Dr. Paul Nathanson Guest Contributor
With 30 years of experience in the field of gender studies, Paul Nathanson is the co-author of Spreading Misandry. This is an exclusive to the Legacy Magazine.
QTN: What barriers do young men have today that were not present say 10, 20, 30 years ago?
My answer to this question should be, but is not, self-evident.
Young men today grow up in a world that identifies them, collectively, with every conceivable problem. They grow up absorbing an increasingly institutionalized gynocentric worldview, one that sees all of human history revolving around women, supposedly a moral advance over androcentric worldviews. Worse, they grow up in the midst of pervasive misandry (the sexist counterpart of misogyny). The net result is a phenomenon that I call “identity harassment.” This is really a form of sexual harassment, although it isn’t always about specifically sexual behavior.
Unlike sexual harassment, however, identity harassment is a problem for only one gender: the male gender. According to a conspiracy theory of history, early men rebelled against egalitarian societies (sometimes said, illogically, to have been ruled by women). They produced “patriarchy,” allegedly, in order to exploit or oppress women. And now, men refuse to give up or even to acknowledge their inherited (not earned) “privilege.”
This theory prevails in the public square not only among feminists but also among those who promote other forms of identity politics. It relies not on unambiguous evidence but on academic theories that rely heavily on a political ideology. Among the most outspoken purveyors of this ideology is Michael Kimmel, a sociologist who argues about what’s wrong with men and produces what many now call “toxic” or “hegemonic” forms of masculinity (by which they mean historic or “traditional” forms of masculinity, not distortions of them). More specifically, Kimmel refers to their sense of “aggrieved entitlement” to power over women or privileges not given to women. From my point of view, he’s partly correct. Men do feel a sense of aggrieved entitlement – not to power over women or to enjoy more privileges than women, but rather to embrace a healthy identity.
I suggest that everyone needs a healthy identity, and no one would argue with that. Nor would anyone argue that to develop a healthy identity, either personally or collectively, means being able to make at least one contribution to society that is:
- (a) distinctive
- (b) necessary
- (c) publicly valued
This is by now very hard for men to do, but the problem originated long before the advent of identity politics and identity harassment, let alone the current war between women and men. In Replacing Misandry: A Revolutionary History of Men (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015), Katherine Young and I argue that perceptions of the male body (and the contributions of men that the male body makes possible) began to change during the Agricultural Revolution some 12,000 years ago and have continued to change due to later technological or cultural revolutions.
By now, society “empowers” women to the extent that they can do everything that men can do (although one thing remains that women can do and men cannot do). Women can now provide for themselves and protect themselves, for instance, if not on their own then with help from the state (which has thus made men obsolete both personally and collectively).
One possibility for men remains, however, no matter how tenuously. Only men, after all, can be fathers. There are those who deny even that, arguing that mothers can do everything that fathers do. This turns fathers into assistant mothers or banking machines at best or potential molesters at worst. As evidence, I point to the destructive role of family courts in settling custody disputes, the prevalence of single mothers (often by choice), let alone the relentless ridiculing and shaming of men in general and fathers in particular. Popular culture keeps cranking it out. Gone is any sense that children need both mothers and fathers. (That seemingly reactionary idea finds heavy support in statistical studies.) Gone, too, is any vestige of a culture that once supported fatherhood politically, psychologically, spiritually, ritually and so on.
Even the most enthusiastic young fathers have lost any sense that their basic function within the family is quite unlike that of mothers. It has nothing to do with changing diapers (not that there’s anything nothing wrong with fathers doing that and many other chores around the house). It has nothing to do with giving children unconditional love, in short, which is the task of nursing mothers and mothers of young children (although many fathers feel unconditional love for their children). It has much more to do with giving children earned respect. Fatherhood begins, in effect, when children are preparing to leave home and enter the larger world, not when they’re infants. And, unlike motherhood, fatherhood relies to some extent on the delayed gratification of fathers – if they live long enough for their children to express gratitude or demonstrate their maturity.
At the moment, more and more young men are finding it very hard or even impossible to have any healthy identity. And if a healthy identity is impossible, many conclude, then they’ll settle for an unhealthy one. Even that would be better than no identity, and no worthy function, at all. Some drop out of school or out of life itself, in both cases at much, much higher rates than those for young women. Others, however, abandon or even attack a society that has no room for them specifically as men (as distinct from honorary women). What laid the foundation in modern times for these problems was the “sexual revolution,” when the birth-control pill (along with access to abortion on demand) decoupled sex from procreation for the first time in human history. The result, feminists realized, was an opportunity to “deconstruct” historical sexual mores. and eventually every other tie with historical communities.
We’ve been deconstructing society ever since. Everything must be destroyed, root and branch, in the name of a utopian experiment. But we have yet to foster anything remotely resembling what I call “inter-sexual dialogue.” We have not made even women happy, despite more speedy gains than any social revolution in history. Happy or not, many women have assimilated an identity that defines them primarily as victims of men – albeit heroic victims who fight back and thus encourage new recruits for the movement. The result is a ceaseless campaign for law reforms that explicitly or implicitly punish men, sometimes for merely being men, but also by taking the law into their own hands. As a type of vigilante, they simultaneously undermine legal principles, such as due process and the presumption of innocence, which took centuries to develop.
The main barrier to healthiness among young men, in short, is relentless, pervasive and implacable misandry.
Nothing good can come of this for either women or men.
Paul Nathanson has a BA in art history, an MLS, a BTh, an MA in religious studies and a Ph.D in religious studies. He has retired after 30 years of research at McGill University. He continues to study the increasingly radical polarization between women and men, which has led to misandry, the sexist counterpart of misogyny. With Katherine Young, he has published four volumes in a series about the dangerous effects of misandry on boys and men in desperate need of a healthy collective identity.