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Big Dog

2010 December 16

“I suppose I might open the trick door now, and seek the monster of my own volition, sword in hand and ready. Then, if I slay him, I might return for you, and free you.”

The girl wept. Through her tears she said, with a knife for a voice: “If you are a man, you will do it.”

“Oh no, lady. Only if I am your notion of a man.”

– The Hero at the Gates, Tanith Lee

An Italian movie poster for 'Conan the Barbarian', taken from

Conan felt at ease in the office.

Following on from Sarah C’s blogpost yesterday, I wanted to ask: who decides what it is to “be a man”? And why is the answer vital to improving things for women?

This is not just about Alpha Males, but our entire definition of masculinity (and therefore what we’re telling boys and men they should aim to be). We can talk about being a responsible adult, but how is that different from ‘manly’?

We haven’t moved on very much from celebrating men as muscle-bound warriors, from equating manliness with physical strength. Nerds are not manly. Thin, ‘weak’ guys are not manly. The efficient office worker is not ‘manly’. The patient father is not praised with “What a man!” Anyone with the wrong body shape can never qualify.

Manliness also requires independence: you’re not a successful man if you live in your Mother’s basement, but men who own motorbikes or fast cars are sexy. It goes beyond this, though. You’re not manly if you’re ruled primarily by tender emotions, or “under the thumb” of a woman, or –

Sorry, I just can’t keep this up. It’s such utter, utter bullshit. The short answer seems to be: you’re not a man unless you control your own destiny. If others are in charge of you, or you submit to them, then they are above you on the Manliness Scale.

And we wonder why the entire planet is in danger.

It’s as though the capability to fight and take – and therefore provide – is still the only measure of what makes a man. Male aggression is not popular in modern society (outside of sports, boardrooms and the army) but Sarah C referred to some websites yesterday which celebrate a particularly horrible version of poisonous alpha male tropes. Their vision consists of controlling your women (multiple), being in command, being admired for being powerful, and taking it easy while your slaves do the work because you’re the big man.

It’s pretty strange to see that this still exists in an allegedly modern country. These men seem to think they can be less powerless in life if they take imagined power from women around them. A big part of it lies in succeeding specifically because you have lowered a woman’s power from a perceived higher place. Femininity is seen as making men weak, and women are assumed to be always less powerful (making any example of them EVER overruling the alpha an unacceptable demonstration of the alpha’s weakness.)

So why is this commanding behaviour not only acceptable, respected, sought-after, but the definition of masculine prowess?

Some sources believe it’s because fighting is the one thing you can’t fake. It’s also the action which overrules all others: it doesn’t matter how deserving, wise or honourable you are, someone with a bigger gun can take it all away. So maybe it’s about security, and therefore defence of loved ones, rather than the more pessimistic approach of valuing someone primarily for their ability to attack.

What’s interesting is that this Conan image comes more from the media and movies than reality. A quick poll of some female friends found that they mainly think “manly” means having Values, Character, Responsibility… behaviours which suggest you are not just a boy in adult clothes. The change is from a child to an adult, not to being more male than before.

But the images and lessons boys receive from TV and cinema simply cannot equate maturity with manliness unless the man can also kick the ass of everyone onscreen. And be totally 100% heterosexual, of course. (In the same poll, one woman said she’d think less of a man if he wasn’t physically stronger than her, so it’s not all one-sided.) Even here, ‘feminine’ qualities are seen as taking away from a man’s masculinity. And since ‘feminine’ is deemed inseparable from a woman’s perfect role of being a (usually married) mother, that means men are deemed less manly if they show any nurturing behaviour towards kids, are emotionally sensitive, etc etc oh god this is depressing.

Ultimately, masculinity is bound up with individual heroism instead of having to rely on others, and that’s a dangerous place to be.

It’s a sad trend for feminism that men are judged on what they do, and women are judged on how they look, but the male side of that is not as enabling as it appears. The target for masculinity has to include muscle, mastery and money. A man’s worth (as a “successful” male and especially as relationship material) is very closely linked to his money. Not just the prestige of the job, but how far up the status ladder of it he is. Success and potential future success are what are really being measured, in whatever field. And it IS about wealth; that’s why status symbols work. They represent the money, and therefore the power, or his capability and drive to get power.

