Anders Breivik, anti-feminist MRA?

I was asked to write a short piece on Norway for the Good Men Project. Here’s Anders Breivik, Anti-Feminist MRA?

The last two paragraphs:

The mass murder of so many young people (of both sexes) may well have been his way of cutting down not only the best and the brightest of the future Norwegian progressive elite, but of killing off those who were personally and ideologically committed to the idea that men and women are radically equal.

Those who died at Utoya were not chosen at random. They were killed because of who they were and who they were going to become. Judging by the values of their parents and their party, these martyred young people were radically committed to pluralism, to progress, and to sexual justice. Those were the causes they gathered for on that little island, and those commitments were the reason they died.

Please comment at the Good Men Project, not here.

“Cuckolding is the worst thing that can happen to a man”

If the comments below my last two posts (based on my “13 year-old son?” piece from Monday) seem hostile, you should see the ones that were deleted in the moderation queue. The Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) have stirred themselves into quite the tizzy, with posts like this one representing some of the more moderate response.

Leaving aside the admittedly complex specifics of the Hugo/Jill/Ted/Alastair situation, what strikes me is the way in which so many of the MRAs have framed this as a cuckolding issue. The term “cuckold” is a very old term for a man who unknowingly raises another guy’s biological children, thanks to an unfaithful wife. (See the wiki.) It’s not an accurate term to use in my scenario, but the fact that this is such a profound fear for some men is worth exploring.

One classic theory of patriarchy assumes that men’s desire to control women is rooted in the fear of being cuckolded. A woman is never in doubt as to who the mother of her child is, but for reasons of basic physiology, men can never have that same reassurance. The need to control women’s sexuality (insisting on pre-marital virginity and post-marital fidelity; female genital mutilation; the insistence on modest dress) may well all be rooted in responses to this ancient, fundamental masculine anxiety. It’s a cruel calculus: the more I can control the women in my life (and the less sexual expression I permit them), the greater the likelihood that my offspring will in fact be “mine.”

I don’t think I’d realized how alive and well this fear is. See this comment from Amir, whose words I noted yesterday:

I have a beautiful son and if he was not mine my world would end. And
yes, I would no longer love him if he didn’t have my genes. My genes
makes him my son before all the environmental influences.

Another MRA commenter at GMP compared cuckolding to rape, only worse. Daniel writes:

This is horrifying.

Cuckolding is the worst thing that can happen to a man. If my son would have the genes of another man my life would end. This is much worse than a rape and is accepted unpunished by the justice system. Rape can last for several minutes but this is years and years of deceit and lies. I despise all the men and women supporting understanding this.

If you read through the lengthy and often vile comment sections at GMP and Jezebel (or at the “Voice for Men” site), you’ll see that Amir and Daniel are, alas, far from unusual in their insistence that love depends upon shared DNA.

As a father, I have nothing but contempt for any man whose love is contingent as Amir’s and Daniel’s so clearly is. If I were to find out that Heloise was not my biological daughter, I’d be stunned (and shocked at my wife’s deception.) It might change my relationship with Eira — but it sure as hell wouldn’t change my relationship with Heloise. Coming from an extended family where half-siblings and adoptees and step-children abound, I know how absurd it is to link devotion and biology. What makes Heloise “mine” has damn all to do with my DNA — and everything to do with the energy and devotion and commitment I have put into my relationship with her since she was in her mama’s womb.

There is nothing wrong with expecting a partner who has promised to be faithful to keep that promise. (A reminder, Ted and Jill were not in an exclusive relationship when she last slept with me.) It’s perfectly reasonable to be devastated by betrayal. But there’s a world of difference between the hurt of infidelity and the fear of being cuckolded. Eira made me a promise when we were married that she wouldn’t sleep with other men. If she broke that promise, it would alter my relationship with her significantly. But Heloise made no such representations. The circumstances of her conception (and the sperm used to conceive her) have nothing — nothing — to do with my devotion to this remarkable little girl, whose sweetness would be no less delightful if she didn’t have my DNA.

It’s telling that the atavistic fear of cuckolding still runs so strong in the men’s rights activists. And given that so many of them are associated with the “father’s rights” movement, it’s telling as well that their definition of “father” is so fragile, so contingent, so limited, and so utterly narcissistic.

Good Men — and MRAs

Today at Good Men Project Magazine, an issue devoted to covering the Men’s Rights Movement and Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs). Senior editor Henry Belanger, who catches my subject-verb agreement problems every week for my column, sets the tone in this piece. And we’ve got articles from staunch anti-feminist MRAs like Paul Elam and Zeta Male. I’m joined this week in presenting the other side by Amanda Marcotte, whom I’m thrilled to have as a guest at GMPM. Amanda’s post is sensibly titled The Solution to MRA Problems? More Feminism.

