Mad Men, Modern Family: the 2014 WYA North America Emerging Leaders Conference

A few weekends ago, I had the chance to attend World Youth Alliance’s conference “Mad Men, Modern Family: Examining the Role of Men in Social Development.” It was my first WYA event, and it was a great experience.

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The most striking feature of the conference was the opportunity for dialogue it provided. Despite constant claims of tolerance, modern America has produced and fiercely defends an implicit form of orthodoxy about sex, gender, and the family. Questioning these views is the modern equivalent of heresy. But, as Plato tells us, the unexamined life is not worth living, and this conference provided a chance for an examination of the lives of men and women and their natures as such.

1800083_339436449570942_6910167273241580519_oThe first talk, given by Dr. Bradford Wilcox, examined the effects committed fatherhood (and lack thereof) has on men and children. The talk was sociological in nature and relied heavily upon statistics to explain the increasing rates of fatherlessness in America. This provided much fodder for reflection, in particular, on how our cultural conception of the family is not just changing, but changing in harmful, concrete, and observable ways – to the detriment of the stability needed to raise emotionally healthy children.

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            The second talk, given by Dr. Paul Nathanson and Dr. Katherine Young, authors of a series of books on misandry, was entitled, “A Revolutionary History of Men” and argued (among other things) that men in popular culture have come to be seen as one of three things: stupid, evil, or “honorary women.” This led to serious consideration of just what man’s place in the modern family can be. Throughout the course of the conference, I was often given the opportunity to consider how, though we may mock Victorian sensibilities on many subjects, the modern world has its taboos too. We are taught that we can do anything we want with our sexuality so long as it’s consensual. Further, we are told that we can restructure the family in any way we please, without ramifications to the health of people and cultures.

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The final lecture, “Women: Media, Technology and the Obsolescence of Gender,” was given by Dr. Read Mercer Schuchardt. Throughout, Dr. Schuchardt, who specializes in media ecology, considered how modern technology has created an environment in which sex is androgynized, arguing that we have ceased to value the beauty of human gender and the family. Instead, we have moved from the myth of the hermaphrodite (opposites attract) to the myth of Narcissus as the new principle of online dating (I love you because you remind me so much of me).

This year’s Emerging Leaders Conference allowed participants to consider the taboos implicit in our culture, with regards to sexuality, while critically evaluating our own contemporary myths about sexuality. The post-modern world has a very odd relationship with doubt. It seems encouraged (or nearly required) in most instances. Yet we are told never to doubt the previous generation’s doubts regarding traditional sexual standards. So, what to do? We, as young people, have the responsibility to question our vision of the human person and the reasons why this vision has changed so radically in the past century. Only by critically examining the world views we are presented with can we be sure that our aim is one that serves to promote and protect the dignity of every human person—man, woman, and child.

To see more photos from the event visit: https://www.facebook.com/WorldYouthAlliance.NA

To watch lectures and panel discussions from the event visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMcUaeckzPo&list=UUQXlddQEsMFd5jRrDbkOuuw 

written by Felix Miller, a 2014 WYANA ELC participant from the College of St. Mary Magadalen in New Hampsire, USA.