What's Tony Thinking

Bad Boys


I’m a fan of Andrew Sullivan’s work (at New York Magazine) and have frequently drawn from him here.

Today Sullivan hit the trifecta in a three-part column. Part one on Trump and his threat to declare a “national emergency” in order to get his wall. I opined earlier this week on Trump’s address from the Oval, so I’ll not focus further here but leave it to you to read Sullivan.

Part three of Sullivan is also rich in insight. Topic there is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. His point there is just how likable she is (“May I say that?” he wonders). But the larger point is just how often the Democrats nominate someone who is unlikeable — and then seem to regard this suicidal strategy as a sign of their greater virtue. (The day Elizabeth Warren announced her candidacy there was a poll indicating that Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (who isn’t even running) is more electable than Warren. Yes to that poll. I think Klobuchar is terrific.)

But let’s focus instead on the middle part of Sullivan’s column. This brings us to the contemporary cultural downgrade of males and denunciation of what have traditionally been considered “masculine” traits.

Being a man is now judged by the American Psychological Association as a pathological condition.

Here’s Sullivan, quoting from the APA report:

“And we quickly arrive at this statement: ‘Traditional masculinity — marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression — is, on the whole, harmful.’ Men should presumably learn to be the opposite: emotionally inconstant, collaborative, submissive, and passive. If that’s the kind of man you want to be — much more like a sexist stereotype of a woman — an army of psychologists is ready to help you.

“Men and women, for the APA, are not intrinsically or naturally different: ‘When researchers strip away stereotypes and expectations, there isn’t much difference in the basic behaviors of men and women.’

“As you keep reading, you begin to realize just how saturated psychology has now become with critical gender theory, and its profound rejection of anything we might call ‘nature.’ Because biology has no influence on sex and gender at all, and testosterone is thereby irrelevant in understanding the psychological nature of men (it is never mentioned in the report), everything is a social construct, and social constructs — a function of patriarchy and white supremacy — can be changed. ‘If we can change men,’ one psychologist tellingly admits, ‘we can change the world.’ If this sounds more like a political project than a guide to therapy, you’re not wrong.”

There are two levels (at least) to this. The first is a kind of chic anti-guy rhetoric that gets cheers and guffaws in many quarters these days.

I think it’s a serious mistake to imagine that advancing women and girls requires or will be furthered by cheap broad-brush, denunciations of all males of the species.

Truth is, life is such that we need all hands on deck and all the help we can get. Good women and good men.

Truth is also that many young men and boys today are struggling (on this I guess I even agree with Trump) because of the culture of put-down, shaming and neglect of men and boys.

The second level here is one that has raised the hackles of the more conservative religious and traditional parts of our culture. This is the certainty that gender is nothing more than a social construct. There is no such thing as created nature or a natural order.

I’m the first to admit that John Wayne type male stereotypes are problematic in all sorts of ways. But the solution isn’t to demean, or pathologize, half the species. Nor is it to judge all of what have been thought masculine qualities, say aggressiveness, competitiveness and risk-taking, as always and everywhere bad. All human qualities — including our virtues — when taken to an extreme become problematic. But when they are part of the mix of a person and culture, they can be deeply positive and important.

The clincher in Sullivan’s argument here came when he noted that what the APA was saying about males sounded an awful lot like what psychologists and psychiatrists used to say about gay men (of which he is one).

Here’s that parting shot from Sullivan:

“To tell you the truth, it reminded me of the way psychologists used to treat gay men: as pathological, dangerous, and in need of reparative and conversion therapy. As homosexuals, we learned for a long time to be very wary of psychologists and psychiatrists because they routinely saw us as individuals whose nature and behavior needed to be fundamentally altered — for our sake and for others’. What once was used against gay men, is now being used against all men. If this document were designed to encourage men to seek psychotherapy, it is a catastrophe.”

In December I wrote a piece on fatherhood, “The Good Provider.” It’s just a terrible mistake for our society to think the way to address sexism is to demean and diminish men and boys. Good fathers are so important. And so are good men.


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