If you must know, I get most of my news and analysis from the Southern Baptist Convention, and this item is no different: Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted on his website a lengthy discussion of Newsweek’s omnibus “Whither Men?” cover package from this week.
Before I get to Dr. Mohler’s arguments, let me just say that I remain unconvinced of the journalistic value of the sprawling, multipaneled newsweekly cover package. I participated in the planning and writing of a number of these at Time, and it often seemed like we were struggling to have the packages succeed despite their format. Andrew Romano is a good writer and a good reporter, but his contribution this week, co-written with Tony Dokoupil, isn’t enhanced by sharing space in the same package with pieces about manly trends in advertising.
Maybe the newsweeklies just lost their authority to make big, sweeping arguments about issues like the New Masculinity. Maybe they never had the authority. Why is it so much more satisfying to read one deep, narrow take on a topic–like Nathan Hegedus’s description of his experience with the Swedish paternity state at Slate.com–than Newsweek’s half-newsy trendbomb approach?
Hegedus’s piece, by the way, is quoted liberally in the Newsweek article, and I again get the feeling that the newsweeklies’ most potent argument for themselves is that they’ve read it all so that you don’t have to, that you can read all the currently swirling arguments in one place, served up in breezy, engaging newsweekly prose. But if that’s the case, what makes them better than The Week? Yes, newsweeklies have an important commitment to actual reporting that The Week does not, but do readers care anymore? Are newsweeklies even living up to that reporting commitment?
Alrighty then! You are likely here because you’ve used your ovaries for their godly purpose or have at some point seeded someone else’s ovaries and therefore care about parenting. So I’ll wrap up the media criticism and get to Dr. Mohler’s take on the new masculinity:
Of course, the call for men to be more engaged with their children is never wrong. Indeed, in this case, the political Left is picking up on themes long driven by the Right, and by conservative Christians in particular. The difference is that the Christian concern for asserting a man’s responsibility and fulfillment in fatherhood is not about social egalitarianism. Rather, it is driven by a biblical conception of true manhood as defined through the roles of husband and father.
Still, as much as we might complain about Newsweek’s rather predictable tip of the hat to the welfare state and the end of many gender distinctions, there is a sense in which the writers come very close to getting a big point just right.
The truth is, it’s not how men style themselves that will make them whole again—it’s what they do with their days. The riggers, welders, and boilermakers of generations past weren’t wearing overalls to feel like men, as Susan Faludi, the author of books on both sexes, has pointed out. Instead, “their sense of their own manhood flowed out of their utility in a society, not the other way around,” she writes. “Conceiving of masculinity as something to be”—a part to play—“turns manliness into [something] ornamental, and about as ‘masculine’ as fake eyelashes are inherently ‘feminine.’?”
We may be surprised to find ourselves in agreement with Susan Faludi here, but she is absolutely right. Our fathers and grandfathers did not put on overalls to play dress up. They were headed for work. Faludi is profoundly right when she writes that “their sense of their own manhood flowed out of their utility in a society, not the other way around.”
A true masculinity is grounded in a man’s determination to fulfill his manhood in being a good husband, father, citizen, worker, leader, and friend—one who makes a difference, fulfills a role for others, and devotes his life to these tasks. Most of our fathers went to work early and toiled all day because they knew it was their duty to put bread on the table, a roof over our heads, and a future in front of us. They made their way to ball games and school events dead tired, went home and took care of things, and then got up and did it all over again the next day.
Today’s men are likely to be more nurturing, but they are also statistically less faithful. They may be changing more diapers, but they are also more likely to change spouses. Men must be encouraged and expected to be both faithful fathers and faithful husbands. Otherwise, any society is in big trouble.
If the Southern Baptist Convention’s main thought-cop is surprised to be in agreement with Susan Faludi, then consider how surprised I am to be in agreement (partially) with him. Of course, his hyperpolitical (and un-Christian) swipes at a social safety net–what he flintily calls the welfare state–are bogus. But he has a powerful truth hidden in here somewhere: the right and the left both like good fathers.
Now, one side will support these good fathers (the, ahem, Swedish side), while the other will simply pray for them. But still, it’s good to know that what we do as Involved Dads is lauded across the spectrum. And also, not incidentally, by our children. Bully for us!