Can’t Men Give It A Break?

W.J. Astore

Can’t men give it a break? That’s what my wife asked me this morning. She was talking about the Russia-Ukraine war, and she has a point. Whether in the USA, Russia, or Ukraine, you get a lot of men posing as tough, cheering on the war while putting on their big boy pants. Joe Biden appears to relish denouncing Putin as a “war criminal” who’s committing “genocide.” Western media has seemingly fallen in love with Zelensky, a political novice, a former actor and comedian, who’s now being lionized as a hero and statesman, mentioned in the same breath as Winston Churchill. For his part, Putin’s hardline stance and his pursuit of war seems to be winning him more support among the Russian people. War is good for all these men — until it isn’t.

As my wife said this AM, what about the impact of war on animals? The environment? We know that war kills people, often enough innocents caught in the crossfire and shellfire. But what about the impact of all these weapons on the flora and fauna, the environment around us, the soil and the water, the very air that we breathe?

Especially in military circles, it’s very easy to talk about war in the abstract, about ships and tanks and planes, about no-fly zones and cauldrons and moving units around on a map. Far tougher it is to see war in all its enormity, in all its chaos, in all its destructiveness. What’s it all for? What justifies the destruction of Ukraine, or any other country for that matter? What is the point of it all?

A solution to this war seems readily at hand. Ukraine should agree to being a neutral country that won’t join NATO. Eastern areas of Ukraine that are predominately Russian could be autonomous states. Russia should remove all troops and help in the rebuilding of Ukraine. Instead of sending billions in weaponry, the U.S. should send billions in aid to help rebuild Ukraine after hostilities cease.

End the war. End the killing. Be real men.

End the war. End the killing. Be real men. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS,ALEXEY DRUZHININ,VALENTYN OGIRENKO/AFP via Getty Images)

Is the Coronavirus Emasculating?

 

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James Mattis, modeling combat-inspired leather jackets for “real” men

W.J. Astore

Is the coronavirus emasculating?  It’s a serious question.  Judging by photos, most of the people protesting shutdown and social isolation orders are men, with a few sporting totems of manhood like assault rifles.  Many men (and women too, obviously) have lost their jobs, with some “reduced” to new roles as Mr. Moms.  Are we already seeing a hypermasculine reaction to Covid-19, an emphasis on toughness and grit, a live and let die mentality, or perhaps live free and die?  If so, it will only imperil public health and safety further, while possibly aiding Donald Trump in his reelection efforts.

There’s an article circulating that persuasively argues the countries that have best handled the coronavirus crisis are led by women, like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Germany’s Angela Merkel.  Is it because women are better listeners, a bit more willing to submit to expert advice, and more patient?  Or is it that women just have to be better than your average bloke to get ahead in this man’s world?

Certainly, it’s illustrative of something that Donald Trump claims he’s a “wartime” leader in a “war” against the virus.  Trump almost desperately wants to pose as a wartime leader, much like Winston Churchill, facing down a foe with fierce and manly determination.  But a contagious virus isn’t exactly the Nazis, and a “never mind the odds” mentality of risk-taking is almost guaranteed to lead to further contagion and death.

If nurses, grocery clerks, and the like are America’s new heroes, does that lead more than a few wannabe men of action to question where they stand in the heroes olympiad?

What put me on this line of thought is an advertising campaign for a jacket marketed by a company headed by a combat veteran that features retired Marine Corps General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis as a model.  The boilerplate for the company says their jacket is designed “for men who refuse to hide what they truly are. It’s mean, streamlined and fast.”  And expensive too at roughly $1330, but it does come with its own tracking device.  Eat your heart out, James Bond.

Hey, it’s just marketing, but even marketing tells us something about society.  Conservatives talk about the feminization of society, often deploring the rise of metrosexuals and mixed gender roles.  “Take charge” men are seemingly the antidote. Trump is aware of this phenomenon.  Indeed, as a friend of mine noted, Trump most resembles the stereotype of loudmouthed fathers of the 1950s and 1960s, the ones who insisted on being obeyed no matter what.  The “do as I say, not as I do” dads, the ones who got their way by bluster and bullying.  (No Ward Cleavers need apply.)

Wartime toughness, “mean — streamlined — fast,” may be just the thing in combat.  But it isn’t what the doctor ordered in the struggle against Covid-19.  The virus, after all, can’t be shot, or punched, or bullied into submission.  It’s oblivious to bluster; indeed, you might say it feeds on it.  What works instead is a community spirit of containment through cooperation.  A quieter form of heroism.  Nothing masculine or feminine about this.

A sensible and patient approach, grounded in sound science and proven medicine, is what’s working.  No hard men in combat-inspired leather jackets are required.