Andrew Sullivan had an insightful post on masculinity, violence, and testosterone on his blog yesterday. He wrote it in response to a column by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni.
There are times when I find myself darkly wondering if there’s some ineradicable predatory streak in the male subset of our species. Wrong, Chris Kilmartin told me. It’s not DNA we’re up against; it’s movies, manners and a set of mores, magnified in the worlds of the military and sports, that assign different roles and different worth to men and women. Fix that culture and we can keep women a whole lot safer…
Bruni’s article is no-doubt well-intended. We’d all like to reduce violence against women. But Sullivan responded with a razor sharp breakdown of the false assumptions in Bruni’s prescription. As Sullivan correctly points out, you can’t fix the problem by pretending that men are no different than women biologically.
There is a third option between DNA and culture. It’s called testosterone. It’s a very powerful hormone that makes men men (we are all originally default female embryos) and is the sole real difference between the sexes. And it correlates very strongly with aggression, confidence, pride, and physical strength. There is nothing inherently “dark” about this. Testosterone has fueled a huge amount of human achievement and success as well as over-reach and disaster. And it makes men and women inherently different – something so obvious no one really doubted it until very recently, when the blank-slate left emerged, merging self-righteousness with empirical delusion.
This absolutely doesn’t mean acquiescence to rape or the culture that leads to rape.
That is an extreme and heinously immoral act of violence. Indeed, there’s a great deal of work to be done in creating a dialogue and culture in which the logic of testosterone is challenged constantly. But this used to be done by appealing to male pride, not by suspecting generalized male infamy. The concept of “gentle”-men or “gentlemen” was honed in the last few centuries specifically to encourage such a civilizing cultural climate. And I’d argue that approach will pay far more dividends…
In those brief paragraphs, Sullivan offers a brilliantly concise description of the blindness of the left on issues of gender–the self-induced “empirical delusion” of promoting equality by denying reality. It won’t work. We must start working on the problem of male-on-female violence by first admitting what men truly are, biologically.
Sullivan does this by focusing in on the incredible power of testosterone. Critically, he also acknowledges its many positive as well as negative aspects.
Testosterone, as the hormonal fuel of male ambition and drive, has driven economic and technological progress, ushering in a level of prosperity and progress that provides a great many protections to women. Going back to the dark ages would mean very bad things for women–we all understand that. Testosterone, therefore, has done far more to enhance the safety, happiness, and opportunity of women–far more good than harm.
Sullivan closes his post by talking about how our culture can channel the male drive into pursuits that are beneficial to women, which promote stability and nurturing environments rather than violence. It starts by valuing fatherhood:
A man’s self-esteem can be, in some hideous fashion, fed by acts of violence. But it can also be sustained through more open and public recognition of such virtues as courage, confidence and prudent risk-taking and through the critical institution of the family. A spouse channels testosterone to calmer waters; off-spring can bring with them a new sense of manhood if fatherhood is a truly appreciated moral activity. Virtuous institutions – such as you see in the Boy Scouts or at West Point or in the ethos instilled in the US military from George Washington on – are also vital to this. But none of this is possible if we insist on denying reality. Men are not women – and never will be.
Read Sullivan’s full post here.
Sullivan says if we want to promote “virtuous masculinity” we have to acknowledge the biological differences between men and women. On the other hand, to point the finger at violence in movies and professional sports, as Bruni does, is to ignore the fundamental hormonal source of gender difference.
Possibly an even more important take-away from Sullivan’s post is this: The drive and strength that testosterone fuels in men is responsible, not simply for lamentable violence, but also for a great deal of good in the world.
Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of the book SEX & GOD AT YALE: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.
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