More articles tomorrow and throughout the week.

I learned from Henry that Dan Moore, the publisher of Menz Magazine, described me as “the Darth Vader of Men’s Issues” in a note to the Good Men Project. There’s something just so perfect about an MRA using a Star Wars reference! In any case, here’s my weekly column: How Men’s Rights Activists Get Feminism Wrong.

A happy International Women’s Day, Feminist Coming Out Day, and Shrove Tuesday to one and all.

Of opprobrium and cavemen: slightly updated

I’m a fan of the Good Men Project, a multi-platform initiative started by Tom Matlack that features a webzine, a documentary film, and a very interesting book that I recommend with enthusiasm. I’ve been critical, too, of what strikes me as Tom’s occasional reluctance to see that men’s best opportunity to become fully human is tied inextricably to the liberation of women, a point that was discussed at length here.

At the Good Men Project site, there’s a lot of affirmation of the good that men do, and that’s fine. We all need reminders of our essential decency. But where I think Tom and I disagree is about the nature of masculinity itself. Based on what I’ve read, Tom (and he’s by no means alone in this) believes that while the masculine ideal needs to be reformed and updated and humanized, it is still fundamentally redeemable. I’m not nearly so sure, suspecting that a more thorough dismantling of gender constructs is necessary. In other words, I’m interested in creating a society filled with Good People of all biological sexes, a culture in which one’s plumbing need have no more bearing on one’s behavior and outlook than one’s eye color. That doesn’t mean the end of gender roles, but it means the end of limiting folks to one such role based upon their genitalia.

Tom and his fellow writers tend to shy away from discussions of male privilege, perhaps knowing what a “turn-off” that very phrase is to the sorts of guys whom they are trying to woo as readers and community members. After all, it is axiomatic that a great many men have a very hard time seeing the privilege that they possess merely by virtue of being men, irrespective of race and class. When trying to reach men, it’s often tempting to avoid the charged word “privilege” and emphasize instead the heavy burden that comes with masculinity. It’s a good gimmick for doing men’s work, as I’ve seen in men’s groups a gazillion times over the last twenty-five years. But the discussion of the “yoke of manhood” needs to avoid the implication of false equivalence and the suggestion that men’s burden is heavier than or at least the same as the one that women bear. That’s the trickiest part of doing this work, but it’s vital. No one likes the suggestion of his own complicity in a what is, in a very real sense, a Great Crime. But cutting all of us free of what the wonderful Allan Johnson calls the gender knot requires that we not only accept that suggestion, but acknowledge its fundamental truth.

In the end, I suspect my differences with the Good Man Project are more about nuance than anything else. I admire what Tom and his collaborators are doing, and I think it’s important and needed work. And I winced in familiar recognition when I read his piece in the Huffington Post last week responding to the outpouring of hostility that greeted an article on the Good Men Project in the the Boston Globe. What Tom and his colloborators got was the usual sort of homophobic, misogynistic, chest-thumping, “men are just fine the way they are, damn it” responses.

As I’ve written before, and as most men who do anti-sexist work know well, antipathy runs deep and strong towards men who do challenge traditional masculinity. There are three chief attacks:

1. These male critics of masculinity are gay. Of course, as we all know, the charge of male homosexuality is less about same-sex desire and more about femininity, less about the hatred of male-male sex and more about contempt for women. “Gay”, in this sense, isn’t used to mean “a man attracted to other men,” it’s used to mean “a male who isn’t a real man.” Hence the suggestion, repeated endlessly, that male critics of masculinity “grow a pair.”

2. Male critics of traditional masculinity are in thrall to women. Sometimes, the charge is that these male feminist allies are wolves in sheep’s clothing using “sensitivity” as a predatory sexual strategy. Sometimes, the charge is that they are “pussy-whipped” by wives or girlfriends, desperate for female approval.

