Rethinking Men

What masculinity means in the 21st century.

Glory Masculinism 3

Praising the average Joe.

Let us now praise men - not just famous men but regular, run of the mill, average Joes. What a change this will be. We have discussed glory feminism (as opposed to the prevailing victim feminism) and we have discussed misandry, so now it is appropriate to re-think men, again.

This came to mind as I was reading "How to be a Woman" by Caitlin Moran, an award-winning journalist with The Times (London). Full, but totally unnecessary, disclosure: the title was obscured by a sticker—I thought it was "How to bed a woman." Oh well. But I have read her work before and would have bought her book anyway. Seriously. She describes herself in capital letters as a STRIDENT FEMINIST. She is also very funny, insightful and forthright. I quote:

For even the most ardent feminist historian, male or female—citing Amazons and tribal matriarchies and Cleopatra - can't conceal that women have basically done * all for the last 100,000 years. Come on—let's admit it...Our [women's] empires, armies, cities, artworks, philosophers, philanthropists, inventors, scientists, astronauts, explorers, politicians and icons, could all fit, comfortably, into one of the private karaoke booths in SingStar. We have no Mozart; no Einstein; no Galileo; no Gandhi. No Beatles, no Churchill, no Hawking, no Columbus...

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Nearly everything so far has been the creation of men—and a liberal right-on denial of it makes everything more awkward and difficult in the long run (pp.134-5).

Shades of Camille Paglia, who wrote: "it is patriarchal society that has freed me as a woman. It is capitalism that has given me the leisure to sit at this desk writing this book" (1991:37-8). None of this praise of men is PC of course, which would emphasize the equal but different contributions of men and women in their different spheres of power - which I will do, of course, in the next paragraph! And both are more direct than even those who have written about heroic men and male heroes (Hughes-Hallett, Mansfield, Montefiore, Newell). Perhaps the pendulum is beginning to swing from largely male-negative to more positive.

The explanations for this imbalance in societal creation are fairly well-known. As Freud explained "Anatomy is destiny"—until the pill that is; so did de Beauvoir, describing women as prisoners of their bodies—also before the pill. That said, Caitlin (we are on a first name basis now) is still opposed to "the patriarchy" of course, defined as oppressive rather than creative; but at least she can praise men, and recognize their contributions to human welfare, improved health, increased longevity and rising standards of living.

Three points: Just to be PC, for once, it is pretty heroic to give birth to, and largely raise, geniuses like Mozart, Einstein and Galileo, and all the rest of us too, come to that. And of course there are the remarkable women in all walks of life who deserve praise too: Mother Teresa is always mentioned (except by Christopher Hitchens), the Pankhursts, Sanger, Stanton, Earhardt, Steinem, Madame Curie and other Nobel or Peace Prize winners, bravery award winners, Prime Ministers, the list is long... and Caitlin has her list too, including Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, and Lady Gaga.

The second point is that the roads, railway lines, canals, cars, trains, aircraft, electricity lines, freighters and liners, drainage systems, houses and skyscrapers are all built and maintained almost exclusively by the average Joes, the working class men—as are entire industries (fishing, construction, lumber, mining)—not by the high profile alpha males whom we just and justly applauded. It's the blue collar workers who get the jobs done. Forget Mozart! Who built the piano? And the concert hall? Flip a light switch and give thanks!

Furthermore most of the bravery awards go to men: the Carnegie Medals in the U.S., the Canadian Star of Courage, the Stanhope Medals in the UK. Men routinely not only risk their lives for others, but also sacrifice them too, not only in war (most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq) but also in the saving professions (firefighters, police—doctors and nurses may also be our saviours, but not so high risk). Well-known examples include the Titanic in 1912, when 80 percent of the men died and 70 percent of the women and children were saved as the order "Women and children first!" was obeyed; the World Trade Center on 9/11 when 403 NYPD and FDNY men lost their live rescuing total strangers; and Chernobyl and Fukushima where nuclear plant workers risked and lost their lives to save lives. Praiseworthy.

