2013-03-06

We Need Masculism

Simon Grey points us to an op-ed in USA Today discussing the treatment of boys in the American public school system. The excerpt provided by Grey is perfect, so I am re-quoting it here, however I must point out that this article is an opinion piece, not a news story. The arguments and evidence presented are disputable, although they seem correct to  me.
Stereotyped as "naughty," boys quickly learn that they are thought of as dumber and more trouble than girls. And that has consequences. "When boys aged seven to eight were told that they tend to do worse at school than girls, they scored more poorly in reading, writing and mathematics tests than those who were not primed for failure. And telling children aged six to nine before a test that both sexes were expected to do equally well improved the boys' performance." But the message that boys get is that they're not as smart.

The way boys are treated in K-12 also impacts how they do with regard to college. According to a recent study of male college enrollment, it's not academic performance, but discipline that holds boys back. "Controlling for these non-cognitive behavioral factors can explain virtually the entire female advantage in college attendance for the high school graduating class of 1992, after adjusting for family background, test scores and high school achievement." Boys are disciplined more because teachers -- overwhelmingly female -- find stereotypically male behavior objectionable. Girls are quieter, more orderly, and have better handwriting. The boys get disciplined more, suspended more and are turned off of education earlier.
Female teachers also give boys lower grades, according to research in Britain. Female teachers grade boys more harshly than girls, though, interestingly, male teachers are seen by girls as treating everyone the same regardless of gender. More and more, it's looking like schools are a hostile environment for boys.
In response to this, Grey provides us with what appears to be a rather thoughtful solution:
To elaborate further, there comes a point in a boy’s life where he should be raised and trained by men instead of by women.  It would appear, based on the anecdotal evidence excerpted above, that once boys reach the age of seven or so they should start spending considerably more time with other males instead of with women.  I would hypothesize that by puberty (roughly 11-13), boys should definitely be spending the bulk of their time away from the retarding influence of women, and in the presence of men, especially their father.
Perhaps I would quibble with the word "retarding," but the thrust of it is spot-on. It is a unanimous perception - and probably a scientific fact - that there are differences between males and females. Notwithstanding my belief that people can choose to be whomever they please, the plain fact of the matter is that most boys aspire to manhood while most girls aspire to womanhood.

No one should be made to feel ashamed of their identity, of their existence. If a person's identity is one of womanliness and femininity, treating them poorly for this is morally reprehensible, whether that person is biologically male, female, or whatever. Likewise, if a person's identity is one of manliness and masculininty, that person ought not be made to feel ashamed.

By pure coincidence, I was watching a documentary last night called The Science of Sex Appeal. In it, a variety of scientists discussed what occurs within the body that attracts men to women and women to men. (I suppose same-sex relations were out of scope for the documentary, since they weren't discussed, but the firing of neurons in response to stimuli probably work the same way for same-sex partners, but for the obvious difference.)

An important point made in the course of this documentary was one that we hear routinely from both women's popular publications and the new wave of men's media, such as "the man-o-sphere," blogs about "game" and so forth. That point is: Women are categorically hypergamous, being attracted to males who achieve high social status. The scientists in the documentary studied humans and a variety of other species and discovered that in all cases, females were less concerned with the competition to achieve status than they were with the actual results of the competition.

Now, men (traditionally and contemporally) compete for status in a variety of ways. One obvious way is sports. Of course, there is also the career ladder, political arguments, mathematics, contests, musical virtuosity, and so on. All of these are spheres that are not only traditionally dominated by men, but in which even today we see appeal more to men than women. This is reflective of the researchers' findings that in the realm of status competition, men are interested in the tournament while women are interested in the results.

This may be why women in recent years have excelled so much in management, medicine, government, and business administration. Perhaps these kinds of careers offer women the ability to perform work that they find useful and interesting, without diving too deeply into the actual competition itself.

Naturally, if the competition appeals to women, then I for one welcome them to participate. But with regard to women's actual interests, this has always been more the exception than the rule and I imagine that there are biological reasons for this that are deeply rooted in human evolution and instinct.

Regarding education, boys are often boistrous and disruptive as they compete over anything. So it should not be surprising that they would also be boistrous and disruptive as they create informal competitions over math problems, times tables, vocabulary words, P.E. tests, and so on. I was once a boy, and I remember this behavior full-well. Anti-competitiveness is a more feminine trait in that it is emblematic of those people who find competition uninteresting.

Unfortunately for the anti-competitive, competition is a vital component of the human experience, and more specifically a very important part of being male. We like competition. It's fun. It enriches our lives. It makes us happier people. It fills our bodies with testosterone - and that's healthy. (So strange that the modern media uses the word "testosterone" disparagingly. Men need testosterone to remain healthy.)

I am of the opinion that feminism has been unambiguously good for human society. It is unequivocally a good thing that women have earned a more equal role in society. Perhaps a better way of saying this is that it is an extremely good thing that society as a whole can better recognize the contribution of females than it could in the past. We all win when equality of opportunity prevails.

But the story doesn't simply end there. We can't close the book on gender identity simply because feminism is good and should prevail. We need to take a look at the holes that are opening up in the wake of broader equality. Women have been highly effective at creating an intellectual framework through which they can analyze women-specific issues. What we are seeing today are holes that apply to boys and men in a more modern and gender-equal society.

I personally believe that those holes need to be filled with an intellectual framework that functions as a counterpart (not contrast) to feminism. Call it masculism if you like. Men need a framework through which they can analyze what it means to be male. The sorry websites out there devoted to mindless sexual intercourse under the auspices of "Game" are nothing more than a psychopathic knee-jerk reaction to a loss of gender dominance. We don't need to become vapid gigolos. That's not manly, it's immature. It's boyish.

What we rather need is a new understanding of what it means to be a man. Manliness is a world in which competition is important, in which testosterone is healthy, and in which being tough, thick-skinned, physically powerful, unapologetically courageous, and deeply chivalrous are all recognized as the unambiguously positive masculine traits that they are.