3. Men who do what Tom and I and others do are often told we’re filled with self-loathing, tinged with a desire for revenge. The armchair Neanderthal pychologists suggest that we were beta (or perhaps even omega) males as boys, the sort who were always tormented by the alphas. As a result, the theory goes, we grew up with a hatred of “real men”, and thus allied ourselves with feminists in order to undermine the system that made us so miserable.*

I’ve heard it all since I first publicly called myself a feminist (in Mr. Lyon’s History class in eleventh grade in 1983). I can assure Tom that the comments he got can get much uglier. (I’ve only received one death threat that I thought worth reporting, but the fear was real and memorable. For a sample, google my name and the word “mangina”.) Tom seems to know this, and knows it’s all worth it too. He cites one comment he received:

A reader with the handle “Da-Caveman” wrote to reassure me, “As a caveman…my first instinct is to be negative and scoff at men exploring areas that are uncomfortable to us cavemen. When my wife buys me a new shirt…I immediately do not like it…it makes me uncomfortable…When I hear new music…I generally do not like it…it takes time for cavemen to become comfortable with new things. The thunder you hear in the distance is the sound of all the educated, hardworking women that can make a living just as easy as us cavemen. The world is a changing…but we still have football. Keep up the good work, Tom, and keep dragging us out of our caves.”

That rings right to me. I’ve known my share of cavemen. Some are little more than boys. It is for them — and for the women in their lives — that we gotta keep “dragging them out.” The trick, of course, is to do this work while avoiding the Scylla and Charybdis of self-pity and macho swagger. We have to do our best to embody this new masculine paradigm, which means that when we are getting a lot of heat, we should neither deny the reality of the hurt nor make it a woman’s responsibility to comfort and reassure us. That can be tough sometimes. But as we know, persisting in the face of derision and scorn to carry an often unpopular message is part of what it means to live as a bold man human being.

*UPDATE: My friends Steven and Michael gave me some gentle pushback on this. So let me say that for some of us, there’s some truth in the second part of this charge, though men who do this work come from across the spectrum in terms of their experiences of their own childhood popularity. Any worthwhile model for masculinity, of course, is one that doesn’t allow the alphas to torment those boys represented by the other letters of the Greek alphabet.

A long post about dating, rejection, affirming and redirecting

The comment thread below this post from last Thursday is still active, and has taken a number of twists and turns. There’s been much discussion of the “seduction community”, lookism, privilege, and the difficulty in finding people to date. It’s been remarkably civil to boot. I think I’m gonna give out the “best comment thread of the year” award in December, and so far, this looks like the winner.

One comment jumped out at me, from “Eurosabra”, who wrote yesterday about the difficulty of meeting women:

…by the 50th sidewalk café, you’re feeling pretty tired and put-upon and wondering when you’re going to be seeing some of the mythical “female sexual agency” directed at you. So it’s a cart-horse problem, compounded by the fact that (at least in college) everyone is always constantly meeting people, it’s just that some people get…no results. And straight women’s means of showing interest are so indirect, because of that whole slut-shaming thing….

it really makes me feel like I have to put myself out there and hope, hope to be chosen, while initiating everything.

I’ve spent my share of time being quite tough on young men like Eurosabra, but having read enough of his comments, it’s clear that he’s not coming so much from a place of male entitlement as from a place of genuine hurt and disillusionment. And that hurt and disillusionment, that sense that meeting potential dates requires constant receptiveness to rejection, is widely felt among many men I know. Some lose all claim on sympathy with misogynistic tirades rooted in a sense of frustrated privilege. But others don’t claim that women are obligated to be attracted to them. They don’t secretly believe that they are God’s gifts to women. They’d just like to meet women with whom they could perhaps have a relationship, and the system for meeting potential dates seems so opaque, so difficult to understand, so set up to guarantee disappointment after disappointment after disappointment. No wonder some of these men retreat into pornography addiction, or turn to the slick purveyors of seduction techniques. No wonder that others just, well, get very sad and a bit cynical. Continue reading

Men, women, and our common capacity for all that is human

In the very first women’s studies course I took at Cal, more than two decades ago, the very first novel we read was Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous utopian fantasy, Herland. (Parenthetically, we live three blocks away from Gilman’s home in Pasadena, now a registered historic site.) The novel, published in 1915, tells the story of a country of women in which men have become entirely superfluous — and of the three men from “our” civilization who, thanks to a hot air balloon ride, stumble across the society. The three males represent three different visions of masculinity, with the poles represented by the violent, hyper-masculine Terry and the gentle, chivalrous Jeff. Jeff, we’re told from the start, has women on a pedestal — he thinks them incapable of wickedness (or much strength). Part of the fun of Gilman’s novel is the way in which she exposes the myths to which both Terry and Jeff cling.

I thought of Jeff’s character yesterday when I read the remark in the thread below this post which suggested:

Or, you can believe, as I think Hugo does, that women are some higher order of humanity. That if only we could free this half of humanity – the innocent half, the half that lacks Original Sin – from dependency on us broken souls that they will be like a light unto the Gentiles, and show us the way.

