Typepad is very wonky today.
Via Jessica at Feministing, I found a terrific article from one of our leading pro-feminist men: Robert Jensen: The High Cost of Manliness. Some excerpts:
We need to get rid of the whole idea of masculinity. It's time to abandon the claim that there are certain psychological or social traits that inherently come with being biologically male. If we can get past that, we have a chance to create a better world for men and women.
That dominant conception of masculinity in U.S. culture is easily summarized: Men are assumed to be naturally competitive and aggressive, and being a real man is therefore marked by the struggle for control, conquest and domination. A man looks at the world, sees what he wants and takes it. Men who don't measure up are wimps, sissies, fags, girls. The worst insult one man can hurl at another -- whether it's boys on the playground or CEOs in the boardroom -- is the accusation that a man is like a woman. Although the culture acknowledges that men can in some situations have traits traditionally associated with women (caring, compassion, tenderness), in the end it is men's strength-expressed-as-toughness that defines us and must trump any female-like softness. Those aspects of masculinity must prevail for a man to be a "real man."
It's a good solid summary of the argument pro-feminist men have been making for years now: men have a real investment in working with feminist women to transform the culture. The costs for men of trying to live up to the unattainable ideal of true masculinity are real, profound, and devastating. Men deny themselves the opportunity to be fully human, cutting themselves off from a wide range of emotions. Too many men either lead lives of "quiet desperation", eternally fearful of falling short in a brutally competitive culture, or, as seems increasingly common among the young , they opt out, retreating to a fantasy world of video games, pot, and couch surfing, unwilling to live up to the masculine ideal -- but unwilling to work to deconstruct it, either.
I particularly appreciate that Jensen acknowledges that as bad as the current system is for men, it's measurably worse for women:
This doesn't mean that the negative consequences of this toxic masculinity are equally dangerous for men and women. As feminists have long pointed out, there's a big difference between women dealing with the possibility of being raped, beaten and killed by the men in their lives, and men not being able to cry. But we can see that the short-term material gains that men get are not adequate compensation for what we men give up in the long haul -- which is to surrender part of our humanity to the project of dominance.
That's right on.
As a college professor and a youth leader who works with young men and women every day, Jensen's article reminds me of what a tremendous, daunting, and exciting challenge it is to live a public and private pro-feminist life. If,as he writes, current notions of masculinity need to be deconstructed, then we need men in leadership positions who can model a new way of being male. It's all very well to describe what's wrong with the system, but we need to offer concrete examples of how to live out the alternative.
Obviously, there is no precise paradigm for how pro-feminist men should live and act. (Though there are some clear parameters). Each man who embraces a pro-feminist worldview and seeks to incorporate these principles into his life will do so differently. But men still need role models, and they still need exhortation and encouragement. And I am convinced that the most important work that men can do to further the cause of justice and equality for all men and women is to match their lives to their language -- and do so publicly, so that others can see and take inspiration.