Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Hyper-masculine and Hyper-feminine?

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.

Discussions - 13 Comments

Well Julie, you have a lot going on in that post.

I have seen the word, "femasculated" which I am trying to understand. Either, it means that women, trying to be like men, feel defeated by men who are more womanly than they are. Or, it means that a woman's womanliness is demolished by a man, maybe just a man being manly in a negative sense.

The other day, I had ordered a number of laptops into the classroom. The days before spring break attendance can get dicey. So I offered an in-class writing day. In the class I teach on argument(and research and other things, but mostly about writing persuasively) I offered three statements, saying, "pick one and argue for or against it." They had 70 minutes to write as good an argument as possible. One of the three was "Is courage a masculine virtue?" It was, overwhelmingly, the favorite option; 4/5 of the class chose to argue that question. Of that bunch, only two young fools said that courage was solely a masculine virtue, though one of those seemed unsure what "masculine" meant. A couple of girls wrote about Hillary Clinton as courageous for her campaign. The overwhelmingly favorite courageous woman was Harriet Tubman, who was referenced by more young men than young women, but by most of the crowd. There were a few historical references to brave women. Yet, only one man, a firefighter in his 30s, referred to women he knows as courageous; he knows women who are firefighters and wrote about them. A couple of young women wrote about the courage required to be a woman today. Those spoke admiringly of single mothers, abandoned by men, and raising children alone. One girl did write about caution as the nature of the female, but then she went to women in history who were courageous, and overcame their natures, like Harriet Tubman had. Maybe my favorite was about the courage she felt she needed to compete and survive in a world "mostly about men" is the way she put it, but she meant dominated by and apparently designed for men. It was her expressed hope for courage in dealing with men and what they wanted from her - what the world she knows seems to demand - that touched me. Just being female, when men are what they are, can require courage from women.

It was interesting to read their papers, even when badly written. They have learned a lot about argument in eight weeks, which pleased me, but the fact that so many of them wrote on that topic was interesting to me.

Mrs. Ponzi's bizarre gender obsessions are as entertaining as Maureen Dowd's.

On the contrary, Ms. Ponzi's analysis here is very good.

Agreed, David Frisk. Julie, I think this may be the most precise analysis I've read on the issue. Have you considered writing anything longer on it?

Julie, you have start a debate with Helen Reynolds, who takes a rather different tack on these matters.

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.

Hey, what's with this "we" stuff?

A "female creature that is both hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine" would seem to be the inevitable result of modern womens determination to "have it all". Having it all does rather imply the bikini and the machine-gun.

My recollection is that this stuff really kicked off sometime in the 1990's. You could not turn on TV or go to a movie without seeing some heroine who had taken on the traditional trappings of the hero and was kicking some serious butt. Remember "Xena, Warrior Princess"?

I roll my eyes at your so-routine insistence that the patriarchy has done this to you. Women will have joined men as equals when they can take responsiblity for their own dumb decisions. If you're any indication, that day is still a ways off.

"you have start a debate" = have to start a debate

Just being female, when men are what they are, can require courage from women.

Jesus, get over yourselves. This relentless, unending bathos and pathos and melodrama and self-pity is so, well, sterotypically female.

Never mind, as you were.

"What true heroine is cowardly?"

None, unless her greatness or heroiness is not hampered by cowardice(which is possible with historical accident and the fact that those who win write history and call it discretion and the better part of valor)...which in a sense it cannot be because in truth heroine is a combination of hero and female. A hero cannot be cowardly, therefore combining female and hero produces a non-cowardly result...but again all bets are off and cheap analytical reasoning with it when combinations such as hero are mixed with sex. A hero is as manly as a soilder/marine...but when and if women can be both then the things praised and blamed in the occupation or deed take prescedence over cultural norms or biological generalizations about sex. You are mixing labels and playing a fun little chemistry game...fine by me because I toss nature under the bus.

To be a Hero is manly...but if necessity puts me in a situation where I need to be saved, I won't begrudge the heroine. In a natural sense (if I am not just inventing second natures) Hero's are praised because/if they are needed. Heroism and courage are manly virtues because men begrudge being saved more than women, as it points to a deficiency in the man, but not in the woman. A man who will storm a castle to save one woman or a child might let the dragon eat 20 other men(and some of the men would be more grateful for the fate granted by dragon than the knight.)

Heroism and courage as a pure manly virtue is a foolish argument to imbibe(as kate says) in our culture. In the old days I suppose preservation of the community by virtue of sacrificing males as opposed to females made sense for breeding purposes. A community where 100 women survived with 10 men could repopulate itself a lot faster than a community where 100 men survived with 10 women, which even if ancient warfare didn't bias for male strength(absolutely natural) and pride(probably natural), would be enough.

Of course a lot has changed since Homer wrote his verse, and liberals might be right about ousiodic structuring/"ethnocentrism"/sexism...a sort of master/slave dialectic has occured between the sexes...but since it is obviously stupid to argue that heroism and courage are manly, men have become pragmatic...if the bitch is my equal let her be the heroine and I will snatch the lifeboat.

