Friday, July 8, 2011

Feminism: The Lightning Rod of Male Insecurity

When formulating my views, I have consciously attempted to take the route of Descartes: to forget or ignore (as best I can) all preconceptions, and begin from scratch. I even have my own proof for the existence of the self:

Incognito ergo sum

Roughly translated (remember, it’s so much more elegant and deep in Latin): I wear disguises, therefore I am. In other words: in order to pretend, there must be a pretender.

So, that’s where I’m coming from. A blank slate, and one which is a little warped, at that.

When I see people put so much stock in something ridiculous, I just don’t feel sympathy for them when their assumptions are challenged. Lately, it has been brought to my attention how insecure some men are, and it’s all thanks to feminism.

There is quite a bit of talk of masculinity among men seeking to explain the horrors of feminism. What does it mean to be a man?

I’ve seen a lot of definitions, but I am compelled to note the immortal words spoken by Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski.” When asked, “What makes a man? ... is it doing the right thing, no matter the cost?” the Dude replied, “Mmm, that and a pair of testicles.”

This is not to say that someone like Lance Armstrong is half a man. Rather, it is to say that what fundamentally makes a man is determined by nature, not nurture. The whole nurture bit is all that bullshit hammered into our heads by parents, religion, art, and whatever the hell Disney movies are.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll ignore the presence of various mutations that result due to additional or missing sex chromosomes, and I will also just gloss over transsexuals by saying that I acknowledge they feel like the gender with which they identify naturally. For the purposes of this discussion, I will only be dealing with simple male and female gender, though I feel obliged to acknowledge additional complexity.

I hesitate to use this word, because I don’t see masculinity as a religion (because, you know… it isn’t) and this world is tied with religion, though it need not be. Regardless, masculinity is a myth, like femininity. There is an entire mythology to masculinity and femininity, and many women have been actively altering female mythology over the past couple centuries in the West. If this wasn’t enough to piss some men off, some women are also actively trying to alter the mythology of men.

But let’s drop the religious-sounding language, in favor of a more empirical, scientific terminology. In a sense, masculinity has been an experiment. If I may be so bold, I am obliged to say that in many ways it has failed.

Masculinity has undoubtedly succeeded in some respects. We are still here as a species, after all. But if mere survival is our end goal, I believe we are setting our sights rather low as men.

Statistically, men are falling behind. The feminist experiment in redefining femininity has been an indisputable success. More women are earning advanced degrees, women commit far less crime, and women live longer than men. Women are on the whole happier and kill themselves less often. In nearly every modern measure of success, men have fallen behind. We can make jokes about it or pretend these things as unimportant, but the facts remain.

This situation is largely a function of how the male ideal is stuck in the past. Masculinity is a fossil, and men tend to pride themselves on the most inconsequential things. My internal 12-year-old is itching to tell me, in response to the above examples of female superiority, “Yeah, but I could take any woman in a fight!”

Well, first of all: no, internal 12-year-old, not with this body. I could probably take a lot of women, but there are some tough ladies, and this flabby pile of adipose tissue wouldn’t stand a chance against a whole slew of female professional athletes, or just women who are physically imposing compared to my chubby 5’11” frame.

Second of all, who cares if I can beat someone up? This is the age of the gun, the great equalizer. All the testosterone in the world won’t give me a physique that is bulletproof. Besides, in a society, it is not the individual that matters in situations of physical violence. The very basis of society itself is focused on neutralizing such inequalities, acting as a group for justice. This is why there are police and armies: because using force in a large, organized fashion can minimize the impact of injustice among individuals (while, of course, opening the door to a whole new kind of injustice… but that is another issue entirely).

Of course, the majority of male detractors of feminism aren’t using this as their argument (even if they’re thinking it, but are considering whether to comment on how they never would). A popular one, and one I have used in the past, is that feminism focuses too much on women.

I tend to file this one under the “no shit, Sherlock” category. Seeing a guy make this argument is tantamount to a white person saying, “Yeah, but what has the NAACP ever done for me?” I’ll tell you the benefit of these special interest groups that seek to expand the rights of certain demographics: a more equitable society.

On top of that, I have a news flash for men: not everything is about us. If you’re a male (especially white… and this is the internet, so let’s be honest, you’re probably white), I urge you to read that last sentence again, and maybe a third time, too. If that offends you, ask yourself: why? Is it because you know it’s true, or because you wish it wasn’t true (because it most certainly is true)? It’s not offensive to me at all, nor to any other mentally stable and emotionally adjusted man. There is frankly no reason for an adult to have an ego that is too sensitive to be told that the world does not revolve around them.

If it’s too much for you to accept that other people have problems, I honestly am not sure what hope there is for you.

Though honestly, it’s not necessarily an issue of selfishness that drives male hostility for feminism. Instead, there are those who see feminism as a human idea, and is therefore subject to all of the imperfections inherent in human ideas.

