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June 18, 2013


"Playful", "Unapologetic Masculinity"? Really???

I'm always somewhat mystified when I see "masculinity" defined as a flagrant lack of self control coupled with a broken moral compass. Sometimes it seems that we have forgotten the distinction between acting like a child and choosing to be an adult; between doing what comes naturally and doing what's necessary to ensure not just the survival but the continued evolution of our species.

Last week, I read an essay that moved me to tears. I read it again this morning and cried just as hard as I did the first time I read it.

They were tears of anger as much as tears of grief.

The essay was written by a man remembering his father, and that still, quiet voice reaffirmed everything I have always admired and loved about the best kind of man - the one who isn't in it for himself. The one who thinks ahead; who looks before he leaps; who tempers emotion with reason. Who thinks about the future of the society he lives in, the children he fathers, the destiny of the human race.

Who continually strives to be a better person than the one he was born to be.

After decades of self-justifying articles about how men are hard wired to value quantity over quality and transitory gratification over permanence and progress, we're now being treated to similar arguments about the true nature of women. Being female (and therefore no stranger to the darker impulses of femininity), I'm less skeptical about such arguments than one might suppose. Like Chesterton, I've always thought the traditional restrictions on men and woman were put there for a reason. They are there to restrain us, and to protect others from the deeply destructive aspects of human nature.

Both sexes tell themselves comforting stories about the nature of our better halves. Men like to believe they are the only ones whose instincts bear watching. It's comforting to reduce complex phenomena to a simplistic, almost mathemagical formula: women are hypergamous (which means men's looks don't really matter - in theory at least, any man with a fat enough wallet can die surrounded by compliant, nineteen year old Czech supermodels). Hope springs eternal, so long as one can view females as mostly inert, asexual objects of the male sex drive who can be relied upon, contradictory beliefs about the arbitrary and capricious nature of womankind notwithstanding, to behave in predictable ways. We women just live for marriage and commitment; never acting, always acted upon. When they don't, that's not nature! It's some outside force, acting upon them. Both sides do this, by the way. Conservatives do it every time they fulminate about how feminism has "tricked" a whole generation. It's as though we can't be expected to think about our own lives. When we screw up, it's not our fault! We were sold a lie.

Even our most idiotic lapses our not our fault, really. There's no personal responsibility; only helpless, pathetic victims of feminism (or patriarchal oppression - take your pick) whose choices, like those of all those men who are "only doing what comes naturally", mustn't be questioned or judged because people who judge are prudes. Or busybodies.

Such a framework explains so much. Except it doesn't, really. If women value marriage above all else, why are 60-70% of divorces initiated by women? The conventional wisdom has several answers: they're gold digging hussies (never mind that their standard of living actually drops, post divorce). Or they're brainwashed by the siren song of feminism (never mind that rising divorce rates predate no fault and The Feminine Mystique by a good century or so). Failed marriages are never their fault, nor their husbands' faults. Facts have never been able to compete with a really comforting narrative that essentially dismisses the notion that all of us - male or female - have the ability to move beyond our wiring and assume responsibility for the decisions we make.

We women have our own fables. Too many of us continue to believe that men can be trained, like seals, to want what we want and value what we value. We tell ourselves that it's "the system" that makes people behave the way they do. This is the opposite of the hard wiring meme - it's not human nature, it's those unnatural, rigid gender stereotypes that are holding us back. If we could just cast aside the shackles of patriarchal oppression, women could be just.like.men - wanting what they want, valuing what they value, and thereby achieving the same outcomes; improbably without sacrificing one iota of what makes us female, and feminine.

And men would be 'free' to want what women want and value what women value, in scrupulously equal amounts.

I'm so sick of reading articles about why women (and men) can't have it all. What about our children? What kind of selfish jerk seriously thinks he or she deserves to have everything they want?

