These are not the best of times for America’s men and boys. Recent data suggest the extent of the problem, without getting at its roots.
Men now make up only 40.5% of college enrollment. Men’s median wage has been declining in real terms for over 20 years. And “deaths of despair” — resulting from suicide, overdosing on drugs, and alcoholism — have surged among middle-aged men in the same time frame. As for boys, they are more than twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, five times as likely to spend time in juvenile detention, and less likely to finish high school.
Considered in this light, some words of Anthony Esolen take on added meaning: “It is high time that men be reminded not only that they have powers as men, but also that those powers were given them to be used for the common good — for everyone, men and women and children all.”
A prolific author who is writer in residence at Magdalen College in New Hampshire,
Esolen says that in the introduction to his new book, “No Apologies” (Regnery Gateway, $29.99). It’s a timely, vigorous and sometimes profound exposition of why, as the subtitle puts it, “civilization depends on the strength of men.”
Esolen is especially exercised at the harm done to boys by devaluing their maleness, as in the “poisonous” use of the expression “toxic masculinity” in schools and popular media. Boys, he writes, “are told that there is something wrong with them because they are not like girls. … Those who speak this way want the boys to be weaklings, to despise their own sex, to doubt their natural and healthy inclinations.”
As an unapologetic supporter of male-female complementarity, Esolen dismisses the ancient feminist wisecrack — “a woman needs a man as a fish needs a bicycle” — as a “blithering display of reality denial” contrary to the best interests of both sexes. Complementarity, one might say, is not a zero-sum game where one sex wins and the other loses, but a realistic guide to what is fulfilling for both.
Feminist excess also finds its way into mainstream religiosity. I’ve been at countless Masses at which well-meaning members of the congregation, reciting parts assigned to the laity, noisily said “God” where the text read “he.” They would do well to reflect on Esolen’s warning of what lies ahead for a religion that becomes effeminate — “[it] loses the sense of the sacred, will not discipline itself, flees from suffering, grows flabby and sickly, and then dies.”
Here and there, though, Esolen presses his case too far, as in arguing that politics is an appropriate sphere for men but not women. In the not so distant past, he says, “it no more occurred either to men or to women that women should be senators” than that they should be warriors. As a description of what was, that no doubt is true, but its normativity would surely be challenged by women such as Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Amy Coney Barrett.
“No Apologies” covers its subject with commendable thoroughness for a relatively short book, but there is one regrettable omission: the current transgender madness. Granted that a small number of individuals suffer from real problems of sexual identity requiring sympathy and care, the notional underpinning of transgenderism is a perverse ideology that does real harm to vulnerable individuals. If Esolen returns to these matters in the future, as I hope he will, he would do well to address the transgender phenomenon at length.
Russell Shaw is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.