On October 31, 2021, Josh Hawley, one of the US Senators from Missouri, gave a keynote address at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, FL. In it he lambasted the current demonization of men in modern politics and media, including the recent American Psychological Association’s classification of traditional masculinity as a mental problem. He further points out the numerous crises facing men today including the migration away from education, general unemployment and non-participation in the workforce, and rising suicide and mental illness.
It is certainly refreshing to see a politician on either side of the aisle actually standing up for men and speaking out about the obstacles they face in our society. Nevertheless, Senator Hawley gets a certain amount wrong in his speech. Specifically, he merely takes the reverse approach, shaming men for failing to conform to a different standard rather than liberating them to pursue what they find personally fulfilling. Let’s break the speech down for good and bad.
What Senator Hawley Gets Wrong
As always seems to be the case when the discussion is about men, the problem with Hawley’s speech is that its entire focus is on men’s role in society and how they can benefit it. In other words, the issue with how our culture treats men is less about how it makes them feel and more about the long-term implications for the collective.
Both sides of the aisle envision different “perfect” societies anyway, so this only devolves into a debate about what virtues men should be upholding for the good of everyone else. Neither seems interested in what the men themselves actually want.
Besides the general tone and context of the speech, Hawley, just like the “Left” that he criticizes, spends much of speech telling men what they should and shouldn’t do and who they should or shouldn’t be. Just consider this line:
“Still, can we be surprised that after years of being told they are the problem, that their manhood is the problem, more and more men are withdrawing into the enclave of idleness and pornography and video games.”
Apparently men looking out for their own interests, pursuing their own sexual satisfaction, or entertaining themselves is wrong. Hawley accurately criticizes his opponents for shaming men by telling them their manhood is the problem, but then proceeds to immediately shame men himself for male interests like pornography and video games.
Indeed, Hawley goes on to elaborate on his main thesis and goal. It’s not male fulfillment he’s interested, but instead the preservation of American liberty. He says specifically, “The crisis of American men is a crisis for the American Republic.” He makes it clear that the primary “virtue” he has in mind by further saying, “To preserve liberty, you have to discipline your passions and sacrifice in the service of others.”
Where’s the Call for Female Sacrifice?
I have to wonder if there are any politicians out there calling for women to stop pursuing their personal interests and instead sacrifice for the “American Republic.” Of course, Senator Hawley is right that historically, societies have defined the male gender role with specific virtues like aggression and courage that emphasized self-sacrifice for the greater good, but they did the same for women. Specifically, societies have historically told women to focus on producing and raising children regardless of their personal desires. Indeed, this dual pressure for self-sacrifice is the biggest proof against “Patriarchy Theory.”
However, in the past century, women have been liberated. Society no longer encourages them to sacrifice for the common good through the motherly gender role, rather it encourages them to fulfill themselves individually, be it through career, family planning, etc. While there may be some fringe traditionalist conservatives calling for women to stay in the kitchen, you will never find a US Senator claiming women’s individual agency is destroying the country and that we should return to the “virtues” that force women to sacrifice themselves for society.
Meanwhile, the “Left,” as Hawley calls them, continue to demand sacrifices from men to make up for women’s general liberation. For example, the many welfare programs they push mean women are net receivers of tax benefits while men have to fund them. Similarly, child support and alimony laws along with discrimination in family court allow women to choose their role in the family but not men.
Plus, they shame men for normal male interests from sports to sex and demand men conform to their modern male ideal to produce their ideal society. In fact, Hawley actually seems to be in agreement with the modern “Left” on pornography and video games. In the end, both sides just want men to shut up, go to work, and support women doing whatever they want.
What Senator Hawley Gets Right
Now, I do want to give credit for the positive parts of Senator Hawley’s speech. It’s nice just to see a politician talking about the issues affecting men and the negative way our society treats them, even if he ultimately did some of the same himself.
Specifically, Hawley points out how much our society, be it through academia, the government, or the media, criticizes traditional masculinity, more or less synonymous with the term “toxic masculinity.” Just as it’s wrong for Hawley to shame men who don’t conform to a historically masculine gender role, he’s right to criticize the other side who shame those who do conform.
The traditional masculine gender role and the virtues he mentions like courage and ambition are rewarding for many men and come naturally to them. After all, gender roles are at least partially based on the biological manifestation of the average male.
So yes, Senator Hawley is right to call out the misandry of the current culture that wants to blame everything on “toxic masculinity,” but he’s wrong that the solution is to return to a time when men had to fit into a traditionally masculine box and sacrifice themselves for society. Instead, the solution is to liberate men to be who they are and do what fulfills them personally, be that traditional masculinity, a more modern form of masculinity, or something else entirely.