Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Joseph Gelfer - The Masculinity Conspiracy, Chapter 5 (Fatherhood) Now Online


Over the last year or more, Jospeh Gelfer has been publishing his book, The Masculinity Conspiracy, online, one chapter at a time. My friend Luke turned me on to his work. He just announced the posting of Chapter 5: Fatherhood.

I have read each of the previous chapters, although it seems as though it has been a while. I have found the material useful and sometimes challenging, although not from a complexity perspective. The first chapter offers a good overview of the problems inherent in defining masculinity in the limited ways that culture accepts - gender is a much more complex experience than a mere binary choice between masculine and feminine.

In Chapter 2: History, he looks at "how the Masculinity Conspiracy appeals to history via two books: Manliness by Harvey Mansfield, and Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution by Ken Wilber." I am not a fan of Mansfield, so I'm good there - but when I first read this chapter I found myself trying to defend Wilber.

Here is some of the criticism of Wilber's gender/masculinity perspective in SES, quoted from Gelfer's from Chapter 2:
Sometimes a particular spin is put on evidence which results in our sensible-looking and prestigious-sounding writers being somewhat flexible with the truth when using the arguments of others to support their own.

For example, Wilber uses Carol Gilligan’s book In a Different Voice to support his presentation of masculine and feminine types throughout history, which results in men focusing on agency and ranking, and women focusing on communion and linking. However, in the introduction to her book (in other words, one of the first things she says), Gilligan specifically warns against using her work as evidence to suggest that men and women are essentially different. The “different voice” Gilligan refers to is ultimately that of women and girls, which is “lost” in a patriarchal world, not a feminine voice that is essentially “different” to the masculine. To clear this matter up, and to ensure I wasn’t projecting my own agenda onto this issue (and being equally flexible with the truth) I sent Gilligan an email outlining Wilber’s use of her work, to which she replied, “I would not label agency ‘masculine’ or communion ‘feminine.’” So what’s going on?

Given that Wilber bases most of his understanding of masculine and feminine types on Gilligan, and that he is not too accurate (read truthful) about what Gilligan actually says, you might want to adopt that “hermeneutic of suspicion” to everything Wilber says about men and women stretching back through history. You might want to give some serious consideration to the idea that Wilber is part of the conspiracy. Thinking back to the previous chapter and Barkun’s three conspiracy principles, it appears that nothing happens by accident (how could such a clear misreading be anything other than deliberate?) and that nothing is as it seems (the reality of the masculine and feminine types). What’s left of Barkun’s conspiratorial triplet is everything is connected. Here we see that the conspiracy/Wilber’s presentation of gender connects itself even to evidence that counters the conspiracy: hijacking, appropriating, making itself plausible. Wiber’s position is also connected in a web of writers who mutually confirm each other’s position. This again gives the impression of plausibility and “evidence,” but is simply a closed ecology of ideas which exclude those which do not offer confirmation. Ironically, while I am suggesting that the masculinity presented here is part of the conspiracy, this kind of closed-ecology thinking is emblematic of what Barkun would identify as the paranoid thinking that identifies conspiracy in the first place.

So please, whenever you read someone citing a prominent expert’s work to confirm their own argument, be mindful that not everything is always as it seems. Plenty of writers are careful to represent the truth in this regard, but others are not. When this happens it is probably down to one of two reasons. First, it might be a conscious act of manipulation on behalf of the author: this is deception. Second, it might be that the writer hasn’t sufficiently engaged the work s/he is citing to accurately represent it: this is laziness (or incompetence). Sometimes there is a third explanation of genuinely differing interpretations of a text or data: this is valid enough, but complex to navigate.

I bristled when I first read that - but I have since come to mostly agree with his reading. In fact, this is not unlike some of the criticisms of Wilber's use of science - there is a sense of cherry-picking ideas. It was a good exercise in critical thinking for me.

Anyway . . . . The following is his explanation of the book and its purpose.

About the Book

What if the biggest conspiracy in human history had gone completely unnoticed?

What if that conspiracy was responsible for some of the biggest problems the world faces today?

Wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you want to do something about it?

Well guess what: You can.

Book Description

The Masculinity Conspiracy is a free online book about masculinity. It argues that nearly every assumption about masculinity in contemporary society is wrong. The result is nothing short of exposing a worldwide conspiracy that has been preventing humanity from reaching its fullest potential.

The Masculinity Conspiracy contains the following chapters:

Each chapter is divided into three sections:

  • The Conspiracy (how the common understanding of masculinity functions in the chapter theme)
  • The Problem (a critique of how the common understanding of masculinity functions in the chapter theme)
  • The Solution (an alternative model for how masculinity should function in the chapter theme).

Each chapter is published online as it is written: about one chapter every two or three months. The book will be complete in mid-2011.

Readers can leave comments regarding each section of the book: what they think is good, what they think is bad, plus new ideas that should be developed. Some of this feedback may be incorporated into the text, in which case the commenter is cited in an endnote. A change log indicates the nature of edits over time as they occur across the text.

A few folks have found the reading a bit of a stretch, in which case I urge you to go and read the short article, Appropriate Complexity.

And for a bit of fun, below you can even watch a short The Masculinity Conspiracy cartoon:

Finally, here is the intro for Chapter 5 - this comes from his main blog, which also contains great posts:

The Masculinity Conspiracy: chapter 5 now online

Chapter 5 (Fatherhood) of The Masculinity Conspiracy is now online.

This chapter examines how the theme of fatherhood is mobilized in the conspiracy via two books: Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys by Stephen James and David Thomas, and Better Dads, Stronger Sons: How Fathers Can Guide Boys to Become Men of Character by Rick Johnson.

It shows how these books promote fatherhood as being defined by fixed characteristics.

It then offers some different ways of thinking about fatherhood in order to counter the conspiracy.

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