Monday, March 24, 2008

I am a Concerned Man for America

Recently, I read an articulate blog post explaining how sexism and misogyny harms men as well as women. It is worth a read and, I agree with most, perhaps all, of what Portly says.

In a nutshell, she argues that "one of the tragedies of sexism for men in our culture" is "the abrogation of their right to 'have a heart' -- a full-range emotional body" while also acknowledging that men generally have privilege over women. In a world with strict gender roles, roles that anti-feminists are desperately trying to maintain, women and men may only act and feel in certain prescribed ways. That's why, even though men- as human beings- experience the entire range of humanly emotions (including so-called "female" ones):

"They can't express [their emotions] without looking like a woman. Which, in a sexist, misogynist society, would be a bad thing. A thing that loses you jobs, and gets you called 'pussy', and 'mangina', and subjects you to suggestions that you 'sit to pee' -- which would all be BAD, because being anything like a woman/female human is BAD."

Let's sit back and observe this in play:

Recently, legendary quarterback Brett Favre announced his retirement from the NFL. During his speech, he cried. Of Favre's crying, right-wing commentator Laura Ingraham said this:

"All these years and I didn't know there was a woman quarterback in the NFL.... [H]e gets up there and he does this press conference that was frankly one of the most embarrassing things I have ever seen."

Implicit in Ingraham's statement are several ideas:

1. Real men don't cry.

2. It's an insult to a man to possess "womanly" qualities.

3. When even one of the macho-est men playing the macho-est sport in the world crosses the line into womanly emotion, someone will step up and immediately emasculate him.

And thus, it's people like Ingraham who constantly remind us that just as men can be feminists, women can be anti-feminists. But more to the point, she shows us how anti-feminism harms men as well as women. For, let's now reflect back on conservative Dennis Prager's recent article touting the high rates of depression among women. In a society where men are ridiculed for showing any strong emotion other than rage, would it be reasonable to expect men to regularly seek treatment for depression? No. Real men, of course, do not acknowledge the sad "womanly" thoughts they are having But because men are reluctant to express emotion or to seek counseling, it is thought that male depression is severely under-diagnosed. And, what strikes me as profoundly sad, men who are depressed often channel their depression into domestic violence, anger, and/or substance abuse. I wonder if Mr. Prager took all this into account when he declared that women were more depressed than men and that he knew what was causing it all.

I don't claim to know what causes depression in men (or women for that matter). But what I do know, from looking at the statistics, is that when men are depressed they are less likely to report it, talk about it, or seek treatment for it. And that situation is a result of constricting gender roles that call men who cry "pussies" and "women" (with the implication that being "woman-like" is a bad thing).

Anti-feminists don't talk about this because their ideology depends on their need to maintain gender roles. If men and women are inherently and substantially different, anti-feminists may continue asserting arguments like: Women belong in the home, Men are naturally suited for leadership, and marriage requires a man and a woman because the "sexes" are "complementary." They look at the human race and make sweeping generalizations about all of us ("Women don't like to work," "Men are unemotional," "Women are passive") instead of recognizing the reality that not all men are x and now all women are y.

After all, if we are all just humans rather than Very Important Men with Breadwinning Husbandly and Fatherly Roles and Very Important Women with Compassionate Wifely and Motherly Roles, there would be little basis for denying gay couples the right to marry or for denying gay couples the right to raise children. There would be little basis in denying women the right to work outside the home. And, people like Laura Ingraham would have no basis for calling men who cry "women."

It's too bad that gender role identity politics too often prevents so many men from being able to live as full human beings in the world. I say that in all sincerity.

So that's why I propose we start a group for men called Concerned Men for America. (Hey, if a bunch of guys can run the Concerned Women for America, why can't I start a similar group for men?)

Step 1?

All men in the group must dress in drag (preferably in a passable way) for one week and report back.

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