I just finished teaching an upper-division US history course in which my students read — and I swear I’m not making this up — Kim Du Toit’s repellant 2003 essay on “The Pussification of the Western Male”. The class had just finished Gail Bederman’s Manliness and Civilization (1995), a marvelous examination of the cultural transformations of gender between the 1880s and World War I. We used du Toit as a companion piece to the chapters on Teddy Roosevelt and the psychologist G. Stanley Hall — each of whom were, in their own ways, as anxious as du Toit about what they perceived to be the devaluation of masculinity.
Roosevelt, for example, was distressed by the tendency (as he saw it) for modern men to “shirk from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil.” In his famous 1899 speech on “The Strenuous Life,” Roosevelt proclaimed that the vigor of “the race” depended upon men being “glad to do [men's] work, to dare and endure and to labor.” Women, he added, “must be the housewife, the helpmeet of the homemaker, the wise and fearless mother of many healthy children.” Any other arrangement would have risked what sociologist E. A. Ross termed “race suicide.” Roosevelt was particularly animated about the imperial demands of his age; he could not look kindly upon those men who feared “the strenuous life, the only national life which is really worth leading.” He commended England for taking hold of its colonies — especially its rule in Egypt and India — and called upon the US to do the same in the Philippines and elsewhere. He did not refer to his opponents as “pussies,” but he came frightfully close.
Hall, for his part, was preoccupied not with adult masculinity but rather with the incipient manhood of youth. Believing that developing children rehearsed the cultural evolution of the human race, he insisted that young boys should not be deterred from expressing “the instinct of the savage.”
Boys are naturally robbers; they are bandits and fighters by nature. A scientific study has been made of boys’ societies . . . . In every instance these societies have been predatory. All of the members thirsted for blood, and all of their plans were for thievery and murder
Allow the young boy to beat the shit out of his companions, Hall suggested, and his mental and physical development will proceed in a smooth and healthy fashion. Divert him from his natural course Hall warned, and you will produce “a milk-sop, a lady-boy, or a sneak.” Such a child “lacks virility, [and] his masculinity does not ring true.” Perhaps he will — as Hall himself did — grow up to be a chronic masturbator, a helpless slave to “the lonely vice.”
And then there’s du Toit — in one of his essay’s better milk-through-the-nose moments — working himself up into a roiling, gibbering mess over the lineup on Bravo:
Finally, we come to the TV show which to my mind epitomizes everything bad about what we have become: Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. Playing on the homo Bravo Channel, this piece of excrement has taken over the popular culture by storm (and so far, the only counter has been the wonderful South Park episode which took it apart for the bullshit it is).
I’m sorry, but the premise of the show nauseates me. A bunch of homosexuals trying to “improve” ordinary men into something “better” (ie. more acceptable to women): changing the guy’s clothes, his home decor, his music—for fuck’s sake, what kind of girly-man would allow these simpering butt-bandits to change his life around?
Yes, the men are, by and large, slobs. Big fucking deal. Last time I looked, that’s normal. Men are slobs, and that only changes when women try to civilize them by marriage. That’s the natural order of things.
To be brief, my students were howling with laughter over this; they were also moved by his anti-Cheerio rant, about which the less said the better. Several of them simply refused to believe that du Toit had not, in fact, written this as a parody. I assured them of his pathetic sincerity — I even told them about the Worst Blogger Award he’d received a few years back — and they laughed even more.
But my students and I noticed something interesting. Speaking in April 1899 — just a few months after the Spanish-American war ended — Roosevelt condemned the “pussification” of American men while calling upon them to suppress the Philippine insurrection; over the next few years, thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Filipinos would die as the country learned what “the strenuous life” was all about. Writing in November 2003 — just a few months after the Iraq War had supposedly ended — du Toit similarly condemned the “pussification” of American men while calling upon them to drive fast, get drunk, and emulate Donald Rumsfeld (who, he insisted at the time, could have laid nearly every woman in the country over the age of 50); over the past few years, thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, in large part so that men like Donald Rumsfeld would not have to wake up in the morning and see a “pussy” staring back at them in the mirror. Kim du Toit, I suppose, should be so fortunate.