The discussion below this post has taken a perhaps predictable turn into a debate about my own masculinity. When all else fails, those fellows are who are troubled by my call for male transformation suggest that I am "different", and thus not a reliable indicator of what is possible for other men. Mr. Bad writes:
Hugo may be biologically a man, but his personality most definitely has strong feminine characteristics, moreso than most ordinary men. In other words, Hugo's plumbed like a guy but acts like a girl. That's why I for one argue that his experiences, etc., are not typical of normal, ordinary, healthy masculinity while Gonzo's are.
There's plenty more in this vein from Mr. Bad and other critics.
I've grown to like some of my men's rights advocate critics like Bad, Gonzman, and Uzzah. They manage, most of the time, to stay within the bounds of civility. I think it's important to have a blog space where men and women on all sides of the debate about masculinity can come together; I don't just want "comments from the choir." I have no intention of deleting Mr. Bad's comment.
Like many bloggers, there's a certain self-indulgence to this whole exercise. I like connecting my own private life to my professional work as a teacher and my faith journey as a Christian and a youth leader. I argue from personal anecdote, recognizing that I am not writing for an academic audience to be swayed by scholarship alone, but for a general one -- one that will respond better to the "story" than to a recitation of facts. So, I'm not so much troubled as I am amused by having my masculine credentials debated here! They've been debated before, and will be again.
As I've written before, most criticism of pro-feminist men (those of us who ask men to make radical changes in their lives) falls into one of the three categories:
1. We're all gay, and thus not "real men"; our words and our appeals ought not to be taken seriously by straight guys because of our sexuality.
2. We're straight, but our pro-feminism is a guise for "getting chicks"; we're really just horny guys who have devised a slick and cynical strategy for sexual conquest. Thus, we ought not to be taken seriously.
3. We're not gay, and we're not sexual predators -- but we're somehow still so fundamentally atypical that our exhortations to other men carry no weight. This is what Mr. Bad presumably means when he says that I am "plumbed like a guy, but act(s) like a girl."
I'm not going to turn this blog into an explanation of the ways in which I am traditionally masculine, which are many. Most of us, after all, have a broad assortment of classically masculine and feminine attributes! Yes, I love sports (participating and watching and coaching); I also love the opera. Yes, I'm happily heterosexual and married to a wonderful woman; I also am eager to create an egalitarian marriage in terms of equal physical and emotional burdens. I like talking politics and I like talking fashion, and so on and so on. As interesting as I may find myself, this blog is about more than the various psychological and sexual attributes of Hugo Schwyzer!
But while I am not troubled personally by the charges directed towards me, I'm still bothered by them for another reason: the impact on younger, potential, pro-feminist men. One reason I can laugh off the remarks thrown my way about my sexuality or my identity is because, frankly, I'm 38 years old. After a heck of a lot of emotional and psychological work, as well as a lot of spiritual growth in Christ, I've become quite comfortable in my own skin. I love being in my (late) thirties, because I feel as if I know who I am and I like who that is. My pastor, Ed Bacon, always says "I'm God's favorite!", and he hopes that all the rest of us can feel the same way. When I was 18 or 28, I didn't feel like God's favorite. I do now. And when I was 18 or 28, I was still anxious and insecure about my own masculine credentials.
One of my goals in doing the work I do, both in my volunteer and professional capacities, is to raise up young pro-feminist men. I want to help teenage boys and young adult males challenge the destructive dominant messages about what it is to be " a real man." I want to offer them alternatives to the straitjacket of traditional masculinity, based as it is on thinly disguised violence, chronic inarticulateness, and profound disrespect for women. That is not to say that there aren't virtues to be found within traditional sex roles: courage and honesty and determination are seen as classically male virtues, though of course women can manifest them just as well. In encouraging young men to better verbally describe their own emotional terrain, and in instilling in them a strong sense that women are truly their equals, I am not "feminizing" my guys. Rather, I am encouraging my boys to develop an under-used and often ignored side of their own masculine selves.
And of course, in order to do this work effectively, I have to be a role model. Pro-feminist young men need older pro-feminist men to show them how it's done. In that sense, what I do is very masculine: in traditional male societies, wisdom is handed down from older men to younger men; the fathers initiate the sons. In pro-feminist work, it's vital to have male role models with whom young men can readily identify. And this, of course, is why the enemies of pro-feminism go after the masculine credentials of guys who do the work that I do. (Men like Jackson Katz, Michael Kimmel, the fellas at Men Can Stop Rape -- ask any of them, and they'll tell you about the countless slurs and aspersions heaped upon them. They've been out there fightin' longer than I have, and they are my heroes.) Older pro-feminist men may be nearly invulnerable to criticism, but the hope is to dissuade younger and more impressionable guys from taking our words seriously. The subtext of Mr. Bad's message is: "Hugo is not a real man. Thus if you -- a young man -- start thinking like Hugo or other pro-feminist men, you also are not a real man." At 38, I don't give a rat's ass* whether anyone thinks I'm a real man or not. But at 18, I really, really did care -- very badly. And that's why I've got to respond when I get comments like Mr.Bad's; not for my own sake, but for the sake of those with whom I work.
In the end, it's because of the young men that I work with that I feel compelled to stand up, again and again, to the charge that I am "insufficiently masculine." When I put my emotions into words with a reasonable degree of candor, or when I stand against sexual violence, when I confess that some things in life move me to tears, or when I make it clear how troubling I find our culture of premature sexualization of the young, I'm not "acting like a girl." Rather, I'm trying to show a broader range of what it is to be masculine. I'm exhorting my younger brothers to consider it possible that they too have untapped depths of compassion, sympathy, nurturing, and verbal dexterity; I want them to do the hard inner work of finding those aspects of themselves and developing them. And I want them to do so in the confidence that to go on this journey is not to become any less of a man, but to become more of a complete and full human being.
*UPDATE: Matilde the sublime chinchilla, on behalf of all of her rodent relatives, takes issue with this particular expression and asks that I not use it in the future. As a lover of mice and hamsters and gerbils and yes, chinnies, I pledge not to use the term "rat's ass" again.