Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Should Men Become More Like Women?

Is a new film right about men?

A new documentary called “The Mask You Live In,” by feminist filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom, asserts that masculinity is a plague on America. The film's blurb claims  that "at a young age, boys learn that to express compassion or empathy is to show weakness. They hear confusing messages that force them to repress their emotions, establish hierarchies, and constantly prove their masculinity. They often feel compelled to abide by a rigid code of conduct that affects their relationships, narrows their definition of success and, in some cases, leads to acts of violence resulting in what many researchers call a “boy crisis.”"

Unfortunately Jennifer Siebel Newson's film comes close to the source of the real crisis in America but misses the mark. Historian Ellen K. Rothman showed in her exhaustive work "Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America", that American men were masculine in the 1800s  but learned to be vulnerable and share confidences during courtship. This candor during courting resulted in marriages between compatible partners that were designed to last a lifetime despite incredible hardships and unbelievably primitive living conditions, providing a safe and secure environment for children to grow up healthy. Sadly, in the last century the media of music, movies and later television and the internet promoted a mutated form of courtship that emphasized physical attraction and charm over character and compatibility. The resulting weak relationships between strangers led to a steep decline in marriage with more and more Americans abandoning marriage altogether.

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The effects of this unhealthy courtship between strangers were first noticed in the black community 50 years ago by the brilliant  Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who sounded the alarm about the disintegrating black family unit. The downward spiral has increased from 25% in 1965 until today where over 70% of black children are now born out of wedlock, but Hispanic and lower class whites are quickly catching up.

The boys born out of wedlock often lack the guidance of a father and may seek out negative role models on television, movie or internet role models or join gangs. The result is what George Gilder coined the "moral system of the unmarried".

The moral system of the unmarried values the qualities that are most useful in the singles world. James Dean's character in "Rebel Without A Cause" , Richard Roundtree as the title character in "Shaft",  "Dylan McKay" of Beverly Hills 90210, "The Fonz" of the early episodes of "Happy Days", Matt Damon in "Good Will Hunting" and Richard Gere in "American Gigolo" have all portrayed the raw power, implicit violence, sexual magnetism and potency of this system.These qualities make for a good thug, not a good husband.

George Gilder pointed out four decades ago that America was transitioning from a society that valued positive masculine qualities that made for great fathers to a society that valued the characteristics prized in the rough and tumble singles world. With fatherhood becoming increasingly denigrated all the way back in 1974, Gilder predicted the deterioration of the family unit as America became a violent society of men competing for a limited supply of beautiful and alluring women.

George Gilder correctly predicted in 1974 that the urban unrest that plagues every city and town across America in 2014 would be a consequence of the breakdown of marriage and family that began as healthy courtship was slowly phased out from the 1920s to 1950s but accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s.The rise of gangs can be attributed to the loss of the system of the family to the system of the unmarried.

The failure to discipline the aggressions of the unmarried male is the mechanism of destruction feeding the rise of gangs who are merely filling in a void left by absentee fathers. Sports teams, Boys Scouts, Indian Guides, Boys Clubs and high school and college social fraternities were all designed to temper, channel and subdue the aggression of young unmarried males just like virility rites and initiations found in almost every primitive society the world over. All of these organizations involved fathers, uncles, grandfathers and adult male sponsors who serve as positive role models and enforcers of rules for the often unruly, testosterone-fueled young males that populate them.

With fewer and fewer fathers around to civilize adolescent males at home and volunteer in male-focused activities as the institution of marriage crumbled, George Gilder correctly predicted a rise in untamed aggressive young men. As we have seen countless times on television from the December 2012 Newtown, Connecticut school shootings to the new fad of Knock Out Gamers, a single man, independent and fearless, can terrorize a whole community. A gang of them can terrorize a whole city.

The decline of marriage and the skyrocketing out of wedlock birthrate has resulted in generations of boys growing up without fathers and male-targeting institutions to bridle them and direct their natural male masculinity in a positive direction. Dr. Helen Smith's instantly classic book "Men On Strike" has chronicled the rage many men feel as they are marginalized by outdated divorce, child custody and alimony laws and not allowed to participate as they would desire in their children's lives after the marriage ends. Jennifer Seibel Newsom would be better served to seek out Dr. Smith and wise visionaries like George Gilder and do a new documentary on the decline of marriage and family because of unhealthy courtship and a backward legal system instead of demonizing masculinity. 

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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