Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘masculinity

Overlooked explorations of the male role, etc.

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After my recent review of “Pride and Prejudice”, I have spent some time thinking on actually and apparently simplistic literature vs. something that has long annoyed me immensely: Common claims from (almost invariably female) “gender theorists” and their ilk that men would spend too little time analyzing the “male role”, that questions of “manhood” or “masculinity” would not be sufficiently explored, and similar. (While the same, apparently, does not apply to women—presumably, courtesy of the same “gender theorists”.)

These claims show a gross ignorance of the type of influences those men who are interested in fiction are exposed to since childhood—and the considerable efforts, conscious or not, spent exploring such topics in fiction, since long before “gender studies” arose as a social construct*. To boot, it severely underestimates the amount of time many men spend privately contemplating related issues, let alone the apparently universal** male question of when one ceases to be boy and becomes a man.

*Two can play that game…

**With reservations for societies where some type of initiation ritual is involved, as well as sub-cultures where it is tied to first having sexual intercourse. (Going by my own experiences, I suspect that the question is raised so commonly mostly because the process is gradual, both in one’s own eyes and in the eyes of the surroundings.)

Take “The Lord of the Rings” and consider the wide variety of characters, character developments, and situations: Take as positive examples Frodo and his heroic march; Sam and his undying loyalty; Merry and Pippin, and the sacrifices they make for friendship; and how all four grew to become so much stronger than they originally were (or proved themselves to be vs. thought that they were). Take as negative examples Boromir committing evil* in an effort to do good; Saruman being corrupted by a wish for power; Theoden falling prey to his personal Iago; or even Frodo, unable to give up the Ring during the deciding moment. (With many other examples to be found.) There are (mentally/morally/whatnot) small men and great men, there are small men growing, there are great men shrinking. There are dilemmas and decisions. There is heroism and cowardliness. There are good ends and means; and there are bad ends and means—even intermingled (cf. Boromir). A particular point of note is the epilogue in the Shire—unlike in so many other stories, defeating the main evil does not ensure that the world is safe and sound, and the work still goes on. (Incidentally, while the text is dominated by male characters, the few women that do occur are by no means house-wives focused on child-rearing. Most notably, Galadriel is a ruling queen, is one of the most powerful beings that appear in the story, and appears to wear the pants in her own family; while Eowyn disguises as a man, rides to battle, and slays one of Sauron’s greatest champions—both much worthier examples** than any of the female characters in “Pride and Prejudice”.)

*And from another perspective, we have the ethical dilemma of when what actions are justifiable, and the opportunity to consider ourselves in different situations (also see another recent text.) Unlike many other instances of evil being done in the name of good (or “the greater good”, as case may have it), the attempted evil was, on the surface, small and the situation one involving the fate of the world, making his actions easier to understand. (The more severe flaw was, likely, that he failed to comprehend the nature of the Ring, and that things would have ended much worse, had he been successful, than they actually did. My last reading being too far back, I do not recall the degree to which his actions were caused by an active influence by the Ring. The interpretation of these actions might need some corresponding adjustment.) Similar concerns about motivations and what-would-the-reader-do-in-the-same-situation apply in other cases too.

**I caught myself originally writing “examples for a young woman”. I immediately stopped to change this, although not unreasonable in this specific context: While their might be some areas where the sex of an example or role-model is relevant, it is almost always better to focus on the admirable characteristics. The feminist insistence that young women be given female role-models for this-and-that is highly misguided and contra-productive. If we want a role-model, we should pick someone suitable in a manner that ignores both our own and the role-models sex (and color, religion, nationality, whatnot).

Take “Hamlet”; take the “Iliad”; take “Le Morte D’Arthur”; take any number of other works by a great number of authors, even (particularly?) in the fantasy and sci-fi genres; take, even, the lives and adventures of Spiderman and the Hulk, in those despised super-hero comics, those heights of male “immaturity”. To a thinking mind, the right work can raise more questions around what it is and takes to be a man, how to be good, what dilemmas and problems can arise in life, whatnot, than the field of “gender studies” does (even discounting problems like ideological bias within that field). Moreover, in my impression, they do so to a far higher degree than does, m.m., the corresponding age-group literature for women, as demonstrated by e.g. “Pride and Prejudice”.*

*I must make the great reservation that I am not overly well-read in this area; however, what works I have read/watched with a similarly “for girls/women” image (as e.g. “The Lord of the Rings” has a “for boys/men” image), have usually fallen similarly short as “Pride and Prejudice”—with questions like “Who gets whom?”, “Does he love me?” (or even “Do I love him?”), “Which of my two suitors should I pick?”, “Do I dare to have that chocolate bar?”, “Should I remain friends with that other woman, even though she is a horrible person?”, and similar shallowness. While some of these questions might, on a personal level, be important, they do not contribute much to personal growth, to developing a sense of ethics, to gaining insights, whatnot. (Note the difference between works written for women and works written by women—the latter can be quite insightful.)

