What Happened to Masculinity?
Masculinity is in decline. From underperforming students to effeminate behavior, traditional masculinity is slowly vanishing. What’s happening to men today?
The entertainment industry often uses fathers as comic relief. In TV shows and movies fathers are often portrayed as foolish and childish. Families are held together by the strength and wisdom of the mother, despite the antics of the foolish father. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with mothers having strength of character and wisdom.
But this is not the only way the male role is being downgraded and changed in today’s world. In fact, manhood and masculinity in general are in crisis. This blog will look at the core problem of manhood in our societies today.
Where are all the guys?
Before I began working for Life, Hope & Truth, I was a teacher in the public school system. During my time working with students, I (and other teachers) noticed that there was a gender gap in almost every area. I taught at a respected high school that offered students the opportunity to take college coursework throughout their four years of high school. As far as grades were concerned, the girls far excelled the guys. In terms of leadership, finding impressive males who were natural leaders was difficult. However, there were plenty of impressive female students who would be called natural leaders!
It was great to see talented, smart and driven female students! But where were all the guys?
The decline of true masculinity is real. The danger to our boys and young men is real. A fellow teacher and I once had a conversation about a leadership award given to one male and one female student. We lamented the reality that there were multiple girls who would be well-deserving candidates to receive the award. But the boys? Well, it was a struggle to even name three obvious choices.
Statistics demonstrate these anecdotal observations. According to an article in the Nov. 29, 2021, issue of The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, “On average in the K-12 system, boys earn lower grades and spend less time studying than girls” (“Men Are Missing From College Campuses: What’s Being Done to Bring Them Back?” p. 10).
Men are disappearing from higher education. According to the Brookings Institution, in the U.S. in 2019, over 1.1 million women graduated with a bachelor’s degree, compared to fewer than 860,000 men. At every level, from associate degrees to doctorate degrees, women are graduating in higher numbers than men. In the U.S. colleges are 59.5 percent female, 40.5 percent male. In the U.K. colleges are 56.6 percent female, 44.1 percent male. This is not just an American problem.
We also see other troubling trends among males. Increasing celebration of homosexuality, gender-bending and the examples of males in media have led to a feminization of many boys. Just walk into any large American high school and you will encounter boys who dress and act feminine, with many openly declaring their homosexuality or bisexuality.
Where have all the real men gone?
Though this is a complex social problem, we can highlight three major causes of this crisis:
1. Video games and media. Boys, young adult guys and even grown men spend inordinate amounts of time playing video games and consuming media. Though statistics on excessive gaming are nearly impossible to gather, it is becoming clear to many that video game addiction is a major societal problem, mainly impacting males.
Some of the unintended consequences of excessive gaming and media consumption are that many spend less time on productive pursuits (such as study, recreation and healthy social interaction), become desensitized to violence (the link between excessive violent gaming and mass shootings perpetrated by disturbed and mentally unstable young men is documented) and become disconnected from the “real world.”
For more information on this problem, read “The Dark Side of Gaming.”
2. Missing fathers. Increasing numbers of children are growing up without fathers in the home. The largest cause of this problem is births to unwed mothers. In 2019, 40 percent of all births were to unmarried mothers. Even among those children born to married couples, about half of them will see their parents divorce before the age of 18. Of course, not having a father in the home doesn’t automatically mean a boy will grow up to have serious problems, but it can be a major factor for some.
For more insight into the crisis of missing fathers, read “Where Have All the Fathers Gone?”
3. Lack of strong, positive male role models. This is closely connected with missing fathers—because the father should be the primary male influence in a boy’s life. With the father largely missing, what examples are boys to look to? Young people look heavily to celebrities and the media. Sadly, the examples of celebrities’ personal lives do not help. The examples of proper manhood in today’s mass media are even worse. Movies in the last decade have capitalized on the humor of the unmotivated, unambitious young adult male—the “slacker” male. These movies often portray men as lazy, casual drug users who play video games and avoid real careers and family. A whole genre of movies has developed based on the “slacker” male theme.
Consider the example of the 2007 film Knocked Up. Seth Rogen plays an unemployed, uneducated slacker who is more interested in getting high and drunk than doing much of anything. Katherine Heigl plays an educated, motivated and successful career woman who gets pregnant in a one-night stand with Rogen’s character. Most of the movie’s humor is based on highlighting the disparity between the leading male and female characters.
This general theme is played out in a continuous stream of television shows and movies—and, sadly, in real lives (as anecdotal evidence and statistics bear out).
To make this problem worse, some male celebrities wear traditionally feminine clothing in public and on social media. One popular male musician frequently appears in public wearing female clothing.
What is the solution to the crisis of declining masculinity?
The decline of true masculinity is real. The danger to our boys and young men is real. Unless major changes are made, we will see this trend continue and worsen. The effects of the crisis will not be fully felt until members of the present young generation enter their 30s and 40s and begin to take the reins of political, corporate and family leadership.
Here are three practical action steps that should be taken immediately to deal with this problem:
- Put reasonable limits on media consumption. Parents can limit their sons’ video game usage and media consumption. The habits that are built before the age of 18 are often the habits that continue throughout the 20s and 30s. Parents should put responsble limits on the amount of time their children (particularly boys) spend gaming or consuming media. It's all about balance.
- Preserve the family structure. Men and women (of all ages) need to commit themselves to having children only within a committed marriage. The biblical law limiting sexual activity to marriage was not designed just to restrict human sexuality—but was designed to create stable and healthy societies. Breaking this essential law of human conduct is wreaking havoc on the lives of young people and society itself.
- Men need to be better examples. Individual men need to take up the mantle of leadership and example. The problem of the lack of positive examples cannot be solved by anyone other than you. It is up to each individual to choose to live in a way that positively impacts others. This is a call to action for men of all ages.
The natural question is—what does a real man look like? Who should be our model of real, healthy manhood in the 21st century?
In our next blog, we’ll answer that question by examining the ultimate example of true and balanced masculinity: "Jesus Christ: The True Model for Biblical Masculinity".