Some Faults of American Men

“The purely native resources of our nation and our politics remain in the hands of men; —it is about all they have retained, and the suffragists begrudge them even that.”


“It is a law of this universe, that the best things shall be seldomest seen in their best form.” – The Stones of Venice.

Perhaps it might be more definitive to speak of the shortcomings of American men, of their negative faults. These are, after all, the specifically national ones. The positive faults belong to the sex irrespective of nationality, and form too large a subject for such small handlings as this. Furthermore, ever since Moses selected a negative phrasing when he hammered out the ten great moral laws, the world, with unconscious humor, has gone on listing a man’s virtues negatively. We say: he does not drink; he does not gamble; he is nothing of a Lovelace. But his faults remain positive: “he is a thief,” we say, rather than “he is not honest,” which somehow sounds euphemistic, and breeds instant doubt of the entire truth of the statement. Perhaps, too, because of their less complex make-up, their tendency to fall by themselves, as it were, into classified types, one really gets a rough picture of the men thus negatively described. One likes or dislikes them on even such slight heresay.

And yet what number of negations will ever convey the slightest idea of a woman? What availeth it to learn of her that she does not drink, is not given to habitual profanity? Even when the praise goes to excess, and we learn that she is not a gadabout, nor does she throw anything large or hard at her husband’s head, we are still left in doubt concerning her attractiveness as a companion for either an hour or a lifetime. That a woman’s virtues are still summed up positively, in face of much internal opposition to sex-differentiation of any sort, is a tribute to a difference of standard, which she should be the last to quarrel with, had she wisdom, instead of only a little learning. It also stands for the woman’s greater complexity, in which lies half of her power in the world. It requires finer lines to limn her as an individual.

So we will keep (prayerfully!) to the sins of American masculine omission.

To begin with a caution bred of some experience with American complacency, it were as well to recognize at once that geographic isolation is largely responsible for the picture of supreme contentment with themselves which the men of this country present to the humbled beholder. We doubtless have inherited some of it with our British blood, but there still remains much that is stamped in clear lettering, “made in America.” From a purely artistic point of view, it is a pity to try to disturb, even for an instant, a national pose so full of boyish optimism in a world largely given over to unsightly regret, humiliation, and despair. But as it is not yet universally admitted that the foremost ship of the millennium has already reached our golden shores, and as a whole nation’s self-illusions have been known to vanish in one day and one night; and upon the bare chance that this may again happen, either in smoke literal or smoke metaphorical, may not a little of our own Yankee farsightedness be suggested—and pardoned—once in a way?

This American complacency embraces that citizen himself, as he sees himself; his wife (especially his wife) as he sees her; his children, if perchance he takes time to remember that he has any; his system of government, unless the ogre known as the Other Party is in power, when the citizen is more critical; his country at large and all that therein is, from finance to watermelons. Like a Turk, he is particularly enamored of size in the harem of his affections.

“The great quality of Dulness is to be unalterably contented with itself,” quoth Thackeray; but he was not writing of American human nature, nor are our men in the least dull. They have only been too long geographically removed from any just comparison with other civilized nations; and, what is more to the point, too absorbed mentally with domestic issues to bridge the seas with their minds, if not with their bodily senses, to learn that there are other points of view than our own, equally civilized, if not always more “advanced.”

What the busy American citizen sees of those least worthy specimens of other nations who are so rashly welcomed to our shores, only serves further to enhance his own self-satisfaction. But is not that a little like judging one’s host by spending the evening in his kitchen?

To offset in a measure this mental provincialism, would it not be possible to introduce in our more advanced grades, in all of our schools, the serious study of the criticisms of the United States written by the enlightened and just foreigners who have not always flattered us? We are surely in no further exigent need of flattery, much as our appetite remains childishly keen for such sweet relish. The habit instilled early of standing back from one’s nation, and judging coolly between right and wrong, wisdom and fallacy, can hurt no patriotism worthy the name. “The strength of criticism lies only in the weakness of the thing criticised,” said one of our own great men.

If we wished to be treated as a nation of grown men among the world’s opposed armies of men, there is no better strategy than to find out exactly how our enemy (commercial, political, military) estimates us. There has been more than one great general who has found success along that line, and laid his plans of offense or defense accordingly. Surely the time for “baby talk” has passed, young as we still obviously are. There are many valuable books written by clear-sighted aliens, criticizing, not abusing, us as a people, socially, politically, economically, which might serve to shake this dangerous self satisfaction, and open young American eyes to the fact that perfection itself has not yet quite been attained; their remains much to be done before we are what we think, or pretend to think, that we are. There is left a lot of plain, old-fashioned, everlasting human blundering going on here in the United States, as well as elsewhere in the world, now as from the beginning.

