Dr. Robert Glover describes eloquently how societal changes in the 20th Century resulted in a reduction of the time between boys and their fathers. In 1910, one-third of families lived on farms where boys and their fathers, brothers, and extended male relatives often worked hand in hand. This allowed boys to see and learn how to become a healthy male. By 1970, 96% of families lived in urban areas where fathers left for work early in the morning and came home late at night.
Fathers suffered also by this rapid change, with increasing addictions to work, TV, alcohol, and sex. Divorce tripled from 1940-1970 with increasing separation of boys from male role models. During this time, other factors distanced boys from having male role models. The educational system took a central role in socializing both boys and girls. With only 25% of teachers being male and even less in the lower grades, meaningful mentorship and contact between boys and men of authority was also reduced.
Then came the Vietnam War where young men often took positions opposite those of from their baby-boomer dads. During this period, gender roles and feminism started to evolve. While the majority of women didn’t hold to the ideas of “radical feminism,” a social climate was created that served to lead to men questioning whether traditional masculine behaviors like connecting deeply with other men, growing in strength and leadership qualities and seeking out male role models was something proper.
Robert Bly, author of the Iron John, wrote that this led to a new kind of man that he describes as follows “They’re lovely, valuable people – I like them – they’re not interested in harming the earth or starting wars. There’s a gentle attitude toward life in their whole being and style of living. But many of these men are not happy. You quickly notice the lack of energy in them. They are life-preserving but not exactly life-giving. Ironically, you often see these men with strong women who positively radiate energy. Here we have a finely tuned young man, ecologically superior to his father, sympathetic to the whole harmony of the universe, yet he himself has little vitality to offer.”
And the changes didn’t just affect men, they affected women as well. Camille Puglia, a well-known feminist and social critic comments on these changes as well “The hard driving woman has to switch personae when she gets home. She’s got to throttle back, or she’ll castrate everything in the domestic niche. Many white, middle class women has dodged this dilemma by finding themselves a nice malleable boy-man who becomes another son in the subliminally matriarchal household.”
It’s no wonder that boys struggling to find their place as they become men, with almost no instruction have led to problems in a healthy transition from boyhood to manhood or a lack thereof. And all this leads us to the current trend of social discussions of “toxic masculinity” almost exclusively without any insight into the historical trends that got us here. In fact, there is hardly any meaningful discussions regarding the obvious and historically evident answer to the problem which is to foster thoughtful transitions for boys to become men as has been a standard in every traditional society around the globe forever and to actively encourage on a societal level connections between men and boys.
People need to be judged on their behavior, so should a man behave in a morally repugnant manner, he should be punished, regardless of the causes. A healthy society seeks however, not the immediate emotional venting that social media abnormally rewards, but a thoughtful understanding of the tragic loss to society of entire generations of men who haven’t received the guidance to live up to their potentials as men.
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