Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Case Against Manliness

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.


Intrepid Liberal Journal said...

Sadly, a man's self-esteem is linked to "masculine" achievements of prowess. To some extent it is in our DNA and excacerbated by cutlure. Unless a man does "big" things he's considered a failure. If he isn't assertive on the surface he's considered a wimp. We're instintively competitive with our dads.

Who can forget what happened to Edmund Muskie in 1972? He cried about unfair attacks on his wife and was no longer considered tough enough to be president.

Thankfully, the culture is starting to change. I can recall growing up in the 80s where I could I never hugged my male friends. I was stunned to learn how common this was when I attended college. More men are staying home while women work. Men are coming to the realization that allowing women to be strong can remove some of our own life pressures. Acknowledging women as full partners means a more fulfilling life. It requires strength beyond masculinity.

Tess said...

I thought of this post recently when I saw the new Hummer ad. In it, a man is in the grocery store buying tofu, when he gets fed up and storms off to a Hummer dealership. He drives away happy, beneath the tagline "Reclaim your manhood." Reclaim your manhood by raping the planet? That's horrendous.