The gunsmoke at Virginia Tech had barely cleared when the reliable thunder about gun control began pealing from the New York Times editorial page and other cumuli in the leftist stratosphere. Down on terra firma, a few intrepid observers, citing the students who used their own weapons to stop a gunman at Appalachian Law School in West Virginia in 2002, unlimbered the obvious opposite point: Had someone at Tech been packing heat, he might have cut down the lead-slinging Korean lunatic before he killed nearly three dozen people.
The point’s truth is self-evident. But it also skirts over an underlying pathology: the liberal fear of and disdain for Americans’ using guns or even their fists to defend themselves against criminals. Columnist Mark Steyn called it the “culture of passivity,” asking why no one tried to stop the gunman. The answer isn’t just that Tech students were unarmed thanks to the campus’ being a “gun-free” zone, that just last year, the Virginia General Assembly scuttled a bill that would permit state college students with valid permits to carry firearms. Point is, guns or no, except for the 76-year-old professor (and Holocaust survivor) killed trying to defend his students, and perhaps the boys who shoved a table against a classroom door to prevent the gunman from entering, the men did nothing.
So Steyn doesn’t go far enough. It isn’t merely “a culture of passivity” that paralyzed the victims at Virginia Tech and elsewhere, but a culture of emasculation. As I argue in the preface to my book Real Men: Ten Courageous American to Know and Admire, modern American culture has emasculated, feminized and homosexualized the American man. Thoroughly imbued with feminist ideology, the culture-at-large teaches that raw masculinity and nearly all physical violence must be eliminated to overcome “male dominance” and “sexism” and “oppression” and “patriarchy.” The average American never heard this ideological poppycock before the original Ugly Betty got mad about the ironing and put her castration shears to the sharpening stone. But now, our anti-Christian, feminist cultural elites, meaning Hollywood, the media and big business, expect men to think and behave like women. Many of them do.
Yet even as the petticoat tyrants gelded the American man over the past half-century—mostly because he laid down for the operation—an evil, faux masculinity has arisen, best exemplified in the antics of Don Imus and Howard Stern, other shock-jocks and the talk-show bloviators. They routinely insult guests on their programs. They mercilessly ridicule anyone they choose, behind the safety of a microphone in a sound-proof studio somewhere in New York or Washington, D.C. Many are the notorious, neoconservative, chickenhawk agitators we’ve all come to know and despise. Others spray the airwaves with scatological and pornographic fare that would, 50 years ago, have meant a term at Leavenworth.
Question is, how did we arrive at this pass?
Modern Men And Men Of Yore
Before answering that question, it’s worth observing that young Cho Sheung-hui, the student who murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech on April 16, isn’t the first of his ilk. He had “heroes” on which to model himself—the Columbine killers, for instance. And Steyn’s “passivity” isn’t merely a feature involving a determined, heavily-armed fruitcake with a history of stalking, homemade apocalyptic videos and writing violent plays. Granted, the heroes who crashed United Flight 93 into a Pennsylvania field on 9-11 were sadly anomalous. But showing passivity in the face not only of certain injury and death but also garden variety thugs and bullies is standard fare for American males. It’s what they’re trained to do.
Consider the tale told by Richard Poe at www.lewrockwell.com., recounted in Real Men. Poe writes about the night he was in a Kinko’s copy center in New York City, when a scuffle broke out at a copy machine. A black man, hurling epithets as he walked out the door, stole a white man’s materials. “Look, he’s leaving with my stuff,” said the victim, “wringing his hands in frustration.”
“Behind the counter,” Poe wrote, “were three or four young men in their early twenties, all white, all sporting some combination of bizarre haircuts, earrings, pierced noses, and other countercultural appurtenances. All stared blankly at the customer who was complaining. No one made a move to help,” except the “chubby bespectacled” manager, a woman less than five feet tall.
“As I stood in Kinko’s that night,” Poe wrote, “it occurred to me that those glassy-eyed young men behind the counter with their earrings and pierced noses did not know this fear. They had probably been taught to fear accusations of ‘racism, ‘sexism’ and ‘homophobia.’ But the word coward was not in their vocabulary. They were feminist men.”