All this focus on what men and women naturally want, coupled with furiously reflexive defenses of what various parties perceive to be "natural" for men or women, can't be good for the future of the human race. We have all but divorced parenthood from marriage, because why on earth should men and women have to limit their lifestyle choices simply because they chose to express their beautiful and natural desire to bring a child into the world?

Or not.

Selfishness and self absorption are the New Rationality. Self restraint is wimpy and eminently mockable, shame is off limits, and "What's in it for me?" is now the gold standard by which moral judgments are made. Thumbing our noses at our opponents (#winning!)has become more important than doing what's right even though it's hard. Or doesn't get us ahead. Or gets us laughed at.

Dear God, what a wasteland we're leaving our children.

Posted by Cassandra at June 18, 2013 08:29 AM

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Hey, hey! Ho, ho!
Self-absorption has got to go!

Wait. That can't work. Selfishness and self-absorption is baked into the species. In fact, every "law" ever written, religious or social, has been aimed at tempering our instinct to think first, and only, about one's own self-interest. "I want!" v. "Thou shalt not..." After a few hundred generations, most of us now subscribe to the notion that unimpeded self-interest results in bloody anarchy, and so we fight the ever-present temptation towards wrath, greed, gluttony, sloth, pride, lust and envy. Some of us have more success than others, of course, and we naturally empathize with those who succumb from human weakness, provided they don't make a habit out it. Those who make no effort to tame their self-interest we categorize as being pathologically defective.

Whining, on the hand, has always been greeted with universal disgust. We may indeed all be in the same lifeboat, but as sentient beings we are only interested in contemplating our own self-interest. Keep yours to yourself, pal, or it's over the side you go.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 18, 2013 11:41 AM

"Playful", "Unapologetic Masculinity"?

And those doors can just jump out and get you sometimes too. Like mailboxes, they are.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 18, 2013 12:01 PM

I have no trouble accepting that people can be (naturally!) self absorbed.

What I have trouble with is seeing selfishness and immaturity rationalized by people supposedly on "my side" of the political aisle, served up with a heaping helping of, "Nothing I do is ever my fault because somewhere, someone doesn't approve of my lifestyle choices/sexuality/whatever and that hurts my precious feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelings".

Sorry, guys. Major sense of humor failure today.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 18, 2013 12:29 PM


Speaking of which, this may be the greatest product ever invented to combat seasonal male whining.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 18, 2013 12:48 PM

"I'm so sick of reading articles about why women (and men) can't have it all."

Well, the answer is obvious.
You need to stop reading. See, that wasn't so hard.

Oh, wait. You probably aren't reading this now.
Or, you *shouldn't* be.

Posted by: DL Sly at June 18, 2013 01:00 PM


Pretty much :p

Posted by: Cassandra at June 18, 2013 01:01 PM

This wrapping paper idea is fantastic.

Posted by: Grim at June 18, 2013 01:19 PM

The "beautiful people" and the wealthy have always been about self-adsorption. It is now communicated to the masses by mass media (massive).

There are no consequences or fault until there is a massive failure or fault. Teenagers seem to discover this every generation, but it is amazing that so many adults seem to subscribe to this.
( I blame Bush for this )

We are all "fallen" human beings, but we can get back up, and decide that today, I will not be a self-indulgent idiot. That today, I will try and look beyond my childish whims. Somedays, that's about all we can manage.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at June 18, 2013 01:56 PM

( I blame Bush for this )

Lot's of guys do.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano who can't keep his mind out of the gutter at June 18, 2013 02:09 PM

Lot's of guys do.

Not if I can help it :p

Posted by: Brazilian Wax, Climbing Right into a gutter near you! at June 18, 2013 02:13 PM

I will only add that I have often heard my wife describing me (to other women) as "Trainable". Which I am--up to a point!

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at June 19, 2013 09:29 AM

I believe the "men are trainable" idea is a time honored one, but also one that applies equally to both sexes. I learned it as a girl: "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" :p

That seems to work on most folks!

Posted by: Cassandra at June 19, 2013 09:48 AM