It is both a sad and alarming commentary on the present state of men’s character that so many have objected to legitimate feminist challenges, retreated, and finally lashed back. Instead of rising to the challenge, far too many males have regressed into an infantile and dangerous state combining the worst of traditional and modern masculine roles. For many men, a shameless arrogance thrown together with self-absorption has overwhelmed courage and compassion. This mutation has placed manhood, at least American manhood, in crisis. In the micro, there is the man who murders his wife and children before killing himself. In macro, there are political leaders who would be more comfortable destroying the earth than allowing women’s power to reside with men’s in mutual respect, peace, and benefit.
We need the opposite: men who will take the best of the traditional male, the providing, protecting, serving, and sacrificing, and integrate it with the equality-mindedness of the modern male.
After growing up on a on farm where girls and boys both fed the cows and washed dishes, my more formal, conscious feminist awakening came in college and graduate school. In university classrooms and on the street, I learned two crucial truths about feminism and its relation to male identity and well-being:
1) Feminism does not weaken men. On the contrary, men’s own sense of entitlement weakens men, aided by social double-standards and conspicuous coddling. In fact, feminist challenges, by attacking men’s unwarranted privilege, actually help men address their sources of moral and character weakness.
2) Feminism is responsible for allowing men to become self-aware about their own subjectivity, their own emotions, and the harmful effects their sexism has on the women they claim to love. Feminism has helped men know themselves in an unprecedented way. By challenging men, women have opened the way for men to reflect inward instead of directing all their attention outward in telling others what to do or be. As a result, no longer can men reasonably ignore the damage caused to them by their incipient stoicism, competition, homophobia, and drive to dominate. Men are forced to acknowledge how these habits shut down joy, spontaneity, creativity, and intimacy.
The new anti-male
Where the honorable traditional men of my father’s and grandfather’s generations strove to provide and protect, to embody merit, work ethic, self-sufficiency, courage, honesty, responsibility, and competence (even as they suffered from a certain emotional hardness), today’s new anti-male rejects the legitimate obligations placed upon him by his forefathers in addition to those put forth by women. With megalomaniacal irresponsibility he believes he embodies noble masculine qualities simply by claiming them for himself in words. He is free from the burden of actually having to demonstrate noble qualities in action. With paramount ignorance, he expects to indulge himself, abuse or neglect others, and still be adored.
We see too many examples around us: men who refuse to make child care payments while continuing to stalk their former girlfriends or wives; corporate CEOs who take their “family” - their company - into bankruptcy through fraudulent activity designed only to enrich themselves while leaving their “children”— employees, stockholders, and consumers — holding the bag. Such men have recently risen to great power in the United States. It is no coincidence that George W. Bush, the quintessential anti-male, a virtual poster boy for privilege, irresponsibility, and undeserved promotion, is most strongly supported by the most ardent enemies of feminism—a patriarchal, fundamentalist, crony capitalist cabal that sees fit to exert power and assassinate the characters of others even as it promotes the inept, corrupt, and well-connected within its own ranks.
Real men need real women
Being pro-feminist will not necessarily make a man’s life easier. The same is true for a woman that opens herself to the wisdom (and occasional weirdness) of male perspectives. But ease is not what real men or women should be striving for. Excellence in daily affairs, communication and mutual respect in relationships, are worthy of our commitment precisely because they demand more of us: empathy, industry, imagination, mental and emotional intelligence. In short, a distillation of the best combined masculine and feminine qualities.
There is still much to learn as we help free each other from a long history of sexism. There is no way to easily and immediately solve deeply ingrained social and emotional habits, the Cinderella temptations of women to efface themselves, shedding responsibility and risk, in a misguided search simply to be taken care of. There is no simple path for men to come to terms with their entrenched history of domination, assumed superiority, overconfidence, and fear of commitment and intimacy. Healthy, growing relationships rest on a promise we must fulfill on a daily basis: to be vulnerable, to be honest, and to want the best for ourselves as we want the best for our brothers and sisters in this our human family.
This daily personal consciousness and action must be matched with a political awareness and commitment. Therefore, let it be said, “The resurgence of feminism is the revival of democracy.” The right for women’s “equal pay for equal work” has become the right for all to a living wage. The efforts of Code Pink against the latest war in Iraq and for lasting peace is merging with the global cry for international justice and democracy. The women of the world have the knowledge of millennia in creating and organizing human families. Responsible men over the ages have realized they must be willing to apply their full courage, sacrifice, and lives to the service of family—this time the global human family. Women’s strength is acknowledged. Men’s nobility is awakened. We are resolved. We, the real men and women of this world, shall serve and strive together until (and long after) justice, peace, and love prevail.
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