Hawley’s manhood message isn’t all wrong, but he’s not the ideal messenger

by Melinda Henneberger

When Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley first pitched the themes of his upcoming book about manhood 18 months ago, the response was not just merciless but at least arguably homophobic. 

“Josh Hawley kisses his wife like his parents are making him eat broccoli for the first time,” tweeted writer and producer Chase Mitchell. 

“I hope no one photoshops Josh Hawley in drag makeup,” tweeted former GOP consultant Rick Wilson. “That would be totally wrong for the champion of American masculinity. Totally. Wrong.”  

“Lol,” tweeted former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, “like anyone thinks Josh Hawley is masculine.”  

I wrote then that Hawley’s speech on this topic “was his usual all-you-can-eat buffet of victimhood. Men are so fragile, he argued, that a harsh word can turn them into layabouts and porn addicts. Which did not, however, make it OK to respond to his “steak tartare speech about the left’s supposed War on Men by questioning his sexuality.”  

That’s still happening, of course, and it’s still indefensible. Some headlines about the book, which comes out on May 16: “Manly Dude Josh Hawley To Release Book On ‘Manhood,’ ” “Mob-Fleeing Dweeb Josh Hawley Is Writing a Book Called ‘Manhood,’ ” “Josh Hawley Is Writing to Remind You He’s Not a Total Pussy: The scurrying senator from the Show-Me State has a big, manly-man book in the works.”  

Remember, no one loves your drolleries at Josh Hawley’s expense more than Josh Hawley does. 

And brace yourself, but some of what he’s written in the book, at least based on what he’s said about it in interviews, happens to be true. 

“As conservatives,” he’s said, “we’ve got to call men back to responsibility. We’ve got to say that spending your time on video games, spending your time watching porn online … is not good for you, your family or this country.” Not only conservatives think that. 

Porn really is degrading and problematic, even though someone who never calls out or publicly distances himself from our porn-star-paying former president might not be the ideal messenger on that point. 

He’s also correct that American men are “suffering more anxiety and depression, they’re engaging in more substance abuse,” though the greatest recent increase in alcohol abuse has been among women, and the idea that mental illness and addiction are the handiwork of progressive meanies is just silly. 

While suicide rates are still far higher among men, the increases there, too, are greatest among middle-aged women. 

Hawley claims that the left is eager to cast “traditional masculine virtues” like courage, independence and assertiveness as “a danger to society.”  

They are? Examples, please, of anyone, anywhere, speaking out against any of these attributes, which aren’t only masculine, by the way, and are prized across the ideological spectrum. Of all the disingenuous claims Josh Hawley has made, this is among the most ludicrous. 

“Can we be surprised that after years of being told they are the problem, that their manhood is the problem, more and more men are withdrawing into the enclave of idleness, and pornography, and video games?” he asks. 

First, many men I know are on the contrary working hard to make this world a better place. 

And to blame all bad-boy behavior on liberal aspersions is the opposite of calling men back to personal responsibility. 

Men themselves are not the problem, lazy, suggestible and oafish as Hawley makes them sound. But some mostly male-perpetrated violent crimes — rape, for example, and homicide, which is both surging and committed by men in 90% of cases around the world — certainly are. 

I hope that the senator’s new book speaks manfully about the domestic and sexual violence that’s the ultimate show of weakness, and a lot bigger worry than some wounding words from libs. If it does, I’ll acknowledge that he’s at least trying to be part of the solution. 

Melinda Henneberger is an opinion columnist for The Kansas City Star and a member of its editorial board. She has covered crime, local and state government, hospitals, social services, prisons and national politics.