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Salvo 01.12.2022 5 minutes

China’s Sissy Problem—and Ours

Young man watching tv, crying

What makes it worth being a man?

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has made a concerted effort to banish so-called “sissy men” from society. “Morally flawed” men are no longer welcome. Men, we’re told, should look a certain way—no makeup, no high heels. Moreover, they should have resilience and a desire to seek meaningful employment. Some prominent authors argue that Beijing’s effort will backfire. Will it? Possibly, but when it comes to crackdowns, the CCP is frighteningly effective. If in doubt, just look at what is occurring in Hong Kong, a sprawling, once free-wheeling city with a population of 7.5 million, where free speech has died a swift and brutal death.

According to the CCP, a crisis of masculinity has gripped China. But they’re not the only ones. In a keynote speech at the National Conservatism Conference last year, Senator Josh Hawley called for a “revival of strong and healthy manhood in America.” You see, the United States could learn a thing or two from those tyrants in Beijing. Sissy men are a scourge; they bring nothing of benefit to broader society. Sissy men, be gone.

It’s important to make clear that this piece is not an attack on homosexual men; it’s an attack on sissies. There is a difference between the two. In his latest special, Sorry, Louis CK finished the show with a joke about American men. Today, according to Louis, gay men carry themselves with an air of authority, purpose, and meaning. They keep themselves in good shape and dress appropriately. Straight men, on the other hand, have become notably weaker, both physically and mentally; many of them lack the characteristics that we would have associated with previous generations of men. They are sloppy, weak-willed, and overly apologetic. They dress terribly. At the end of the joke, which is much funnier than I just made it sound, the audience applauded and let out a collective roar. Why? Because Louis’s joke resonated. He articulately expressed what so many of his fans were already thinking. The United States, too, has a crisis of masculinity—one even worse, perhaps, than China’s.

For generations, the sissy has been a frowned-upon character in American life. Only recently it has become a respected, even institutionalized lifestyle. California’s Silicon-Valley stereotype of the “soy boy”, a demasculinized consumer of a meatless, synthetic diet, is now national. (Senator Ted Cruz held a recent rally in Texas where he warned that Democrats wanted to “turn the state blue.” If they have their way, he cried, Texas would soon resemble California, swimming in a sea of “tofu and silicon and dyed hair.” There is a commonly-cited association between the consumption of soy products and elevated estrogen levels; basically, there are compounds found in soy that are biochemically similar to estrogen, and while the science isn’t totally in yet, many men online abjure soy consumption as an impairment of testicular fortitude.  Good bye Peyton Manning, hello Patton Oswalt.

Being a soy boy or a sissy man has little, if anything, to do with sexual orientation. Instead, it has to do with specific qualities that many of us admire in men (as well as women: Courage, bravery, purpose, resilience, a strength of character, grit, etc.

I’m not advocating for men to embody a caricature of masculinity—becoming “male-to-male transsexuals” in a self-parody of manliness. What I am advocating for is the type of man who is willing to live a life of meaning, to hold a steady job, marry, settle down, and raise a family. To set a good example as a father, a neighbor, and as a member of broader society.

What kind of social transformation has made this too much, or too little, to ask for?

Everyday courage

Many, no doubt, will think of their own fathers as exemplars of masculinity, and for good reason. But to be a father—more specifically, a good father—one must be present, physically and emotionally.

However, across the country, according to a Pew Research Center study, rates of children living in single-parent households have never been higher. In fact, the U.S. now boasts the highest rate of children living in single-parent households in the world. As the study notes, “3% of children in China, 4% of children in Nigeria, and 5% of children in India live in single-parent households.” In the U.S., meanwhile, the rate is a staggering 23 percent. At least 80 percent of the country’s single-parent homes are headed by single mothers.

Absolutely nothing good comes from father absence—which, according to a report published by the U.S. Department of Justice, “has a strong and significant effect on both female and male levels of violence,” including “homicide and robbery.” Children look to their fathers to lay down the rules and enforce them, and learn to do so through imitation.

To compound matters, fewer young men are entering the labor force. Bloomberg’s Peter McCoy notes that to be out of the labor force means one does not have a job and is “not actively seeking one.” What are America’s young men doing instead? Playing video games. A paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research argues that younger men, “ages 21 to 30, exhibited a larger decline in work hours over the last fifteen years than older men or women.” Since 2004, they continue, “time-use data show that younger men distinctly shifted their leisure to video gaming and other recreational computer activities. We propose a framework to answer whether improved leisure technology played a role in reducing younger men’s labor supply.” Maybe this is why China, the country orchestrating the “attack” on sissy men, is simultaneously cracking down on video games.

Americans broadly share a deep-seated prejudice against banning private entertainment, especially ones with an outsized economic role in national life. Part of this judgment reflects a confidence or hope that kids in America have it good enough to enjoy more leisure before they come of age. Not that long ago, I myself was consumed by the likes of Pokémon Go and Grand Theft Auto…but then I grew up. It’s true that video games, like games in general, are not themselves the problem; they are symptomatic of a deeper malaise concerning our culture of immaturity. Doubtless, it’s much easier to stay at home, sit on one’s posterior, stuff one’s face (and plenty of Americans are certainly doing that), and play video games than it is to set an alarm for sunrise, get up, and put in an honest day’s work.

But ultimately, boys are growing old without growing up, and failing to become true men in the process, because our dominant culture now celebrates and rewards their immaturity, and even punishes and alienates those who resist. Men opting out of the labor force was a problem long before COVID-19. To hold a steady job has always required a type of everyday courage, a responsibility for taking on life’s labors for the sake one oneself and others. But now, as the author David Graeber has pointed out, many jobs in our hyper-advanced economy are unfulfilling, rote, and soul-deadening, for males and females alike. Separated from family formation and family life, these drones make little difference to anyone, and if they disappeared, few would notice and most would move on. This is a major societal problem, and it’s no wonder that many younger people are increasingly opting-out of the job market.

But work has never been inherently fun or fulfilling for most men throughout history. The obligation to shoulder the yoke was usually offset by a certain countervailing promise of respect for masculine virtues and a pride of place for the father in society. The determination that masculine fathers and sons are an obstacle to the good society has come at a dizzying, deepening cost—one hardly limited to those with x and y chromosomes. Until we reestablish cultural institutions that reverse this damage, it will be no wonder that the sissy is ascendent over Sisyphus.

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