There’s a certain genre of conservative essay, lamenting how today’s society prevents little boys from growing into real men. I think I’ve finally realized why these essays always set my teeth on edge.
When I was in middle school, I had to endure a lot of malicious teasing from my peers, because I fell way short of twelve-year-old boys’ standards of masculinity: I had no talent for sports, I cried easily, I was introverted, etc., etc. Through four and a half years of college with other geeks, I managed to find a niche in a social network of people kinda like myself, and within that network I developed enough social skills that I can deal with people who are not so much like myself.
These authors are telling me that the boys who made my childhood miserable actually were closer to the masculine ideal than I was:
The ancient Greeks in particular had ideas about manliness that Mansfield considers instructive for the contemporary mind. Both Plato and Aristotle described an element in the human soul called thumos, a kind of animal spiritedness or “bristling” that vies with our reason, especially in men. Thumos, Mansfield observes, has “no natural end beyond itself.” It is an impulse that must be tamed and trained, channeled into the virtue of manly courage. Even while recognizing the danger of men’s natural assertiveness, the philosophers understood that a good society had to “give it its due.”
From this theory, we can infer that:
- If a boy lacks this unreasonable animal spirit, his peers have a right to insult his masculinity. Real Men have thumos.
- If a boy applies his thumos to, say, throwing a younger boy in a locker room and soaking him in the showers, this is not good, but boys will be boys, and we can’t do too much to change them.
Compared with some of the stories I’ve heard, my treatment in middle school was mild. At least I always felt that the adults around me were on my side. The folks who whinge about The Decline Of True Manhood, by contrast, stand with the bullies.
via Nancy Lebovitz