Letting Men Be Men?

I never quite know what to make of generalisations like, “Women will never know who they are until they let men be men” (Paglia). At one level I know what she means, that human identity is indissolubly bound up with one’s gender, of which we need at least two so as to define each other by contrast. I wonder, however, how this fits with her own bisexuality and her championship of the sexual outlaw. Do I not know who I am because women around me are not allowed to be women? I don’t think so. I niggle further at the assumptions underlying “letting men be men”, as if it has been decided, finally and from on high, just what it is to be a man. Well I’m sure I don’t know. Nor is it self-evident how comprehensive that contrast should be. If I am a man, for example, and I like walking in the mountains, does that mean that, in order not to be like me and thereby be a woman, the other kind of being has to abhor hiking? Or is this something that both genders can do, preserving the contrasts in other areas; and if so, then which areas?

At another level, I know very well what the opposing approach is like, and why she is reprobating it. Elsewhere she complains about woman trying to compel men to become ersatz women, and I have been up close and personal with the results. In my opinion, which may surprise those who consider Paglia a motormouth, she does not analyse this nearly enough.

The bottom line has to be infantile self-love. Her enemies are defining every possible thing in the universe in terms of gender, and assigning a value to it. As a result, we may no longer speak of the abstract virtues of kindness, compassion, truthfulness and so on. Instead, gender is held, as an article of faith (the absence of which has unpleasant consequences in dogmatic theocracies), to be shorthand for the multiplicity of possible human behaviours, so that we are left with only a single dimension: the woman (me!) always acts well and the man (you!) always acts badly. Being more virtuous, that is, more female, is nothing to do with your actions, but how competently you proliferate verbiage on the subject of being female. That is very convenient for you.

Paglia’s commandment to “let men be men” is not about allowing males to indulge more freely in the behaviours reprobated by civilised individuals of any gender, such as competitive farting.It is about ceasing and desisting from identifying virtue solely with your precious self, by definition, and thereby condemning half the human race to the status of not-you, which means wicked, again by definition. It is a clumsy way of trying to adumbrate a gender-neutral ethics.

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  1. Written by Urban
    on May 15, 2014 at 14:03

    As if this ever had anything to do with gender-neutral ethics!

    If I may paraphrase Protagoras: woman is the measure of all things, of those things that are virtuous and thereby inherently female and of those things that are reprehensible and thereby inherently male.

    When women display reprehensible behavior it is because they are victims of the patriarchy. Perfectly understandable and consistent with essential goodness that they would lash out at injustice with whatever tools are at hand. When men display virtuous behavior it is because their essential wickedness has been tamed through re-education by women. Behind every good man is a stern woman. Only the hatred of women could possibly explain the repressive logocentrism of pointing out the perfect circularity of that convenient bit of self-serving dogma.

    The good news is that, at least here in the states, taking gender studies is no longer considered all-but-mandatory and is often seen as an expensive extravagance, which it is under the prevailing cost-of-education regime. (Unfortunately, so is anything that doesn’t promise to get one a job.) And most women seem to grow out of the indoctrination they internalized from academic gender studies anyway. Life as lived in the real world tends to peel away those who were never really true believers but got caught up in it because it was fashionable in their peer group. Hence the LUG Syndrome, Lesbian Until Graduation. Six years later she’s married with two sprogs and another in the oven. Her Annie Oakley-esque career is on hold. She doesn’t have time for that academic crap.

    It’s a passing phase. Like wearing all black or dying ones hair purple. Those that don’t grow out of it are probably more to be pitied than censured, trapped pathetically in late adolescence, annoying though they be. Spoiled daddy’s girls, as La Paglia has pointed out, do grow into annoying adults.

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