My brother’s fifth (and timely book) is published in England today: Shakespeare and the Remains of Richard III . (Oxford UP) It was begun before confirmation of the discovery of the body of the last of the Plantagenets. Get thee a copy.
I may be off social media, but I can’t say no to an interview. Today I’m in the UK Telegraph The rise and fall of America’s most infamous ‘male feminist’: Hugo Schwyzer:
He admits this desire to be commercial has impacted on the brand on male feminism he espouses. “The serious sort of feminists I grew up with would have looked at what I was writing and would have said it was frivolous. My mother is a classic second-wave feminist when I was growing up. She was very disappointed in the direction my feminism took. She wanted me to be writing about wage equality and things like that. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in that, but it wasn’t sexy enough.”
Despite his own behaviour Schwyzer still believes that male feminism has a place. “Feminism points out ways in which rigid gender roles don’t work out for men and women – particularly for women. But not by any means exclusively for women, we’re all handicapped
“Maybe the most obvious generic example is that we live in a culture where young women in the work place are invariably sexualised which can be deeply uncomfortable and which young men at home and in the work place are not allowed to express a full range of emotions. Women can’t unsex themselves and boys can’t cry.”
But what do men add to the argument? “Male feminists play a vital role by bringing up the male aspect of this. We know what it’s like to live in a male body, we know what it’s like to have testosterone. And we can answer the question is testosterone driving us? Or is it a tool?” he shares candidly.
And one more: my post today at Times of Israel looks at the misuse of a familiar word: Why do we call terrorists who are willing to die for their cause “cowards?” Excerpt:
Coward is the epithet of choice when referring to terrorists, even when it so regularly seems misapplied. American comedian Bill Maher was famously forced off the air after the September 11 attacks. His offense? Daring to suggest that calling the hijackers “cowards” made no sense, as a willingness to give up one’s life was an inoculation against the charge. Chastened by his example no one has dared point out the obvious problem in continuing to use the term for men who are prepared to die. Coward is such a necessary word that its use must not be questioned. But why?
It was Homer who introduced the idea that cowardice was the worst of all masculine failings. Heroism, he argued, was indistinguishable from physical bravery – and to be seen as lacking courage was the greatest disaster that could befall a man. “How can I face my fellow Trojans if I walk away from battle like a coward?” argues Hector to his wife, shortly before he meets his doom. Odysseus reminds himself that “Cowards flee the fight, but a hero in war stands stubbornly, whether he be smitten or whether he smite another.” It’s not that cowardice meant something different to Homer than it does to us – Odysseus’ remark could be uttered nearly verbatim by a contemporary MMA fighter. It’s that Homer believed cowardice, especially a cowardice that was seen by others, deserved elevation above every other failing.
Read it all here.
This piece first ran in Relevant Magazine in April 2012. Following the revelations about me, the site chose to take the post down. I am reposting it here for anyone who might still find value within it.
It’s spring again; time for some to talk baseball, others to talk graduation or prom or taxes. For some Christians, springtime is also the favorite time to lecture girls about keeping their hemlines long and their necklines high; it’s the season for the “modesty wars.”
If you’ve been around the Christian blogosphere long enough, or been in a youth group any time in, oh, the past 30 years, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve heard or read the usual catchphrases and snatches of proof texts: “don’t cause a brother to stumble;” “don’t let your vanity be a man’s undoing;” “faith matters more than fashion.” Don’t get me wrong; I think these discussions are important. How we dress – and more basically, how we carry our bodies out into community – matters. Yet these discussions (or lectures) often end up shaming rather than encouraging the young people who are their targets. That shame falls on both sexes, albeit in very different ways.
Our contemporary cultural dialogue about men emphasizes the decisive role that biology plays in driving behavior. Evolutionary psychologists, brain researchers, and TV doctors regularly produce studies “proving” that men are hardwired to be visually stimulated or to cheat on their wives. The emphasis is on men’s helplessness in the face of their own physiology, an emphasis that many women find disillusioning and many men find disheartening.
The response of the church has been to reframe basic male decency as Christlike heroism. The language of books like the ubiquitous Every Man’s Battle frames the struggle against sexual sin as the greatest war that most guys will ever fight. Where the New Testament treats lust as one sin among many, contemporary Christian rhetoric — influenced by the secular pop science of the likes of Dr. Phil — elevates lust to a status of first among definitely-not equals. (Far fewer bestselling books and articles get written about anger or pride.)