That’s Gilman’s Jeff, all right, but it’s not Hugo Schwyzer – or any other feminist, man or woman, with whom I’ve worked. In the tired compendium of anti-feminist bromides, there are a few classic slurs which re-emerge again and again: pro-feminist men are gay; lupine sexual predators in sheep’s clothing; filled with intense self-loathing; convinced of the innate superiority of women and the innate inferiority of men. The misogynists can’t go out the front door to come up with any new arguments, so they return to these again and again — and it’s the last of these to which I want to — briefly, I promise — respond this morning.

I do not believe for a second in the innate moral superiority of women over men. As someone committed to the sound principle that most of our beliefs about sex difference are rooted in cultural constructs rather than in immutable physiological truths, I take it for granted that both men and women are capable of kindness and cruelty, sexual aggression and passivity, courage and cowardice, homicidal rage and extraordinary empathy. One excellent feminist first principle is that there is no human emotional or intellectual capacity that does not belong in equal measure to both men and women. I’ve been a card-carrying member of the National Organization for Women and the National Women Studies Association for years — and I’ve yet to meet a colleague of either sex who expressed in public or in private a conviction that females were, on account of their biology, superior to men. Continue reading

We have used our power to dominate and our weakness to manipulate: more on the egalitarian vision, and the fundamental sinfulness of traditional gender structures

Last Tuesday’s long post about feminism and the free market got a large number of replies. My basic thesis was that strong public institutions liberate both men and women from the forced reliance on family for survival; an adequately-funded welfare state allows relationships to flourish based on choice and desire rather than on necessity and desperation. I also rejected the notion that men’s sense of self-worth is somehow inextricably linked to women’s dependence upon them. The old “women offer their vulnerability in exchange for men’s responsibility” myth is a favorite of those who think that at our core, we are governed by what they imagine to be the needs of our paleolithic ancestors. I have no desire to continue to debate those who peddle the risible notion that all males are biologically hardwired for violence and promiscuity, and can only be tamed by chaste and faithful and adoring women.

That said, I want to respond to SamSeaborn, who seems deeply concerned that men are somehow becoming superfluous. Men need women in order to reproduce in a way that women don’t need men, he argues, a point which on a purely functional level has some merit. (It’s easier to get sperm than it is to find someone to carry a baby — paying men to ejaculate into a cup is a lot cheaper, rightly so, than paying a surrogate to carry a fetus to term.) If the state offers sufficient aid to women so that they can raise children without a man’s financial assistance, what, Sam wonders, is to stop many men from “opting out’ into what I call the “unholy trifecta” of pot, porn, and Playstation?

Sam asks:

How can (men) feel valued as a human being if there’s basically nothing only they can do that women cannot while there’s a lot of things men cannot do that women can’t? You either get detachment or service in this situation, but service, of couse, is requiring social checks on women – some kind of affirmative action for men, which one may call patriarchy. Which leaves a bit of a problem: reject patriarchy and you’ll get male detachment.

How would you get around this? What would you suggest that would make men actually feel like complete human beings AND complete men that would overcome this potential dichotomy?

Sam’s right. At least he’s right if you accept “masculinity” as an inevitable feature of maleness. Obviously, we cannot continue to raise our sons with outmoded definitions of what “makes a man” and then expect those lads to seamlessly adapt traditional ideas about manhood to a modern egalitarian culture. The “Little House on the Prairie” vision won’t work any longer, and it’s evident that raising our sons with a traditional masculine ethos is just setting them up for cognitive dissonance, alienation, and anger. You can’t teach a boy that “A good man is one who provides for his wife and children and protects them from harm” and then expect him not to be a bit bewildered by a world in which women have both agency and autonomy. Hence the pathetic appeal of mail-order brides; American men, determined to hold on to traditional gender roles at any cost, sending away for wives from the Third World. The need for a green card, the lack of English language skills — these are often powerful markers of vulnerability, and can serve to puff up the fragile masculinity of a male determined to cling to a dated and useless understanding of gender roles. Continue reading

Yes, we need a White House Council on Men and Boys — but not for the reasons you think

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.

Hicks:

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 “women’s issues” such as child care, inadequate pay and domestic violence. These aren’t “women’s issues,” but issues related to the systemic collapse of the American family.

Sigh.

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. Continue reading

The old “male responsibility requires female vulnerability” lie, take 197: a response to Kay Hymowitz

I wish I had more time to respond to this Kay Hymowitz piece: Love in the Time of Darwinism. (Cap tap to Rudy.)

Hymowitz is best known as author of Marriage and Caste in America, one of the less-unfortunate texts in the cottage industry of publications devoted to the notion that lifelong heterosexual union is all that stands between us and the apocalypse. Those who want government to abjure responsibility for providing protections for the vulnerable are always quick to see marriage as the panacea for a host of problems. In some sense, arguments about what marriage ought to be are indeed very close to the core of some of our biggest contemporary cultural debates. Four times married — and in this last one, happily so — count me in the corner of those who argue against the over-promotion of the institution!

