January 5, 2017 Matt Pennock

American Manhood by E. Anthony Rotundo ★★★★

A history of manhood in America. How did the “men’s sphere” and the “women’s sphere” happen? How did changing work conditions displace and disrupt father’s relationship with his sons?

There is a lot to be learned and it is a more or less accurate portrayal of American Manhood. Rotundo’s conclusions are like many social constructionists in that manhood is nothing more than an invention. This would mean there is no quest for manhood because it doesn’t exist outside our own minds.

Yet there was a noteworthy quest unfolding in an gone-by era when older men were founding male youth societies to help them deal with vice and learn self control such as the YMCA, or Young Men’s Christian Association, founded in 1844. And it was an honorable one.

Rotundo notes,

There were other social forces arrayed in the battle for the youthful mastery of desire. Preachers and ministers of all sorts waged a holy war to conquer hedonism among youth who came to the city. The evangelists of the antebellum era addressed young clerks whenever they sought to fan the flames of revival in Northern cities. Throughout the century, there were ministers whose mission was preaching to the male youth…Much of the prescriptive literature on nineteenth-century manhood consists of printed sermons delivered to young men…These books of sermons appeared less often during the second half of the century, when they were replaced by a moralistic secular literature…that echoed most of the themes of impulse control that had dominated the preaching of earlier generations…Many of the preachers involved…drew in large crowds of male youth to their churches…Several books of exhortation to young men went through numerous editions and printings. (p.73)

While the world passed on by, there was at least one movement aggressively seeking to aid young men in their transition into the life-long struggle of mastery over impulse. And that was the Christians.


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