As Women Step Up, Men Face a Challenge

In the midst of the #MeToo movement, Leonard Pitts raises the crucial question.

It wasn’t that long ago we were hearing that men were in trouble. It was said that our manly maleness was under siege from a culture of runaway political correctness hellbent on snipping off our masculine accoutrements and turning us into sissified wimps who ate kale, clipped coupons, and talked about our feelings. Fox “News” sounded the alarm about what it dubbed the “feminization” of the American man…

Suffice it to say, it seems obvious the problem with men isn’t that they’ve become feminine. Rather, the problem is what it has always been — that, as men, we too often define manhood by the use of our (usually) superior strength and/or position to take what we want. Which makes this an opportune moment to reconsider manhood, to ask anew what being a man means — and should mean.

I read that column over the holiday weekend after seeing the movie, “Last Flag Flying.” It was an interesting juxtaposition, given that the movie is about three Vietnam vets who reunite for a road trip after the son of one of them is killed in Iraq. My comment after watching it was that it was one of the most humane movies I’ve seen in a while. That’s because the depth of the bond between these men is a central theme and allows for the kind of in-depth conversations that are rare among men.

If you can watch those clips, you’ll notice that at about the 2:30 mark Bryan Cranston’s character says, “Every generation has their war. Men make the wars and wars make the men.” It struck me that we hear a lot about the kind of bond that forms between men who fight in a war together. But we don’t see that replicated when they come home. I left the theater wondering whether that has anything to do with why “every generation has their war.”

That is perhaps why this clip of Michelle Obama was one of those times when a bit of humor merged with an important truth.

I was reminded of an article Billy Baker wrote recently titled, “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.”

Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general of the United States, has said many times in recent years that the most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation…

In February at a conference in Boston, a researcher from Britain’s University of Oxford presented study results that most guys understand intuitively: Men need an activity together to make and keep a bond…

We need to go through something together. That’s why, studies have shown, men tend to make their deepest friends through periods of intense engagement, like school or military service or sports. That’s how many of us are comfortable.

If isolation is the biggest threat facing middle-aged men, it is beyond time to come up with alternatives to military service and sports as a vehicle for developing the bonds of friendship.

Something important is happening in this country right now. It is manifesting in women standing up to tell their stories and organizing to assume political power. Rebecca Traister called it months ago.

Whatever their flaws, their political shortcomings, their progressive dings and dents, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton mean a lot. They represent an altered power structure and changed calculations about who in this country may lead…

This is our country in an excruciating period of change. This is the story of the slow expansion of possibility for figures who have long existed on the margins, and it is also the story of the dangerous rage those figures provoke.

Men, especially white men, have a choice to make as we go through this “excruciating period of change” that is fundamentally about altering the power structure that has dominated Western thought for centuries. They can meet the inevitable with rage, or they can begin to examine their assumptions about what it means to be a man. Patriarchy has not only damaged women; there are countless ways that it has also hurt men. As Michelle Obama suggested, I suspect that the self-examination that will be required to adapt starts with building the kinds of friendships that allow men to talk to each other honestly.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .