The menswear brand Bonobos today launched their #EvolveTheDefinition campaign, which, through Twitter activism and the sale of trendy blazers, hopes to change society's conception of masculinity. The company explained that the traditional definition of masculinity is "broken, outdated, and tired," and needs to be broadened and updated to fit our enlightened age. According to the Bonobos CEO, this isn't about the evolution of menswear — it's about the evolution of men. This is a theory of evolution that Darwin never covered in "The Origin of Species."
The video accompanying this campaign is exactly what you would expect. It features a collection of stylish and feminine dudes reading synonyms for masculine — "macho, manly ... strong, brawny, powerful" — and then reacting with horror and disapproval. "My goodness," exclaims one guy. "I think that definition is a little scary," whimpers a grown man in a beanie. The men then give their own definitions, which include things like "being able to smile and cry" and "being brave enough to be who I am."
Of course, it is silly to suggest that a man is brave for being who he is. He really has no choice in the matter. And if you are a weakling and a coward, then it's brave to not be who you are and become something better. Bravery is always found in pushing your boundaries and improving yourself. It is never brave to simply exist in your current state, especially if your current state is pitiful and confused.
Evolution, also, is about self-improvement. It cannot be imposed from the outside. You cannot set out to evolve something. You can change it, degrade it, deface it, deform it, cut it to pieces, etc., but that is not the same thing as evolution. Evolution is a natural, gradual, internal, and improving process. If something evolves, it should function better than it did previously.
How does this new masculinity function better? In what sense has it improved on the original version? The old masculinity drove men to provide for their families, protect their loved ones, win wars, build civilizations, among many other accomplishments. New masculinity may make effeminate men more comfortable, but what are they achieving and doing that traditionally masculine men couldn't do as effectively? I can't think of anything, besides, perhaps, matching their blazers to their shoes (or whatever you're supposed to match a blazer to).
It seems that the "evolved" masculinity is more likely to prevent men from functioning rather than helping them to function. Ultimately, it makes them useless and obsolete. Maybe you will argue that men ought to be useless and obsolete. Maybe you will even argue that the dissolution of men represents an evolution of society at large. I will disagree on both counts, but the point is that you cannot say men themselves have evolved by disappearing. That's suicide, not evolution.
But isn't it necessary to change the definition of masculinity considering that so many men fall short of it? No, I think that is all the more reason to reassert the definition. The whole point of having a concept like masculinity is to establish standards by which things can be judged, and to which a person can strive. Historically, masculinity has helped to answer an important question: What are men supposed to do? How are they supposed to act? Men and women in a society will always ask these questions about themselves. By getting rid of masculinity and femininity, we remove the answer but we do not remove the question. Which means there will be confusion and paralysis where there used to be clarity and action.
Rather than changing masculinity — or abolishing it, really — to compensate for all the men who do not qualify for the label, it would be a better plan to change the men so that they do qualify. Every man is not strong, but every man ought to be. If not physically strong, then emotionally and morally. Not every man protects his family, but every man ought to protect his family. And again, not just physically but spiritually.
If you say that we should broaden our conception of "strong" and "powerful," I will agree. We should not view those concepts in strictly physical terms. But if you say that we should eliminate "strong" and "powerful" from the list of traits associated with men, I will say that you are looking to degrade and destroy men, not evolve them.