McClatchy Washington Bureau
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley Sunday night decried what he characterized as Democrats’ prolonged attack on traditional masculinity, using it to make an argument for restructuring the economy in a way that would help men thrive.
In a speech to the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Hawley said criticism of masculinity is the “tip of the spear” of a larger attack on America.
He blamed “the left” for undermining masculinity, pointing to statistics that show more women than men attend college, fewer men report being married between the ages of 25-34, men are fathering fewer children and that men are experiencing higher rates of substance abuse, anxiety and depression.
“The Left want to define traditional masculinity as toxic,” Hawley said. “They want to define the traditional masculine virtues — things like courage, and independence, and assertiveness — as a danger to society.”
The speech ran a thread through Hawley’s recent messaging, from vaccine mandates to critical race theory, using masculinity as a way to connect many of the cultural arguments he’s pushed in the U.S. Senate.
He touched issues of marriage, a topic he’s discussed in the new lifestyle podcast he started with his wife. He mentioned an attack on “woman’s sports” — an anti-transgender rights talking point for conservatives — that Hawley recently brought up in a committee hearing. His solution to “rebuild an economy where men can thrive” involved bringing more manufacturing plants back to America, an argument he recently made in the New York Times as a solution to issues in the global supply chain.
The speech comes in a time when LGBTQ rights movement has made significant gains in legal protections and shaping public opinion surrounding the issues of marriage and gender over the past two decades.
The phrase “toxic masculinity” rose to prominence in part due to the #MeToo movement, which launched in 2017 following accusations of rape and other sexual abuse against the now-convicted Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Often, the conversation around toxic masculinity has focused on reducing men’s crimes against women, from sexual assault to domestic violence. It’s also been tied to larger movements surrounding racial and gender equity among people in positions of power.
Those who have argued for reexamining masculinity have pointed to many of the same trends Hawley highlighted, from substance abuse to depression among men. Hawley cites the American Psychological Association as one of the culprits, because they have issued guidelines for practice with boys and men that say traditional masculinity has been shown to limit males’ psychological development.
Many conservatives, like Hawley, have pushed back on criticism surrounding masculinity, citing concerns that the conversation has made boys and men feel ashamed of themselves.
“The crisis of American men is a crisis for the American republic,“ Hawley said. “…It’s not only the depression and darkness that now shadow so many. It’s that liberty requires virtue. And in particular, it requires the manly virtues. America needs good men.”
Instead he argued that the family should be the center of political life (Hawley has been exploring this issue on his podcast) and calls for reshaping the economy to combat globalization, which has accelerated the decline of many traditional working class jobs throughout the country.
“We must rebuild an economy in this country in which men can thrive,” Hawley said. “And that means rebuilding those manufacturing and production sectors that so much of the chattering class has written off as relics of the past. In this country, we are more than mere consumers. We have been the makers of great and mighty things, and we shall be again.”