Peter’s replies to my reply are here, here, and here. I will warn anyone just joining us and anyone here on an archive trawl that this post won’t make a great deal of sense without that background.
Since addressing him bit by bit would be an exceedingly cumbersome format given the length and content, I’m going to try and boil it down to what I think the salient points that still need to be made are, or that I should have made originally. I was never very happy with the first post I wrote and am glad for the opportunity to refine and clarify my position.
The first thing I want to reiterate and clarify is that this issue is as much about perception as it is anything else. My original post was prompted by Peter wondering aloud why feminists have a problem with the traditional “real man” model of masculinity, and it was intended as a direct answer to that; it’s not “what’s wrong with traditional masculinity” so much as it was “this is what the “real man” thing can look like from outside, and they have some legitimate issues with it”. As I’ve noted before, men and women take a lot of their own intrasex experience for granted without realizing that the opposite sex isn’t nearly in on the same level of communication, or making the same assumptions, they are. There’s also a certain amount of intrasex ignorance; men and women largely do not experience the same kinds of negative behavior coming from their own sex that the opposite sex will. It’s usually relatively easy to ignore the worst of your own gender, while the opposite’s worst is keenly felt, because it’s directed at you and comes seemingly out of nowhere.
A very common response I’ve seen from men is that their role models, who gave them the idea of what it means to be a man, would never condone or even tolerate the kinds of abuse I’m talking about as stemming from the traditional gestalt idea of masculinity. That’s because they were role models; women don’t experience masculinity as just the role models of good men, but every man, especially those styling themselves “real men” and those that believe them and take those men as their own role models. To us, the Sumdood who kills his girlfriend because he suspected she’d been unfaithful- and the other dudes who inevitably make some kind of “yeah he was wrong to kill her, but she should never have…” half-justification of how he was perfectly understandable in enforcing his ownership of her are just as much “this is what manhood means” as our (hopefully) much-admired fathers, brothers, husbands, and friends who really DO embody the traditional ideal of a gentleman.
The second major point I want to make stems from a combination of Peter’s first and second reply. The explanation and clarification of African culture alone is very interesting, and he does make a solid point in both cultures: abuse of women is much, much more common in cultures where the social order has begun to break down, and they have far more power when it’s stable, although he acknowledges that in such cultures, women really are the property of men just as men are property of the tribe, and individualism is a very Western concept.
To which I’d reply: power you only have when your counterpart is content to humor you because things are going well is not power. It’s influence, to be sure, but when things break down the second someone decides he doesn’t care what the biddy down the bush thinks, one sex is getting the short and extremely pointy end of the stick, and the other is not. Things may be going badly for him, but one unfortunate human universal near-constant behavior is that in times of distress, people usually spread their unhappiness with a big shovel- to whoever is immediately down from them in status.
Peter makes the point overall in part two that a good deal of strife between the sexes can be traced to the breakdown of the original social order, and up to a point I agree: things are worse for women when things have broken down. My other points are thus:
1) I realize this is not at ALL what he meant, but this line of argument can be read as a threat: “Stay in your role and be happy there, at least you’re not being beaten and raped, because that’s what we’ll do if you don’t.” Again, I’m giving the feminist perspective on traditional manhood here- and this isn’t just me playing semantic games, this is EXACTLY the kinds of strain of comment that come out in news reports about rape and abuse of women*. There’s nearly always an analysis of what she did wrong, to deserve that kind of treatment.
2) It’s pretty easy to say the old order was working fine if you’re a member of the class that has all the real social power. “I’m happy, you all seem happy enough, what’s wrong with that?” The term for this is “privilege”.
3) Even when people are raised within a very traditional gender role structure and everyone has a clear idea of what’s expected from their gender, this does not actually protect women. It gives the illusion that everything is working fine that allows people to comfortably downplay and minimize evidence to the contrary. I originally linked to this article about clergy response to domestic violence to highlight the attitudes within traditional masculinity that lead to reinforcing an attitude of ownership and control of women, but read the whole thing, and if you have time, read the author’s archives in general. Dr. Tracy is an evangelical Christian studying and writing about abuse within evangelical churches- which I think we can all agree represent a traditional and strongly defined set of gender roles, as a rule- and two of the things he’s found are very pertinent to my point here: 1) Rates of physical and sexual abuse within evangelical churches are roughly the same as those among the unchurched, around 20-30%, and 2) The clergy within these churches believe it’s actually much lower. Women are getting as beaten and raped at the same rate as the rest of general (stable) society, but out of every good intention and faith in their own flock, the abuse is being minimized and dismissed.
Here’s another article by the same author, this time analyzing patriarchy and domestic violence within churches. It is specifically a response to charges by feminists patriarchy itself leads directly and inevitably to domestic violence, and aside from being a civil argument on the subject, contains a lot of analysis of men who batter: conservative Protestant men with traditional gender views who attend church regularly (and are presumably absorbing the full message) are among the least likely to beat their wives, but conservative Protestant men with traditional gender views who attend irregularly are the *most* likely to. Dr. Tracy theorizes that they are using their limited exposure primarily as a way to justify and reinforce their right to dominate their wives and children, and I would agree.
And that, really, is my point in a particularly specific nutshell: You can’t take traditional masculinity as only the good, the role models, the ideals. Unhealthy men always exist, and they will highlight and double-underline the ideas that involve authority over, and sexual control of, women. Those are legitimate issues, and the ones that feminists are concerned about, and they don’t go away when everyone is being good and staying in their place within the order.
All of that said, I actually do agree with a lot of what Peter said. The strong, gentlemanly role models of masculinity are good, and needed, and Daddy Bear encapsulated quite nicely what that should be, and gladdeningly often is, though still isn’t true quite often enough. We need to socialize children with a clear idea of virtue, and responsibility, and what it means to be a member of their gender, and of their community and larger society as a whole, and the modern fuzziness of the passage into adulthood and set of expectations is generally lacking.
If anything my complaint is that there isn’t anything NEAR approaching as clear and strong and idea and culture for womanhood as there is for manhood, and tends to be just as based on contrast- in order to be feminine, I must not be masculine- as Peter points out the current “being girly is the worst thing in the world” probably stems from. That’s a pretty huge problem when so many virtues that are generally virtues get defined as manly- which is how we wind up with girls and women that think being visibly competent and decisive is unfeminine and therefore to be avoided. When this is a set of ideals given from mothers to daughters as well as from fathers to sons, we won’t have eliminated abuse- that will never happen- but we’ll still be in a healthier place than we are now.
And we’ll still have metrosexuals. Who can change a tire, one hopes.
*Yes, I realize men get raped and abused too, but that’s not the subject of this post. Sadly the kinds of comment stories about rape and abuse of men draw, when they are reported at all, are much much worse. If you think people will come down on you as a woman for being victimized in a short skirt, you should see what happens when you’re a man and you get victimized at all by anyone other than another man that is much bigger and stronger than you.