Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Scott S. Blake - What's Wrong With The Men?

This is an old article, from 1995 - but it seems not much has changed since then. I encourage you to read the whole piece, but I am only posting one section for now.

For one factor contributing to the issues here, see this article about the collective unconscious 2.0 - certainly an element in the issue.

What's Wrong With The Men?

A Critical Look At Modern Masculinity Informed By Melucci And Habermas

by Scott S. Blake

Copyright 1995, Scott S. Blake

* * *

Why Is There No Men's Movement?

To begin, there are men's movements. However, these groups exhibit none of the characteristics that Melucci identifies as belonging to movements. For this reason, I discount them as offering any real alternative to existing conceptions of masculinity. I will treat two examples, Robert Bly's warriors and the men's anti-violence campaign, below.

Robert Bly started a group that has become a joke among many feminists and nearly all men (that have even heard of it). His most basic premise is that men must recapture the warrior-self to become in tune with their innermost nature. To accomplish this task, groups of men congregate in forests, naked, and participate in a kind of shamanistic ritual involving drumming, trancing, and self-revelation. The men are encouraged to speak of their fathers and mothers and the trials and tribulations of their youth. In the ensuing emotional release (crying), men are supposed to discover their "true" inner warrior and thus be able to draw strength from him in their daily lives.

Although the encouragement of emotional expression is not common in the larger society, it is not unheard of and though of some cathartic value, rarely has much affect on the way men think of their position in society or their relation to women, families, and nature. Also, this path is closed to anyone who does not have the time or money to engage in the weekend in the woods. I find the warrior archetype to be of dubious value at best. Some Native American cultures have warrior images that are thought to be "positive;" that is, they only defend their homes, families, etc. However, to most white men of European descent, warrior figures are those of Perseus, Achilles, Ulysses, King Arthur, and the like. These people were invariably agents of destruction and shepherding. Perseus was sent out to destroy the evil woman and save the helpless maiden, a common theme. Those women who were evil should be killed and those who were good should be sequestered at home and kept safe.

The "movement" invented by Robert Bly thus addresses some issues of modern masculinity, but leaves many more open and, indeed, strengthens the cavalier attitude of many men towards women. Were his model applied to many men, we would turn into knights-in-shining-armor that cry during the commercials of their soap operas. Let me also note that there are still repercussions for men who do not conform to our culture's notion of masculinity. Chastisements range from ostracism to violence. I will expand on this later.

The men's anti-violence campaign is somewhat less laughable, but also sadly misguided. Men Against Violence Against Women grew out of such activities as Take Back The Night marches. It is the product of the women's anti-violence campaign and does not owe its existence to any critical inquiry on the part of men. As feminist research began to highlight violence against women (be it rape, wife beating, or child molestation), the women's movement responded with battered women's shelters, rape counseling services, legislative initiatives, and other forms of activism. Some men who wished to lend support to these actions either assisted in existing organization or formed their own groups. One particularly noteworthy product of men's participation is the White Ribbon Campaign. In this group, men and women wear white ribbons to symbolize violence against women. The ribbons are awareness-raising devices, intended to provoke thought and encourage men to be aware of their potential violence and curb it.

While there is no data to indicate the efficacy of this movement, the men involved feel engaged and useful. However, these examples of activism do not address the fundamental questions of why men rape and seem to have a propensity toward violence. It is built on modifying behavior, not the motivation for the behavior. Also, it is more an extension of a women's movement than a men's movement. Many of the men involved describe themselves as feminists to indicate their concern. Like many of us concerned with gender roles, these men have no basis for forming an identity independent of feminism.

Part of Melucci's theory of collective action revolves around the collectivity forming a group identity. He predicates doing this on the ability of individuals in complex societies to form elective identities. By choosing one's own affiliations and identifiers, one can escape the categorizations that modern administrative controls impose on us. In the case of men with gender awareness, few have attempted to (and none successfully) define an identity that either goes beyond the traditional one of masculinity or provides distinction from women with gender awareness. Although it may appear that a man self-identifying as a feminist is not problematic, I believe that it is.

A feminist man is, by definition, alienated from himself. By mixing the gender identity of being both a man and a feminist, he is neither. The traditional meaning of a man is incompatible with feminism. It is, after all, one of the reasons that there is such a thing as feminism. To be a feminist, one must recognize that women have been and continue to be (at least in some respects) oppressed by the dominant group in our culture, white men. For a man to be a feminist, he must not only recognize this, but also must take on some personal responsibility for his actions and the actions of his forefathers. In doing so, he ceases to be a man in the traditional sense, since that sense means that he adopts either a misogynistic or cavalier attitude toward women. Within the current definition of masculinity, there is no room for total equality. One can make political space and/or personal space for equality, but the man still has the inculturated tendencies of the masculine character. Furthermore, feminism does not offer any prescription for what a man should be, only what he should not be.

A feminist (or any other, for that matter) man should not be violent, should not view women as sex objects, should not discriminate, harass, or otherwise degrade women. He should not be disrespectful, but should not but her on a pedestal, either. He should not think of her as anything but a fellow human being, worthy of all that he does not take away from his male peers. While discussing this subject with a friend, he put this point to me eloquently,

To be manly is to NOT be a wimp, NOT a girl, NOT a queer, NOT a crybaby, NOT your mother, NOT your can men help but fear that, if the masks we wear are lifted, we will turn out to be nothing at all?

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