What Makes a Man?

lebowski

It’s funny. I can look back on a life of achievement, on challenges met, competitors bested, obstacles overcome. I’ve accomplished more than most men, and without the use of my legs. What… What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?  Is it… is it, being prepared to do the right thing? Whatever the price? Isn’t that what makes a man?

Too many of our conversations about gender roles presume that there are certain social attributes which, taken together, make up the essence of the respective sex. To “be a man” is to be strong, hardworking, and determined, and to “be a woman” is, supposedly, to be meek, servile, and emotional. But this is fundamentally wrong.

The obvious critical response is to point to examples of individual men and women who aren’t those things. They then either disprove the generalization or are used to prove that the one making the generalization is unjustly excluding and disenfranchising them. In a culture of openness, this is no longer even intelligible, let alone persuasive. In a universe of polls and reader-response, the unanswerable question is always “Says who?”

We might also draw up a list of character traits that are mutually beneficial to both sexes. Too often certain of these are claimed as “masculine” or “feminine,” when they are actually human. The typically helpful Art of Manliness writers make exactly this mistake when they identify the “7 manly virtues.” Of these “manly” virtues, they list manliness, courage, industry, resolution, self-reliance, discipline, and honor. The first virtue should really be the only uniquely “manly” virtue, though that might seem too much of a tautology. Self-reliance is a dubious concept, capable of being virtuous or not. The others are all equally capable of being possessed by women, even feminine women, and indeed, they would make those women more virtuous just as much as they would the men. It seems quite arbitrary to claim them then as “manly.”

And since it is exactly this subjectivizing intellectual framework that we are trying to oppose, there is another problem with the earlier identification of sex-attributes. The order is all wrong. We are not men and women because we are either strong or emotional or what have you. We are men and women and irreducibly so. This is determined by our created identity, before we reflect upon it. Which of us chose her sex? Which of us questioned who we are before we were? Such is wholly contrary to reality. Our “identity” is given to us long before we have any say in the matter.

The Christian view of sexual identity, as well as the natural law tradition’s, is quite simple. To quote another movie (though perhaps a less philosophical one), Kindergarten Cop, “Boys have a penis, and girls have a vagina.” Feminists and pansexualists deride such a statement as trivial and demeaning, but it really is just another way of saying that reality exists independently of what we think. The universe is bigger than our mind. It is external to ourselves.

A qualification is of course in order. We are not simply called to defend the status quo. The belief in objective reality does not entail that there can be no such thing as injustice. And as Christians, we know that sin has marred the original creation, distorting the way we live and relate to each other and the world around us. Still, sin and disruption distorts and redirects nature, but it never destroys it. It takes certain attributes and proclivities and exaggerates them and uses them for evil purposes; it never undoes them wholly. And so with gender roles, this means that the problem is not in their existence but in their current hostile relation to one another. The man, created to be provider and protector, became dominator. The solution is not, then, emasculation, but rather to call him to return to his original purpose.

Now, perhaps you think I’ve snuck in some preconceived gender attributes into those last two lines. Did I not just define man as “provider and protector,” something I earlier said not to do? Not quite. Those terms “provider and protector” are not attributes but vocations. They are jobs which men are called to do. They might do them well or poorly, with a particular rigor and gusto or reluctantly, but either way, the doing of them is what is in view. A man is a “man’s man,” not necessarily in how he protects and provides, but by protecting and providing, by being a man, by living up to who he is.

Another foundational premise here is that these vocations are not chosen by us but are rather imparted to us by nature, which is itself guided and directed by God. This means that God wants us to be this way, and it means that, on a very deep level, we actually do sense that this reality is right. We know that it is natural, efficient, and even admirable, and over time it is the only way that humans can exist, apart from intentional and sustained manipulation (which is always actually unsustainable). Thus we are calling men and women, not to roles themselves chosen by the powerful elites, but rather to reality itself. In calling them to this, we are calling them to their true selves.

There is a moral framework to this discussion too, as well as a teleology (or an intent). Much of this was covered in the previous post, but we can say that sexuality has a purpose: fruitful dominion and the cultivation of creation. We are then to live according to this larger purpose rather than attempting to always live against the grain. This is the very foundation of social justice. It maintains equilibrium. It is doing what is right.

And so what makes a man is, quite simply, being a man. A woman is made in the same way, in being a woman. Gender roles, then, are ways of describing men’s relation to women and women’s relation to men. The ways in which men are to uniquely relate to women are masculine gender roles, and the ways in which women are to uniquely relate to men are feminine gender roles. And when viewed this way, we can see that attempts at sexual equality, at least in our contemporary setting, are really thinly-veiled attempts to do away with such gender roles altogether. This will have the necessary correlation of doing away with gender itself, at least in any meaningful public way. There’s no way around it.

And that isn’t really liberating. It is reifying and commodifying. Viewed as such, we are no longer specific men and women, but rather instances of “humanity” in general. And therein lies the alliance between technocratic corporatism and the pansexual revolution.

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