Who are the male role models on TV? Bling-laden hard men rappers surrounded by girls, secret agents who win every fight, footballers and movie stars. All of whom are alpha males who get the girls and status (and money). Individual parents might offer better role models linked to how to be manly, but “society” doesn’t. Even the “lad’s mags” of the 1990s like FHM and Loaded aren’t connecting with what men feel is right for their lives.

Despite all this, the problem is nothing compared to what women face when society tells them what it thinks ‘feminine’ is. That still must include sexual issues in a way that ‘masculine’ doesn’t, as well as passivity/submission. And for all the harm that men feeling unneeded may bring, reclaiming feminism from its Bad Rep is a more urgent issue – but it’s not unrelated. We need ways for men to behave better towards women without feeling less masculine. The strict mandate to never appear as ‘weak’ as a woman is a foundation of male violence.

The message needs to change. We need to be saying that a man is valued if he behaves well, with compassion and thought and honour. The only medium that counts in bringing messages like this to the public is television, and that’s why pop culture is so crucial. Less ‘lone white male avenger’ shows, more balanced, nuanced depictions of heroism. We won’t get it from retail advertisers (who want you to believe you need money, items and to be having constant fun or you are a failure). We need it to come from pop culture, and to reach children and young adults in ways which seem natural and obvious.

There is hope. As well as the attitudes of real individuals in the surveys I mentioned earlier, some websites and magazines are also looking at the problem. One very interesting example is The Good Men Project, which launched recently. They seem to be asking precisely the same question I have: what’s the difference between “being a man” and “being a GOOD man”? And why is there such a huge potential difference at all? (Also: high-five to that site for genuinely exploring how to get comfortable with masculinity in a way which benefits the individual and society, and so far not setting up feminism as any kind of block to that.)1

While men are told that compromising, accepting help or having anything in common with a woman makes them weak, everyone needs this harmful definition of masculinity to change.

“The tragedy of machismo is that a man is never quite man enough.”
– Germaine Greer

  1. Ed’s Tiny Note, Added In 2013: It would seem The Good Men Project has since made quite the effort to distance itself from feminists, and has had more of its fair share of problematic moments. But at the point this post was written, none of that had gone down. []
26 Responses leave one →
  1. Russell permalink
    December 16, 2010

    Overall a great post, but I take issue with a couple of things here I’m afraid: firstly, your qualifying the issues surrounding conventional views of masculinity as being “less urgent” than the liberation of women from the conventional view of feminity and the issues involved in traditional feminism. I’m sorry, but as a Straight White Male (TM) I still feel I have just as much right to demand liberation from what you rightly define as bullshit as any woman does. I don’t see the idea of “men’s liberation” (I use that term with caution, not to mean anti-feminism but in its more intuitive sense of liberating men from the above) as being necessarily opposed to or detracting from the wider feminist movement AT ALL. In fact, I see it as a necessary part of the movement, as do an increasing number of feminist women. An important step on the road to equality is recognising that there is just as much “bullshit” affecting the way men behave as women and breaking free of that. It’s not a “less urgent” issue because it’s impossible to rank feminist issues in order of “urgency”, although one might feel the issue of ending violence more important, but you have stated in your own post that the traditional view of masculinity is a contributing factor to that.

    Also, you used a quote from Germaine Greer – see the posts of TransDOR for why that’s wrong and bad (Richard Littlejohn may also once have said something intelligent but he’s still a bigot, too).

    • Miranda permalink*
      December 16, 2010

      Mind you, Littlejohn has never said anything of use at all, as far as I can see, to anyone. The Female Eunuch was revolutionary for its time. It’s a tough issue. Greer’s transphobia really shocked me when I found out about it, because up to that point I’d been finding her work really inspirational. Littlejohn’s work on the other hand is pure bigotry all the way through, with nothing particularly useful. It’s like a stick of rock with “hateful” all the way through it. He’s not a particularly clever man. What’s shocking about Greer is that, well, you kind of think she should have the brains to work this one out. Whereas Littlejohn never particularly surprises me with anything he says.

      In fact, I see it as a necessary part of the movement, as do an increasing number of feminist women. An important step on the road to equality is recognising that there is just as much “bullshit” affecting the way men behave as women and breaking free of that.