The just, temperate criticisms of our want of ideality, of beauty, of repose, by the great English critic Matthew Arnold (equally severe with his own people) would serve to clear the atmosphere of mirage, to give one or two illustrations of what is meant. The careful reading of Hugo Münsterberg’s estimate of us is doubly valuable: first, because much of it was not primarily written for our eyes; second, because it is distinctly sympathetic, and the Sun succeeded in doing what the Wind failed to do in the shrewd old fable. One of the wisest Americans of the last half-century, whom the writer had the honor of knowing, once was heard to reply to a query: “No, never read antagonistic biography—it is a pure waste of time! An estimate to be absolutely just, must be in greater part sympathetic.” He went on to compare the value of the first part of Bourrienne’s Life of Napoleon, when he was in favor with his master, with the last part, when Napoleon no longer playfully pinched his quondam secretary’s cheeks.

As our average men are admittedly not readers of books, however many newspapers and magazines they may devour, the writer proposes to quote and to paraphrase, for the sake of brevity, from Münsterberg’s American Traits, especially from the chapter on “Education.”


“There was never before a nation that gave the education of the young into the hands of the lowest bidder.” – Hugo Münsterberg.

This trenchant sentence was written of our educational system within ten years. It is based upon the fact that three-fourths of American education is in the hands of women, who are able to underbid the men by the very conditions of their being. Few of them are—what the average man is when he has reached the age when he is fitted to teach—the sole supporters of growing families; and hence they are willing to work for smaller salaries, thereby slowly driving the men from teaching as a paying profession. It was the business of male teachers to remain in the ranks and keep there their dominance, as in other nations which have grown great. If there were nothing more vital to the commonwealth than the distribution of the $200,000,000 yearly spent in education in this country, then perhaps we might readily comprehend and sympathize with the present attitude toward this serious matter. But to make that very secondary question the prime consideration is to lose sight altogether of the object of this vast expenditure.

Surely it is not to furnish honest support to a given number of needy women (worthy as that plea may be), women who have their full share of American snobbishness about working with their hands as a means of support. Is not the real object to get the best, broadest, sanest teachers for the children of the nation?

A civilization is indeed crude that is all eyes for the salary, with only a side-glance for the work to be performed in return.

Our distribution of the salaries of teachers in this country simply places a premium on the celibate spirit, exactly as Rome has for centuries. As a result, Italy to-day has difficulty in finding men to do her work. Some day we may be in equal need of men to be what men ought to be—the social backbone of the nation in all the ramifications of what is called civilization.

It is into the female celibate hands that our men have suffered the greater part of the education of their children to drift. It is a note of warning to our civilization, that cannot be too often repeated, this rapid “womanizing,” as Münsterberg calls it, of almost the entire education of the American youth.

Is this complete bouleversement of sex-conditions so very much nearer the wise economic balance kept by the older nations of civilized Europe than the Eastern conditions where the men draw the curtains of the harem across all such vexing questions? Are our own men, after all, driven by overwork rather than by their senses, slowly reverting to that convenient conditions of home affairs: “I haven’t time, go ask your mother?” If that sentence was overheard anywhere on earth, would the speaker’s nationality remain long in doubt, however free from colloquialism his accent?

That young American women stand abreast of men, even very often ahead of them, in college work, represents nothing important save to the most superficial vision. It simply stamps the nature of the work in American colleges. Nor does the fact that women make apparently good teachers settle the question satisfactorily. As our German critic gently puts it: “The work, which in all other civilized countries is done by men, cannot in the United States be slipped into the hands of women without being profoundly altered in character.” And again: “If the entire culture of the nation is womanized, it will be in the end weak and without decisive influence on the progress of the world.”

No poetical claim of idealizing their women, of having the utmost confidence in their judgment, will remove from American men the plain stigma of shirking the burdens borne by the men of all other civilized peoples; shirking them for what, up to the present time, have seemed to them of more importance—questions of government and of the practical development of primitive conditions. And yet it was Wendell Phillips who wrote, “Education is the only interest worthy of the deep, controlling anxiety of the thoughtful man.”

As the future of our republic is rooted in the average intelligence of the people, it is difficult to watch with patience the turning over of the mental training of our children to a sex profoundly dominated by the emotions.

Even a young and daring nation cannot fight the laws of nature, and “Nature cannot be dodged.” She makes always for differentiation of function, not for empty repetitions of potentiality among species. The man has his, the woman hers, and our faulty system of education calls aloud for man’s reinstated attention, his profoundest thought.

