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'Man up, Harry Reid!' Mama Grizzlies and our manliness recession

"Man up, Harry Reid," said Sharron Angle during the Nevada Senate debate Thursday night. She was talking about social security. But those two words have produced a deafening echo.

"Man up!" It's a cry in the wilderness. It's a cry emitted by women who have had to march into the wilderness in the first place because their men were at home watching Modern Family and someone needed to put meat on the table. It's been expressed in all kinds of places -- from the book by Harvey Mansfield to a recent buzzworthy piece by Vanderbilt graduate Katherine Miller. America, they seem to say, is in a manliness recession.

"Man up!" In politics, it's the barbaric yawp of the new crop of Mama Grizzlies. Papa Grizzlies? They're probably off somewhere sorting recyclables. Who needs them? These lady bears can handle anything. Contrast us with those namby-pamby men we're seeking to replace, they seem to say. They can't take the heat! So it's time for them to get out of the kitchen -- or rather, out of the House and Senate, and into the kitchen, where they can craft artisanal cheeses to their hearts' content. Anything to keep them out of policy-making.

What's even more striking about these persistent allegations of unmanliness is how entirely, well, unsubtle they've been. Christine O'Donnell's comments Wednesday night about Coons' attendance at "men's fashion shows" or crude insinuations about Mike Castle? Some consider them homophobic, but I think that misses the mark. It's about the manliness.

So, do they have a point? Do we have a manliness problem?

Nonsense! Just look at the celebrities today's teenagers swoon over!

Uh, Michael Cera? Wait, no. Justin Bieber? Sure! They're coming out with a Justin Bieber action figure. Press a button, and he empathizes. Press another button, and his voice goes up an octave. I assume you can get cartridges that contain extra reservoirs of hair products! Wait, no.

How about those Twilight sissies? Hint: when I pay money to watch a vampire and a werewolf interact, I'm not hoping that they will sit there for half an hour and talk about their feelings! Doesn't anyone tear anyone's arms off anymore? For crying out loud, Toy Story 3 had more violent action! If I have to hear them discuss their emotions one more time, I'm going to go wrestle an elk to death with my bare hands. (I learned how to do this after a guy I was dating decided it was important to eat more "raw foods" but kept refusing to do the actual killing on the grounds that it would damage his manicure. "Man-icure, get it?" he would say, grinning, as I crushed the elk beneath my arm.)

Fine, we have a manliness situation. But it's not a problem.

Sorry, the pause between paragraphs there was me, killing a cockroach. You can come down off that couch now, Greg. Stop screaming.

I never complain about post-feminist life, or the feminization of men, or such things. Who has time for that? I have to go out and hunt!

Sure, at college, most of the men I interacted with could be knocked over by a light breeze or the fear that in a neighboring county, a butterfly might be dying. Sure, guys these days listen to Animal Collective and paint their toenails. "You're not even gay!" we complain, shaking them vigorously. "Ouch!" they say. "That hurts!" "Let's watch that gritty prison drama, Oz!" we suggest. "How about 500 Days of Summer?" they respond.

Gloria Steinem once noted that "some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry." Maybe it goes both ways. I have no problem with that. They say flattery is the way to a woman's heart -- and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! But I still wish they'd stop borrowing my sweaters.

It's not that I don't share some of the frustration with men these days. We wanted Han Solo. Instead, we got a bumper crop of Luke Skywalkers. They don't shoot first. They'll sit down with us and talk about our childhoods. They care.

But, some say, there's a tradeoff here. It's like paying for dates. Either the man pays, or the woman pays, or you split it down the middle. What if men aren't as "manly" as they used to be? Women aren't as "womanly" as they used to be either. And if you miss that, you're missing out on the crux of the discussion. Every manly thing we claim we miss is predicated on a womanly thing we don't miss at all. If it weren't for wimps like Harry Reid, there wouldn't be women like Sharron Angle telling him to "man up." Well, there might, but they'd have to needlepoint it on something. If I can own property, wear pants, and wander around with a cutlass, why should I deny men the right to do things like not own property, wear skirts, and wander around with an embroidery hoop?

But perhaps that that's a specious argument, too.

Comb through history, and you'll be hard pressed to find any generation complaining that its men are "too manly." It's always the reverse. I bet if we could decode the writings of Eric the Red, he'd have a lot of notes about how soft the Vikings were getting. Go all the way back to Aristophanes -- he complained in "Frogs," that boys in his era were doughy, partial to wimpy poetry, and fat-rumped. So far, even Christine O'Donnell hasn't said anything like that! Somehow, Athens survived, and ancient Athenian civilization continues to flourish to this day. Or maybe it was overrun by Macedonia. I forget.

But perhaps this isn't even the problem we think it is. According to OkCupid.com, which conducted an analysis of the profiles of its 3.2 million users, straight men aren't the delicate flowerets that people make them out to be at all. Their interests? "Band of Brothers." "Hunting." "Fishing." "Working out." "Law Enforcement." "Building Things." So if you aren't happy with the men surrounding you lauding your Burberry sunglasses, perhaps you should try signing up for OkCupid.com.

Or if that's too involved, there's always that Levi Johnston! I hear he's back on the market. And he's -- sort of a paragon of manliness, or masculinity, anyhow.

But, well, who really wants that?

By Alexandra Petri  | October 15, 2010; 9:31 AM ET
Categories:  Petri, That's awkward  | Tags:  Harry Reid, Man Up  
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