THE BLOG
03/21/2007 02:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The World Doesn't Need Machismo -- Why Do We Keep Instilling It?

Right-wing political pundits say--just as they did during the Vietnam War--that we can't leave Iraq because foreign nations would think we "lacked will". We must not appear weak, they say, or some nation will attack us--as if any nation would make war on a country with enough nuclear weapons to annihilate the entire world. They still haven't adjusted to the reality that nations aren't a threat any more, whereas international networks of fanatical terrorists don't give a flying falafel whether we have "will" or don't.

This fear of weakness seems to have little to do with reality. It's the anxiety of the schoolyard bully who has to keep beating up smaller kids to prove his manhood. George Bush, who avoided military service with every fiber of his being, had himself photographed on a battleship wearing so much military equipment he could barely move, and has shown extraordinary bravery in risking other people's lives. Lyndon Johnson felt he had to escalate the Vietnam War or people would think he "lacked Kennedy's balls." "Acting presidential" has come to be media jargon for acting macho. And the constant phallic phraseology--"Standing up to" other nations, "being firm", "standing tall", etc., may explain why the United States is so far behind the rest of the world in electing female political leaders.

It's considered 'presidential' to be incapable of learning from experience or profiting from one's mistakes.

This insistence on bullheaded machismo as the most important qualification for the presidency has produced several decades of disastrous military adventures, a refusal to cooperate to solve international crises, an inability to adapt to changing conditions. American foreign policy has for decades been trapped in infantile behavior that mature men are supposed to outgrow once they get past adolescence.

Our image of the ideal U.S. President is epitomized by the famous photo of Teddy Roosevelt standing proudly with his gun beside the dead body of an elephant he's just shot. To be "presidential" today seems to mean believing that all problems can be solved with violence--by killing someone, bombing someone, invading some country. Bust in, make a mess, let the UN clean it up.

It's embarrassing to admit that this is a typical male attitude.

Men are trained from birth to be macho, to destroy, while women are trained to unify, to create. So men all over the world are superb at burning down villages, bombing infrastructures, blowing up cities, slaughtering civilians, and generally creating chaos and misery in the world. But do we really need more of this? If not, why do we keep training boys to be macho?

Children are naturally exuberant. They laugh and shriek and run all over the place and skip and dance. But before long boys are trained to believe that certain forms of exuberance, like skipping and shrieking, are unmanly. They have to channel their exuberance into narrow channels. In the 'Boy Code' the only approved form of exuberance is to be a loud, insensitive, destructive bully.

Before they're 'trained' in their 'proper' gender role, male toddlers are just as sensitive, helpful, and generous as female ones. They're just as interested in babies and as nurturant. But in most families all this is shamed out of them long before they get to school.

In the days when most men could expect to go to war at some time in their lives and engage in hand-to-hand combat, this might have made sense. Today it makes about as much sense as training every boy how to use a broadsword or load a musket.

Macho training is the major reason women are now outnumbering men in colleges and professional schools. It's also one reason the United States is slipping behind the rest of the world in every measure of civilization except military force.