A shorter Saturday night post.
Conservative culture warriors Kathleen Parker (she of Save the Males) and Marybeth Hicks have opined in complaint this week about President Obama’s creation of a White House Council on Women and Girls.
Both determined anti-feminists, Parker and Hicks wonder why the president hasn’t created a council on men and boys. Parker:
Where’s the White House Council on Men and Boys? Okay, let men fend for themselves. But boys really do need our attention, not only for themselves but also for the girls who will be their wives (we hope) someday. We do still hope that boys and girls grow up to marry, don’t we? Preferably before procreating?
Certainly, the Obamas seem to have this hope. A model family, they undoubtedly want their girls to excel and, eventually, to marry equal partners. But boys won’t be equal to girls if we don’t focus some of our resources on their needs and stop advancing the false notion that girls are a special class of people deserving special treatment.
A council on men and boys would promote stable marriage as the best avenue to improve the lives and living conditions of America’s women and families. A council on men and boys would address the crisis in American manhood that results in the scourge of infidelity, divorce, lack of commitment and fatherhood with multiple partners….
Such a council would work to train a new generation of boys to become real men, who honor and uphold women as equals in the workplace, the community and the home – not because the government regulates such an attitude, but because it’s right.
A council on men and boys also would address the underlying problems that create â€œwomen’s issuesâ€ such as child care, inadequate pay and domestic violence. These aren’t â€œwomen’s issues,â€ but issues related to the systemic collapse of the American family.
And though I’m not sure I’ll ever say this again, but I agree with Parker and Hicks. At least, I agree that a Council on Men and Boys would be very useful, and I would love to see President Obama create just such a White House department. But of course, the vision I have for such a council is worlds apart from that sought by these two conservative pundits.
It’s true that at least in some socio-economic groups, young men are increasingly underperforming their female counterparts in school. It’s true that at least in some subcultures, a large number of young men are disaffected and alienated; many, as brilliantly documented by Michael Kimmel in his magisterial Guyland, are entitled and angry:
Many young men today have a shockingly strong sense of male superiority and a diminished capacity for empathy. They believe that the capacity for empathy and compassion has to be suppressed, early on, in the name of achieving masculinity. That this is true despite the progress of the womenâ€™s movement, parents who are psychologically aware and moral, stunning opportunities for men and women, is disappointing at best. But there is no way around it: Most young men who engage in acts of violence â€” or who watch them and do nothing, or who joke about them with their friends â€” fully subscribe to traditional ideologies about masculinity, The problem isnâ€™t psychological, these guys arenâ€™t deviants. If anything, they are over-conforming to the hyperbolic expressions of masculinity that still inform American culture.
A White House Council on Men and Boys would confront this entitlement and this “diminished capacity for empathy” as the crisis that it is. It would see that traditional masculine ideals, far from being the solution as Hicks suggests, are at the very root of a series of problems; the futile attempt on the part of so many young males to live up to the “Man Code” is at the root of both the epidemic of violence against women and the profound disaffection of so many “guys”. The White House Council on Men and Boys would bring together leaders from the fields of education, sociology, medicine, psychology and gender studies to begin a very public national conversation about the destructive myths of manhood. The Council would identify strategies for developing empathy and the capacity for emotional sophistication in boys at all grade levels; role models would be identified and recruited to offer a new vision not for masculinity, but for simple humanity.
The goal of the Council would be to drive home the message that biology is not destiny. The Council would press the message that one can be born into a male body and still have unlimited emotional and intellectual potential. Traditional masculinity, with its impossible, “hyperbolic” expectations, is a straitjacket so confining that it ends up deforming almost all those who attempt to fit their lives into its rigid, narrow, brutal rules. Few adult men in American society escape unscathed. Even those of us who have worked hardest to unlearn the ugly lessons of “no sissy stuff” and “be a big wheel” often contend for years with a damaged capacity for empathy and emotional depth; the wound of having been taught at an early age not to cry or show fear can take a lifetime to heal. A White House Council on Men and Boys would work to develop curricula for everyone from kindergartners to college students, with age-appropriate materials and workshops and exercises designed to revision what it means to be male. Men from across the socio-economic and ethnic spectra would be recruited to work in elementary education, not as instructors in single-sex classrooms (single-sex education is a dangerous chimera, a false solution) but as teachers and mentors for boys and girls alike. Those who are willing to bring their empathy and their tenderness as well as their maleness to the classroom must be encouraged to pursue careers in early childhood education.
Above all, a White House Council on Men and Boys would understand that feminism is not the enemy; indeed, it would understand exactly the opposite. Feminism offers opportunity: the opportunity for males to live as full and complete human beings, unencumbered by rigid, cruel, and ultimately impossible expectations for violence and prowess. This Council would work with its already existing counterpart to build a world where biology is not an obstacle to female power or male empathy. Parker and Hicks are right. Our boys do need help. But they don’t need help becoming “men”. They need help becoming fully human.