How we destroyed our man-building infrastructure

SledgehammerIn 1978, my girlfriend became the first female member of the Sharpstown High School Key Club.

She had the option of joining Keywanettes, a similar service organization for girls. But at my urging she decided to break through the gender barrier that had existed since the founding of Key Club in the 1920s.

I was excited. I saw her as striking a blow for women’s equality. But at the time, neither of us realized that she was also striking a blow at one of the foundations of noble manhood.

* * * * *

Why are the men of the Western world not like the men of Somalia, or Russia or Afghanistan?

Among the reasons: about 150 years ago, Western men began forming and joining organizations that promoted a noble vision of manhood.

Men’s clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimist and Lions gathered generations of males and molded them into gentlemen. Every time these men gathered they were reminded to serve others – and serve they did. They built hospitals for children (Shriners), solved the world’s iodine deficiency problem (Kiwanis), and sent generations of youth on international exchange (Rotary). And what U.S. city doesn’t have a Lions Park?

But even more important than their good works, men’s clubs produced good men – model citizens who were leaders in their communities. The positive peer pressure in these organizations prodded men toward greatness.

Men’s service organizations were just one plank in a vast infrastructure that used to exist in our nation – an infrastructure that took unruly men and civilized them. That infrastructure included:

  • All-male schools and academies
  • Boy scouts, and similar organizations
  • YMCAs
  • High school boys’ clubs and sports teams
  • Service clubs
  • All-male social clubs, athletic clubs, glee clubs and lodges
  • The military

That infrastructure created some of the finest men the world has ever known. We called them “the greatest generation.” They built the most prosperous economy in history and presided over an era of unprecedented peace.

Yet for the past fifty years we have been dismantling the very infrastructure that made these men great, in the name of gender equality.

About 50 years ago, all-male organizations began admitting women. Today, it’s hard to find an organization that remains male-only.

In many ways this was a positive development. Women have been a credit to these organizations. They’ve brought new vision and resources to their clubs. Many are now led by women and could not survive without the contributions of their female members.

But even as these organizations have expanded their rosters to include women, their role as an incubator of male character has greatly diminished.

* * * * *

Societies have always recognized that men need more socialization than women. The animal passions and physical strength invested in men can turn dangerous if not carefully channeled.

And this socialization must take place in a male-only context. Put females in the mix and the men change. They become distracted. They vie for women’s attention. They step back and allow women to lead.

This is why primitive cultures had elaborate coming-of-age rituals for young men. Adolescent boys were forcibly removed from the women and deliberately (often brutally) taught to use their powers for the good of the tribe.

Women had no such coming-of-age rituals. There was no need.

A more recent example: In the 1920s, high school fraternities were in their heyday, spreading vice and foul behavior among the young men of America. Key Club was founded by a group of businessmen who intervened in these young men’s lives and set them on the right path.

Would such an intervention be possible today? Unlikely. We have been trained to view anything single-gender as sexist. And there are no men’s groups left to sponsor it.

Who is really harmed by the dismantling of our man-building infrastructure? Lower-class women. They can’t find decent husbands. Their sons lack healthy male role models. Their neighborhoods are deteriorating and tribalism is resurfacing among the men. Apart from the presence of strong adult men, boys create Somalia.

These women ask, “Where did all the good men go?” Simple — we dismantled the structures that produced them. Feminists called these structures “the old boys network.” They gleefully destroyed them in the 1970s and 80s, unaware that they were consigning their sisters to loneliness, their sons to listlessness, and their society to lawlessness.

Of course, history’s greatest civilizing mechanism has been lifelong marriage. Nothing bridles unruly men like the responsibility of caring for a woman and children – with no way out.

Feminists have been whacking away at marriage for 50 years, by pushing no-fault divorce, and by encouraging women to delay marriage and to give away sex for free. On the other end, feminists have pursued punitive divorce and custody laws in which men almost always lose. They’ve pushed welfare and tax policies that penalize marriage. As a result men have almost no incentive to marry anymore:

The two-parent family has declined rapidly in recent decades. In 1960, more than 76% of African-Americans and nearly 97% of whites were born to married couples. Today the percentage is 30% for blacks and 70% for whites. The out-of-wedlock birthrate for Hispanics surpassed 50% in 2006. This trend, coupled with high divorce rates, means that roughly 25% of American children now live in single-parent homes, twice the percentage in Europe (12%). Roughly a third of American children live apart from their fathers.

In the past fifty years, Western society went from actively promoting male responsibility to passively undermining it. In the absence of molding, the character of young men is eroding. They are reverting to their natural state: tribalism, brutality, passivity, irresponsibility and predation.

The only large, all-male character-forming organization left in America is the Boy Scouts – but it’s under constant siege. The recent battle to admit gays is merely the first step in an effort to gender-neutralize the organization.

The ancients knew what we’ve forgotten: boys do not magically transform into men. They must be molded. Chiseled. Their character is forged as they interact with other men. Mixed-gender programming has its role – but it is not very effective in building male character.

* * * * *

Hear me: I’m not blaming women for the demise of the men’s club. Think back to 1978 – I was the one who handed my girlfriend the sledgehammer. All I saw was gain, but I missed what was being lost.

Hear me again: I am not advocating a return to the bad old days where women had no voice in society. But the pendulum has swung too far. There are plenty of women-only organizations, but the men-only organization has virtually disappeared.

What role could the church play in restoring our man-building infrastructure? Men’s ministry can help. Men can volunteer as Sunday school teachers and volunteer youth leaders. A few churches offer male initiation ceremonies for their young men.

But I would suggest something greater is needed. Like Nehemiah, we need an all-out effort rebuild the fortifications that have been torn down in our generation. It’s a huge challenge.

The logical place for this rebuilding to begin is in the church. We have the values men need – but we’re short on men. The average congregation in North America draws an adult crowd that’s just 39% male.

So what do you think? Was the demise of the all-male organization a good thing, or a bad thing? How could we begin rebuilding it? How will we defend it in the face of feminist opposition? Please comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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