In today’s society, men are often criticized for things like “mansplaining” and chauvinism, and for being a perpetuation of the “patriarchy” at best and predators at worst.
The problem with this is that it presumes men are guilty, that they’re all predators in some form, rather than assuming that most men are good at heart. While it’s highly unfair to automatically put all men in general into these categories, there’s something to be said for the positive effects strong women can have on the men in their lives.
The Difference Between Harmlessness and Virtue
Of course, no man should be a predator, intentionally or unintentionally harming women in any way. But the argument can’t end there. Dr. Jordan Peterson points out that “harmlessness cannot replace virtue.” The two aren’t synonymous; a harmless man isn’t by default a virtuous one. There’s so much more that makes a good man, and it’s often a woman who encourages and brings this out, who promotes a higher calling in his life.
Harmlessness can't replace virtue. A harmless man isn’t by default a virtuous one.
Sure, not harming anyone is great, but are those harmless men acting nobly, supporting and defending women, and creating and inspiring future generations of men to embody all that’s good? By emasculating men and encouraging them to simply be “harmless,” our culture has unintentionally encouraged men to shy away from behavior that’s truly virtuous and good.
What Men Need
There are inherent differences between boys and girls, men and women. I’m not saying they’re not equal, but unequivocally different. Generally speaking, most little girls enjoy playing house and dress up, whereas boys can be found making weapons and a seemingly endless amount of noise.
In their books on the deepest desires of men and women, John and Staci Eldredge discuss the longings of the male and female hearts. In his book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge describes the three natural desires of men: “a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” Eldredge explains how these desires are evident from a young age when little boys create weapons and act out epic battle scenes wherein they’re the heroes of their imagined tales. The final desire, a beauty to rescue, becomes the central desire of grown men. The battle to fight and the adventure to be lived are meant to be done with and for the beauty to rescue.
It takes great courage on the part of a woman to commit herself to a man, to help him grow.
To be clear, this isn’t to say that women are helpless and need a man to give meaning to their lives. It, in fact, takes great courage on the part of a woman to commit herself to a man, to help him grow from a more immature character into a man who is worthy of her love. Men are not inherent savages, simply waiting around to be “tamed” by a woman. Both men and women spend their whole lives moving further from their potential and closer to actualization as Plato philosophizes; moving steadily away from the more animalistic tendencies of human nature towards the nobility, reason, and goodness humans desire.
The Role Women Play
Everyone wants to be someone, to have importance and value attached to their life. Men are no exception, and this desire manifests through wanting to be someone to a woman, to a family. This responsibility fulfills and molds them into the noble men they were designed to be.
Men manifest the desire to live meaningfully through their desire to be someone important to a woman.
This isn’t some anti-feminist trope, but rather a truth deeply engrained in the hearts of many, played out time and time again in numerous stories. Iron Man saves the world for the love of his family, Wesley gives up his pirating ways for Buttercup in The Princess Bride, Captain America ultimately chooses a wife and family life over saving the world, and the Count of Monte Cristo spends one half of his lifetime in prison and the other half seeking justice, all in the name of the woman he loved.
These men had a higher purpose for their lives because of the women they loved. Their characters were arguably better, nobler, and more virtuous because of the inspiration from women.
A Lasting Legacy
Fulton Sheen said, “To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”
“To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood.”
Although women have only recently become a prominent part of the business and political roles traditionally held by men, there’s no doubt that without women many of the historical feats accomplished by men would have been highly unlikely. The culmination of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is a perfect example of this, as the end of the play focuses not on Alexander Hamilton, but on his wife Eliza, who becomes the center of the final scene. Hamilton’s legacy lives on because of Eliza’s willingness to forgive and love unconditionally, a legacy that would have undoubtedly been different without her support.
Women don’t just live in the shadows of men, submitting to their wills and hiding behind their accomplishments. Rather they act as the sun, casting the light of their beauty and grace, inspiring the men they love to be bigger than they ever would have been on their own.