As of this morning, Amanda has now weighed in on the "nice guy" discussion that I posted on yesterday; she joins Kameron at Brutal Women in doing so. (The latter has some important and interesting thoughts on violence in her comments section).
I did want to clarify something, however. In the comments section below my "nice guys" post, "bmmg39" wrote:
See: you just contradicted yourself and are engaging in a double standard. You suggest that when women behave badly men must see what they have done wrong to cause it. But men are not to blame women in general or even particular women for men's problems. In other words, women's problems are the fault of men, and MEN'S problems are the fault of men, too. Sheesh.
Frankly, based on what I wrote yesterday, I can see how someone might come to that conclusion. Let me try and do a better job of explaining myself.
My faith teaches me that we all, men and women alike, are in some sense "broken." Though my theology is sometimes muddled, I do believe in the pervasiveness of sin and the reality of human depravity. I don't think either sex is "more broken" than the other.
My feminism teaches me, however, that men and women manifest that brokenness in different ways. Some -- usually men -- use their socially prescribed power to dominate, while others -- traditionally women -- choose in their weakness to manipulate. Of course, women can dominate and men can manipulate as well. In any case, it's safe to say that plenty of folks of both sexes have done cruel and unpleasant things to each other. I can't imagine anyone would dispute this.
The first question that any activist, in any movement, must ask himself or herself is this: "What can I do? Whom can I change?" It seems clear that there is one clear answer: your ability to transform the world hinges on your transforming yourself first. For the men's movement, that means focusing on changing men rather than on lashing out at women, the legal system, or modern culture. Once the process of self-transformation is underway, then and only then ought one to begin focusing on changing larger societal institutions. (The danger, of course, is that some folks in the men's movement become so self-absorbed that they never start work on addressing the culture at large. Balance is needed)
"Nice guys" -- as stereotyped -- and men's rights advocates actually seem to share something in common. They are both remarkably focused on women. The "nice guy" (what, as Aegis points out, Robert Bly calls the "soft male") is immensely interested in pleasing women. His self-esteem is linked to getting female affirmation. Many men go through such a phase; some don't ever leave it. Such men tend to suppress their own authentic selves in order not to offend those whose validation they crave. They are, in today's therapeutic language, "people-pleasers". They are exasperating to be around, largely because they are, on some level, inclined to be fundamentally dishonest. They value the preservation of validating relationships more than they value the truth.
Men's rights advocates who blame the feminist movement and women for men's contemporary condition are no better. (To be fair, not all MRAs play the blame game, but most do seem to). Just as the "nice guy" often needs women to affirm his worth, many MRAs blame women and the feminist movement for the major misfortunes of their own lives. Both, in different ways, absolve themselves of personal responsibility for their own actions and their own happiness. Both look to women (either individual females or women in general) in order to justify their own behavior. Fundamentally, both have an "outward gaze", looking at women with either intense craving or intense dislike or some combination of the two.
Pro-feminist men are in solidarity with their sisters in the feminist movement. As such, they encourage women to challenge themselves, to better themselves, to become stronger, more empowered and more effective human beings. But pro-feminist men understand that ultimately, the work of transforming women is women's work. Women need to mentor and guide other women. And men need to mentor and guide other men. We are at our most effective when we are ministering to the unique needs of our own sex. And before we can mentor and guide other men effectively, we have to accept responsibility for our own actions and our own lives.
When I was first a youth leader at All Saints, we had a teenage couple in our Wednesday night group who could not keep their hands off each other. They were both "popular" kids. They wore cool clothes, were unusually good-looking, were intelligent and sweet -- but were also in the throes of adolescent hormones. Their behavior and their language was consistently inappropriate. Our initial attempts at discipline were too mild; saying "cut that out" to the pair only meant a momentary respite from their pawing each other. Finally, one of the female youth leaders and I decided on a strategy. She would sit down (alone) with the girl; I with the boy. We would each have what we called a "come to Jesus" talk with the young person. (Some folks at All Saints cringe when I use that expression, but it works.)
When I met with the boy (I'll call him Mark, not his name), I first made it clear to him how much I liked him and respected him. I told him I honored his relationship with "Betsy." But I also told him that his public behavior with her was inappropriate. I made it clear to him that I expected him to set limits, that I expected him to exercise self-restraint, and I expected him to set a good example for the younger kids in youth group. Though I knew perfectly well that my female colleague was giving almost the identical speech to Betsy, I made it clear to Mark that his behavior was solely his responsibility. Betsy's irresistibility was not an excuse. My colleague said the same thing to Betsy about Mark. We both understood that this was a message that for any number of excellent reasons was best delivered by a same-sex adult. And we both understood that the message of individual responsibility had to be the primary thing we conveyed to the pair.
I trust that my sisters in the feminist movement are busy mentoring young women and challenging them to take ownership of their choices and greater responsibility for their own lives. I know plenty of women who are doing just that. But my commitment to advocating male self-examination and accountability is not contingent on whether or not women are doing the same. The call to become who we were meant to be is not a quid pro quo; even if women were to fail to take the same degree of responsibility as men (which I don't think is the case), that would not absolve those of us in the men's movement from pushing ourselves and our brothers to be braver, kinder, more ethical, more loving, more generous men.