Monday, August 12, 2019


California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom blames El Paso on “toxic masculinity” (or what the American Psychological Association (APA) calls “traditional masculinity”).

But is that really the link that explains why many of those who resort to domestic terrorism are young men who support white identity politics? There is an underlying link, I suggest, but it’s not ideology. Consider this hypothesis. 

All people need healthy identities, both personal and collective. To have a healthy identity, they must be able to make at least one contribution to society that is (a) distinctive, (b) necessary and (c) publicly valued. Until very recently, most men could do so. No matter how much notions of masculinity have varied historically and cross-culturally, they had that much in common.

But men can no longer do anything that women cannot do (although women can still do at least one thing that men cannot do). Women can provide resources for themselves and their children, for instance, and protect themselves and their children — if not alone then with help from the state. 

Add to the apparent obsolescence of manhood per se the relatively recent problem of misandry, the form of sexism that now prevails in public discourse. 

Feminists have not directly caused the identity crisis of young men, which has been centuries in the making, but they have exacerbated it. They do so by relentlessly shaming men, blaming men collectively for every evil since the dawn of human history. 

They do so by manipulating both popular culture and elite culture to establish the doctrine of men’s collective guilt (and women’s collective innocence). They do so by undermining even basic legal principles, such as due process and the presumption of innocence, to intimidate and punish men collectively. Women are not guilty for what men do, but they are surely responsible, accountable, for their own behavior.

Consequently, an increasing number of men, young men, have come to the conclusion that even an unhealthy identity might be better than no identity at all. These are the ones who, given personal psychopathologies, turn to violence.

For young white men, this sometimes means the kind of racial violence that we associate with white nationalism. They adopt this racial framework, because it remains so much easier to acknowledge their frustration in racial terms than to do so in sexual terms (although a few mass shooters do so). 

Why would it be easier to feel like a victim of racism than a victim of sexism? That’s partly because of the prevalent belief that men are so powerful that no one could possibly harm them in any way. The ideal of manhood in some communities, especially those of poor whites, is invincibility or invulnerability. A masculine man is always in control, presumably, of his own destiny.

When reality contradicts this naive ideal, therefore, it contradicts their identity as men. They are typically losers, as individuals, never the captains of their high-school football teams or alpha males of any other kind. Some take refuge in the rhetoric of race, therefore, because it provides an accessible model of resistance.

Many poor white people collectively reject the elite description of themselves as primitive or stupid “deplorables.” This is one way of fighting back against a politically correct world that either ignores them or shames and blames them by imposing collective guilt on them alone.

Unfortunately, some turn this class struggle against elite white people into a racial one against black people, Jews, “immigrants” or other scapegoats. This communal paradigm is already out there and becomes attractive to young men who lack healthy identities not only as whites but also as men. 

Is there any hope for them to establish healthy identities specifically as men? Actually, there is one possibility. The one remaining way for men to make a distinctive and necessary contribution to society is by becoming fathers (actually or vicariously).

Unfortunately, many people have come to believe that fatherhood amounts to assistant motherhood at best and a luxury or even a liability at worst.

Moreover, they have come to believe that the family is either obsolete or infinitely variable. Recently, a few psychologists have observed that fatherhood is not the same as motherhood. Sociologists have observed that more and more fathers spend time at home with their children. 

They refer mainly, though, to fathers of infants and very young children. I suggest, that their fathers begin to function specifically as fathers when their children are learning to enter the larger world and preparing to leave home.

The most important non-material thing that fathers can give their children is not unconditional love (which is the most important non-material thing that mothers can give) but earned respect, which is precisely what they’ll need in order to become mature adults in the world beyond home. 

If so, our most urgent need is not necessarily more gun legislation or red-flag interventions (although both would be helpful). We need ultimately to assert the distinctive and necessary function of fatherhood, thus allowing men to create a healthy collective identity and invest in the future of society.

To do that, we’d have to acknowledge misandry as a serious problem, challenging the “toxic” portrayal of men that flows from both popular culture and elite (academic) culture; encourage research on boys and men, especially fathers; and reconsider laws or policies that deny men due process and shared custody of children.

Moreover, we’d have to reconsider single-mothers-by-choice and gay marriage (both of which deny the right of children to have both mothers and fathers).

• Paul Nathanson is a writer in Montreal, Canada.

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