated for. These guys choose loving discipline and long conversations and prayer with and for their families and, yeah, the occasional corny joke and hideous sweater.
Mona Charen, author of and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote:
“…the Me Too movement may conceive of itself as a protest of ‘traditional masculinity,’ but that’s only because memories are short. It’s actually a protest against the libertine culture the sexual revolution ushered in. Some men are behaving really badly…Some women are too… But these behaviors are not ‘traditional.’ everyone, left and right, who values decent behavior should be able to agree that encouraging men to be non-violent, polite, and respectful is not anti-male. It’s just civilized.” [emphasis added]
Son, if you are reading this someday, at any age: I believe you can stand among good men. And by God’s grace, you will.
Be the best a man can get.
Copyright © 2019 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.