By Herbert Smimmer
A time in our lives has arrived when words like “toxic masculinity” are getting thrown around like we used to throw around baseballs before fathers got too busy watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. Call me old-fashioned, but when did masculinity become such a bad thing?
Sure, some people say when they mean “toxic” they mean violence, homophobia, and misogyny, not being a man in general. But let’s leave that aside for the moment and focus on what a loss it would be if, in giving up things that are “toxic”, we gave up some of the best cultural iconography of our time involving cowboys.
When we say we want to examine the traits that men and boys have for decades been told they must emulate in order to deserve respect, such as hiding their emotions and denigrating women, aren’t we forgetting what made classics like John Wayne and Gary Cooper movies so terrific? Does waking up under the stars to a breakfast of bacon and biscuits make a man a bad “ally”? Is men riding on horses, never shooting a man in the back, and wearing nice hats so terribly “problematic”?
Sure, you might say, cowboy movies have nothing to do with wanting boys to know that it’s okay to ask for help when you’re sad and to look up to female role models. But is asking ourselves that really worth the pain of never seeing another man with a sharp haircut jump off a bucking bronco while shooting a pistol? I ask you, before you tell your son or nephew that there’s nothing wrong with being interested in cooking or fashion, ask yourself, what did Cary Grant ever do to you?
Cary Grant actually wasn’t in cowboy movies, you say? That’s not the point. The point is Cary Grant had the heart and soul of a cowboy, and that is what is at stake here. If you start teaching boys that crying can be a sign of strength, the next thing you know, he’ll be totally indifferent about the joy of seeing a pony properly tied to a post. Not to mention denying him the opportunity to enjoy Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece the mule, which given the title I can only assume is about a cowboy who uses a mule.
And sure, you might say that John Wayne, Bing Crosby and Clint Eastwood may actually not be be people you want your son to emulate. To which I say, if you wish to deny your son the profound pleasure of fording a stream as the bed of your wagon barely stays above the swirling waters, all I can say is I feel sorry for you.