      I genuinely don’t believe Stephen is disagreeing with you all that much here. I think that your views on the importance of liberating men too actually match pretty well.

      But it is important to recognise, for example, that the playing field is not level. Feminism exists in the first place because it is not level.

      What Tony Porter says in that video Steve links to is “My liberation is bound up with yours”. It is imperative, I think, that feminism involves men, unites with men, and that we all work together to achieve a better world for both genders. I often think some feminists fail to recognise that gender doesn’t exist in a bubble; class and race, for example, are issues. A young black man on the poverty line from an estate in Peckham may not take particularly kindly to an accusation from a middle class white feminist that he is “privileged”. A gay black male friend of mine was similarly bemused; did I, he asked me, with an eyebrow raised, have an arranged marriage in Africa to deal with?

      But on the other side of the coin, men are not on the receiving end of certain dynamics and difficulties in the same way that women are. The posts on this site by Vik, on family law and legal aid, point to these issues, I think. On a global scale the issue is more glaring – men don’t get stoned for adultery in the Middle East, for example. The pay gap is still the pay gap. And that is why the word “feminism” still starts with a “fem” – and I’m okay with that for the time being.

      I think feminists and men’s advocates should be able to work together. That they frequently have not seems to me to be a shame.

      I’ve always been pleased at the amount of men who read and comment on this site, by the way.

      • Russell permalink
        December 16, 2010

        But the fact that the playing field is, as you say, not level does not necessarily imply an urgency of one issue over another. Overall, of course, I do completely agree with Stephen, but what I’m taking issue with is that one sentence which (to me at any rate) feels a little bit like him saying “I’m a man and I’m talking about men’s issues in a feminist forum, sorry!” because we shouldn’t have to apologise. There is a school of thought that, logically to a certain extent, suggests that in order to resolve many of the outstanding issues women have in society we need to start resolving the ones that men do. If men can feel free to express their emotions, take active parenting roles, be subservient when it’s called for and strong when it’s called for, all these things, then they will start to understand how difficult things can get for women because they will be better able to relate to them. I think a MASSIVE part of the problem is the widely-held (to the point of being culturally ingrained) idea that there is some sort of vast gulf or divide between men and women and the two sexes will never be able to understand or fully relate to one another. That’s why I feel that level playing field or no, it’s not possible to rank the issues like that.

        I could also take issue with the idea that it’s not a level playing field; perhaps the best way I can express my view on this is I agree, it isn’t – it’s bumpy all over the place.

        • Miranda permalink*
          December 16, 2010

          Yes, I think it is bumpy all over the place. And I think that’s why there are all these movements advocating the rights of different groups, and why they find it hard sometimes to coexist. So you have left wing comedians insulting people with disabilities, for example, or transphobic feminists. :( But there are also places where advocates of more than one cause at once are raising awareness of the need to realise the connections – such as Feminists With Disabilities.

          what I’m taking issue with is that one sentence which (to me at any rate) feels a little bit like him saying “I’m a man and I’m talking about men’s issues in a feminist forum, sorry!” because we shouldn’t have to apologise.

          Well, I think feminist spaces can be intimidating for male feminists who want to write for them without feeling like they might be accused as “part of the problem”. I won’t speak for the author much further, but I’d guess that that that line was there, at least in part, to direct people away from the idea that the author was simply pushing for a “what about MY rights” stance without also considering a wider picture; to signal that he is aware of the wider context of the site which he is writing for and its readerbase.

    • Sarah Cook permalink
      December 16, 2010

      Russell (not to rush in all White Knight style, I’m sure Steve can follow up with what is in his brains better than I can) but I do want to discuss the points you raise.

      There IS a sense within certain (including self-defining feminist ones, sadly) communities that challlenging problems of masculinity is less important than dealing with traditional “wimmin’s” issues. You’ll note that my spelling and bunny ears indicate just how much I think of that idea. It springs from the same poisoned well as “you can’t be a feminist if you are a man.” Again, a trope still unfortunately in force.

      Absolutely there should be exactly the same impetus to fix these issues – however there is a cultural wave that problematises challenges to masculinity, perhaps because the traditional idea of masculinity is presented as unasailable.

