Culture continuously recycles itself. The revolutionary social ideas of the past are now considered conservative and backward, and the new radical enlightenment often reflects what was once viewed as not progressive enough. One of the more profound ways this cycle has manifested has been in the role of men and masculinity in our society. Today, the left seems to be longing for the father figure they so arrogantly dismissed, mocked, and demonized decades ago.
From an endless stream of TV dads portrayed as childish, selfish, lazy, drunk, clownish, and failures to the celebration of childhood independence and maturity, the role of fathers has been largely removed from our media-driven notion of life. We have been encouraged to view dad as a humorous, but optional, counterpart to our primary parent, mom, who manages to keep our lives running smoothly mostly on her own, if not in spite of him. The media today appears surprised at the resulting cultural consequences.
Gillette, a men’s shaving company, released a new ad titled, “The Best a Man Can Be,” targeting their key demographic with a sobering and stern lecture on what failures men have become in our society.
The ad features older men staring at their own reflections in the mirror looking lost as a group of young boys chase another boy before the word “freak” flashes on screen. Another young boy is being held, crying, by his concerned mother as the group of boys breaks through the scene with various chat bubbles appearing, one saying “sissy.” The next scene shows moments of TV, from a black and white cartoon of men leering at a beautiful woman to a man slapping the rear-end of his housekeeper to what looks like a classic MTV spring break montage of young men and women behaving promiscuously for the camera.
Although the message aligns with current ideas of “toxic masculinity” and the concept of “rape culture” in which progressive feminists argue men are taught they can do, say, and get away with whatever they want, I saw a different message. The ad is telling a story of respectful, confident, moral young men taught self-respect and self-restraint from their fathers.
The image of a father teaching his son how to shave has become an iconic portrayal of the unique bonding between a father and son and the importance of that relationship on a young man’s development. The ad wants the audience of men to reflect on their behavior and consider the influence they have on their sons. The problem is, the cultural perspective behind the ad caused the very issues it is trying to address.
The Gillette Ad Promotes a Conservative Message
Ironically, the concept of young men having confident, positive male role models is a conservative message and has been for a long time. It has been the progressive left and the media that encouraged several generations of young men to indulge their every desire outside of morality or social structures like marriage.
Both young men and women have been told for decades to sexually objectify themselves and consider their impulses sacred rights rather than denying themselves through responsible behaviors. The culture has downgraded marriage and the family to, at best, a comic annoyance one grows out of to, at worst, a repressive and unhealthy outdated concept that should be rejected. The obsession with celebrating single motherhood as an act of feminist self-determination and a society that views fathers suspiciously as optional caregivers has denied far too many males sufficient role models.
An overly sexualized media combined with an overly violent entertainment culture has left generations of boys growing up with only TV shows to guide them. Fathers have been largely neglected and are often only celebrated when denouncing masculinity and embracing feminism.
While the progressive scoffs at this line of reasoning and has for a very long time, the truth is everything they lecture us about proper male behavior today, they aggressively shamed out of society a generation ago. This is simply what happens when the father’s authority in family life is denounced, shamed, and cut out altogether.
This is evidenced by the persistent fixation on toxic masculinity, as exemplified by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) recently issued guidelines, which posit that males who are socialized to conform to “traditional masculinity ideology” are often negatively affected in terms of mental and physical health. They acknowledge that ideas about masculinity vary across cultures, age groups, and ethnicities. But they point to common themes like “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.”
The narrative the left holds to is one of progressive female empowerment in spite of male social dominance to which men have fought against losing power. The ideas of men behaving in a sexually aggressive manner toward women in everyday life, openly engaging in violence, and bullying and dismissing sexual assault with careless phrases like “boys will be boys” is mythology largely driven by fictional portrayals of American life by previous generations of progressive cultural activists.
Christians and Conservatives Warned Us about This
In truth, conservative culture––Christian culture in particular––went to great lengths to protect young men from the cultural revolutions that shamed away sexual modesty, impulse control, and respect for parents. Conservatives were mocked for encouraging young men to remain virgins until marriage and advocating for courtship and including parents’ opinions and consent in decisions to date. In subsequent decades, every social norm instilled in young men regarding respectful treatment of women in public and private was challenged, shamed, and openly rejected by feminist social activists.
When the ad talks about the past, what they mean is the story of sexism rooted in an assumption of masculinity being a less evolved form of human experience. Feminist culture has always portrayed masculinity as the reason for societal woes and it has simply become assumed truth.
To make men better, the reasoning goes, you must shame away all remnants of the barbaric masculine past. It is assumed that our grandfathers’ generation represented the worst of sexism and violence, and society has slowly moved forward since. They don’t seem to realize the men they want for their sons today belong to the exact generation they worked so hard to erase.
Men do not become more compassionate and responsible citizens by renouncing their masculinity and embracing feminism. The culture of obscenity, meaningless sex, and perpetual adolescence is the result of failing to develop masculinity within men. The excesses, abuses, harassment, and violence we see as a social concern are the consequences of young men lost and left to their own devices.
Boys are not lost because of toxic masculinity; they are lost because their fathers have been taken away from them and they cannot figure out how to fill that void with anything but rage and shame. The social change Gillette and progressive activists want, it turns out, is a return to the moral and social values the conservative movement has been shouting from the rooftops for decades.
Can the left recognize this or will they continue tearing down men even more in their efforts, never understanding the damage they seek to repair they cause themselves?
Chad Felix Greene is a senior contributor to The Federalist. He is the author of the “Reasonably Gay: Essays and Arguments” series and is a social writer focusing on truth in media, conservative ideas and goals, and true equality under the law. You can follow him on Twitter @chadfelixg.