Yes, men used to worry about being called a coward. Which is no small point. A skeptic might well answer that a few sheets of paper weren’t worth fighting over, and maybe that’s a valid point. But certainly your life and the lives of your women are worth fighting for, which invites discussing the behavior of three men on a spine-chilling night in December 2000 that culminated in The Wichita Massacre.”
On Dec. 14, two black brothers set upon five young whites, three men and two women, spending the night at one of their houses. The criminals, Jonathan and Reginald Carr, ending a week-long feral rampage, subjected the victims to an orgy of sexual torture nearly beyond description. They forced the women to have sex, forced the men to have sex with the women, then raped and sodomized the women. They robbed them and drove the naked victims to a field, having graciously allowed the women to wear sweaters, and executed four of them. One woman, having been shot in head and run over with a truck, survived and escaped. The men did not fight back. The men did not attempt to escape. The men did not protect their women. This is curious, given that one of the Carr brothers forced each victim, one at a time, to drive him to an ATM machine, which left two or three men at the home with the other brother who was raping the women. But the men did nothing.
Time was, it didn’t take such an attack to provoke a man’s violent reaction in self-defense. Consider a few stories from Real Men. A few years ago, the Anchorage Daily News reported, an octogenarian veteran of the 82nd Airborne, which jumped into Normandy on D-Day, stopped two teenagers from burglarizing his house. Roy Lee Hendricks shot himself in the finger, but he beat the daylights out of the two punks, then drove himself to the hospital. “I never ran in my life, and I don’t intend to now,” the rough-and-ready Alaskan told the paper. “I’d rather be a dead hero than a live coward.” Hendricks cared about something more than getting hurt or even killed. He cared about his honor. About his obligations as a man.
Audie Murphy, who received 33 battle decorations, including the Medal of Honor, during World War II before he was 20, was another American to be feared and respected. Thanks to a friendship with Jimmy Cagney, he became an actor after the war, but he never lost his sense of what it meant to be a man. In his excellent biography of Murphy, No Name on the Bullet, Don Graham recounts two stories that today would invite Oprah or Dr. Phil to spend an hour chewing the rag about overcooked machismo. At a party in Beverly Hills, a drunken actor named Lawrence Tierney was cursing around Murphy’s girlfriend. Audie politely approached the man.
“Mr. Tierney, you don’t know me, my name is Murphy and I’m here with my girl, and please, don’t do that anymore.”
“Get away from me,” said Tierney, who towered over Murphy.
Tierney persisted, and Audie returned: “Mr. Tierney, this is very disturbing, please don’t do that anymore.”
Murphy went away again, but the blotto thespian persisted, an invitation for a third conversation. Murphy tapped him shoulder.
“Mr. Tierney, I’ve told you twice and I’m not going to tell you again. Get your hat and coat and leave right now.”
“Tierney looked at those eyes,” the witness said, “and got his hat and coat and left.” Murphy’s steel gray eyes, Graham writes, “were the thing that everybody remembered. They were cold, almost deadly.”
Another time at the racetrack, Murphy was reading the racing form, but glanced up as two women walked by. He quickly went back to the form, oblivious to anything but handicapping the ponies. “So about five minutes later,” a friend of Murphy’s told Graham, “here comes a big Dago guy about two hundred and something pounds and he says, ‘Hey, next time my wife ever comes here again and you make eyes at her …’
“Are you through?” Murphy replied.
“No, I’ll tear your head off.”
“So Audie just leaned back and pulled out this gun and laid it right here and said, ‘I killed three-hundred fifty of you guys [during the war]; one more wouldn’t make any difference.’”
Real Men is full of such encounters, which are less indicative of “violence” or the “gun culture” than a culture that expected men to defend themselves, their women and, yes, their honor. Consider the gunfight between James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok and Dave Tutt, who won Hickok’s watch in a poker game. It was July 21, 1865, in Springfield, Mo., and Tutt threatened to wear Hickok’s watch on the town square to humiliate the storied plainsman and Indian fighter. Wild Bill suggested that such effrontery would not be amusing or appreciated. When Tutt appeared in the square at 6 p.m., Hickok showed up as well. Tutt drew first, and Hickok put a bullet in his chest.
