I try to keep up with the sharp and often boldly unconventional writings of Robert Jensen, who is a journalism professor in Austin, Texas. I'm sure that I've linked to his essays before on this blog. Recently I came across another one of his thoughtful writings, an op-ed piece co-authored with Gail Dines for my old hometown's leading newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Dines and Jensen offer a nice, brief synopsis of the case against manliness, arguing that the pursuit of "masculinity" harms both men and women. This perspective is certainly nothing new, but in a period when belief in hard and pervasive biological and psychological differences seems on the rebound, it seems a good idea to re-open the subject.
My friend Tess over at Arch Words often posts thoughtful blog entries on parenthood, gender, and child development, especially at it relates to how she and her partner Tom struggle to raise their young son in a more gender neutral way. (See, for example, her recent posting on toy kitchens.) Parenting well is a strongly counter-cultural activity, and I certainly admire anyone who tries to avoid the modern-day corruptions of childhood such as commercialism and reinforced masculinity.
However out of 1970s it may seem, I think Dines and Jensen are right to identify the pursuit of manliness and the modern conception of "masculinity" as fundamental problems that we must continue to struggle to overcome. I say this as someone who was a young boy in the 1980s, when G.I. Joe and confident superheroes came roaring into mainstream culture. Who can look at our last U.S. presidential election--with a reckless GOP cowboy squaring off against a tough Democrat war fighter--and not sense the crippling hold that manliness continues to hold on our society and its political options. I realize that it is tempting to look around the world and see men being aggressive and violent against women, children, and each other, and to conclude that boys will always be boys, and nothing more. But I, for one, still believe that another world is still possible, and confronting modern masculinity is an important part of it.