In this country, “the whole higher culture is feminized.” Eighty-five per cent of the patrons of theatres are women, says our critic. Women are the readers of our books, they make up an American audience at public lectures, concerts. They control our charities and church work. In Europe at least one-half of the people present at an art exhibition are men; in this country one sees less than five per centum of men present at such an exhibition, by actual count. The germ of feminization is firmly planted in the whole national intellectuality, until now woman has the practical monopoly. The purely native resources of our nation and our politics remain in the hands of men; —it is about all they have retained, and the suffragists begrudge them even that.


The responsibility for the present humiliating slave-trade in which rich American girls are sold to the titled decadents of England and the Continent is almost wholly the fault of the men of this country. This opinion is offered only after years of observation and consideration of our social conditions, and after a pathological study of American men. Their open astonishment and chagrin at this phenomenon would be vastly amusing were it not so pathetic. Our men have a helpless inability to see themselves. Nor is the responsibility of the mother lost sight of, for the foreign suitor begins with her, as he does in Europe. She is the outer citadel which must first succumb to his studied charm.

This outer citadel is carried with astonishing ease, as he quickly discovers, and for three reasons. The mother is easily dazzled; her social foundations do not go down deep in the class to which she almost invariably belongs; her husband has made every dollar of the lure of those millions, without which there would not be this problem to solve. Second, the women who see what a given man really is, who estimate him at all justly, who begin even to understand men’s social standards in this country or in Europe, are rare indeed. The American mother is clearly out of her depth at the start, as unfit as a child to counsel her daughter. She is not equipped for it. It is not her work. In the third place, that subtle relationship of sex which European men of any age always have the art of establishing with a woman of whatever age: their attention, their quick courtesy toward women, their habit of listening absorbedly when a woman speaks, — all this is so absolutely new to the American mother that she becomes hypnotized by it, and can no longer distinguish truth from falsity, or a mere national point of etiquette from a personal thoughtfulness and delicate tenderness of feeling.

She, poor soul, at the age most sensitive to flattery, is hungry for a little consideration. When it comes from this foreigner, unhappily there has been nothing in her past like it to help her to see through it to its core. On the contrary, she has been so long used to being treated as a social incumbrance, snubbed, interrupted, unconsidered by all of her daughter’s domestic suitors, that to separate principles from manners, without the aid of her husband, who “leaves it all to her,” in the old, honored American way, is to demand of her impossibilities.

And he, the father? He is so used to the bees flying to and fro about his flower, he is so absolutely absorbed body and soul in his work, he has for so long shunted all such things off on his wife, that he only wakes up and “gets mad,” as the saying is, when it is too late.

Then the astonishment of the thoughtless father and the selfish brother and the discarded, discourteous American suitor, are about equally divided. Any conception that they are in any way responsible for it, never enters their minds. The mother is unjustly blamed for the whole thing. Nor do they withhold the “I told you so,” when the cruel ending comes, as it so often does. As if any mother, even a parvenue American, would have encouraged the suit of the foreigner, if she had not erred in her judgment of men.

After all, though the United States may be the girl’s paradise, it distinctly is not the mother’s. For she must carry the load alone, all but the monetary providing, — alone from the day of the child’s birth to the day her boy kisses her lightly good-by, and goes on his way which she alone, not his weary, absent-minded father, helped him to select.

She carries her daughter, from babyhood, through all of her school-life (what number of American father know even the name of their daughters’ day-schools, or had any part in the selection?) to the day when she too, unterrified through ignorance, opens the door of her own life and goes out hand-in-hand with some unknown man. More than one American mother has told the writer of her weariness in struggling alone with such responsibilities, — “a mother and yet husbandless.”

The American masculine claim of absorption in his work does not in the least justify such a condition. Frenchmen support their wives and still find time to go shopping with them too! Englishmen do likewise, and find energy left to place their sons in school, energy to watch keenly the love-affairs of their daughters, unhesitatingly bidding this or that man be gone; moral courage and physical vitality left after the day’s work to be in fact, as well as in fancy, “the head of the house.” They have the wisdom to leave hours for play, for pure boyishness of living. And all this may be observed in the same middle class that with us turns the whole issue over tot eh wife, expecting of her all wisdom, though knowing her sheltered youth; and all vitality, to run unceasingly and unaided the whole machinery of the family. No wonder our women have “nerves”! No wonder they are becoming more and more restless (one of the first evidences of strain), more and more discontented as time passes. Masculine kindness to our women is sometimes so tangled up with selfishness that there need be no surprise that there is some confusion regarding them.