"Heroes are zeroes" remarked one of my students as we were discussing 9/11. Another added: "They were paid to do this." I was speechless, for once. Paid to lose their lives? What would you say to this? Evidently nothing a man could do would be praiseworthy. This was the zero sum game in reality, and misandry.

The third point is that, given women's superior achievements in education over the last two or three decades, women are going up and men are, relatively speaking, downwardly mobile (more on this another day). Actually the distinguished French feminist Elizabeth Badinter announced ages ago: "In most Western democracies, the patriarchal system has received the coup de grace in the last two decades...The power of the father and husband is becoming extinct. Men's ideological, social and political domination has been seriously eroded." Then she announced "the death of patriarchy" (1989:130). That was exactly 40 years after de Beauvoir had published "The Second Sex." That is an amazing speed of change and a remarkable transfer of power.

This is a glorious achievement. Consider that this massive transfer of power from elite men to women and to other men has been accomplished peacefully and gradually, a transfer from patriarchy to meritocracy, and from the powerful down the ladder to the less powerful: to women, to minorities and down class lines to the working class as well. This transfer has not achieved equality but greater equity and, in principle, equal rights, and has been enormously beneficial for everyone. Entrenched privilege by wealth or gender, race or ethnicity or faith or sexual orientation has been challenged and found wanting, destroyed on the reefs of the egalitarianisms of the Enlightenment. In asserting the doctrine of human equality, Rousseau almost single-handed destroyed the norm of human Inequality, the bedrock of the west since Plato (thanks Rousseau). This was institutionalized in the US Declaration of Independence (thanks Jefferson), ultimately in Emancipation (Mansfield, Wilberforce, Lincoln) up to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. And this has been primarily a male achievement and glory that was initiated by precisely those white, wealthy and powerful males, who have been the villains of the piece for so many! This idea has proved rather controversial in class, where some students argue that the concessions of power were "forced" from "the enemy" and they point, quite rightly, to protests and resistance. Why those men? This is not rocket science: because it was only they who had the political and economic power to make the changes and to respond to the protests. Whether this was because they thought it was in their long term interests or out of egalitarian idealism, or both, as I suspect, is a matter of some dispute, and no doubt varied from case to case, but surely it cannot be a matter of doubt. Not that one has to be grateful for the recognition of human equality, or to abolitionists for abolishing the slavery that their ancestors had introduced, or to parliaments for introducing universal adult suffrage for men first and then women, but one should at least set the historical record straight. Not gratitude necessarily, but gratitude if necessary, and recognition, for their hard work even heroism in initiating human rights, democracy, liberating women, slaves, even workers. The global process is unfinished but it is still continuing, as the U.N. Development Program indicates.

So we can glory in the famous alpha males (and females, pace Caitlin) and their contributions to civilization and development, the blue collar workers for theirs, and the human rights legislators and activists for theirs, including the protesters in the Arab spring, and including, yes, so many women. And we can check out cnnheroes.com and nominate our own heroes, defined there as people who give to others. Many inspirational men and women are highlighted. Glory masculinism and glory feminism are complementary. Glories R Us!

Badinter, E. 1989. Man/Woman. The One is the Other. Collins Harvill.
Hughes-Hallett, L. 2005. Heroes. New York: Random House.
Mansfield, H. 2006. Manliness. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Montefiore, S. 2007. 101 World Heroes. London: Quercus.
Moran, C. 2011. How to be a Woman. London: Ebury.
Newell, W. 2000. What is a Man? New York: Regan.
Newell, W. 2003. The Code of Man. New York: HarperCollins.
Paglia, C. 1991. Sexual Personae. New York: Vintage.
Synnott, A. 2009. Re-Thinking Men. London: Ashgate.

Anthony Synnott, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Concordia University in Montreal.

more...

Subscribe to Rethinking Men

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?