These works often (similar to “Pride and Prejudice”) work with shallower and more unnuanced characters, proving that this, in and by it self, need not be a problem. However, where “Pride and Prejudice” gives the impression of either lack of insight or lack of effort (which, I will not presume to judge), they often do so for deliberate reasons, in order to e.g. make a point more obvious or to be allegorical.* (Also note that my complaint against “Pride and Prejudice” was not lack of character depth, per se, but the compounded lack of almost everything, character depth included.) More generally, many works of fiction can be quite thought-worthy despite having a reputation that goes more towards entertainment literature. For instance, many with only a fleeting familiarity see Terry Pratchett as just a humorist (he was much more); for instance, many see the “Narnia” books as just children’s literature (they have insight even for the adult reader and can be read on several levels). Also see an excursion in the aforementioned review.

*However, many, especially for younger readers, can take this to a point that important insights are lost, most notably the realization that the bad guys usually consider themselves to be the good guys.

Interestingly, questions like those discussed above do not necessarily have any stronger connection with being-a-man-as-opposed-to-a-woman*. Instead, they center on being-a-man-as-opposed-to-a-boy, or, more generically, an-adult-as-opposed-to-a-child; or forego such divisions entirely to focus on e.g. what is right, with no restrictions on who is concerned (being-good-as-opposed-to-bad**, to stick to the pattern). If then, a criticism against one of the sexes should be extended, it would be better directed at women*** for not paying enough attention to the child–adult (or good–bad) division and favoring the female–male division. To some degree, a man is a plain vanilla adult, making issues like a (specifically) male role largely uninteresting; while a woman is a strawberry adult with a scope of cream, chocolate flakes, and a cherry on top, making an investigation of a female role more understandable. (And while I have no objection to women being strawberry instead of vanilla, do they really need all those extras?)

*However, some do, at least in public perception, e.g. in that the demands on a man to take responsibility are larger, ditto to be a provider or protector, ditto to, in a life-or-death situation, give his life to protect his wife’s, etc. Apart from these being unlikely to cause dissatisfaction among feminists, they are also usually of a type that does not require an adjustment of the male self-image or whatnot—if anything, they suggest that women should step up more, that society should to put larger demands on women, and/or that women should revise their image of men.

**I use “bad” over “evil” for two reasons: Firstly, it is not necessarily a matter of e.g. ethics or consequences for others, it can also be a matter of e.g. capabilities and consequences for one self. Secondly, even when ethics is concerned, “evil” might push the contrast too far. For instance, in the parable of the good Samaritan, do we really wish to call those just walking by “evil”? Indeed, even “bad” might be too strong a word in at least some contexts.

***Or at least the type of women who tend to be found in areas like “gender studies” and feminism. Still, in my personal impression to date, women often see “being an adult” as the equivalent of “having a family”—while a man might be more focused on “carrying responsibility” or “doing the right thing”.

But here we might have the crux: These efforts deal with topics like right and wrong, good and evil, positive and negative behavior and developments, human strengths and weakness; often contrasting or putting in conflict egoism and altruism, loyalty towards two different things (say, a brother and country), duty and safety/comfortability, whatnot. What they do not do, is ask questions like “Should I wear a skirt to work?”—and why should they? That is a small and mostly irrelevant question, starting with the low probability that a man would want to do so. (The reverse questions around some women can have a greater value, e.g. to move them towards more practical clothing, but are still not truly important.)

True, in the area between these extremes, there are questions that might be worthy of some exploration (and do not obviously fit in the context of an epic fantasy adventure). For instance, we might consider “Is it unmanly to be a stay-at-home dad?”: It could be argued that someone who avoids that role for that reason is lacking in maturity. On the other hand, this constellation is not very common, with more common reasons including a greater drive to accomplish something professionally and a lesser tolerance of children. A typical intelligent and educated man will not fear what his blokes in the pub will say,* but he will have concerns like loosing ground in his career**, earning less, being bored by a less intellectual type of work, being driven up the wall after spending the whole day, week in and week out, with his children,*** etc. In contrast, here duty can come in, and a man who unexpectedly finds himself a single parent, might very well stay at home out of a sense of duty. His friends might give him a minor ribbing, but they would hardly think less of him—they would see a man doing something manly (viz. doing his duty by his children).

*A recurring issue is that “gender theorists” and feminists present a very stereotypical, prejudiced, and often outright incorrect image of men, e.g. through ignoring individual variation and over-focusing on sit-com “proles”—if men are painted as Al Bundy, then we should equally paint women as Peg Bundy. Similarly, if we do not look at the people with some modicum of intelligence, there is no point in discussing the matter: Stupid people will, barring a revolutionary medical break-through, remain stupid, no matter how many treatises are written on their behavior—and if we look at the behavior of stupid women, they are certainly not something for the female sex to be proud of.

**But is not a career drive also something to analyze/problematize/deconstruct/…? That depends on why the drive is there. Believers in the out-dated “tabula rasa” model of the human mind might jump to the conclusion that a career drive is necessarily something artificial, which explains much of their wish for further investigation (but, obviously, only within their own “everything is a construct” frame-work). However, there are strong signs that such differences are largely caused by biology, making a further investigation a low priority—if in doubt, because this drive is mostly beneficial. A major reason behind the continual failure of various modern feminist, PC, Leftist, whatnot attempts to create equality of outcome is simply that they push past the point where inborn characteristics become a deciding factor—they fail to realize that differences in outcome are not ipso-facto proof of differences in opportunity. (Similar arguments apply to other points above.)

***Note that a love of one’s children is not an obstacle to such irritation.


Written by michaeleriksson

October 19, 2018 at 5:07 am