Too often these days we hear about weak modern men, so-called beta males who are unwilling to risk their safety on another’s behalf. The embodiment of this new archetype was the man who did nothing as a man stabbed another man to death with a pocket knife on a crowded Washington DC, subway car the afternoon of July 4, and then took to Reddit to justify his cowardice.
Some readers were outraged when I wrote about that—not at the bystander but at me, for suggesting he was a coward and that I would have reacted differently. I do not claim to know how I would have reacted, either in that subway car or the community college in Oregon. None of us do. But every man and woman should be able to say, clear-eyed and without hesitation, that we hope we’d react the way Mintz did last week. He is the opposite of the beta male who defends his refusal to act, utterly dependent on the courage of others.
I say “beta male” to provoke, but also to describe. In our egalitarian age, it’s in vogue to say men should not be manly, they should not necessarily possess virtues like courage or valor, they should not “mansplain” things. Manliness is the legacy of a sexist past, we’re told, the mark of white male privilege, and should be discouraged from a young age. Indeed, many of our schools buy into this and punish boys, and sometimes prosecute them, for behavior that in an earlier time was rightly understood as natural and mostly harmless.