The Feminist Victory
So back to the original question. American society has descended from one that whelped men who threw punches if a woman heard the lame profanity of a drunken lout, to one that whelps men who watch their women suffer rape and murder. How did we come to this pass?
The answer lies in the steady stream of propaganda from the feminist cultural elites that have equated masculinity—and the healthy and righteous violence that goes with it when necessary—with evil. They taught men to behave like women. Television and films, of course, helped.
In 50 short years, we have descended from the American man as represented in The Rifleman and Father Knows Best to the feminized men on Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond. Once upon a time, television fathers were solid. Like Lucas McCain. Or Jim Anderson. No more. Now, the American man on television is a clown, a helpless, pathetic sissy whose wife and children have all the answers and order him around. Dan Conner, the slovenly, dull-witted husband and father on Roseanne, is just one fine example. Hollywood once offered us The Rifleman. Now we get Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Will and Grace. Not to mention preposterous films with lady warriors, such as G.I. Jane and Courage Under Fire.
No wonder we now have the news media’s latest hero, the “metrosexual.” “Male executives find feminine traits pay off in the workplace,” a headline in the Salt Lake Tribune aptly put it. Metrosexuals “are very secure in their sexuality,” ran one report on the phenomenon, and getting a facial or a pedicure “doesn’t make them feel any less masculine or any less heterosexual.” Metrosexuals are true pioneers, “finding the courage to explore the female domain,” another report averred, without losing their ‘status’ as real men.” Time was, our pioneers were Lewis and Clark and Kit Carson, who traversed and tamed the American wilderness. Now, they “explore” the “female domain.”
Yet Hollywood and the news media aren’t the only factories manufacturing this this cultural poison. Schools are another front in the war against masculinity. Illinoisloop.org posts a list of 22 practices in grade schools that harm boys in myriad ways. Where the subject matter of genuine manhood is concerned, the site scrutinizes curricula and makes several observations. “Assigned literature,” it reports, “is skewed lopsidedly towards social issues, and away from novels of high adventure, courage, patriotism, etc.” And boys also face an “almost total absence of fact-based biography and non-fiction in literature and reading classes.”
In short, don’t give a boy The Killer Angels, a novel about the battle of Gettysburg, or a biography of Gen. George S. Patton. Let him read a story about a girl who makes the football team and the boy who shows real courage by admitting he takes ballet lessons.
In schools, masculinity is out. Commentators such as Diane Ravitch argue that reading material has been feminized. In her article “Education and the Culture Wars,” published in Daedalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Ravitch described reviewing test material as one of the board members of a federal agency. She learned that reading selections on one standardized test were not only racially biased against whites but also sexually biased against boys. “In one story, a white boy in a difficult situation weeps and says plaintively, ‘If only my big sister were here, I would know what to do.’” Ravitch also reviewed one publisher’s guidelines for standardized tests: Among the taboo items were:
Men shown as “strong, brave, and silent,” women shown as “weepy, fearful, and emotional;” boys playing sports, or girls playing with dolls; … men working as lawyers, doctors, or plumbers; women working as nurses or secretaries; … men playing sports or working with tools; women cooking and caring for children; … men portrayed as breadwinners; women portrayed as homemakers… Illustrators must not use pink for baby girls or blue for baby boys. Out is the old-fashioned idea that females care more about their appearance than males do: today’s illustrator must portray both sexes “preening in front of a mirror,” with Dad using a blow-dryer.
Thus is a metrosexual made, and Ravitch and others aren’t just describing obvious propaganda. They are describing the cultural elite’s manipulation and alteration of traditional symbols to remake boys and reorder society. By replacing those traditional symbols, they have changed the moral order from what it was 50 years ago to what is now.
Given the subversion of masculinity, it’s unsurprising that the emasculated, homosexualized man evolved concomitantly with the phony tough guy. His exemplars are Imus and other radio blowhards such as the increasingly popular neoconservative, Mark Levin. Levin expresses a few opinions with which many conservatives agree, yet he incessantly berates his guests in particularly sophomoric terms, such as “moron,” “jerk” and “idiot.” He has labeled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “stretch” because she has, he assumes, undergone a few face lifts. Another such insufferable crank is Glenn Beck.
