I have just been reading Red Dreher’s Manhood As Mental Disorder. When I started reading it, my first thought was “more of the same” from the growing swing back to Hitler’s Ubermensch and the New Soviet Man away from the liberalism that followed the 1960’s into our own times. All the same, it seemed a good idea to read the article all the same. The American perspective is different from ours in Europe (the UK is going off at a tangent with our language in common with the Americans).
Something coming from the left is always answered with the same with interest from the right. Every allusion to abolishing gender and promoting so-called transgenderism is answered by this idea of the masculine stereotype – taken to its extreme in American criminals gangs still at liberty and serving long sentences in those awful prisons over there. I have always been repelled by both extremes. I suppose I had a normal time as a small boy, doing boyish things but hating competitive sports. I don’t look back with relish at having been sanctioned by corporal punishment, though it occasionally happened to me. I was at school in the 1960’s and 70’s, the end of the “old days” typified by the idea some have of the idolised 1950’s.
The subject is a somewhat outrageous idea of something normal and natural being stigmatised by psychologists as a pathology. We should be neutral human beings and preferably becoming the opposite sex from how we were born. What seems to be meant, however, is the stereotyped notion of the man, the characteristics of stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression. This seems to put a new slant of things in spite of the usual ideological language used by the “liberal” “politically correct” scene. I have always been wary of that intolerant frame of mind that judged me at school for preferring more individual pursuits like reading, walking and music to football and talk in the dormitory about fictitious conquests of pretty girls during the school holidays.
Dreher seems quite fair in recognising that the old pressures on boys to make them define themselves by someone else’s stereotype has caused a lot of problems. It is very interesting to note that women have been researched a lot less, and issues like autism and learning disorders are much more difficult to identify in girls. For a long time, I have contended that questions of gender and role have been exaggerated and continue to put men and women into aggressive opposition. The real problems are those of forcing generations of children through an education system in which one size fits all. I still remember Stella, the black girl at my primary school in about 1967, and our being told to be nice with her. It never occurred to me to treat Stella badly because of the colour of her skin, because I came from a family in which tolerance and inclusion are values. Many boys I knew at school were brought up with other values, and they are now the louts harassing MP’s outside the House of Commons over questions of Brexit and immigration.
Indeed this article is timely. The hot button issues like same-sex marriage and transgenderism are addressed – they serve to create an even more radical rift between men and women as either sex became a caricature of the opposite. We also need to beware of the toxic spin of the mass media, given the effect it is also having in the current Brexit debate – creating a highly toxic and polarised society. Whilst it is timely, it is also very partial in its continuing to stereotype categories of human beings according to gender, race, social class, etc.
I have always maintained the idea of being ourselves and not what we think other people expect. What is “traditional masculinity”? I went to a school in York where the emphasis was on sport and competition, the quest for the best, for excellence. That is something noble, boys being told that they are to be self-reliant and resilient, the stuff of Baden-Powell’s scouting. The problem is what happens to those who are not the best and strongest. One ideology would eliminate them from their right to life. The opposite would lower the lowest common denominator. The solution is within ourselves – be really careful whom we trust. Rely on our own moral strength both to survive and do what we believe is right. We are not strong with everything, so we have to come to terms with our own weaknesses and not let the bullies exploit them.
Also, we have to beware of those who tell us that we are only of any worth if we are leaders. We are not all leaders, and the usual qualification for leadership these days is to be a bully, a criminal who has stolen the money and livelihoods from others, the kind of person that suffers no anxiety, fear or qualms of conscience. That is the perfect recipe of a modern politician – in it for what he or she can get. Forget traditional masculinity (or femininity for that matter) but the Mensch within us, what is human and constructive according to the other ideals we find in the teaching of Christ.
We are all different as persons, and our strengths and weaknesses are complementary rather than opposed. My education taught me to do the best possible with what I’ve got. I also have a high degree of empathy for others – and could not in conscience compete against others, because it is improving my own life at the expense of others. Mors tua vita mea, the very opposite of Christ’s teaching on self-sacrifice. That is the paradox of Christianity that makes it so useless and bereft of credibility in a world where human beings behave like ravenous dogs.
Post-modern political correctness has pushed us to the opposite extreme in which elites are either abolished or reversed. We are expected to be what we are not. Feminism becomes as toxic as masculinism, because much of it is reversed sexism. My experience of marriage has shown me how much women sometimes want to be more powerful and aggressive than men, but their entire way of thinking and feeling is different. My experience of what psychologists call Aspergers has for me broken down those walls and enabled me to empathise with the feminine without becoming a caricature of it.
I have had to reflect a lot about politics and the differences between conservatism and liberalism. Some comments I have had on this blog have represented the extreme of one or the other and have been quite painful to read. My understanding of the meanings of these words is different from that of most people. I do believe that a father of a family should be able to defend his wife and children from enemies and criminals, even with the use of weapons when no other way is possible. I think many non-dominant men would be capable of such action under the degree of provocation.
Stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression? We all have to live with adversity in differing degrees, and I find it difficult to deal with people who are always complaining of their aches and pains – unless I can do something about it. The English stiff upper lip is not a bad philosophy, but we can’t keep things bottled up forever. If we have no one to trust, then there is nothing shameful about closing the door of a bedroom to have a good cry – and then pick ourselves up again. No one else cares. Why should they? Sometimes, friendships can be lights in the cold and hostile darkness of our world. Competitiveness? I’m not interested. We can do our own best without taking it away from other people. Dominance? It was not Christ’s way, since more was achieved through self-sacrifice than the brutal Kampf of the Waffen-SS goon. As for aggression, I was once fishing as a boy and a bully decided for some reason to break my fishing rod. I lost my temper and beat him up quite badly. That experience has made its mark on me. Aggression like anger is something we have to master and keep under control. This stereotype of masculinity is indeed toxic, even if we have sometimes to be stoical. We have to learn to be ourselves, comparing ourselves with ourselves yesterday to check for progress in learning, becoming stronger, more human – and not comparing ourselves with other people whose lives were totally different from our own. The grass seems greener on the other side of the fence, but it isn’t. There’s no reason to be jealous of other people. Think how unhappy a given billionaire might be with all that money, but far from the Kingdom of God.
We don’t always come up to our own mark, and that is our combat in life. Don’t let others judge you for cowardice if you know that it wasn’t cowardice but just not having the means to fight. It is reasonable not to fight unless you have a reasonable chance of winning or at least of defending yourself and your loved ones. The answer isn’t clear in all circumstances. Beware of fashions and stereotypes! They are illusory and seek to steal the image of God from our own spirit.
What is being bandied about by conservatives (or the caricature because conservatism also represents noble values) these days is the old perversion of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch. The Nazis sought every corner of the earth for the old Aryan race, believing it descended from the super-race of Atlantis or the Hyperborean regions. Their notion was materialistic and illusory. I believe that Nietzsche sought a nobility of spirit that would enhance humanity, and not merely physical strength. The Ubermensch has his own values and is independent, seeking to influence others for the good and provide meaning and purpose to life. Unfortunately Christ ceased to be the incarnation of that Ubermensch, and another idea had to be sought.