      And as to the Greer point, even bigots say worthwhile things sometimes. I don’t think that because she’s wrong in some areas her entire works are therefore worthless. God knows I say some dumb shit. Not this reply though… (she says, hurridly)

      • Miranda permalink*
        December 16, 2010

        Absolutely there should be exactly the same impetus to fix these issues – however there is a cultural wave that problematises challenges to masculinity, perhaps because the traditional idea of masculinity is presented as unasailable.

        This is what I was trying to say! This here. Sarah said it better than me.

    • Stephen B permalink
      December 16, 2010

      I have much the same issues with Greer that everyone else does, but I think the words she used in that quote are valid on their own :)

      I do agree with you that the unfair pressures on men are serious and part of the feminist process. (Disqualified for being the wrong body shape – sounds familiar.) What I *don’t* want to do is come onto BadRep as a straight white male and start saying “Men have it bad too!”. I put that sentence in because some of my posts have been very male-centric, and I said in my first one: every single one of my female friends is affected MORE by inequality every day than most of my male friends. It’s a bumpy field, but one side definitely slopes more than the other from where I’m standing.

      However, on the issue of masculinity, men’s problems very directly become women’s problems. BadRep believes that men are part of the feminist process, and I in particular think that it would be silly to refuse to include men when they’re the base reason we’ve come to need feminism.

      So I’m absolutely not downplaying the issue of traditionalist, heteronormative society telling men what they must be, because that’s exactly what it does to women too and no-one wins – especially when as Sarah C pointed out, having any Alpha Males at all is a very bad thing for both genders. I just want to be clear that I’m raising it here because I think it’s relevant to feminism, not because I intend to use BadRep to only talk about guys problems. We can find that on every single comment thread made by a feminist in a public forum already :)

      • Russell permalink
        December 16, 2010

        Absolutely Stephen, and that’s why I think sites like BadRep or The Good Men Project are great for trying in different ways to involve men in feminist thinking. I understand your logic for including the sentence you did, I just disagree that it’s possible to rank certain issues as more urgent in a world where everything is connected – it’s like trying to rank your most important personality traits.

        I did think that this was a great post, and I completely agree with 98.2% of what you said (that’s why I said “overall a great post” before anything else).

        Sorry if the Greer comments offended anyone, I can get a little “Hulk smash” about certain issues. (No, sadly I am not the feminist Hulk)

        • Miranda permalink*
          December 16, 2010

          Well, no one is likely to be as offended as the people she insults in the parts of her work you allude to! But I think that the words of hers that are quoted in this article sum it up nicely, though, especially as part of a pairing with Sarah C’s post on alpha males yesterday. You can see why it’s been used, hopefully.

          I think there is a wider issue here along the lines of “in a world where *everything* is connected, what’s the point of having separate movements *at all*?” This is a criticism regularly levelled at feminism. But movements are important. They foster solidarity between people. They can get things done. Make people think. Highlight one issue and crystallise it for someone where it might otherwise get lost in a sea of injustices. Move people, in essence, so the word is appropriate.

          • Stephen B permalink
            December 16, 2010

            Hi Russell,

            Don’t get me wrong, I think there are a million invisible ways that men are powerless in society (and not being able to *admit* they’re powerless for fear of being seen as less ‘manly’ is half the problem in raising awareness of those) but as Miranda says, that’s not the primary focus of this site. I do truly believe that women have it worse on average, especially in many countries outside the UK and US, but this is a personal view and I’m happy for people to disagree.

            I like “equality”, and discussing where it fails people on all sides is part of bringing it closer.

            I’ll will admit though, some of my reasons for putting the ‘disclaimer’ in there were because I’m a little scared of how a post on mens’ issues will be received. I can’t back this up with links at the moment (because I’m at work and on lunch break) but I have had *extremely* negative reactions from feminists on other sites in the past to *any* post made about men. I don’t want to bring that onto the team here, so put the sentence in to show that I’m not just complaining that men don’t get enough attention. (It happens constantly on feminist blogs and annoys me!)

  2. Sarah Cook permalink
    December 16, 2010

    Fantastic, and very much something that I think feminsim should be working hard to try and support.

  3. Miranda permalink*
    December 16, 2010

    I’ve never read any Tanith Lee, but I couldn’t help thinking from the quote, “Man, at this point they should work out a plan and slay that monster together!”


