Katherine Miller, in a contribution to Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation, expresses dissatisfaction with the masculinity of elite male millennials.
Americaâ€™s elite has a problem. Itâ€™s skinny jeans and scarves, itâ€™s Bama bangs and pants with tiny, tiny embroidered lobsters, itâ€™s Michael Cera, itâ€™s guys who compliment a girlâ€™s dress by brand, itâ€™s guys who donâ€™t know who bats fourth for the Yankees. Between the hipsters and the fratstars, American intellectual men under the age of twenty-five have lost track of acting like Menâ€”and these are our future leaders. We have no John Wayne, no Clint Eastwood. And girls? Girls hate it.
This all occurred to me at 1:47 a.m. on November 8, 2008. I was on the phone in a hotel hallway, listening to this guy moan about this girl that didnâ€™t want to get it get it, if you will. Out of some cruel, dazzling dark corner of my metal heart, a single thought formulated: Man up.
Intellectual elite girls know this secret. Vanderbilt University stands near the light end of a two-decade tunnel from Southern Playground of the Rich to generic Duke stepsister, but the tunnel produced a foil to the unmanned masses: the 2000s Vandy Girl. Embodied most in a handful of elite sororities, the concept of Vandy Girl requires one shot of the Old Spirit (pearls and champagne and knowing what to say and when to say it), and two shots of this confidence thatâ€™s a tic-tac-toe board of goals and timelines.
So, the calculus goes, the girls isolate aspects of masculinityâ€”the drive, the confidenceâ€”in lightning rounds of Natural Selection Yahtzee. The men, likewise, drift to the center. They soften. They become Euro basketball players who never played high school ball, falling down like theyâ€™ve been shot after every hand check, and telling you they donâ€™t feel respected. Donâ€™t feel respected? Feel? I wouldnâ€™t trust that person in a crisis. Why canâ€™t we all shift in one direction, instead of stumbling into an androgynous mass of feelings-first zombie groupthink?
But perhaps you donâ€™t believe me. Maybe you live in some neo-noir situation where the men smoke on dark corners or in open plains and donâ€™t wear scarves unless itâ€™s cold enough to cut a hole in some ice and pull a fish out, and even then are a little hesitant about the whole thing. I donâ€™t know your life.
Theyâ€™re not bad guys, not necessarily, this First Team All-Sister Mary Margaret. Theyâ€™re generally polite, they love their parents, they get good grades at excellent schools. But underneath this sheen of the Good Kid, the Good Kind, thought overcomes action, and emotion overcomes thought.
â€œItâ€™s selfishness,â€ my high school principal explained to me. He grew up in Western Pennsylvania and commands respect, whether at my privileged high school, or at his new, post-retirement post at a far rougher school. â€œIt comes down to two questions: â€˜What have you done for me lately?â€™ and â€˜How will this look?â€™ â€
Vanity over pride, selfishness over self-restraintâ€”serious problems that can be traced from one to the next, streaks of light in the dark forming one big circuit.
Yale undergraduate conservative leader Tristyn Bloom found the other young lady’s observations too obvious, and had a different idea of the correct masculine attitude.
I can sympathize with Miss Miller. I’m no fan of limp-wristed milksops, and I can forgive an (almost painfully) redundant essay. But something about this line caught my attention:
“Vanity over pride, selfishness over self-restraint–serious problems that can be traced from one to the next, streaks of light in the dark forming one big circuit.”
Now I don’t know about you, but when I read the phrase “vanity over pride” I didn’t think of metrosexuals, I didn’t think of hipsters, I didn’t think of the Backstreet Boys, or Justin Bieber, or anyone from the 20th, or 21st, centuries at all. Those three words, like some kind of hypnosis-induced trigger, brought before my mind’s eye, in rapid succession: Sebastian Flyte, Peter III, Paul I, and the stereotypical image I somewhere acquired of what most Hanoverian kings must have been like ages 7 through 36. I kept reading, and thought of the whiny, needling tone of Prince Kurbsky’s epistles (justified though it may have been) and Oblomov’s distinctly effete brand of hypochondria (grounded in self-conception as “delicate”, rather than basic neurosis). I thought of decadence and decadents throughout culture and history, from the late Severan Dynasty of Ancient Rome to the Karamazov Dynasty of 19th century Russia.
But no, these are new problems.
“Pain + silence = masculine strength” is certainly an old formula, and one that has waxed and waned over time as the be-all, end-all of manliness. Miss Miller proposes we address its current waning by stubbornly invoking some Frankenstein’s monster with John Wayne’s heavy cadence, Don Draper’s emotional repression and Winston Churchill’s functional alcoholism. “MAN UP!” we cry, hoping they see what we do when we say it.
Now granted I hate fops- really, I do- but I have to go back to Sebastian Flyte for a moment, because I think he has a better answer. There’s a scene early on where Sebastian and Charles are driving together to Brideshead, and Charles is being very inquisitive about the Flytes (for my own convenience I’m referencing the transcript of the 1981 miniseries):
“You’re so inquisitive.”
“Well, you’re so mysterious about them.”
“I hoped I was mysterious about everything.”
“Why don’t you want me to meet your family? Who are you ashamed of, them or me?”
“Don’t be so vulgar, Charles.”
That! That, there, is the answer.