This reframing fails both men and women. It fails men by insisting that they can’t gaze at an attractive woman without automatically lusting for her; it denies any possibility that the average man can appreciate female beauty without desiring to possess it. If a man claims to be able to “look” without lusting, he’s too often accused of denial at best and rank dishonesty at worst. If a woman says that she believes that men can gaze without carnal desire, we call her foolishly naïve. A self-fulfilling prophecy is created; if men are taught they can’t separate a delight in beauty from a longing for sex, they won’t. Continue reading
Since July 30, I’ve been living with my mother in my hometown, Carmel. Through four hospitalizations and much emotional turmoil the past two months, I’ve called this house home once more. It is not easy.
One of my pledges for a return to writing was that I wouldn’t engage in exploitative memoir any longer. I wrote too many pieces about my exes that, while accurate as to fact, needlessly exploited private exchanges for page views. So in the spirit of contrition, I won’t write about the breakdown of my marriage to Eira. The root causes of what are now divorce proceedings are essentially public knowledge now.
On July 30, a counselor told Eira and me that we needed to separate as soon as possible as our marriage was over. Three hours later, I was on a flight to Monterey. I have not seen my soon-to-be ex-wife or my children since.
When that flight landed and the taxi came to a stop, I was home. My mother bought this house in 1974, when I was seven; I lived here until I was 18. And for the first time since I was 18, I’m living under my mom’s roof again, sleeping in the same bed I called my own as a boy.
Mom is 76, on the cusp of being genuinely elderly. She has her moments of great energy offset by those of lassitude. What doesn’t vary is her concern for me, a concern as comforting as it is oppressive. I’ve been the designated patient in my family since I was a teen; for nearly 30 years, my mother has worried about my mental health, my addictions, my penchant for self-destruction. Continue reading
One of the things about psych meds is that there are brief windows when it is possible to work and write. My first piece since my breakdown began runs today at Times of Israel.
I’ve left the Kabbalah Centre, but wanted to pay tribute to the kindness of its longtime leader, Rav Berg. An excerpt:
I studied Kabbalah at the Centre’s Los Angeles flagship location for a decade. The Centre drew me, a patrilineal Jew with Anglican impulses, and it drew my wife, a cradle Catholic. We joined the Centre a year before the Rav had his stroke, and were privileged to hear him lecture. Our children were given their Hebrew names by Rav Berg, and my son received his brit milah on the lap of a then-frail but still lively spiritual master.
While some will remember Berg as a divisive charlatan and others will revere him as a saint on par with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I will remember the kind and gentle man who stroked my son’s cheeks during his brit. I will remember the man who, when I asked him to bless my wife and me with a child, replied with a kiss and the words “I’ll be hearing your good news soon.”
The whole thing here.
I will not be returning to my teaching position at Pasadena City College, a position I have held since 1993.
I am on medical leave for the entire fall semester, and in early 2014, will transition into disability retirement status. I do not anticipate returning to the classroom at PCC, or anywhere else for that matter.
UPDATE: To be very clear, I’m struggling with an ongoing problem with mental illness. I have been hospitalized on involuntary holds five times this summer. The repeated insinuation that I’m not really ill is infuriating: people who’ve never met me offer diagnoses as well as assertions that I’m “faking it” all. I’m on five medications: Zyprexa, Depakote, Invega, Lexapro, and Lithium. I’m meeting with therapists constantly.
This is a desperately difficult time for me and my family, and in the view of my psychiatrist, it is a time for me to take disability retirement. (A disability retirement is processed through the State Teachers Retirement System, not the college.)
Second UPDATE: My wife and I have agreed to separate. Eira and I are pledged to an amicable and cooperative divorce that prioritizes the well-being of our children.
I wrote nearly two weeks ago that I’d be taking a break from online writing. I intend to continue to do so. I want to be a bit more specific as to why.
For one, the toxicity of take-down culture is exhausting and dispiriting. The cheapest and easiest tweets and articles to compose are snarky and clever dismantlings of what someone else has worked hard to create. The defenders of this culture of fierceness call it intellectual honesty, but it is an honesty too often edged in cruelty. I’ll admit It: I’m a most imperfect man. I have an absolutely dreadful past, one for which I continue to make quiet amends. I’m also frequently a smug and sloppy writer. But despite that past and my glib prose, I don’t think I’m wrong that when it comes to a concerted effort to drive me off the internet, I’ve been more sinned against than sinning.
So I’m done. I surrender the field to the critics who wanted me gone from feminist spaces.
Secondly, my family and I have been through a very difficult time as late, the details of which are saved for close friends but which are linked to this internet business. Contrary to rumors, I have kept my sobriety but it has been a near run thing. My fragile mental health and my relationship with my wife and children must take first priority.
I’m not “flouncing.” I’m not mad. I’m sad and hurt by a culture in which what we can say online is policed by clever cynicism masquerading as progressive outrage. I’ve tried for ten years and I’ve had a little success and a lot of failure and made many wonderful friends. I wish you all well.
