Manliness – More points worth noting

Comments on the article A Defense of Manliness:

From a Lowellian:

“[Rachel] never said that nobility was strictly for men only. Instead she said that expecting men to be that way is not farfetched. She advocated holding men to a higher standard. This is something I have been pushing for the last few years, but most people do not see the value. This article is not about women. It’s about the declining nobility of men. It was out of her scope to discuss women as well in such a short article.

… Kimmel could have encouraged men to shoot higher. Instead, he dumbs it down, in a bro type way, “just get consent”. That’s a slap in the face if you considered the valuable teachable moment he had in his hands at that time. …[It may be that Kimmel] would agree that a shift in dominant culture/perceptions would have a significant effect on men’s actions.”

From another Lowellian:

“I do not think that either the article [was] stating that consent is bad, but rather that men are held to a very minimal standard. That is, the implication of consent, particularly in the context of Kimmel’s “you hold the power to stop rape in your hands” comment, is that it should be assumed that all men act exclusively as sexual predators. In such a context, consent is good, and enthusiastic consent is better, because if men are sexual predators not at all interested in the woman or anything beyond the act of sex, it is for the best if at least they don’t rape anyone in their single-minded pursuit of sex. From a women’s perspective, this is a big plus, because if all men asked for consent their would be no rape. However, for men this is an absolute minimum standard of what it means to respect women. For example, a man can be trying to get a woman to have sex with him because he only wants to have sex, while not at all caring about her. He may ask for consent because he does not want to be charged with rape, and give up when consent is denied, but in spite of asking for consent, he is still a jerk without any respect for women. In this way, having mere consent as the only standard of male action towards women is a bare legal minimum, and it implies that men are not capable and should not be held responsible for actually respecting women, that the only standard they can abide by is not to rape women. It would be a higher standard to expect men to respect women as thinking and feeling people as themselves, to see them as intellectual equals, not to leave right after, to actually call back the next day, to focus their attentions on a woman towards whom they have feelings rather than going for whatever they can get, or to understand that for the woman sex may fit into the larger context of an actual relationship. Consent as a standard implies that men are only interested in casual sex, and that there is no better way to respect women than only to ask permission first. That is, consent is sexy in that it is the minimal condition for sexy. However, the author of the article is saying it would be way sexier if men actively worked to respect women as human beings instead of only trying to have sex with whoever was willing.

As for the definition of manliness, I don’t think that the author is stating that manliness is something inherent to men, which women do not posses, and which differentiates men from women. For instance, if manliness were inherent, then without the higher cultural standards for which the author is asking, men would be equally as manly as with them. Instead, the idea of manliness seems to be that some traits should be culturally expected of men but not expected of women, although women would be equally capable. This can be seen functioning in our society, where a man is expected to be courageous, and although women are equally capable of courage, they are not expected to be equally courageous. The difference would be that women displaying courage would be applauded as going beyond cultural requirements, while courageous men would be only affirmed as meeting requirements. This has the correlative that a man who does not act courageously in a situation requiring courage would be open to cultural censure, while a woman in the same situation would not. Furthermore, as for chivalry, it does not seem to be depicted as something like courage of which men and women are equally capable. Chivalry is not a personal virtue such as courage, but a set of cultural mores. As chivalry is based on the ideals of courtly love, it has at its base the idea that it is a code for the treatment of women by men, particularly in the realm of courtship. As this code of behaviors is limited to the courting of women, only persons pursuing courtship with women would be able to be chivalrous. It would be allowable that women pursuing women could do so chivalrously, but chivalry is, if not specific to men as the agent, is at least specific to women as the object. This is not to say that women are less capable than men in any way, only that the existing cultural framework of chivalry exists as specifically a mode of action towards women.

This seems to be the problem in my experience. Chivalry as a code is in many ways outmoded, as it often sees the woman as passive, and many other reasons for which chivalry was overthrown as a dominant cultural value by the women’s liberation movement. Unfortunately, chivalry, which for all its faults did establish a very high standard for the treatment of women by men, was replaced only by the idea of mere consent, which as shown before holds men to a very low standard, and does not provide a culturally sanctioned or codified way for men to be more respectful of women. Instead, rather than having codes for the proper treatment of women existing as a way for men to prove their manliness, the only culturally sanctioned way for men to be manly is draw pictures of lumberjacks throwing sharks:
Or make fun of men doing things deemed “unmanly”:
or to fulfill the only remaining cultural idea of male treatment towards women, that is, by being a successful sexual predator. The point of the article seems to be, as [other Lowellian] pointed out, that Kimmel wasted a teachable moment. Although he supports the idea of establishing new cultural standards for men that both are higher than mere consent but not as restrictive to women as chivalry, he did not seem to judge his audience as capable enough. Instead of stating that men should seek a noble standard, and rise above the idea of manliness as sexual predation and homophobia, that the most the audience could understand and execute is to not rape anyone. If all male Harvard students can understand about this topic is that they shouldn’t rape people, then our cultural situation is serious indeed. It is not to say that there is anything is wrong with consent, but consent is a minimal standard and should be taken as a given rather than the highest goal to which men can aspire.”