The comments that finished Imus, as so many have observed, are nothing new and not confined to the Left, where Imus made the bed he’d have to sleep in. Many of the radio commentators who dominate conservative talk radio are chicken-hawk gas-bags who do little, apart from goading America to send other, braver men off to war, than defame callers, public officials and celebrities who do not share their ideological obsessions. They say things about others that, in a civilized country, would invite a pistol-whipping in the street.
But perhaps phony masculinity is best represented in the obsession with carnality among celebrities and the hyper-sexual swamp called radio and television, perfectly represented by Howard Stern and something called The Man Show, now mercifully moldering in its richly-deserved grave. Stern is known for “Black Jeopardy” and other racial capers, but his stock-in-trade is filthy sexual banter and monkeyshines that reveal him to be a full-blown pervert. Anyone familiar with Stern needs no rehearsal of his pornography (which includes, for instance, incestuous lesbian encounters). It suffices to say no subject, no matter how perverted or repellent, is off limits.
The Man Show was tamer, but it too presented a false and perverse image of masculinity that offers feminists the inventory with which to peddle their lies and fantasies about “sexism” and “oppression.” The Man Show defined masculinity in terms of belching, flatulence, drunkeness, and watching scantily clad, large-breasted women hop on trampolines. Such filth was lower octane than Stern’s, which perhaps explains its commercial failure. The Man Show lost the race to the bottom.
These two examples don’t come close, however, to some of the gratuitous and malevolent sex and violence in many Hollywood films, which is, again, precisely how feminists wish masculinity to be depicted. It proves their point that masculinity is a pathology to be feared, rejected and erased.
Men Are The Problem
Of course, real masculinity is none of this. And tempting as it is to blame feminists for what’s happened to men, one unsettling truth is that men were in charge of society’s major institutions, cultural and otherwise, when the feminists began their equivalent of Sherman’s march to the sea. Men ran the courts and legislatures when women demanded war on fathers and husbands. Men ran the universities when the feminists demanded bogus academics such as “gender studies.” Men ran the military when women demanded “the right” to fight on the battlefield. They ran the movie studios, law firms and newspapers.
One explanation for their surrender is that feminists exploited the very quality in men they claim to deplore, meaning chivalry and a man’s natural desire to please women. Men don’t like to tell women “no.” I saw this dynamic up close when I served on the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces. Highly-decorated military men, to use an apt cliché, were putty in the hands of women, even the bitter, snarling crones who hovered about the commission to monitor and subvert its gathering of facts.
But the feminists offered something else, and looking back, we can see what that something was: doing it. In return for giving the feminists the political, cultural and financial clout they wanted, the feminists offered easy sex. The agreement was implicit in the exchange. Paradoxically, as sexual morals gradually disappeared over the last 40 years, and more and more women offered casual sex, men have been less willing and able to assert their masculinity. The sex, allegedly, is great. But masculine control over society’s major institutions collapsed. Maybe when the feminists launched their campaign for free sex, they knew exactly what they were doing. But the men knew what they were doing too.
So we have what we have. Imus, Stern and the rest of the tough guys—hollow men whom Audie Murphy would have torn to pieces. We have the men who do nothing when a remorseless killer loads up and shoots, like the professor at Virginia Tech who, located in another building, hid under his desk for six hours, and left his students alone in a basement laboratory.
Which brings us back not just to the wounded campus, but to the massacre in Wichita, and myriad other scenes where men fully capable of fighting back did nothing. The culture has told men loud and clear that defending themselves, their women or families, with a gun or without, risks professional and financial ruin. Or worse, prison time. Men have learned that raw-boned masculinity is a psycho-sexual disorder. They have learned, as one observer said, that men are just big women; that women are little men. They have learned to “explore the female domain,” that “feminine traits pay off.”
Indeed they do. At a very high price.
R. Cort Kirkwood is the author of Real Men Ten Courageous Americans to Know And Admire (Cumberland House). This essay reprises material that appeared in the book.