Not that our men want the money, after which they are striving, for themselves, for their pleasures. They do not. They are almost notoriously generous. Our rich men give, give, give: to their wives, their children, to colleges, to hospitals, to churches, until the whole world is amazed at their generosity.

The habit and fury of work, unreasoning, illogical, quite unrelated to any need, is a masculine disease in this country, and the whole social system has for years paid the inevitable penalty. Here and there a man tries to stop in time, but finds himself obsessed by work so that he can no longer think of anything else. He is as much a slave to it as is any opium-taker to his drug, or drunkard to his potion. It is a grave danger, not only to the individual, but to the whole American civilization.

The young Americans too, who are so contemptuous about our girls’ preference for foreigners, must look to themselves and their shortcomings for some of the cause, and must, with the older men, share the responsibility for it. In the first place, our young men are not good lovers, however in the end they may be good husbands. And what girl of twenty has the foresight to comprehend that?

If she has that foresight she is simply not “in love,” as the phrase goes, — and alas! it takes so much love to carry a woman, any woman, through the tremendous strain of marriage. A very necessary and a very wise foresight is not natural in any maiden, and that is one of the solid advantages of the European system, at which we so glibly sneer.

The difference in the divorce records of Europe and the United States is not all to the credit of any church. Where the head dominates the heart, the results show in the long run in marriage as well as in any other undertaking. The over-sentimentalism in all such matters with us carries with it the gravest of dangers. We expect our girls to “fall in love” and at the same time be their own cool-headed chaperones; girls from whom we carefully hide the living truth. Is there logic in that? The opinion (which has been held for some twenty years) is ventured that the purely temperamental difference between American men and those of England and the Continent, is at the bottom of the freedom we have found it safe to accord our girls. The latter are not so intrinsically impeccable, but the former are by nature temperamentally cold, a condition perhaps due to several generations of overstraining.

No sensitive woman can be in Europe a single day without recognizing this fact beyond all caviling. No man save a trained psychologist would recognize this pathological fact, of which hundreds of average American women-travelers have spoken to the writer, from girls of seventeen to women of fifty. “We women count for so much more over there, don’t we?” is very often the way it is put.

On the other hand, the leisure of our women, their coddling, their luxury of living, has developed them along exactly opposite lines. May not this growing temperamental difference account for some of the tendencies in our civilization that seem obscure?

Our young men lean back and complacently argue that, as their hands and hearts are clean, and as all other men are rascals, in greater or less degree, they should be of course preferred. Have they gone no deeper into the question than that? Would Thisbe have cared as ardently for Pyramis if the Wall had not been there?

Who carry flowers, jellies, books, sympathy to criminals, however hideous their crimes, but the women? The ill-regulated, unreasoning emotionality of a large number of our women is not to be overestimated in determining any question appertaining to them. Women’s Rights women, — so-called, — who naturally affiliate one with another, may shudder and laugh derisively to their heart’s content, but the truth is unassailable, that worth has not yet succeeded in deciding the love-affairs of either sex. Men are in no greater degree attracted by the gentle, well-balanced, womanly girls, who would make excellent wives, than the latter by the honest, disinterested, temperate, clean-hearted men. If men and women did make wise selections the villains would be at hand. Other matters decide such problems. The question of brilliancy of plumage is not so far behind us humans that it no longer counts. Our college men study these matters, but fail to make the atavistic analogy when it comes to social matters in their later lives. Hence their profane rage at the girls when foreigners come fortune-hunting.

If the truth were told, most young American men are not especially interesting. They do not keep up their reading. They have a national obtundity when it comes to music, to art, to literature; nor do many of them take any of these things at all seriously. The young among them are not good conversationalists. Our cleverest men are monologists pure and simple. They lecture admirably. They are born orators along modified lines. They are inevitable story-tellers. None of this is conversation; and women like conversation, like its courtesies, which at least pretend a little interest when their turn comes in the game. Knowledge of people and affairs outside our own country pricks more than one bubble about our young men.

Tired men fill our vaudeville theatres, — for there at least the audience is largely masculine, — even in the daytime. They are too near exhaustion to do more than listen to wit quite easy of comprehension. Our girls are accustomed to amusing these tired men. That joy of being amused, of being interested by a man of the world, is not to be omitted in any just weighing of the question why they find foreigners attractive; and as time passes, in spite of all the bitter disillusionments of the past, our rich girls will make more and more unflattering selections from among suitors from across the sea. And it is full time our young men awakened to their own share in the causes which lead to such a condition. The whole social system of England and of Europe generally spares a girl such shameful sales. The mothers, the fathers, the men about her, are equipped to protect her, and they take the time and spare the energy to do so. Just considered, it is a social, psychic question, quite apart from man’s commercial value in the world.