James Poulos writes a very thoughtful and a very timely essay on the mixed messages our culture sends, especially to young women. His argument comes down to the claim that we seem to be trying to produce a female creature that is both hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine. In other words, she has a kind of cartoon toughness as well as a Jessica Rabbit-styled sexiness. She wears a bikini and she carries an Uzi.
My first impulse upon reading this was to say that I followed him with hyper-masculine bit, but lost him on the hyper-feminine bit. This is because the kind of femininity that Poulos cites is not really feminine in the strict sense. It is more a masculine definition of femininity, or a side of femininity that is incomplete without the rest of itself. It is also true that the masculinity he describes is limited--but there is something else about the femininity he describes that deserves more scrutiny. This is kind of femininity that masculinity--in all its untethered extremes--desires but does not respect. And the thing, above all others, that a truly feminine woman wants is respect. The eternal question for all women (though few care to admit this) is how to obtain the respect and admiration of a man. Civilized men have to ask this question in reverse about women . . . but uncivilized men do not.
But this response does not do Poulos’s argument enough justice. I think he’s really on to something here--though less with his use of "feminine" than with his use of "hyper." For the sort of people we see emerging today and propped up by our culture as objects for our consideration, admiration and imitation are human beings of a much less complex variety than used to pass muster in days of yore. The human icons of old may have had cartoon-like personal lives . . . but they worked at hiding it and maintaining a sense of mystery about themselves. Today’s cartoon people--like our cartoons more generally--are more honest, but they have no shame and do not strive to be anything better than their inclinations suggest. And they are all one thing: decidedly masculine.
Many, even conservatives, will object. We are used to hearing more about the feminization of the culture. But for all our talk about the of the emasculation of today’s culture and the feminizing of our boys, the real truth is that in the "war between the sexes," men have already "won" (if "won" is, indeed, the right word for this conquest). Indeed, men "won" as quickly as the war was declared--as they must have done. We are all more masculine now.
The real problem in our society is not that we have less masculinity . . . it is that we have an abundance of it and it is untethered to anything truly moderating or feminine. For all of our soft talk (especially popular in elementary schools) about "feelings" and not being "too aggressive" or "competitive" and so on, opponents of this softening are the first to note the sharp elbows of those implementing these new "preferences." The soft things have become nothing more than the preferences of the Will of the strong (and masculine). They have moved from being elements of persuasion and guideposts for personal behavior to codified doctrines replete with punishments for disobedience. They now serve as instruments to keep us subjugated to the Will of the stronger.
Meanwhile, man has been given permission to become a cartoon thug and to turn woman into a cartoon-like sex-slave to itself. It is an insult to the feminine (but one that is perfectly in line with this shift toward cartoon masculinity), to suggest that in making boys more cowardly, we have made them more feminine. It is not feminine or female nature to be cowardly, after all. What true heroine is cowardly? It is female nature to be cautious and male nature to be responsive--together, they can come to a civilized judgment. But when we went to war with each other, we gave up on rational judgment and sided with eternal thuggery. We seem to forget that it is possible to be both aggressive and cowardly. This is what a real man, a civilized man, a man who strives to be admired and respected by a woman, recognizes as a thug. But he’d be hard pressed to call that thug a sissy.