I attend a lot of men’s conferences. And the constant theme of these events is a call on men to live sacrificial lives. To step up and serve…to be heroes…to lay down their lives for their families, for their communities and for their churches. You hear the same call issued from pulpits – where are the men? Preachers ask, “Why don’t we have more courageous men?”
The fact is modern society doesn’t need as many courageous men as it once did. And it no longer rewards men for acting like men. To understand this, travel back with me in time.
Since the dawn of the species, humans have been locked in a life-and-death struggle to feed themselves and to fend off invaders. It’s hard for us in 21st century Western society to imagine how hungry and violent the world was until recently. Famine was common. Crop failures meant the death of thousands. Hordes of thugs regularly swept through settlements, sacking, raping and pillaging at will (the Old Testament is full of these accounts). There were no standing armies, police forces or welfare programs to prevent this suffering.
Men were particularly valuable in earlier times because they possessed the physical strength to raise crops, hunt animals and fight wars. It’s no exaggeration to say that men held the key to the survival of the human race. If men failed to hunt or farm, women and children starved. If men failed to protect, women and children were slaughtered. If men didn’t do their jobs, all was lost. As such, men were indispensable. No men = no hope.
Men have always done society’s dangerous jobs. Humans never even thought of giving these roles to women until recently, because females are physically weaker than men. Women were needed to bear, raise and protect children. Men were the “expendable sex”—and so were assigned the jobs that were most likely to kill someone.
But one day, a tribesman got wise. “Why should I hunt beasts that can rip my flesh?” he asked. “Why shouldn’t I run away when a superior enemy threatens? When I’m hungry, why shouldn’t I eat all the food myself, instead of sharing with the rest of the tribe?”
The leaders of the tribe panicked. “If this kind of thinking spreads through the tribe, we’re finished! We need a way of motivating men to overcome their natural fears, so they will become the protectors and providers everyone needs.”
So the leaders hatched a plan. “We’ll play a trick on the men,” they said. “We’ll create a code of manly behavior, and we’ll expect every man to obey it.”
So tribes all over the world developed various versions of the code of manly behavior. Among the expectations of the code:
- A man is strong
- A man is brave in the face of danger
- A man endures suffering
- A man puts the needs of others first
- A man is generous
- A man leaves a legacy
The whole idea behind manliness is to help a man overcome his natural instincts (fear, hunger, loneliness, etc.), so he will do what’s best for the tribe, not for himself. The code convinces men to do things that have the potential to hurt, exhaust or kill them.
Societies made sure every man understood the code. Adolescent boys were subjected to brutal coming-of-age rituals to ensure the code was implanted deep in their hearts.
But here’s the key: men who “stepped up” to these expectations were rewarded. They got the best homes, the most wives and the choicest foods. They were given the name “hero” and their exploits were memorialized in songs. They got medals and parades when they returned from war. But men who failed to act manly were shunned as cowards. They were treated as outcasts by society.
So for thousands of years, humans all over the globe favored men, in order to motivate them to do the dangerous jobs. Men were given an elevated place in society—including rights and privileges unavailable to women and children.
But then everything began to change—quickly. Set the time machine for AD 1800. A novel technology—the internal combustion engine—gave birth to the Industrial Revolution. A new kind of society was born, one that completely changed how humans protect and provide for themselves. Suddenly, for the first time in history, men were no longer indispensable.
With the rise of machinery, raw muscle power became much less important. Farm implements allowed one man to do the work of twenty. Advances in science increased crop yields dramatically. Never before had food been so abundant, easy to acquire, and relatively cheap compared to income.
Industrialized countries became wealthy enough to create a social safety net. Women could now rely on government welfare programs instead of husbands as their primary providers. Education and vocational opportunities for women multiplied, which increased their income and decreased their dependence on men. Today, for the first time in history a woman can live comfortably and even have children without attaching herself to a man.
In prehistoric times, every man was a warrior—literally. Rival bands frequently raided each other’s camps. Every man was expected to pick up his weapon and repel the invaders. In the age of agriculture, farmers grabbed their implements and went to war to defend their homelands. The Old Testament is full of stories of kings mustering common men to fight the Caananites, the Ammonites, the Amalekites, and various other ites who threatened the nation of Israel.
But in the past 150 years the role of protector has gradually been taken away from common men and given to professionals. The wealth created by industrialization funded the rise of professional, full-time armies and navies. Municipalities established the first public, salaried police forces and fire departments in the 1800s.
As a result, modern men rarely have to defend themselves. Today, the average American male will go his entire life without using a weapon to physically protect his family or property. In some nations it’s illegal to own a gun for self-protection. Battle is becoming rare even among professional soldiers. Fewer than half the U.S. veterans alive today saw combat during their military careers.
Thanks to industrialization, a relatively small number of men can provide us with all the protecting we need. Around the world armies are shrinking because one warrior can wield the power of thousands. Battle machinery such as tanks, planes, bombs and machine guns have greatly amplified the power of one soldier.
The same is true with providing—today we need only a few men to feed us. In 1800, 90 percent of the U.S. labor force was engaged in farming. It took that many hands to sustain our populace. Two hundred years later, U.S. population has grown more than fifty-fold, yet only about 2 percent of Americans work as farmers.
Machines enabled women to become professional protectors and providers for the first time. A female fighter pilot can be just as lethal as a male one. Put a woman behind the wheel of a combine and she can harvest just as much wheat as a man. Physical power is no longer key to the survival of the human race—brainpower is. Men have lost their traditional advantage as protectors and providers for society.
I’m not suggesting society turn back the clock so men can regain their dominance. I’m merely pointing out how quickly industrialization has removed men from their indispensable role as the linchpin of society. Men just aren’t as important as they once were. Suddenly, society can get along quite well with just a handful of them.
In a little less than 200 years society went from lauding men’s accomplishments to holding them in contempt, particularly among the intelligentsia. The PC crowd sneers at men who fight wars, men who carry guns, men who cut down trees, and men who drill for oil. We no longer expect men to subdue the earth; instead, they’re supposed to live in harmony with it.
The feminist storyline has metastasized from “equal rights for women” to “men are the oppressors of women.” There’s a great deal of hatred and suspicion directed toward men on university campuses. It’s just assumed that men are responsible for every modern ill: war, environmental degradation, economic inequality, and the exploitation of various victim groups. If only women were in charge, we’d be living in a peaceful, egalitarian eco-paradise.
Men are no longer society’s greatest asset; they are its biggest problem. Each day men become a little less necessary. Guys sense this, and as their value diminishes we see them withdrawing from the workforce, the church, civic organizations, and from public life in general.
I’m not blaming women for any of this. I merely want you to see how much men’s value to society has fallen—and how quickly it fell. The Atlantic magazine recently printed an article titled, The End of Men:
Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?
Men will step up when they are rewarded for doing so. It’s always been this way. When society rewards men they will step up. When families appreciate men, they will step up. When church needs men, they will step up. Not even Jesus laid down his life without the promise of a greater reward.
This blog entry is an excerpt from What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You, the latest book from David Murrow. To order an autographed copy, click here.