Of course physical strength is important to masculinity

My piece earlier this week — noting research that college men have less physical strength than their fathers did — kicked up a bit of a hornet’s nest. I got a number of responses both on Twitter and sent to me privately that took issue with what they called (in general) my hurtful caricature of masculinity.

Not all men need to be strong, they argued. The new economy meant that men didn’t have to be strong to compete, and — besides — many men experienced deep pain when they were mocked as kids for being “sissies” when they didn’t play sports or participate in outdoor activities. My piece brought back bad memories, and revived “toxic” conceptions of gender roles that have allegedly done much harm.

Let me respond with a story. A few years ago, my wife and I went on a Cub Scout hike with my son’s pack. We walked a couple miles down a steep ravine, stopped at a waterfall, and watched while the boys played in the creek. Unfortunately, one of the boys threw a rock that hit my son square in the head. Blood was everywhere, and the gash was deep. I know that head wounds bleed a lot, but this one was worse than most. And there was no way an ambulance could come to us.