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On the Future of Masculinity: Are Men Required for Warfare?

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 Much has been written about the troubles of young males in our society.  Except for the few who are born into a life of social entitlement—the economically or genetically endowed—most seem to be falling behind.  Health, income, life expectancy, educational attainment, and stable family lives are all in decline.  This state of diminished expectations was discussed in Are Men Becoming the Second Sex? 

Richard V. Reeves discusses these issues in his recent book Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It.  He attributes much of this struggle to the established fact that girls find it easier to learn than boys.  Starting at the same age, boys will fall behind the girls.  This is partly because the brain develops more slowly in boys than in girls, and because boys are more easily distracted from studying than girls.  The result is that boys continue to fall behind through adolescence.  Boys are not less intelligent than girls, but they do have to work harder to reach the same educational attainment.  Another cause of boys’ struggles is cultural.  Thousands of years of patriarchal society produced masculine roles that men see as being no longer available.  Women have broken through the patriarchal constraints that confined them to stay-at-home motherhood and have inserted themselves in all occupations once held only by men.  In particular, they are now capable of raising a child without the economic support of a male.  This leaves men bereft of what they viewed as their major role in life.  Women are escaping from patriarchy, men are not.  Reeves provides this perspective.

“Economically independent women can now flourish whether they are wives or not.  Wifeless men, by contrast, are often a mess.  Compared to married men, their health is worse, their employment rates are lower, and their social networks are weaker.  Drug related deaths among never-married men more than doubled in a decade from 2010.  Divorce, now twice as likely to be initiated by wives as husbands, is psychologically harder on men than women.”

“One of the great revelations of feminism may turn out to be that men need women more than women need men.  Wives were economically dependent on their husbands, but men were emotionally dependent on their wives.”

In Reeves telling, boys and young men seem to be meekly accepting their fate rather than breaking the chains of patriarchy and defining a new social role for themselves.  They are seen as requiring some form of affirmative action to assist them in making a transition.  He points out that the political right wishes to address this problem by maintaining the patriarchal roles as much as possible.  Reeves indicated the male under patriarchy was required to provide for his family.  However, he was also required to protect the family.  For some males, this role can be quite important, the ability to physically protect can become a major part of what passes as masculinity.

Arlie Russell Hochschild spent several years studying what we now refer to as the Republican far right in Louisiana in order to understand what motivated their political actions.  She concentrated on the emotions that drove the people.  Her work, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, should be required reading for all citizens.  Her findings were discussed in Strangers in Their Own Land: Republican Voters in the South.  Hochschild presented her view on the masculinity issues experienced by the males she encountered.

“On the personal side there was one more thing—the federal government wasn’t on the side of men being manly.  Liberals were certainly on the wrong side of that one.  It wasn’t easy being a man.  It was an era of numerous subtle challenges to masculinity it seemed.  These days a woman did not need a man for financial support, for procreation, even for the status of being married.  And now with talk of transgender people, what, really, was a man?  It was unsettling, wrong.  At the core, to be a man you had to be willing to lose your life in battle, willing to use your strength to protect the weak.  Who today was remembering all that?  Marriage was truly between a man and a woman…Clarity about one’s identity was a good thing, and the military had offered that clarity…even as it offered gifted men of modest backgrounds a pathway to honor.  Meanwhile, the nearly all-male areas of life—the police department, the fire department, parts of the U.S. military, and the oil rigs—needed defending against this cultural erosion of manhood.  The federal government, the EPA, stood up for the biologicalenvironment, but it was allowing—and it seemed at times it was causing—a culturalerosion.”

From this perspective, the male role of protecting was more significant than provisioning.  And protecting might require a resort to violence.  A true male would be ready, willing, and able should that be required.  These people do not sound like those who might meekly accept what they view as a lesser role in society.  It would not be surprising to see some manufacture reasons why their traditional concept of masculinity could still be put into play protecting people or the nation from someone or something.

Unfortunately, the view that men-only roles exist places them on the wrong side of history.  Encountering a comment that claimed the army had learned that females made better marksmen (markspersons?) than men invited a bit of research.  Such a published claim by the US army was not easily found, but some corroborating information from the NRA was interesting:Are Women Naturally Better Shooters Than Men?

It seems that women become good shooters faster than men because they are more willing/able to accept instruction and follow it.  The following is from an army shooting instructor.

“’As a military logistician, my units had around 20 percent female personnel in both officer and enlisted ranks. All the women fired Expert their first day, but less than a third of the men did so. Several men had to re-train and repeat the course to qualify. This pattern continued when the 9mm replaced the .45 in 1985, until I retired in 1997. It also appeared that differences in musculature and hand size had no effect on the scores’.”

“So what did make the difference? Says Col. Haynes, ‘Told how to hold the gun, that’s the way they held it. Told to look at the front sight, that’s what they looked at. Told what I thought they were doing wrong, their first instinct was to believe me’.”

“So, our first male gun instructor says that yes, women are better shooters, and his theory is that it’s because we listen.”

Women once again are capable of learning faster than men, but are not necessarily better shooters in the long run.  That conclusion is confirmed in studies of highly-trained shooters in Olympic and other competitions.

But shooting is only part of warfare, can that still be thought of as mainly a man’s activity?  Unfortunately, we have a major war ongoing, providing us with insight on how the genders participate.  There was an interesting article in The Economist: Ukraine’s women snipers take the fight to Putin.  The article introduced three women who had been trained as snipers and were about to be sent into action.  It provided the following comment from their trainer who went by the name “Deputy.” 

“Deputy says he was initially sceptical about the idea of training women snipers. Now he believes they are more suited to the profession than men. Women are light and nimble, he says; able to retreat without making a sound. On the whole, they are also ‘more patient,’ and less likely to take unjustified risks. But the thing that really convinced him was seeing how women coped with a gruelling military survival test that those in the know call ‘Fizo’. From a pool of 90 candidates, only five were left standing by the end of the test. Two of them were men. ‘The other three you see before you’.”

Modern warfare depends less on brute force and more on the ability to understand and utilize new technologies.  The military loves recruits who are quick learners. 

There is no place in the current economy for men to hide from aggressive females.  Many are eager to move into positions that had previously been considered male-only.  That is coupled with recognition that job growth in the near future is predominately in areas that were once considered female-only, or require skills that are associated with feminine abilities.  What are males going to do in response?  Reeves suggests they need help in catching up in the education system, and they must learn to embrace the kind of work that is available.  Thus far, none of that is happening.  Many seem to prefer to not work at all.

The ease with which females were able to displace males in all sorts of activities suggests that the millennia of patriarchy we endured arose not from some fundamental biological imperative, but rather, from an historical peculiarity in the development of human civilization that allowed male dominance to persist.  We may be returning to a more normal state in which the genders share responsibilities, one that may be more characteristic of our millions of years of evolution.

Males should also realize that if they refuse to incorporate themselves in the developing future, they may learn what living in a matriarchy is like.

You can learn a little about a lot of things or you can learn a lot about a very few things. Guess which is the most fun.


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