A few weeks back I came across an opinion piece in the Washington Post about masculinity by Christine Emba, a young woman. Despite my initial skepticism of reading yet another article by a woman talking about men’s problems, I found it compelling and thoughtful and humane.

Men are facing a world where the old truths and values have undergone tectonic shifts. The mid-century modern version of masculinity that I imbibed, involving stoicism, striving, endurance, protectiveness, and providing for family seems to be passing away.

Instead, we read about “toxic masculinity.” Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there are some aspects of masculinity that lend themselves to insensitivity, selfishness, stupidity, self-destruction and even violence. Still, it’s the lack of a clear positive vision that is troubling.

Some years back, in what is memorable as the worst day-long in-service session I ever attended, the woman at the podium mentioned casually that experts say we should raise our sons more like the way we raise our daughters. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t stand up immediately and ask her who in Halifax she was to tell us how to raise our children.

Raise a boy as though he’s a girl and you’ll either get what C. S. Lewis called “men without chests” or perhaps a “sensitive New Age Guy.” Then, you might also get somebody who adopts a “nonbinary” identity because “they” have no appealing ideal of postmodern masculinity.

In 2019, the American Psychological Association issued a statement that said, “traditional masculinity — marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression — is, on the whole, harmful.” Men, they said, benefit from and are harmed by patriarchy.

Maybe they think that whininess, acquiescence, and timidity are somehow manly virtues, but I admire many of those traits, especially stoicism. In fact, I think stoicism should be encouraged as part of resiliency against forces and events we cannot change. Stoicism and striving, working together, are a good recipe for human flourishing.

In her article Emba focuses on Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychologist who, along with being an “anti-woke” activist, has devoted much of his time to the psychological well-being of young people, especially men. Though skeptical, she attended one of his lectures based on his book “12 Rules for Life” and found it rather banal, with rules such as “clean your room.” But then a young man in front of her turned around and said in all sincerity, “Jordan Peterson taught me how to live.”

I have mixed opinions about Peterson, but on balance they are mostly positive. He appeals to young men to better themselves, and has a fairly traditional and overall decent view of what it means to be a man, to take responsibility, to treat yourself and others with dignity, and to work for a better life.

Unfortunately, Peterson is not the only one offering a vision of masculinity. There’s a fellow who goes by the pseudonym of Bronze Age Pervert who is both very well read and clownish, and who spouts a Nietzschean ethic of domination, misogyny, and power. He seems quite the rage among bright young men who find their futures circumscribed, marriage and home ownership out of reach, and even dating awkward and rare.

Then there are people like Andrew Tate, who says outrageous things about women and power. For example, he believes that women belong to men, should be in the home, and can’t drive. Occasionally what he says makes some sense, but from what I’ve seen, you have to dive deep in the sludge to find the odd pearl.

Ross Douthat once observed that if you don’t like the Christian right, just wait for the post-Christian right. There’s a movement of angry, resentful worshipers of power and masculinity that is quite at home with—and I use the word carefully—fascist ideology.

But Emba actually loves men, as family, friends, and lovers, and her article shows it. She talks to people who are interested in positive values of masculinity.

One of these is Richard V. Reeves, whose book “Of Boys and Men” addresses the problems of masculinity in a more mainstream way. He points out that men are sometimes reluctant to talk too much about their issues, and he repeats the observation that women relate to each other face-to-face, men shoulder-to-shoulder. They don’t talk about these things because, as one commentator says, “the destination is Therapy.”

Mental health counseling is a heavily female dominated profession. Education and academia, and even the clergy, are increasingly the domain of feminine values. Men feel alienated from this.

So where do we go from here? A few scattershot observations.

Men need to talk to men about masculinity. Women should practice sympathetic listening. Discussions of patriarchy (which is rapidly receding) and “toxic” masculinity need to be conducted without rancor and nagging.

We need to take into account the life cycle, that young men and middle-aged men and old men have distinct needs and contributions. Fatherhood and marriage are important parts of masculinity, but childless and single men also need focus and purpose. So do gay men.

It takes men to make other men, and this is particularly important with vulnerable and impoverished boys who are not guided by fathers or uncles or other wholesome masculine role models. As a Black woman, Emba is aware of research on this.

We should develop ideas of human excellence, what in older times we were not ashamed to call the virtues. Traditional ideas are subject to challenge, but not all challenges are successful. Jettison what should go, retain the values that should endure.

It’s hard for boys to become the right kind of men. But doing hard things is exactly what men are good at.