And perhaps, in a long time, in a different capacity, I’ll be back to a public life.
UPDATE: Perhaps ill-advisedly, I did an interview with Kat Stoeffel at New York Mag yesterday. She captured my words almost verbatim, and as self-absorbed and tone-deaf as they may come across in spots, it’s an accurate interview with which I can have no complaints. The unflattering portrayal is my doing, not Kat’s.
As a personal update and partial explanation, I am out of the hospital after a psychiatric hold and I’m on a cluster of drugs that affect my mood, my judgment, and my capacity to engage. While I stand by the interview, those drugs (including heavy doses of Lithium, Klonopin and so forth) played a part in the poor way I framed things. Nonetheless, I take full responsibility for every word I said, save for the unkind remark about XoJane publisher Jane Pratt. I’d also like to clarify that the Good Men Project has changed substantially since Tom Matlack left, and has become a more feminist-friendly site than when I was forced out.
Through all this public career, I have carefully (or not so) concealed a serious mental illness that has once again come to the fore. If nothing else, I ask for prayers for my wife Eira, my daughter Heloise, and my son David. They are innocents in this story.
And I will be doing no more interviews. I’m gone.
For a host of reasons, it’s become necessary for me to take some time away from both social media and regular online writing. I’ll soon be leaving my most recent contributing gig at The Atlantic, and I’ll be off Facebook and Twitter and so forth.
I started blogging exactly ten years ago, and switched to writing columns at various sites three years ago. It’s time for an extended break.
This coming Saturday, July 20, will mark the 165th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Sentiments at the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Most historians choose to mark the beginning of the organized American feminist movement from this moment, which had its antecedents in the abolitionist and temperance struggles that had begun earlier in the nineteenth century. (Parenthetically, I’m feeling old: it seems like five minutes ago that I was talking to my summer school students about the 150th anniversary. Fifteen years have flown by.)
The Declaration is elegant, powerful, and beautiful. Modeled in part on the Declaration of Independence, the document sets forth a list of the various ways in which a male dominated society has deprived women of what is naturally theirs, just as Jefferson’s declaration contained a long list of grievances against the British Crown. And though many issues were on the table at the Seneca Falls convention, the document makes clear that three causes, above all others, were of paramount concern:
1. The Right to Vote
2. The Right to Own Property
3. The Right to Education.
None who signed the document in 1848 would live long enough to see all of these rights won, though we can say with some satisfaction that for the vast majority of American women today, what were once distant goals are now common-place reality. But I always point out to my students that the Declaration of Sentiments wasn’t just concerned with winning political rights for women. It was also a call to transform how women thought about themselves. The last of the grievances listed:
He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.
In other words, three hallmarks of patriarchal and misogynistic culture are a lack of self-confidence, an absence of self-respect, and an unwillingness on the part of women and girls to embrace independence from men. Read positively, our foremothers at Seneca Falls, eight score years ago, saw that real liberation was not merely about providing political, economic, and educational rights for women — though of course, those rights were indispensable. Real liberation had to be internal as well as external. And what the framers of the Declaration knew was that real freedom for women would and could only come when a culture had been created that was as psychologically empowering as it was politically egalitarian.
Winning rights has proven easier than changing cultural values. The popular culture, with its tyrannical insistence on female physical perfection, has undermined the confidence of (by now) several generations of young American women. The pressure to live up to impossibly high familial and societal expectations has robbed just as many of their self-respect. (An old post on “respect” is here). And 165 years after Seneca Falls, after three successive waves of feminism, we still find ourselves combatting cultural forces that promote the most noxious lie of all: that for women, more so than for men, the most profound happiness is always contingent upon a heterosexual relationship that has been blessed with children. We teach women, in countless ways, the lie that dependency is liberation, that true freedom lies in sublimating your own wants to that of another. We still teach far too many women that the pursuit of self-sufficiency is a recipe for loneliness and isolation, and that in order to have meaning and purpose for one’s life, one must be willing to surrender completely to love and its dictates.
Self-confidence, self-respect, and independence (emotional and economic) are vital feminist concerns. It was 165 years ago on Saturday that the framers of the Declaration of Sentiments first centered these three goals in the struggle for women’s freedom. And though the political goals of 21st century feminism have changed quite a bit from those of 1848, the essential struggle for women’s self-confidence, self-respect, and independence continues. The personal is indeed political, and even more importantly, politics needs to be concerned with the intensely personal. Public freedom is a good, but so too is private happiness. And feminism, at its glorious and transformative best, is concerned with winning both — for women, yes, but, ultimately for all of us.
On Saturday, raise a glass to the women (and their many male allies) who came together 165 years ago this weekend to launch a movement whose achievements have transformed our world for the better, and though the struggle may yet be long, whose final victory is assured.