The Manosphere has been a-fire lately concerning conservative opinionator Bill Bennett’s recent book about “manhood” and a follow-up article by a feminist conservative complaining that men today “won’t grow up” and marry her awesomely awesome younger spirit-sisters.
Fellow bloggers Dalrock and Ferdinand Bardamu have both covered this issue in great detail. I for my part covered almost all of this stuff in my two-part series on Kay Hymowitz and her silly, uninformed screeds against young men. I really have no interest in re-arguing those points, so I will encourage new readers to review those pieces.
And I will add a few new thoughts that apply to the whole gang of them.
1. In my posts I noted that Hymowitz et al conflated alpha males, who refuse to “settle down,” and omega males, who don’t have anything to offer modern women. In light of these new, um, contributions, I’d like to refine that angle with another reference to Dalrock – these women resent alpha males because they are successful and non-committal, and they resent beta/omega males because they are unattractive and clingy (in other words, too committal).
2. One of the major threads of criticism in the Manosphere holds that feminism and so-called “traditionalism” are a lot more alike than either want to admit because they both seek to obligate men to benefit women’s interests. I called this “obligation masculinity,” and it only works as an organizing principle of society if obligation femininity also exists.
Bennett and Nance continue the streak – in their argument, men are told to do certain stuff and act a certain way for the benefit of women, children, the economy, society, God – everyone but themselves. Truly they are supposed to put everyone else’s interests ahead of their own, because “that’s what a man does.” Interesting how in their world, no one else is expected to put a man’s interest ahead of their own. “Traditionalist conservative” family models might claim to do this, but as Dalrock has pointed out even conservative churches speak like Christ but act like Oprah, refusing to publicly criticize the perpetrators of frivolous divorce. If they’re working for everyone else’s benefit, it’s not at all wrong to ask, what’s in it for them? (Lest you think I’m a hardened cynic, I understand that many relationships of all stripes are successfully built on a bedrock of balanced, mutually-interested sacrifice.)
3. Bennett, Nance and others try to lecture and shame men to “man up,” as if the problem can be fixed from the inside. This is simply an adaptation of free-market conservatives’ longtime arguments about poverty – “if you don’t like being poor, work harder!” It’s silly advice to the poor, because systemic poverty is a complicated, multi-generational macro-issue. Bennett tells guys to “get a challenging job.” Where are said jobs? Can they get them in vending machines for a dollar and a quarter? Men are supposed to be “responsible” for a wife and kids. What does that mean for a generation of men who were never taught how to be evenly modestly attractive to women? It’s easy for a guy who spent most of his productive years in funded government positions and writes soft-philosophy books that WASPs buy to put on their fireplace mantles to tell young men to just get up and go to work. There’s no there there.
4. The theme of “guys play too many video games” is almost universal in this discussion, especially coming from women. What amazes me, although it doesn’t surprise me, is the complete lack of censure for the female equivalents (collecting clothes, eating out and traveling). Hymowitz in fact openly praised the shallow, consumptive lifestyles of her Manhattan mentees while slamming men for so much as drinking beer.
In any case, I think the knock on video games, poker and guy-only trips to the bar is simply another way of invalidating the “secret worlds” of men. It’s de rigeur for women to question fraternities, sports teams and other male-only activities as exhibitions of repressed homosexuality. It’s like guys wouldn’t spend any time together unless they secretly wanted to bang (of course, the same critics would say there’s nothing wrong with being gay and would balk at true homophobia even as they delight in impugning the integrity of men’s sexuality).
The mocking of the competitive, fantastic worlds boys love is another layer of the onion. Just recently, a commenter at Married Man Sex Life questioned why Athol Kay had to put so much science fiction into his posts, as if it served some nefarious purpose to alienate women. At the time of the Hymowitz posts, a reader wrote me saying that long ago she had snagged her then-young son a used Star Wars comforter. He was thrilled. Boys want and need heroic stories, games and role models that stoke their imagination for big things – something scifi and fantasy provide in spades. Striving for a goal and seeking self-determination is how boys learn to grow into men.
I’m not going to elevate Sunday Night Baseball to the level of a religious ritual, but guys need guy time. Teamwork is a natural part of the male experience going back to the Time Before Writing. It fills a critical social role, even more so today where traditional “man zones” have been unilaterally opened up to women – first by fiat, then by the forces of cultural acclimation. By and large men of my generation have accepted women in the workplace, boardrooms, and even in locker rooms (as reporters or players) with aplomb. Is a pizza and beer night with no girls allowed really that much to ask in return?