Masculinity is an issue which we hear a lot about these days, though almost always in a negative light as when the term “toxic masculinity” is used. Very little if anything about the positive side of masculinity is written about or spoken in the media, itself a reflection of the media’s attitude toward the concept. We thought we would open a post on the subject, look at some of the current thinking on it and perhaps eventually see what can be said in positive terms about it. We decided to kick off by looking at the following piece which appeared in the Irish Times.
Here is an article from a commentator Diarmaid Ferriter which came out on the eve of International Men’s Day, Nov 18 2017, Phallic man is alive and well, which is mostly a series of quotes from a book by the late psychiatrist Anthony Clare written in 2000. The title of Clare’s book is On Men: Masculinity in Crisis, and according to Ferriter is centred on the idea that men were suffering from a crisis of identity due to the challenges to patriarchy and were being pathologised in a manner similar to how women had been negatively stereotyped for so long. As Ferriter says, the book resulted from a crisis Clare himself had in late middle age, which is significant.
As a pure reflection on a work of a noted psychiatrist this probably has some historical use and Clare was right about men being pathologised and also right, at least at the time, about another thing: The traits that make “us the men we think we are and would like to be – logical, disciplined, controlled, rational, aggressive – are now seen as the stigmata of deviance”. Ferriter could have pursued this fascinating assertion and asked why this was so. What is wrong with being logical, disciplined, controlled, whatever about aggressive? He failed to follow up.
Clare was convinced that “phallic man, authoritative, dominant, assertive man – man in control not merely of himself but of woman – is starting to die”.
The word phallic or phallocratic man is often used as a term of abuse; it suggests men are somehow to be ashamed of their own nature.
Clare correctly distinguishes two aspects of control here: one is control of oneself which is undoubtedly a good thing, the other is control of another person, in this case a woman. Here again there is real food for thought. The notion that men wish to control women is a basic thesis of feminist theory for which the evidence has never been produced. One fascinating discovery of recent research is that women are as controlling as men but this idea is anathema to the ideologues and to the media in general.
Lack of Respect
If Ferriter was concerned to write a genuine piece about the state of masculinity today, one mindful of the significance of the day and of being respectful to men too, instead of a polemic, he would not have relied on one text which consists moreover of very personal reflections.
As a historian he would have consulted several texts and tried to distil something from the aggregate. Like reading Warren Farrell’s Myth of Male Power which would at least have given him a far better picture of that mythical patriarchy which he relies on so much. But he would have learned a great deal more besides, about so called gender inequality, in particular those inequalities affecting men which he knows so little about. This book was even available to Clare at the time but he doesn’t seem to have read it.
Farrell introduced in The Myth of Male Power a thesis that he pursued in-depth in Why Men Earn More in 2005: that earning money involves forfeiting power. He goes on to describe his theory that earning money is less about power, and more about trade-offs. Farrell proposes that “the road to high pay is a toll road–you earn more when you pay 25 specific tolls such as working more hours, or taking less-fulfilling or more-hazardous jobs.”
The women’s movement, he claims, has led to the re-socialization of girls to become women who balance survival with fulfilment, but that no one has similarly re-socialized boys to become men who pursue that balance once they take on the responsibility of children. Thus, Farrell believes, boys and men are decades behind girls and women psychologically and socially, and increasingly behind women academically and economically.
But even more to the point Ferriter could have consulted one of the real intellectuals of our time, Jordan Peterson; he would have learned much about masculinity from a renowned clinical psychologist; he could have gone much deeper into two of today’s pathologies: Radical Feminism and Postmodernism; and he would have learned about the intertwinings between them. He would have learned of a body of so-called knowledge, which is alive and well in his own University. Now that would have been a subject worthy of close examination and one of real service to UCD as well. It would have brought him up against one of the deep malignancies of the age and he could have measured his mind against some of the peddlers of fraudulent thinking. Unfortunately Ferriter choose not to do this. Instead he set up a kind of straw man and proceeded to knock it down. He would also have learned from Peterson that the best way, indeed the only way to live, is to take on the enemies of truth and the false thinking of the age, of which there is no shortage.
The problem is that Ferriter applies Clare’s thesis to the present day, in particular the recent controversy around #MeToo: “Were he alive today, I wonder would Clare revise his thesis, as he seems to have been remarkably premature in some of his pronouncements as well as being too reductive. But perhaps some of his provocative assertions are relevant to the avalanche of revelations of recent months and the reaction to them. He believed that a new era of gender equality had arrived by the end of the 20th century, a post patriarchal age. What he seems to have underestimated was just how deep the gender power imbalances and the abuses of women went.”
What Ferriter missed completely was the toxic nature of the #MeToo campaign, the avalanche of hatred poured out by its supporters on all who dared to question it, including people considered icons of feminism. One of the singular outcomes of the latest revelations about #MeToo is the silence of those who supported it initially, including Ferriter, who lauded it as essential.
That it has turned into a witch-hunt of Maoist proportions wearing the naked face of hatred, has seen only silence from the likes of Ferriter. We have learned a great deal of the lack of real courage in the academic world in the past few weeks. No doubt there will now be a period of silence in the hope that the awkward questions will go away and we can return to the false propaganda and easy certainties of earlier months.
Ferriter ends his piece with reference to the Ryan and SAVI reports to highlight the amount of abuse that went on in Irish society. The point is not entirely clear. The victims of abuse in the Ryan report were mostly boys and their abusers were hardly typical members of Irish society. Boys were also victims of child sexual abuse though not quite to the same extent as girls. Were all the abusers men as seems to be implied? We are only now beginning to find out that women too are capable of child abuse on a large scale. In the early nineties Michelle Elliott wrote a book entitled the Female Abuse of Children, a book of essays about female paedophiles. Estimates vary but something of the order of 20% of paedophiles are female.
Finally he winds up his attempt to indict men by referring to the EUFRA report of 2014. This report was an investigation of the extent of domestic and sexual violence, but only against women, throughout the EU. Anyone with a modicum of sense would have asked why men were omitted from the survey.
It is noteworthy that it is the only large scale survey of this kind which interviewed only women, 43000 of them throughout the EU. This is very bad practice; men were entirely omitted and this underlines how blatantly politicised the whole exercise was. It appeared the month before another document, the infamous Istanbul Convention, was set to reach the required 10 ratifications to become law in those particular states that ratified it, and was brazenly designed to further the whole process.
One might have expected that as a historian Ferriter would be wise to the tricks and stratagems of people in power groups.
Clearly Ferriter was duped and has a lot to learn about political chicanery.