Another Lowellian:

“The way that I read it, Rachel was arguing for something like enthusastic consent, only better (even if she talked about it only from the guy’s point of view).  This might be easier to see if you include the sentence directly following what [someone] quoted:

“Consent is a miserable substitute for nobility, a legalistic detour around an incredibly personal situation. It doesn’t necessarily imply mutuality, and in fact, suggests that casual sex is an inherent intrusion where men act upon women.”

Reading the entire quote, I don’t see how anybody would interpret this as claiming that a “woman should have no reason to say no”.  What Rachel’s advocating is that we step away from the whole idea of consent as a moral indicator (which ostensibly boils down to guy asking/insinuating/hinting at the sexual act and girl saying yes or no).  She’s saying that framing sexual relations in terms of consent does less to protect females than it does to drag down male behavior through the assumptions made, and creating an implicit acceptance that doing “just enough” to get consent is not to be frowned on.  A system that explicitly requires both components (a question and an answer) in this way ends up being a “legalistic detour” because nobody bothers to still ask what the guy’s intentions are (they are assumed to be those of a “sexualized predator”).  Instead, all that matters is what the girl responds (and as the linked article to enthusiastic consent mentions, it leaves the door open to victim-blaming in the cases where silence is supposed to mean “no”).  Although she probably wouldn’t expect a guy’s track-record of chivalry to outweigh a girl’s “no” in a rape case, Rachel’s point is that we shouldn’t think of all our interactions as rape-cases-averted.

I don’t think [another Lowellian] is claiming that chivalry is a strictly manly quality.  Strengths of character that we aspire to still require situations in which they can be built up and affirmed.  The article seems to be saying that these kinds of situations are becoming harder to find for young men.”

Not a Lowellian:

Given: both sexes should aspire to virtue.

There are some specific traits that are often attributed to manhood, and often valued by men, (often there is a different sort of courage exhibited by men and women, also a different way to pursue things, also a different type of communication — this does not mean that either method is better than the other) and by not recognizing the good in seeking these traits, we lose our ability to provoke men to act nobly.

I know it’s debated on campus, but it’s worth noting that men are (sometimes very) different from women in the way they think, act, and feel. Ask most men. Ask biologists, psychologists, the list goes on – all these fields find distinct differences between men and women. Since there are differences, and since we want all people to strive for virtue, I think we should build self-esteem in the way many (not all) men find value and affirm manliness. The fact is that many men do identify with these traits, and we should legitimize that, not constantly deconstruct and relegate everything to “human values”. We have a double standard in our beloved empowerment theory.

Applying the concept that men and women are identical is a stereotype that I would combat to the death, and it’s a stereotype that’s pushed onto people at Harvard because it’s a popular construction – at best – that’s risen out of the feminist movement. Most people are not actually cool with the academic trend to “de-genderfy” human life.  Indeed, manhood is biologically driven and socially cultivated. Most people understand that stating there are differences between men and women is a common-sense claim. (Of course, we all must speak in generalities.)

Men have positive traits, and reinforcing positive traits yields better results than simply telling men to get consent and not rape women. This is a far less sexist message than the Guyland author’s, who claimed men in this generation are predators and women are victims.

Regardless of your views on the differences between the sexes, men are certainly better people than what many modern “feminists” caricaturize men as. Every man on campus should be affirmed and respected, not grouped into a pool of ignored or berated people.

It’s hard to appeal to everyone, but I talked with a lot of guys who put forward these thoughts after being disheartened at Kimmel’s lecture. And I think in a discussion about sexism, grouping guys into a category of sex, violence, and video games is very destructive. Putting forth character traits that define what men often aspire to in no way puts down women.

Kimmel’s account of manhood dismisses manliness as sexist. He concluded his talk by urging all men to gain consent before they continue on their merry sexual ways. There is no excuse for predatory sexual behavior, but refusing to promote noble conceptions of manliness out of concern for sexism does not hold men to a standard or give them meaning. Many men do respect traits of “manliness” – that should be honored.

Of course, I’m all about affirming women as well, but in 2010, we’re obviously doing a pretty good job at that.


One thought on “Manliness – More points worth noting

  1. Robna says:

    Great blog I love it keep up the good work.

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