Masculinity is an inherent and desirable part of the human race. By and large, men are the pioneers, innovators, and protectors of the species. It’s a heavy responsibility.
We need manly men. We need masculine men. We don’t need pencil-neck pinheads preaching at us about the supposed drawbacks of “toxic masculinity”. Unlike what The Intercept says, we don’t need fewer stories triumphing the virtues of masculinity, we need MORE.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t any. I saw two movies this year that genuinely trumpeted masculine virtues: the firefighter movie Only the Brave and the Green Beret flick 12 Strong.
Only the Brave is about the 20-member Granite Mountain Hotshots, a firefighting crew from Prescott Arizona, 19 of whom died fighting the Yarnell Fire in 2013. The movie focuses on the main survivor, a loser and drug user who fathers a child out of wedlock, then tries to get his life straight. He quits drugs, cleans up, becomes a firefighter, and turns into a great father. Masculinity doesn’t require that you be perfect, only that you acknowledge your imperfections, take responsibility, and clean your own mess up.
12 Strong is based on the exploits of Task Force Dagger, the unit of US Army Green Berets who went into Afghanistan a month after 9/11 and helped the Northern Alliance take the Taliban stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif in three weeks (when military planners had estimated it would take two years). The main character, Captain Mitch Nelson, having just left his team for a staff position, had to argue his way back into active duty after the Twin Towers fell. Riding horses into battle alongside their shaky Afghani allies, they became known as the Horse Soldiers. The mission in Afghanistan was his first foray into actual combat, and he acquitted himself like a warrior. Bravery in the face of death, self-sacrifice, and a willingness to fight and kill evil men are all masculine virtues, clear necessities in this fallen world.
It’s perhaps telling that the only tales of masculine strength to come to mind are “based on a true story” (and that neither did very well at the box office). It seems, for the most part, that America’s culture makers have forgotten how to write masculine heroes. Hell, most of the time they seemed to have forgotten how to even imagine a masculine hero—they’ve no idea what a manly hero should even be. Instead they depend on cliches and trite sayings, or on plundering the past, when people really could write manly heroes (this is what the Marvel movies have done, and it’s mostly worked—so far). Take this “inspiring” speech, from a trailer for the upcoming Ready Player One, released last week.
“I found something much bigger than just myself. Are you willing to fight?” The dialogue is flat, cliched, and uninspired, and the movie itself consists solely of characters, props, and dialogue strip mined from previous instances of pop culture.
Marty McFly was daring. Not the manliest hero ever to grace the silver screen, but he was quick-thinking under pressure, willing to risk his life to save himself and his family, and he never gave up. (Plus, in the end, he got the hottest chick in Hill Valley. Success in wooing beautiful women is ABSOLUTELY a masculine virtue.) RP1 uses his flying Delorean because “OMH I get that reference!” but it only serves to remind one of how much better Back to the Future was than this tripe. It’s embarassing.
Women need masculine men (crave them, actually), and men need to be masculine. Men need to develop their inherent masculinity. None of us will ever be perfect, but all of us can be better, even if only a little bit. And manly stories of manly men can give us something to aim for.
It’s time to write stories that glorify old-school masculinity. We all need them.