In any case, in this article Hymowitz takes on the modern dating scene, which offers any commenter of any political persuasion much opportunity for lamentation. But Hymowitz is primarily worried about the impact on we men-folk, who are apparently overwhelmed and bewildered:

Today, though, there is no standard scenario for meeting and mating, or even relating. For one thing, men face a situation—and I’m not exaggerating here—new to human history. Never before have men wooed women who are, at least theoretically, their equals—socially, professionally, and sexually.

By the time men reach their twenties, they have years of experience with women as equal competitors in school, on soccer fields, and even in bed. Small wonder if they initially assume that the women they meet are after the same things they are: financial independence, career success, toned triceps, and sex.

Oy. All of those women going to college and playing sports? They want husbands and babies and little fluffy puppies. But not money, independence, strong bodies, or that nasty sex stuff. And if they pretend they want money or orgasms, they are poor deluded dears who have bought into the lies promoted by… by… by women’s studies professors, of course.

In any event, Hymowitz catalogs the bad behavior of SYMs (single young men) and — this is strikingly original — lays the blame squarely on women.

Adding to the bitterness of many SYMs is the feeling that the entire culture is a you-go-girl cheering section. When our guy was a boy, the media prattled on about “girl power,” parents took their daughters to work, and a mysterious plague seemed to have killed off boys, at least white ones, from school textbooks. To this day, male-bashing is the lingua franca of situation comedies and advertising: take the dimwitted television dads from Homer Simpson to Ray Romano to Tim Allen, or the guy who starts a cooking fire to be put out by his multitasking wife, who is already ordering takeout. Further, it’s hard to overstate the distrust of young men who witnessed divorce up close and personal as they were growing up. Not only have they become understandably wary of till-death-do-us-part promises; they frequently suspect that women are highway robbers out to relieve men of their earnings, children, and deepest affections.

Bold emphasis mine. My head is starting to hurt. It’s Ray Romano’s fault? No, it’s all down to divorce — the kind where hard-working and reliable men get abandoned by flighty women who, with the help of a unjust legal system designed by the pantsuited and the predatory, steal everything from their husbands, who are (like all men, really) naive babes-in-the-woods. Wise young lads, these, to learn such important lessons! As the kids said in my day, gag me with a spoon. Continue reading

Looking for “the inoculation against cruelty”: how to help boys through the trials of Guyland

This is the third installment of a three-part review of Michael Kimmel’s Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. Part one is here, and part two is here.

In the first two parts, I looked at Kimmel’s concerns about young men in America, noting his insights into the “Guy Code”, homosociality, and the recurrent theme of escape in boys’ lives. Kimmel is as good as any in identifying the problem, and making a compelling case that there are some immensely troublesome aspects to the way in which our culture helps (or doesn’t) boys transition into adulthood. But it’s axiomatic that diagnosis is always easier to write than remedy; most of us see the wrong more clearly than we see the right. And in the end, the most valuable contribution that any of us in the gender studies field can make is to prescribe workable solutions to the problems we are usually so good at identifying.

Many writers of similar books spend the first four-fifths of the text laying out the case that something needs to change, usually with copious anecdotes designed to illustrate just how bad things have gotten. The suggestions for change and transformation, if they have any, usually only appear in the conclusion. Too often in recent years, I’ve read books about “youth in crisis” in which practical solutions appear almost as a rushed afterthought. It’s as if the author never meant to include them at all, and only did so, grudgingly, at the firm insistence of an editor. I am happy to say that Michael Kimmel weaves his vision for an alternative “guyhood” into every chapter of his book. Though the bulk of his strategy for change appears towards the end of Guyland, the whole text is shot through with thoughtful and compelling suggestions for how things can be different.

First off, we need to acknowledge that there is much that is good in our young men. One of the classic slurs that anti-feminist men’s rights activists (MRAs) throw at the likes of Michael Kimmel (or Jackson Katz, Robert Jensen, Michael Flood, and — if I may be so bold –myself) is that we are filled with masculine self-loathing. We then apparently project our own self-hatred onto other men, longing (apparently) to change “real men” into women. This charge has as much credence as the suggestion that Barack Obama runs an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, but like those whispers, the spurious charge of misandry has proven surprisingly resilient. Kimmel does what all of us do, though we get too little attention for it: he honors the worth and dignity of the young men about whom he writes, and he honors them as men. Continue reading