2 Jul 2022

On Masculinity, Matriarchy, and the Mark Steyn Show

Mark Steyn presenting the Mark Steyn Show 
GB News (30 June 2022)
The other evening, on the always excellent Mark Steyn Show (Mon-Thurs at 8pm on GB News), the eponymous host was decrying the state of contemporary manhood in conversation with the lovely Leilani Dowding [1]
What ever happened to men? he asked. Have they all been killed off by Wuflu ginger growlers? 
Steyn quoted statistics showing that women now dominate - in terms of numbers at least - university places and many professions, whilst men retreat to sad, pitiful so-called man caves in the basement, to watch sports, drink beer, and masturbate to online pornography.   
What's needed, Steyn suggested, is a little more confidence in the face of risk amongst modern men; a definition of manliness proposed by the American political philosopher Harvey Mansfield, rooted in the Greek notion of thumos [θυμός], which I have written about here and here.  

Rather like Jordan Peterson, Steyn seems to long for men who still bristle at those things which they find strange, threatening, or inimical (i.e. Other); men with vigour and vim, who are still in touch with their primitive instincts; the kind of men, perhaps, whom Madeline Kahn wishes for in the film At Long Last Love, (1975) [2].     

Of course, as any sociologist or reader of cultural studies will tell you, this concern about a supposed crisis of masculinity, is nothing new. During the late-Victorian period, for example, masculinity was increasingly problematized and strange new models of manhood were springing up as traditional forms of male identity became untenable; their power and authority severely eroded and compromised by modernity itself. 
Fear surrounding queerness and monstrosity was widespread and conservative thinkers, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Nordau, and, later, Oswald Spengler, promoted ideas of social and cultural degeneration tied to questions of race, gender and sexuality. 
We also see this obsession with decadence in the art and literature of the period; in works such as Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), for example. Homosexuals, drug addicts, vampires ... they all presented a threat to traditional manhood. As did emancipated women, or feminists.        
Perhaps not surprisingly, we also find D. H. Lawrence expressing concern about the state of modern manhood in his work (in fact, this is one of the major themes of both his fictional and non-fictional writings). 
In the 1928 article entitled 'Matriarchy', for example, Lawrence argues that - whether they know it or not - "the men of today are a little afraid of the women of today; and especially the younger men" [3]. Fast forward almost a hundred years, and I think we can say they are now more than a little afraid - and this fear, sadly, gives rise to resentment and misogyny, poisoning their own masculinity. 
Just as Steyn points to the fact that there are now more female graduates than male, Lawrence writes:
"They [modern men] not only see themselves in the minority, overwhelmed by numbers, but they feel themselves swamped by the strange unloosed energy of the silk-legged hordes. Women, women, everywhere, and all of them on the war-path! The poor young male keeps up a jaunty front, but his masculine soul quakes. [...] They [modern women] settle like silky locusts on all the jobs, they occupy the offices and the playing fields like immensely active ants, they buzz round the coloured lights of pleasure in amazing bare-armed swarms, and the rather dazed male is, naturally, a bit scared." [4]   
Obviously, this is intended to be humorous, but underneath one senses Lawrence is expressing a real concern and a real dislike of female emancipation. However, he seems to accept the fact that this has happened; that Woman has emerged "and you can't put her back again" [5]. Nor has she any wish to return to the home and to her previous roles of wife and mother. 
Thus, whether modern men like it or not, we are in, says Lawrence, for some form of matriarchal society. But then Lawrence asks himself if that would really be so terrible; for if you examine those societies where women run things and do most of the work, the men seem to have gained a certain carefree form of freedom (which Lawrence likes to term insouciance).

So, let the women have the jobs and own the property; let them govern the country and have full rights over the children. The men can then devote themselves to collective activity of their own, be it art, war, or philosophy. Real men, says Lawrence, should not care about earning a wage, pushing a pram round the park, or polishing their possessions.  
Perhaps matriarchy isn't so bad after all. It might allow a man to find himself once more and "satisfy his deeper social instincts" [6]. For when a man no longer feels king of his own castle, then he looks for something beyond the domestic space and, indeed, beyond Woman. 
However, we might keep in mind that this can result in all kinds of curious formations; from all-male clubs and secret societies, to criminal gangs and even fascism. All of these homosocial phenomena are, in part at least, a reaction to female emancipation and the increased visibility of women in the public sphere.

[1] I'm referring to the show broadcast on 30 June, 2022, which can be watched in full on YouTube by clicking here

[2] At Long Last Love is a musical comedy directed by Peter Bogdanovich (1975). Madeline Kahn plays Kitty O'Kelly and performs a Cole Porter song from 1929 called 'Find Me a Primitive Man': click here. Mark Steyn plays a clip from this song on the June 30 show I'm discussing. 

[3] D. H. Lawrence, 'Matriarchy', in Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 103. 

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 104.

[6] Ibid., p. 106.

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