Courage isn't really a manly virtue because folks no longer say "if you are so smart, how come you ain't a hero?"(if they ever did, the answer to this question is sadly almost self-evident)...rather they say "if you are so smart, how come you ain't rich?"

In fact some go so far as to say "nice guys finish last", "bad guys get the girl", "don't be a martyr".

Courage is exclusively a manly virtue, unless you/we no longer want it to be exclusively a manly virtue(but naturaly it will maintain a slight male tilt)...and it seems that a large number of men and woman were happy making the trade...Congrats to women for gainning the capacity to be heroines...As they say "There is a sucker born every day".

As a side tangent consider the reason Hegel made philosophy a martial virtue.

I think John needs to learn how to read things a bit closer and to come at them fresh without his own baggage. I don't think Mrs. Reynolds and I are too far apart . . . if apart at all.

One of my favorite telivision shows is "Burn Notice" which features a rather strong feminine character...I don't know if I will ever get back to that, I am just planting seeds...

Funny that John bothers taking offense on the use of the word "we" when attempts are made to speak of culture...but look right, I don't see any reason to not atomize...this is manly in this circle, this is feminine here...Some shows do glamorize hyper-feminity and hyper-masculinity...In some sense I think my problem with Julie (which isn't a huge problem practically) is that I can't seperate out natural from second nature, what is natural vs. what is culturally constructed(yet also very natural). In other words if it can be debated I tend to side with the view that we are talking about what is culturally constructed, or natural to us from our vantage point(which is already culturally and historically imbeded).

I am glad that at least one of Kate's students had difficulty and confusion with the question, and I don't blame him for being foolish in argueing that courage was strictly a masculine virtue.

Now culturally(to the extent that we have a broadly definied generally unified one) I agree that this is foolish to say, but if stripping culture from the question of manliness is possible...then we might be able to understand a world in which the bravery and courage of a man was in part a measure of how little bravery or courage was required as a virtue from his woman.

In other words courage is a uniquely masculine virtue if...

A man is blamed for a lack of it, and praised for having much of it, and the same does not obtain for women, for example: A woman is not blamed/ridiculed for shrieking and jumping into the arms of a man at the sight of a mouse, but a man who acts like Scooby Doo in similar circumstances is.

Then again while courage in a quasi-culturally stripped world is a uniquely male virtue, this no longer applies when woman is qualified by an occupation...i.e. female soilder, in this case everything necessary for the proper and satisfactory accomplishment of the mission superceedes sex, and again the same thing applies for every single proffession, so a male fashion designer or hair styler better be gay, or capable of equiping himself with female virtues in so far and in the right proportion such that excellence in his occupation is possible. In a certain sense in so far as a man has to be able to provide for himself, he had better learn to use the fox and the lion or the female and male virtues to suit his ends. Which in this sense means that it is manly to not be foolish and agree with those who say that courage is not simply a manly virtue...which it is not of course since women are often times required to be brave or courageous and Kate's student who wrote about courageous women in courageous occupations was correct to note that women can be firefighters, and that as such are praised for all virtues that contribute to putting out fires.

Really, so long as excellence exists in any field then the virtues required by that field will be praised in that field while the deadly vices of that field will be blamed. In so far as women can do any job men can that same degree all virtues are female and male.

As a side note I recently came from the OSHAA State Wrestling tournament, and not a single woman was represented...albeit a few in every division did make districts(which only slightly less than 1 in 4 wrestlers does.)

Granted not that many women "choose" to wrestle...and it is probably from lack of numbers in addition to physical reasons...and not necessarily lack of courage...but at the end of the day the most virtuous in the sport stand highest on the podium.

If you want to talk about nature, I suggest folks grant that women are the "weaker" sex...of course putting it this way is sure to provoke anger...but really if you aren't willing to go this far...then I suggest you go John's route...take offense at who the "we/generalization" designates and demand that all statements are made individual. In an individualistic/atomized world the statement courage is a manly virtue is senseless...but courage is not senseless, obviously you can still speak of courageous individuals be they man or woman. Just as some women are physcially stronger than men some women in my opinion are inclined towards having "manly natures" and some men are inclined in the opposite way...this may be due to manly or womanly hormone levels...of course culturally speaking we are culturally inclined towards speaking of nature itself in a scientifically quantifiable way...were nature becomes biology...But to my way of thinking your confused student was the only one thinking clearly...

If any virtue is capable of being a masculine virtue, then courage is a masculine virtue. If courage is not a masculine virtue then the designator "masculine" is as senseless as the designator "blue".

Is courage a blue virtue?

Jesus, get over yourselves. This relentless, unending bathos and pathos and melodrama and self-pity is so, well, sterotypically female.

John is a great example of the closeted homosexual. Heterosexual men do not exhibit this amount of contempt and disgust toward the opposite sex.

Simply "come out", you'll be much happier.

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