Men without chests

Posted: July 23, 2013 in Musings
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What do Dick Francis and C.S. Lewis have in common?  On the surface, other than both being English writers, not much.  Dick Francis wrote mysteries that all in some way deal with horses, even peripherally, which makes sense, as he was a jockey and one good enough to be the Queen’s jockey.  C.S. Lewis’ books are nothing like that and as far as I know, he had nothing to do with horses.  I enjoy books by both, but you’ll never confuse which author wrote which books.

But one thing both of them had in common was the idea that men should be men.  While re-reading some of Francis’ books, I came across this, which touches on something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot these days: the discouragement and death of independence and risk-taking (even in very small degrees), especially for boys and men, and the emasculation of men that’s going on in our country (and likely in many other as well.)  Note that this was from a book written in 1966.  I doubt things have improved in England; I know they have in the States.

“ Psychology,” Patrick said, with wine and candlelight in his yellow eyes, “is the death of courage.”

“I don’t understand,” protested Gabriella.

“Not for girls,” he said.  “For men.  It is now not considered sensible to take physical risks unless you can’t avoid them.  Ye gods, there’s no quicker way to ruin a nation than to teach its young men it’s foolish to take risks.  Or worse than foolish, they would have you believe.”


“….Historically, it’s fantastic.  What other nation ever went around saying on television and in the press and at parties and things that cowardice is normal and courage is disgusting?  Nearly all nations used to have elaborate tests for young men to prove they were brave.  Now in England they are taught to settle down and want security.  But bravery is built in somewhere in human nature and you can’t stamp it out any more than the sex urge.  So if you outlaw ordinary bravery it bursts out somewhere else, and I reckon that’s what the increase in crime is due to.  If you make enjoying danger seem perverted, I don’t see how you can complain if it becomes so.”

 Flying Finish, Dick Francis  1966

We live in an age where playgrounds are closed because of possible lawsuits if a child falls off a piece of equipment, where dodge ball and other games are considered “human target activities” and banned in some places, where New Jersey wants to  made trash talking illegal*, where a child can be suspended from school for eating a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun **, and where everyone has to get a trophy.  How does this prepare children for a real life, a life full of competition, of winning and losing, dealing with those who won’t always like you and won’t always speak nicely to you… and learning to do so with grace and dignity?  How do we teach boys to be men if they’re always treated like children or, worse yet, like girls.  Don’t get me wrong, I think women need to be strong and to be able to compete and do all sorts of things.  I grew up as a tomboy, so I’m all for strong women.  But men and women are not the same and anyone who tries to push that philosophy is patently blind as well as ignorant.  Boys and men need to learn to be brave, to take risks, to fail and then get up and try again, to love and cherish strong women but not expect to be like them in all ways.

I don’t know that the increase in crime is necessarily due to the death of bravery, but I’d be willing to bet it plays a part.  It seems to me to be sensible to try to figure out way to provide opportunities for bravery to flourish and for boys to have the opportunity to grow into men, men with chests, as C.S. Lewis put it.

“We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

–C.S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man”

Give me a man with a chest, who lives with honor, not one who wears more make-up than I and is unwilling to take risks.   I hope you either have one, if you’re female, or are one, if male.  And if you have boys, help them develop chests and to understand and value honor.  We’ll all be better off.


* “Starting this fall, high school students in New Jersey who taunt each other during games will be subject to investigation not only by the state’s athletic association, but the state’s government.”   (My emphasis.)  Source:


  1. mpejovic says:

    I have two boys and I agree that, especially in schools, teachers expect boys to behave like girls. Quiet in the classroom and quiet on the playground. Boys and girls are definitely different in many ways and the cookie cutter attitude is going too far when schools want all kids to behave and think the same.

    • Many people think that the rise of children, mostly boys, labeled with the ADHD or other letter combinations has to do with expecting them to sit quietly and act like girls. At least in grade school children still generally get recess, but even then, too often they can’t do much of anything to blow of steam. In high school, PE classes are often cut, which doesn’t help either. Everyone needs time to relax by doing physical activity.


  2. Thanks for a very good post – I agree and I hope we are able to make it better.

  3. […] doubt, these are young men from another time where risk is a daily part of their […]

  4. A well written thought provoking piece – I have made a connection from my latest post which has some relevance to this topic.

  5. Bonnie Raitt’s “Real Man” played through my head as I read this!

    Thanks for this post!

  6. John Hardy Bell says:

    As a man who is raising a son, I couldn’t agree with your sentiments more. Wonderful post! Thank you for writing it!

  7. Mavellian says:

    Well said

  8. Very well written post. Sometimes I wonder if they make them (Men with chests) any more at all.