At the beginning of The 700 Club segment, Lee Webb introduced The Book of Man at the 18:05 mark as follows.
"What truly defines a man? Generations ago, masculinity may have been easier to define. Men were men, and honor, duty, and valor were expected. But these days, the lines are often blurred, from the feminist movement of the 1960s to current gender debates, boys are left with a confusing choice."Revealingly, when Webb spoke of the days when "men were men," military images and a scene from the film The D.I. flashed across the screen. However, when he spoke of "blurred" lines, images of feminist marches and Chaz Bono appeared on the screen. The intent, it seems, is to equate masculinity with militarism, and to conflate feminism and transgender status with confusion about masculinity.
During the interview, Robertson praised The Book of Man, and Bennett spoke proudly of content from Pericles, Churchill, Reagan, and profiles of living soldiers. Bennett's emphasis on military leaders, and the fact that an entire chapter of The Book of Man is devoted to military-themed content, again suggested that he equated masculinity with militarism.
Bennett argued that gender signals are blurred and that people no longer understand what it means to be a man. Feminism and the gains it has bestowed upon women have frightened men, who have sunk into irresponsibility, he insisted. At the 20:37 mark, Bennett had this to say.
"[Feminism has] changed the terms of discussion. It's frightened a lot of men. It encouraged women. You know, we said, Pat, we said 'you go girl,' and the girls went, and now for the first generation in history, women graduate from college with more achievement, more education, more ambition then men do, and a lot of the men are thrown back on their heels. What do the men do? Well, unfortunately, one of the answers is they play video games ... Girls, young women complain about this, boys who will not take responsibility. And I think the answer--of course, the answer's Biblical, but I point to the founders as well. They thought three things were necessary for a boy to become a man: industriousness, work, marriage, and faith. Those are the anchors, and those are the things that bring boys to manhood. What feminism did, I think, Pat, was confuse the debate to some extent by saying those expectations that we have of boys, the kinds of responsibilities that they will need to take up as men, we're not sure we need them anymore, 'cause we're not sure we need men anymore. Well, we do need men."Bennett provided no evidence for alleged widespread irresponsibility among males, other than citing a statistic that men are playing more video games. To boot, he seems to see academic success as a zero-sum game, in which gains for women mean losses for men. Bennett exhibited even more anxiety over successful women when he later said, "Fine. All power to the women and the girls, as long as we don’t confuse roles and the differences in genders."
At the 22:42 mark, Robertson fretted that a matriarchy might erupt if men don't assume their correct role (a strange anxiety shared by Doug Phillips in a talk at the 2011 CHAP convention). In response, Bennett claimed that feminists supposedly want real men -- as he imagines real men -- for marriage and protection.
ROBERTSON: What’s this going to do to society, though, if men don’t take their places as men, and if suddenly there’s a gap and women and we have a matriarchy. What will it do ultimately to society?Bennett's stereotypical straw man image of feminism suggested that he'd had little exposure to real-life feminism. Has Bennett ever read anything written by feminists? Or ever talked to them in real life? I thought. Also, Robertson's anxiety over a coming matriarchy again suggests a zero-sum vision of the world, in which gains for women equal losses for men, and an egalitarian society is unthinkable.
BENNETT: I think it can hurt society, maybe grievously. Interestingly the feminists are not celebrating this Pat. They want men too. They might want to rail against this and they may want to talk about , you know, stereotypes of man and male domination and so on, but women want men. They want men for that strong arm, they want men for that protection, they want men for a partner in marriage and so it’s something that has got very blurred and what I try to do in this book is remind people of things that are true. And to the boys, as you very well said, the array of things offered on TV and elsewhere is very confusing, from macho stuff to gay culture to all sorts of things. What I got here is a point of view that is time tested, based in tradition that will get boys to manhood.
Furthermore, Bennett's comments suggested a facile understanding of women. Has he considered that lesbians might not want to marry a man, or that some women might not want to marry at all? Has he considered that some women might want a friend and partner in a husband, rather than a "strong arm"?
Bennett's vision of manhood equates stereotypical masculinity with responsibility, ignoring the fact that a man can have one without the other. To boot, his masculine ideal excluded large categories of men, which troubled me. By describing gay culture as a supposed source of gender "confusion," he assumes that gay and bisexual men cannot embody healthy masculinity. Furthermore, by enshrining heterosexual marriage as a foundational element of manhood, he excludes gay, bisexual, asexual, and single men. By listing faith as a pillar of manhood, he excludes atheist and agnostic men from his vision of ideal masculinity. (If we assume that by faith, he means conservative Judeo-Christian faith, billions of men from other religious backgrounds would be excluded too.)
Robertson and Bennett yearn for a bygone era of rigid gender roles, unable to accept that notions of gender have changed. (Compare David Barton, Kenneth Copeland, Angus Buchan, and Doug Phillips.) What Robertson and Bennett fail to understand is that gender is a flexible social construct, and as such it can take limitless forms. Simply put, Bennett's model of patriarchal, militaristic, heteronormative masculinity is unhealthy and will no longer resonate with all men. There are many ways for men to forge healthy masculinities without shoehorning themselves into some stereotypical masculine role. A man can be responsible and hard-working while also being fair, nonviolent, and egalitarian. A man can be a peace-maker, an innovator, a hero, a questioner, and countless other things. A man can be straight, gay, bisexual, or asexual. A man can pray at a church, meditate with a sangha, or sip java at a coffeehouse atheist meeting. And, he can be secure in his masculinity WITHOUT treading on women. Contrary to what Bennett thinks, well-adjusted men do NOT feel threatened by successful women.
Times have changed, Bill, and both sexes are better for it.
Hat tip to Right Wing Watch. To watch the full episode, click here.