    • Jenni permalink
      December 16, 2010

      She can, er, *reads quote* slay that monster with her voice that is also a knife…

      • Stephen B permalink
        December 16, 2010

        Pleasingly, the story turns out to be nicely more complicated than that :)

  4. Alasdair permalink
    December 16, 2010

    Sorry to be the dissenting voice, but I think you’re setting up one hell of a straw man here, squire.

    For your argument to be anything other than a variation on “but what about teh mens?!?”, one must accept the idea that there aren’t enough male role models for whom success/happiness isn’t based on being in charge and having lots of money and sex.

    This is clearly not true. The iconoclast (NB: I have not said “loner” or “outsider” here) is a classic male archetype (that rather lacks a female equivalent – which is of course, one of the chief problems with the role models available for young women). I can rattle off loads of names of fictional characters and real people, who, if they’re not 100% like me, still have (mostly) the same gender, orientation, skin colour and rough class background as me, who possess all sorts of admirable traits (that make them happy/successful/good people) that are not based around the narrow criteria you set out.

    I recognise that people without my background, the field narrows massively and swiftly, which is why I’m for all sorts of lefty causes. But I really, really don’t think you or I are lacking in positive role models whose masculinity is not based around violence/power/money in the manner you suggest.

    Do I think the archetype you’re talking about is potentially damaging? Yes. Do I think it needs to be resisted? Yes. Do I think there’s already plenty of stuff out there resisting it, and we’d be better spending our time and effort talking about/doing something more useful? Yes.

    • Stephen B permalink
      December 16, 2010

      Fair enough… but I’d be interested to hear them. When people try to say that there’s a decent “Family man” role-model they used to point to people like (before the sex rumours became constant)David Beckham. Yes, he is clearly a loving father and nice guy. But he’s also a millionaire footballer with an athlete’s body and sexual attractiveness. He wouldn’t be as famous without that bit.

      And I find that a lot. Men in varying roles, held up as role models who all also happen to be mega-successful at their jobs which give them fame and/or wealth. Actors, businessmen, scientists – we only hear about them as manly men if they already meet the criteria of physique/money/fame.

      Even then two out of three can be not enough. Bill Gates is not manly, he’s a nerd. A super-rich famous nerd, but forever barred from qualifying as ‘manly’. Time magazine just gave man of the year to – a rich white guy from Harvard. But he’ll never be manly.

      My point isn’t that there aren’t other role-models for men, it’s that masculinity and manliness are narrowly defined and considered to be *above* all the other roles. We might have other choices, but none of them are labelled to mean they make us more of a *Man*.

      Do I think women have an equal number of realistic role-models? Not remotely, which is why I put the disclaimer sentence in :)

      • Miranda permalink*
        December 16, 2010

        I think that how men and women relate on screen together needs some thought. I’ve seen a lot of films where the setup is:

        1) Super manly dude!
        2) …. and his Strong Female Character Love Interest!

        3) He’s super manly!
        4) She has a scene where she roundhouse kicks somebody, picks a fight with the villain’s female sidekick, or says some sarky lines!
        5) The movie is still basically all about him.

        Like, it doesn’t negate the all-about-the-menz bias of a lot of Hollywood cinema just because the leading lady “has some spunk”. Similarly it doesn’t make the male lead more of an exponent of gentler, less ass-kicking ways to Be A Male Hero just because his female companion is As Ass Kicking As The Men.

        I think the dynamic Hollywood often attempts to give us as feminists is “women kicking ass just like the men!”

        To upend the gender essentialism in play there, how about “men expressing gentler emotions and taking time to pick the odd flower just like the women!” for a change?

        It often feels like film-makers pump up the female character’s ass-kick ratio, as though she is the one who needs to competitively make up the numbers. This is all fun and good in many films, but it’s not the only way to do it.

        (I’ve always admired Linus from Peanuts because of his unashamed relationship with his blanket – I had a similar blanket thing going on, and it always pleased me that Linus is quietly clever whilst also not caring to ditch his comfort toys. Similarly I remember liking the episode of Malcolm in the Middle where Dewey decides he wants to wear a handbag. Admittedly he ends up putting a brick in it and knocking out a bully, so much shit does he get for carrying said bag. Both of these are child characters. I’m sure Alasdair has some examples in mind, but I can’t think of that many leading adult male characters who perform “gentle”, “nurturing” and so on as their key characteristics off the top of my head. However, this is more ’cause I’m at work and addled than anything else, I suspect. Hagrid from Harry Potter, who is a giant with a love of animals and a habit of emotively blowing his nose into big spotted handkerchiefs, perhaps, is a good comedy supporting character example.)

