A New Generation of Conservative Thought

The crisis of masculinity

By Dr. Grace Vuoto

October 12, 2010

On October 17, the city of Montreal and the province of Quebec, Canada will celebrate the canonization of Andre Bessette, or Blessed Brother Andre (1845-1937). The brother, who made his final vows to the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Montreal in 1874, was revered during his lifetime for the thousands of miraculous healings that occurred following his interaction with the afflicted. His life was marked by an unusual devotion to Saint Joseph. His most fervent recommendation was that believers turn to Saint Joseph in prayer. As a result of the vision and persistence of Blessed Andre, the largest church in Canada, Saint Joseph’s Oratory, was built. The Oratory sits on a hilltop overlooking the city and can be seen for miles. It is a fitting tribute to both men, the brother whose intense spirituality and miraculous healings inspired thousands and the leader of the Holy Family, Saint Joseph.

The canonization of Blessed Andre comes at a critical moment in the history of the Catholic Church and Western civilization—a time in which there is a crisis of masculinity. Brother Andre and Saint Joseph can lead the way amid the current confusion.

What is a man? This is among the most complex questions of our time. In recent decades, new words such as androgynous and metrosexual have entered the lexicon. While men perceive they are genetically different than women, there is little clarity as to what, if any, is their social function. In essence, modern liberalism has decapitated the previous head of the household and former head of the body politic.

This has not been a mere accident of history, an inevitable result of the emancipation of women. Instead, the oppression or disorientation of the male has been a key element of the dismantling of Judeo-Christian morality and the assault on traditional values. The feminist movement that emerged in the 19th century and gained strength in the 20th century did not remain a straightforward battle for individual rights similar to the struggles that had characterized the liberation of working class men or blacks. Had it done so, the basic family structure would have remained in tact, while women would nonetheless have the opportunity to be educated and to fulfill their public lives on the basis of equality. Instead, the movement was hijacked by radical thinkers such as Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan, among others. They sought to create a “gender-neutral” society. The emancipation of women thus became intertwined with a radical social experiment—one that was merely an offshoot of a larger Marxist project.

Such is, in part, the argument of a provocative 2006 book on the topic by Harvard philosopher Harvey C. Mansfield titled Manliness. Mr. Mansfield provides brilliant insights into how the battle for female rights was shaped by the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx. From Nietzsche radical feminists adopted the notion that there is no God, no natural order and individuals can simply remake themselves; from Marx, they adopted the idea that the family structure itself is a tool of patriarchal domination and oppression of women. In other words, the struggle to emancipate women in our day is not simply about seeking to give women equal rights: it has become an attempt to obliterate the natural order and remake our human nature.

Mr. Mansfield, however, stumbles in attempting to define manliness. He refers to it as essentially “confidence in a situation of risk.” Manliness, in his view, is the willingness to be assertive and bold in moments of danger; in fact, the manly male deplores security and seeks excitement and danger. This definition falls flat mostly because it appears to advance stereotypes rather than shedding light on the role of men in an emancipated modern era.

There are no longer any socially defined roles that can provide standards for the conduct of both men and women. Men are adrift. They are not required to be the protectors and guardians of their family nor of their community or nation. Nor are men the progenitors of their family, kinship group, nation or even race. It is no coincidence that the decapitation of the male coincides with the West’s declining birth rate and the West’s total loss of self confidence.

Media images of manhood currently contribute to the sterilization of the male. The media objectifies the male body as much as the female physique. Manhood is currently depicted as either merely brawny (as in action heroes who win the day through their physical strength and prowess) or sensitive, empathic and politically correct. In both cases, there is an elevated attention to male looks, forcing the male to participate in this hyper-commercialized society. In a wrong-headed attempt to offset the feminization of the male, men’s magazines assert an image of manhood that is equally degrading and disturbing: to be a man is to be a beer-drinking, car-loving, skirt-chasing, porn-watching, sports-obsessed Neanderthal. In other words, men are being told they have two options: be effeminate or be a brute.

We have thus lost sight of the vision of masculinity that is most in harmony with the male’s human nature: the Christian gentleman. This is a man who serves God and by so doing finds his unique mission—one that escapes stereotypes yet fulfills a social purpose. That mission contains a specific gender role of serving and protecting family, defending the core values of his community and nation, and having a high regard for future generations. Hence, a Christian gentleman uses his brawn and brains for a higher social cause—not merely to satisfy his vanity, greed or lust. And a Christian gentleman is primarily concerned with others rather than obsessed with himself.

Thus, it is fitting to contemplate the examples of Christian men. Blessed Brother Andre emerged from poverty and was orphaned by the age of 12. He was uneducated and unskilled. Through his devotion to Saint Joseph he found great strength and his social purpose. He fulfilled this so admirably that, by the time of his death, one million people streamed by his coffin. And now, as Blessed and soon Saint Andre, millions will come to know his legacy. Blessed Brother Andre fulfilled his mission by drawing attention to men he deemed greater than himself: Saint Joseph and ultimately Jesus.

Saint Joseph, too, provides much clarity in our confused era. Although there are few Biblical references to Saint Joseph, Christians have an astonishing grasp of the meaning of his life. The older man obeyed the call of God to watch over the young Mary and her son; he was chaste in marriage; he was a diligent craftsman; he was forceful in shepherding his family out of harm’s way in a flight to Egypt away from the persecution of Herod, the tyrant of Judea; Joseph was kind, gentle and wise enough to steer his son along His divine mission; and Joseph exemplified a happy death. In other words, Saint Joseph is manliness personified.

In war, it is well known that in order to destroy a civilization one must pacify, mollify or kill its men. The current dislocation of the male is a dagger aimed at the heart of Western civilization; it is the leftist cultural war strategy against Judeo-Christian morality. This must be fiercely combated if we are to succeed in defeating radical liberalism.

Pope Pius IX had the insight in 1870 to declare Saint Joseph the patron of the Universal Church and the patron saint of fighting communism. In other words, as we adhere to Saint Joseph, we combat the relentless attempt to communize and destroy the family—and by extension the civilization it is part of.

-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.