I was going to write today about hearing Justin Welby speak at St Paul’s Cathedral the other evening. His keynote speech, in a debate on ‘Good Banks’, was interesting and worth listening to (you can download it from his website), but I haven’t really got anything to say about it.
Instead, here’s an excellent article from The Guardian about male role models.
It takes a brave man to say, as Tim Lott does in his headline, that “our culture treats men and boys as second-class citizens”, but he’s right, as are his conclusions about the consequences of this portrayal.
It is an “inevitable and justified” state of affairs, he thinks:
Centuries of women being second-class citizens were bound, in the righteous backlash that is feminism, to curtail the status of men, who were revealed to be – rather than heroic – sexist, emotionally narrow and sometimes violent.
The post contrasts To Kill A Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch – “a dignified, kind, worthy man who represents an ideal for the community and his children” – with the type of masculinity more commonly portrayed “in advertisements, popular drama and films”, with men depicted as “little better than children, when they are not being violent or weak.” Lott calls this trend “the [Homer] Simpsonisation of fathers”, and his analysis chimes with this post I wrote a couple of Fathers’ Days ago.
While the trend may be understandable, it is no less tragic or devastating to our culture. In fact, Lott goes on to suggest that while there may still be men out there who – whether they would put it in these terms or not – aspire to be more like Atticus Finch than Homer Simpson,
…that is now an unattainable idea, because the culture would stand against the acknowledgement of such a man, if he existed. It would be resisted with the same kind of force, although with different motives, as a woman who claimed she existed only to please men.
If I’m reading that right, Lott is saying that good, strong, honourable men are not merely few and far between in our culture, but that the very idea of their existence is anathema to our conception of how the world is, and how it ought to be. Just as women ought not to exist purely for the pleasure of men, so honourable men ought not to exist.
If he’s right, if that really is the way our culture thinks – and I suspect it may be – this is a tragic and devastating consequence of the way in which feminism was fought.
I’m reminded, time and time again, of a comment someone once made to me when we were discussing feminism (and I may have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating): “It made women stronger,” he said, “but it didn’t make men better.” Have we now lost all hope that men will ever be better?
I don’t think so. I think there is still a ripple of longing, just beneath the culture’s apathetic surface that both hopes that good men can exist and, in hoping, itself creates the circumstance in which they can exist. At least part of the reason for the popularity of the TV series The West Wing is that it depicts men and women who truly believe that a better world is possible, and that by working with dedication and honour they can play a part in bringing it about. You may disagree with their vision of what that ‘better world’ will look like, but their hopeful enthusiasm is admirable and inspiring. And let’s not forget the enduring appeal of To Kill a Mockingbird itself.
There are good role models out there, and there are men who aspire to emulate them. Let’s keep celebrating them, highlighting their virtues and inspiring others that goodness is not just achievable but admirable. Do you make a habit of praising people (male or female, adult or child) for the noble, honourable, Atticus-like, Christ-like characteristics they exhibit? Let’s make a resolution to spend at least as much time praising the good as criticising the bad, and let’s see if we can turn this tide of cynical Simpsonisation around.