        • Stephen B permalink
          December 16, 2010

          Taking it separately to the super-manly male tv hero (although I totally agree with you), what I really hate is the lead female who is “obviously empowered and equal because she can roundhouse kick just as hard as the men” (while wearing skimpy clothes and being the only woman in the entire cast – I’m looking at you, Hawaii 5-O remake…) This happens a LOT, and is not equality! Grr.

        • Stephen B permalink
          December 16, 2010

          The reason I think the masculinity issue is relevant here is, it takes something extra to be called manly or (my personal favourite) a “real man”. Isn’t that a telling phrase. Pushing to earn that title is what drives some men towards Alpha behaviour, because society is telling them they’re not male enough… which is precisely the pressures facing women and expected images of them. This hasn’t gone away just because men can find a wider range of roles in life.

          What I found very interesting (but didn’t have space to include as it rapidly turned into a 2000+ word epic!) is that what makes a man successful in his social group is thought by some sociologists to be determined by the *women* in that group. They decide who is a loser, and who is attractive, and it varies with social class and geography. It could be that feminists have more of a chance to influence stereotypes than we think.

      • Alasdair permalink
        December 17, 2010

        Off the top of my head, from stuff I’ve been reading/watching in the last few months: Pick more or less any male character from Harry Potter. Mitch Royce from Transmet. Dane or Lord Fanny from The Invisibles. Strange and Norrell. Matthew Swift. Matty from DMZ. Shrek. Karl from Up. Danny Concannon from The West Wing.

        Real world: A significant chunk of the speakers at TED. Jonathan Ive. Clay Shirky. Billy Bragg. Tom Watson MP. Bill Bailey. Wil Wheaton. David Mitchell. Big Hairy Alan Moore.

        None of the above are “manly” in the mighty thews and shagging sense but that because as far as I can see, your complaint is that our culture only prizes that, which I simply don’t accept, because I see so many middle class white men on the telly ever day who are hugely successful without recourse to sex and violence. (I’ve delibarately picked a spread of different kinds of people – some are more famous than others, without necessarily being top of the cash heap, some are richer than others without being as famous, some are neither rich nor famous – the point is that they all have some level of cultural acclaim and they are men I can admire, explain why I admire them and might wish to be thought of in the same sort of category as them and absolutely no-one is going to look at me funny for doing so.)

        • Miranda permalink*
          December 17, 2010


          I am such a fangirl for Danny from the West Wing. I think he’s a really good example.

          Favourite Danny quotes:

          “Look, I’m not trying to turn you into Doris Day. I know if we have a future together, I’d be Mr. C.J. Cregg, that’s fine.”


          “I want you to do what you want to do… I just want you to talk to me about it. I want us to talk about what it will mean and we’ll make it work. I want us to talk like we’re gonna figure it out together. I want us to talk… because I like the sound of your voice. I just want to talk.”

          He’s like a kind of postmodern feminist-friendly Tintin, is Danny. He’s one of my favourite fictional men on TV.

          Shrek is also a really good one, because in the second film he actually gets to inhabit a literally more “manly” body when he drinks the magic potion to turn him human. And Fiona also transforms back into a stereotypically “beautiful” woman. He says “We could stay like this!” And she’s not interested, and they let the potion wear off and go back to being ogres. I’ll always love the Shrek franchise for its determination to keep the protagonists ogres, flying in the face of the skin-deep happy endings of traditional Disney (which I also like, as it goes, but I love how Shrek adds a further inclusive and subversive layer to its interpretation of the fairytale happy ending).

          Karl from Up is a fantastic protagonist. I want more octogenarian balloon-selling nice guys as leading men.

          So, yes, actually, those are all good examples.

  5. December 16, 2010

    Thank you for taking on this stuff with a fairly nuanced eye–it’s always nice to stop by one of my favorite feminist blogs and find a post dealing with how patriarchy negatively affects men.

