“I Don’t Want Your Guilt (or Your Shame), I Want Your Responsibility”

The Good Men Project runs a small series on “male guilt” today. My column is here: Guilt Is Good, but Responsibility Is Better. Excerpt:

“It’s not your guilt I want, it’s your responsibility!” I often quote that line from Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy to my students who complain of feeling male guilt. I try to always say it with a smile to soften what would otherwise come across as unsympathetic hectoring. I’m not so old I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a young man overwhelmed by a troubled conscience, unsure of the degree of my own collaboration in the Great Crime. Shame is useless, I remind them; but in the end, guilt is only a little less so. Analysis paralysis doesn’t change the world. What changes the world is accepting responsibility.

Responsibility means giving up the excuse of biology or culture to explain behavior that hurts, demeans, or exploits others. Taking responsibility means forgoing the temptation to explain away our bad behavior with appeals to evolutionary psychology, testosterone, or our Y chromosome. It means recovering the capacity for self-reflection, empathy, and articulate self-expression that we suppressed as boys in order to fit in with the other guys. It means talking about the things we were warned not to talk about.

If we’re not willing to do that work because we think it’s too difficult—or not worth doing—then we’re shirking the charge to grow up and become fully human. And if we evade that responsibility, then guilt is exactly what we should feel.

Read the whole thing.

2 thoughts on ““I Don’t Want Your Guilt (or Your Shame), I Want Your Responsibility”

  1. I go to great lengths to distinguish between the Great Crime of patriarchy and the complicity of individual men.

    I can’t swear that I’ve ever seen anyone do this. Having never seen an example, though, I’m not sure what it would even be. Given that you find it a common reaction that the point isn’t received (if it’s made), perhaps that’s not surprising.

    There’s a problem, I know, that socially we tend to divide people into sexist and not sexist, racist and not racist, etc., when the reality is that everyone is sexist to some degree or another, racist to some degree or another. And when we don’t recognise that, it’s hard to own up to it. But at least if I’m sexist, or misogynistic, or whatever, I can try to fix what’s done, or try to stop doing it in the future. When we talk about male privilege, though, it’s hopeless. Being a man isn’t something I do, it’s something that’s imposed on me by other people, so I can’t stop or control that. Of course everyone will either deny it or feel guilty, those are the only two things one can actually do.

  2. “Responsibility means giving up the excuse of biology or culture to explain behavior that hurts, demeans, or exploits others. Taking responsibility means forgoing the temptation to explain away our bad behavior with appeals to evolutionary psychology, testosterone, or our Y chromosome. It means recovering the capacity for self-reflection, empathy, and articulate self-expression that we suppressed as boys in order to fit in with the other guys. It means talking about the things we were warned not to talk about.”

    EDIT:

    Responsibility means four failed marriages. Taking responsibility means cheating with your own students. It means actively engaging in paternity fraud. It means talking about the things we were warned not to talk about.

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