Finally Some Common Sense about Boys, Men and Masculinity
Here, several times, I have raised questions and posed answers to this thorny issue in American culture: masculinity. Is it essentially toxic? Or can there be a “good masculinity?” That has been my underlying question. It seems to me that, especially in academic circles, “masculinity” has come to be viewed as essentially toxic. Many men feel that some feminists and others want to wipe masculinity away and, if possible, make boys and men like girls and women. A cover story in Newsweek magazine entitled “The Boy Crisis” quoted one educator as saying that boys are treated in many schools as “defective girls.”
Nobody in their right mind, in my opinion, fails to realize there is such a thing as toxic masculinity. I have dared to say here that there is also such a thing as toxic femininity and to those who have pushed back I have illustrated it by pointing them to a book entitled The Total Woman. Read it and weep. And then don’t tell me there is no such thing as toxic femininity. I would also point to the ongoing emphasis in advertising and entertainment on a certain body shape and appearance of “the perfect girl” or “the perfect woman” that has driven many females into extremely unhealthy lifestyles.
Recently someone sent me URL (web address) of an article that I finally got around to reading. The article is entitled “Ask a Feminist: Michael Kimmel and Lisa Wade Discuss Toxic Masculinity.” It is a dialogue between the two persons named in the title and is part of a series of interviews entitled “Ask a Feminist.” The latter is part of the Feminist Public Intellectuals Project and the interview appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of the journal Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.”
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
While I do not agree with everything Michael Kimmel says in this interview or in his books, I find his theories and suggestions intriguing and partially helpful. He is often considered the leading male feminist in America and writes and speaks about boys and men.
Now, please note: I will NOT post here any comments about recent allegations and accusations about and against Kimmel. The matter is still in process and dispute and they do not appear to me to have anything to do with sexual assault or even what I would consider sexual harassment although in the latest versions of the concept they might count as the latter. It depends; the matter is yet to be resolved. The accusations and allegations amount to “creating a hostile working environment” and I know that can mean almost anything, so drop it. Do NOT post anything in response here. So far as I know and can discover, the matter is unresolved.
Back to the interview. Again, while I don’t agree with everything Kimmel says, I found much of what he says in this interview very intriguing and potentially very helpful in the ongoing “war of the sexes” in which especially white men and their wives (in America) are being blamed for virtually all the ills of the current cultural crisis we face.
Kimmel helpfully discusses true masculinity and what it looks like and does and how he helps boys and young men discover it and live it out. It has nothing whatever to do with oppressing women or anyone else. Read the interview for specifics.
Kimmel also helpfully argues that it is dangerous simply to ignore the complaints of “angry white men” (and their wives if they have wives). His argument is that they are aiming their anger at the wrong people (women, immigrants, minorities, etc.); the true culprits of their plight are actually the politicians and movers and shakers of American industry (business) that are exploiting their anger to make money. But Kimmel acknowledges that many angry white men have reason to be angry; they are being left behind in the constantly shifting American economy. Very little is being offered them to participate; most of the energy is being aimed at helping girls and women rise up—something he absolutely affirms as good and right. But, and this is what I have been saying here, Kimmel argues that it is not a “zero sum game.” We, American society, can help both men and women and both men and women are better off when all people feel that success is within their reach.
Kimmel rightly criticizes the old advice to men who feel neglected and are disaffected: “Man up!” He rightly says that is not helpful. We need to show them how to man up and he points back to President Obama’s strong effort to support new job training for both men and women in America’s community colleges—free. He blames the Republican controlled Congress for killing that effort.
In other words, Kimmel is sympathetic to the plight of many men in America who, rightly or wrongly, feel disenfranchised and turned to populism in the form of Trump and the Republican Party. He argues, however, that their hopes in that direction are misguided. The case is really that the programs of the Left are more likely to help them. It’s like a great delusion.
In yet other words, Kimmel believes and argues that it will be counterproductive for society simply to ignore white men’s (and their wives’) complaints or to demonize them because they elected Trump and the Republican Party. He calls for a dialogue between feminists and anti-feminist men (not crazy, radical, violent ones) and a coalition of the willing to at least attempt to hear each other and work together toward a better world where there is true and complete equality between the sexes but men do not feel left behind.
I don’t know whether Kimmel would agree with me or not, but I would argue that this needs to happen within colleges and universities where today many male students feel there is no focus on their despair—about graduating and finding a good job and being valued as men without having to become like women. Many more women than men are earning university degrees and especially graduate degrees. Perhaps the effort needs to start even earlier—in high school.
Two or three times every week I work out at a large university’s fitness center. And it is a very large fitness center. I see numerous high school groups being shown the university and especially the fitness center. It’s large, new, well-equipped and a major “selling point” for the university. Lately, over the past few years, I have watched these groups and noticed a trend. Increasingly they are virtually only girls/young women. In a typical group of, say, twenty, only one or two will be boys/young men.
Again, not long ago, I heard about an elementary school teacher who let it be known, without embarrassment or hesitation, that she did not like boys. Imagine a male teacher lettering it be known that he does not like girls. He would be fired. Nothing happened to this female teacher even though her disdain for her male students was no secret.
If we are going to turn around toxic masculinity and the harm it does to everyone, boys and men included, we need to start early—in schools—but not by shaming boys or young men for being males or telling them, directly or indirectly, that they need to be more like girls and women. And we certainly don’t need teachers in schools to disdain males or college and university programs solely aimed at girls and young women—to empower them (which is a good thing). We need more programs aimed at boys and young men that show them how to be good men without even implying that the way is by being more like girls and women. That will only create resentment and withdrawal.
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