This year 70% of the "Freshmen" at UPEI are women. Is this a victory for feminism or is it the sign of something terribly wrong? Who will these women marry and who will father their children? An answer maybe no one. Is this OK? Maybe not.
All around me, Professors, lawyers, business leaders tell me that most of the great candidates for jobs are women. Is this a good thing? Maybe but what has happened to the men? I met this week with a woman who was a premier of a province and now is a senator. When she was an undergraduates, she was the only woman in her class. In a few years time her situation will be reversed. There might be one man in the class. Is this a good thing? Surely not.
So what has happened? Here is a link not to a rant but to a very thoughtful article on what might have happened.
So the first step toward a sensible debate about manly pride is to rescue the positive tradition of manliness from three decades of stereotyping that conflates masculinity with violence, hegemony, and aggression. We have to recognize that men and women are moral equals, that decent and worthy men have always known this, and that, while men and women share the most important human virtues, vices and aptitudes, they also have psychological traits that incline them toward some different activities.
According to the regnant orthodoxy, men and women should have exactly the same kinds of capacities and ambitions. They should be equally interested in becoming tycoons, winning battles, driving tractors and nurturing children. But this is not reality. In general, men don’t want to work in day-care centers or teach kindergarten, and women don’t want to be truck drivers or join the military. Moreover, women are far more likely than men to leave successful jobs to devote time to families, and women under 30 are more eager for lasting marriages and numerous children than women of their parents’ generation (doubtless yearning for what their parents denied them). We should recognize at last that, as long as women are guaranteed an equal opportunity to pursue whatever occupation they want, it does not matter that men and women on the whole still choose different vocations. Remaining injustices should be addressed by procedural liberalism, which has always brought the most solid progress. We should stop trying to re-engineer the human soul to prevent boys from being boyish, while encouraging all forms of self-expression in girls.
All that 30 years of behavioral conditioning has done is drive maleness underground and distort it by severing it from traditional sources of masculine restraint and civility. The gurus of sensitivity have tried to convince men to become open, fluid, non-hegemonic and genderless beings who are unafraid to cry. But little boys still want to play war and shoot up the living room with plastic howitzers, and we can’t give them all Ritalin. Psychologists have begun to express concern about our educational institutions’ readiness to pathologize what once would have been regarded as boyish high spirits — rough-housing, "hating" girls, locker-room language — and to treat ordinary immaturity with powerful drugs.
Again, the point is to channel these energies into the development of character. Boys and young men still want to be heroes, and the way to educate them to treat girls and women with respect is to appeal to their heroism, not to try to blot it out. Look at those kids performing daring flips on their skateboards, or sailing on their Rollerblades into the heaviest downtown traffic like warriors contemptuous of danger. They are almost always males. Look at that squeegee kid with his shaved head and horsehair plume, decked out like some road-warrior Achilles. Walk into one of those high-voltage computer emporiums, selling our century’s most potent icon for the extension of human mastery over the cosmos. Who are the salesmen? Almost always cocky young men, celebrities-in-waiting in dark suits and moussed hair, hooked on the sheer power of it all.
Channel surf on your television late at night and sample the rock videos. Nearly all the bands in those rock videos are male, snarling or plaintive over the world’s confusions and their erotic frustrations, oozing belligerence alternating with Byronic alienation and a puppyish longing for attention. Their names (Goo Goo Dolls) and attitudes (the lead singer of radiohead is wheeled around a supermarket in a giant shopping cart curled up like an overgrown 5-year-old) combine an infantile longing to return to childhood with in-your-face suspicion and distrust.
And what else would one expect, since so many of the families into which they were born ended in divorce? By denying and repressing their natural inclination to manliness, we run the risk of abandoning them to such infantile posturing. When they pierce their bodies, it is because they want to experience moral and erotic constraint. Having failed to find an authority they can respect, someone to guide them from boyish impetuosity to a mature and manly vigor of judgment, they confuse authority with oppression. Still, cast adrift in a world without any limitations, they want there to be a price to pay for their hedonism. Since no one will lead them back to the great ethical and religious traditions that set these limits on the highest intellectual and spiritual level, they pierce their bodies in a crude simulacrum of traditional restraint. And, in that, they reveal not only the wondrous capacity of spirited young people to see through the aridity of the governing orthodoxies but also the potential for an ennobling transformation.
It is precisely in a traditional understanding of manly pride and honor that we will find the only sure basis for respect between men and women. The best way of convincing young men to treat women with respect is to educate them in the traditional virtues, which make it a disgrace to treat anyone basely, dishonestly or exploitatively. Moreover, the surest way of raising young men to treat young women as friends rather than as objects for sexual exploitation is to appeal to their natural longing to be honored and esteemed by the young women to whom they are attracted. When our erotic attraction to another is properly directed, it leads us to cultivate the virtues of moderation, honest, gratitude and compassion that make us worthy of love in the eyes of the beloved. We try to be virtuous because we want to be worthy of being loved.
One thing is sure: Given our current confusion over the meaning of manliness, we have nothing to lose by re-opening the issue. If academic feminism is correct that violence toward women stems from traditional patriarchal attitudes, our grandparents’ lives must have been a hell of aggression and fear. Yet, if anything impresses us about our forebears, judging from their lives, letters and diaries, it is the refinement of their affections for one another — and of men’s esteem for women in particular. Perhaps we cannot return to that world. But boys and young men today need re-introducing to this tradition of manly civility.
Despite recent caricatures of the Western tradition as one long justification for the oppression of women, our greatest poets and thinkers from Homer to Rousseau have explored the delicate interplay of love and self-perfection. In Homer’s Odyssey, Telemachus, son of the great war hero Odysseus, embarks on a journey to find his missing father and thereby save his mother from the oppressive noblemen who want her to give up her husband for dead and marry one of them. As he searches for his father in an adventure parallel to Odysseus’ own search for a way home to his long-lost wife and child, Telemachus is educated by his adventures and grows from a boy into a man, guided by the wise goddess Athena, who is also his father’s best friend among the gods. Telemachus’ search for his missing father, guided by the goddess, in effect provides him with the upbringing that Odysseus was not able to give him, although he still inspires it from afar because the boy learns during his travels of his father’s exploits and wants to prove himself the hero’s worthy son.
When I depict Telemachus as a boy from a broken home, forced at a too-early age to be his mother’s protector from oppressive men, who has to bring himself up in a way that he hopes his absent father would be proud of, the young men in my undergraduate classes tend to become very quiet and reflective. They are Telemachus.