Without question, one could decide to cherry pick examples from feminism and say, “Look, here, feminism is an extremist group of crazy, man-hating dykes who practice witchcraft and eat aborted baby sushi rolls while using a butcher knife to carve ‘pig’ into the skin of a man chained to a radiator.” You could say that, but I hope that at least atheists would know better.

I mean honestly, if you’re an atheist, have you not learned anything from people trying to shove Stalin and Mao in your face like they constitute a good representation of atheism? If you’re a Christian, I understand why you might be so clueless, but atheists supposedly pride themselves on logic.

To point to failures in a vast field of feminists does not succeed in proving anything except that feminism is not perfect. What more, I see so few tangible examples of feminists overstepping their boundaries. I mostly see extremists pointing to perfectly reasonable feminist ideas (like eliminating the pay gap or fighting against the perception that women are responsible for rape because of how they dress), and then I see “moderates” who feel obliged to frame the debate as if there are two equal sides, each as acceptable as the other.

I mentioned masculinity as an experiment earlier, and before that as a mythology being altered by feminists. It doesn’t have to be feminists or women who alter the course of masculinity. It just happens to include them because so few men are acknowledging the need to redefine what it means to be a man. Women are doing us a favor, but men don’t want help. Men shrug off help; we want to do it ourselves.

Women have gone from barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen to outpacing men in many areas of intellectual achievement in a relatively short time. I would feel comfortable putting masculinity in their hands, but I have a feeling that nothing women come up with will please men. Ultimately, and all women know this, if you want to get a man to change his mind, you have to get him to believe he thought of it himself.

It all comes back to that ego…

So, I’ll step up and take some initiative in the gender war. I submit to you, my gentle reader, my new model for masculinity, based on what has not worked for men and what has worked for women.

First of all, the whole “machismo” bullshit has got to go. Say good-bye to that obsession with guns, weapons, fast cars, motorcycles… you know, all that stuff you bought to compensate for your tiny penis. If you just have to get off on taking a risk, be a real man and try telling that girl you’ve been dating for years that you love her and just get married already.

Another problem, and this is the one I struggle with, is that men are easily side-tracked. Porn comes to mind (it often does), but there are plenty of other male-dominated distractions, from sports to video games. Entire billion dollar industries run solely on wasting (primarily) men’s time. Obviously, some women are into this stuff, but there is a social stigma attached to it for women, and this is enough to provide the vast majority of women who do enjoy these things a reason to distance themselves from becoming obsessed.

In other words: it’s socially acceptable (for whatever reason) for men to be insanely into something like sports, and for it to dominate his time and even detract from his life. These things should not be banned or limited, but should instead be socially treated in a manner that discourages so many bright and promising young men from throwing away countless hours on things that won’t provide serious benefit. Basically, it should not be masculine to throw away your life on frivolity.

Men also do drugs at a higher rate, which has a similar outcome, with the added problem that this activity also ends up being the main source of male inmates (and probably female inmates, though I might be wrong). In many ways, ending the drug war would be a great boon to men, especially black men, for while drug use probably would not go down (and may even rise), the detrimental effects of drug use pale in comparison to being convicted of a crime.

Perhaps the biggest complaint of wives is that men don’t help out enough around the house (including child care), and most don’t. Even if you have a job, it’s still your responsibility to do some things around the house. Your wife is not your maid. In fact, chances are she probably has a job, too. It does everyone (male or female) some good to know what goes into cleaning and maintaining a house. If you never clean, you probably won’t realize what a horrible mess you make. If anything, gritting your teeth and just doing some chores can provide you with a little appreciation for your spouse.

I could keep going, but this is more than enough for one post. If you somehow made it to the end of this, congratulations are in order. I hope this makes a decent start, but I’m sure at some point in the foreseeable future that I will be delving into this idea of redefining masculinity more fully.

1 comment:

  1. “The following day, I attended a workshop about preventing gender violence, facilitated by Katz. There, he posed a question to all of the men in the room: “Men, what things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?”

    Not one man, including myself, could quickly answer the question. Finally, one man raised his hand and said, “Nothing.” Then Katz asked the women, “What things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?” Nearly all of the women in the room raised their hand. One by one, each woman testified:

    “I don’t make eye contact with men when I walk down the street,” said one.
    “I don’t put my drink down at parties,” said another.
    “I use the buddy system when I go to parties.”
    “I cross the street when I see a group of guys walking in my direction.”
    “I use my keys as a potential weapon.”

    The women went on for several minutes, until their side of the blackboard was completely filled with responses. The men’s side of the blackboard was blank. I was stunned. I had never heard a group of women say these things before. I thought about all of the women in my life — including my mother, sister and girlfriend — and realized that I had a lot to learn about gender.”

    From 'Why I Am A Male Feminist' (http://www.theroot.com/views/why-i-am-male-feminist)

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