A recent opinion article in The Washington Post has received a lot of attention, including coverage on CNN. Written by Christine Emba and titled “Men are lost. Here’s a map out of the wilderness.” the article sought to shed a more empathetic but left-wing stance to men’s issues that’s otherwise been conspicuously lacking from the progressive narrative. Lauded by many of my liberal but still men’s-rights-conscious friends as a breath of fresh air from their side of the aisle, its purpose was to prompt a new definition for masculinity for a new world.
Although there was quite a bit I did like about the article—certainly a step up from the usual misandry rife in mainstream media—I felt that in the end, it was much of the same: trying to control men with gender roles. In short, my response to the idea of creating a roadmap for lost men: why do we need one?
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Wait, I thought this was about liberation…
I could pick apart the entirety of the article, but one section captures my complaints best:
“…the strict gender roles of the past did give boys a script for how to be a man. But if trying to smash the patriarchy has left a vacuum in our ideal of masculinity, it also gives us a chance at a fresh start: an opportunity to take what is useful from models of the past and repurpose it for boys and men today.
We can find ways to work with the distinctive traits and powerful stories that already exist — risk-taking, strength, self-mastery, protecting, providing, procreating. We can recognize how real and important they are. And we can attempt to make them pro-social — to help not just men but also women, and to support the common good.”
This isn’t exactly a new or revolutionary idea. The strict male gender role has always been about utilizing men for the scoial good, as has the strict female gender role. Yet women’s liberation was about freeing themselves from their gender role for their own self-fulfillment rather than the “social good.”
Feminist articles don’t talk about redefining femininity for the social good. They talk about freeing women to do whatever they want.
The stories that already exist?
You might have noticed Emba’s mention of a “script” for men and boys based on “the stories that already exist.” She implies men can or should still be providers, protectors and all those traditional masculine thing.
No surprise there. Most left-wing feminist policies demand the codification of the traditional male gender role by forcing all men to provide for all women through paid maternity or menstrual leave and subsidized women’s health care.
In theory, I have no problem with that. I’m a big proponent of paid maternity leave and don’t feel pregnant women should have to be working. My complaint is simply this: where is the corresponding article about women can draw from “the stories that already exist?” What would the response be to a “progressive” article saying women should take what is “useful from the past” and be homemakers, caregivers and child birthers?
In other words, this article is more of the same: asking men to continue making the sacrfices of their traditional gender role but receiving nothing from women in return. And we wonder why men are opting out of marriage, education—and even life—at higher and higher rates.
Men don’t need your map
Just a few paragraphs later, Emba unironically refers to men as “the freer sex” despite spending several pages telling men what they should do with their lives and how they should act for the benefit of women. The idea that men have ever been the freer sex is laughable. The male gender has always been stricter and the shame for not living up to it has always been more severe.
Even today’s more gender-conscious feminist types make references to “real men” as a rank male human beings can earn or fail to reach. Yet there is no societal taunting about being a “real woman.” This pressure was minimal in the past, and it’s nearly non-existent now. Women are now empowered to do whatever they want.
So maybe that’s what men actually need. Less shame for not living up to a collective standard and more liberation to do what fulfills them personally. Fewer articles trying to solve the “problem” of men playing video games and looking at porn and more celebrating men for being themselves.
Men don’t need a map drawn by women. Each man needs a map he draws himself.