    That said, while I was really excited to check out The Good Man Project, I’m disappointed in its overall tone–seems to be pretty based on a gender essentialist framework that isn’t (to my mind) particularly helpful. Some examples, from just a cursory look:

    Snowden Wright has a long-ish article describing what are (to my mind) the horrors of rushing a fraternity during college, and then ends his article with a stereotypically “no regrets” attitude, even about his own misogyny:
    But the pain wouldn’t last. We had been different people back then. On our way home, I thought back on the person I was during those years, rude and crass and smug, without any sense of regret or shame. None. Call me an asshole, label me a misogynist, wish me an early death. Doesn’t matter. I will not apologize for having one hell of a good time. Because that’s the point of college: not only to figure out who you want to be as an adult, but also to spend four years being the person you don’t want to be.

    Tom Matlock, in an interview, is the dictionary definition of a gender essentialist:
    “I actually disagree with your POV here, Henry. I don’t think it’s about transcending gender at all. I think it’s about men being men. We are different. Just look at all the various statistics about what men are doing and how it differs from women, from education to incarceration to parenting. And what we as men like to do, what interests us, what inspires us. I would hate to think that our mission is a great leveling of the genders. I love women. Because they are so different. I quite honestly cannot tell you how or why my wife does or says or thinks what she does. But I love her for it. (Because, y’know, women just think differently!)

    Andrew Ladd has a slightly more nuanced take on things, but still ends up playing up the stereotypically “male” traits as positive, by noting that being a good man often means being a sissy:
    So what to make of all this? Should we all go back to acting like Don Draper? The Man with No Name? Bogey? No. I stick by my own sissiness, and those iconic men of the past century are hardly perfect either. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that what we talk about today as being “good” masculinity often is sissiness, with all the word’s pejorative connotations, and not the purely positive thing we make it out to be. As if being a sissy can’t be a purely positive thing…

    Also, the creator of The Good Men Project, Tom Matlock, explicitly distances it from feminism:
    The way Boston-based founder Tom Matlack tells it, the website owes its existence, at least in part, to one very important feminist in his life – his mother. “My parents don’t like it when I call it this, but I basically grew up in a commune,” he says. “My mother had a strident form of feminism and it influenced me on a personal level – I found it scary.”

    Although Mr. Matlack understandably won’t label his project “feminist” – its mandate includes topics too broad to be boiled down to any one political agenda – he admits there is a relationship. “I think it’s feminism on its head,” he says. “Women were trying to get out of the home. Men’s challenge is the opposite: how to be at home.”

    • Miranda permalink*
      December 16, 2010

      Those links are really interesting – thank you. The gender essentialism notes don’t really appeal to me, either, although I do like the friendly-discursive “come join the conversation” side of their marketing.

      The optimist in me’s kind of been hoping that they’re distancing themselves from the dreaded f-word to reach more people. On the other hand, I really wish people wouldn’t do that. How else is it to be reclaimed? :(

      I’ve been meaning to mail you, actually, Jeff, to thank you for featuring us on your “blog of the month” spot – much appreciated, and I’m pleased you’re enjoying reading us. Feminist Allies will be on our Links Page as soon as I’m done typing it up.

      • December 16, 2010

        Thanks Miranda! I would love it if my humble little blog were part of your links page…

  6. December 16, 2010

    Interesting stuff. I agree with most of the points made, though speaking as an anarchist, I am interested in loners, self-reliant people, misfits… those who don’t fit in to the current capitalist, statist, sexist society, but make their own way in life, relying on their own instincts. I think it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater — yes, the “Conan model” can be misused, and indeed probably usually is, but the image of the self-reliant, independent HUMAN BEING — not necessarily man — is a powerful one not just in terms of dominating others, but in terms of refusing to be dominated.

    Oh, and arguably, though original Conan character from the Robert E. Howard stories was rarely much of a feminist (they were written by a male Texan in the 1930s, which is an explanation but not an excuse for what might be seen as sexism and racism in some of the stories), he did several times encourage the oppressed to throw off their shackles, literal or figurative, and seize their own freedom… he’s a very anarchist, anti-authoritarian, anti-tyranny figure, in many respects, and so perhaps not the ideal one to choose for the “alpha male dominating others” image.

  7. Serra permalink
    December 19, 2010

    This guy gives me some hope for the future…

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