Can We Still Call Men Heroes?

Mona Charen's column is released once a week.

Mona Charen

If just one man had given his life by throwing himself atop his girlfriend to shield her from bullets in that Aurora, Colo., theater, it would have been cause for amazement. That three apparently did so is deeply affecting. People earn the Medal of Honor for such courage and self-sacrifice in the military. There is no equivalent in ordinary life — or what should be ordinary life.

Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves all reacted instantaneously when the horror began to unfold at the theater. The mother of Jansen Young, Blunk's girlfriend, said that Blunk, 26, pushed Jansen under the seat. "He was 6-feet-2, in incredible shape ... He pushed her down on the floor and laid on top of her and he died there."

Alex Teves, 24, did the same, pushing his girlfriend, Amanda Lindgren, about whom he was very serious after a year of dating, to the floor to protect her. His aunt told the Daily News: "He pushed her to the floor to save her and he ended up getting a bullet. He was gonna hit the floor himself, but he never made it."

Matt McQuinn, 27, dove in front Samantha Yowler and took three bullets —one to the chest, one to the back and one to the leg. Yowler was hit in the leg as well, but survived.

What makes men such as this?

Just in January, we were treated to the spectacle of men behaving like louts on board the stricken Costa Concordia. In contrast to the chivalrous "women and children first" code that, contra the James Cameron movie, really did characterize the conduct of the men aboard the Titanic, the stories from a shipwreck almost exactly a century later were hardly uplifting. An Australian lady aboard recalled, "We just couldn't believe it — especially the men, they were worse than the women." A grandmother who was on board agreed, saying, "I was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls." A third passenger said, "There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats."

Those are the sorts of men who tend to make the news. We speak so often of men as problems to be solved. They are the vast majority of rampage killers and criminals in general. They abandon their kids at much higher rates than women. They have more traffic accidents and die younger. Boys cause more classroom disruption, have higher rates of learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We have endless complaints about the male sex.

In America, for decades now, we've been focused on promoting and supporting the interests of women and girls. Their job prospects, their classroom participation, their self-esteem, and their needs have dominated the agenda.

That attention to women has had consequences. It hasn't been a good half-century for men. They've become a shrinking minority in colleges and universities; their role in the family has become attenuated; young women are beginning to out earn them; and they've dropped out of the labor force in greater numbers than ever before. In 2007, writes Charles Murray in "Coming Apart," more than a quarter of men (27 percent) without a college degree were failing to earn a living, "more than triple the proportion in 1973."

We've pretty thoroughly devalued the traits that have traditionally been considered manly virtues — protectiveness, responsibility, courage. In what we like to think of as our highly civilized culture, such traits are regarded as primitive and/or obsolete.

But as studies on family structure demonstrate, men aren't just useful to have around in an emergency. Stopping bullets is not the only thing they are for. When men cease to perform their roles as husbands and fathers (because they've been invited not to by the feminist movement), the result is social decline. Children are clearly worse off when they grow up without a dad at home. Every social pathology is more pronounced in the children of single mothers than in two-parent homes. But women, too, have paid a steep price. Women are not as happy as they used to be. Every year since 1972, the General Social Survey has asked a representative sample of Americans about their happiness. And every year the reported happiness of women has declined.

Though the cultural arbiters have devalued the unique protectiveness of men, it seems that it takes more than a few decades of disrespect to drain the heroism from them. Now seems like a good time to rediscover the other unique virtues of manliness — it would be a fitting tribute to Blunk, Teves and McQuinn.

To find out more about Mona Charen and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

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