Misunderstood Male Psychology

My recent post on "masculism" elicited a fair number of responses, including several critical comments from a faithful Stationary Waves reader. In thinking through my responses to her thoughtful comments, it occurred to me how deeply misunderstood certain male sentiments are. This misunderstanding is one of the reasons I think a new concept of "masculism" is desperately needed in society, and so I would like to explore that aspect of it now.

In that last post, the misunderstanding is confusing the concepts of "women shouldn't be competitive" (which is a terrible thing to believe) and "a woman cannot be offered a prize that she has already won for herself." What does a woman who runs a 2:30 marathon care that I ran a 2:47? As a marathoner, I have failed to woo her. To be sure, I may yet have a chance to woo her on related grounds, such as the ability to train with her, or the ability to share an interest in road races, or to pace her, etc. I may also be able to compete on unrelated grounds, with my sense of humor or my big blue eyes or my multi-million-dollar investment banker salary. But in the competition to impress her as a runner, I have not succeeded.

It's true that women own the issue of whether or not women should compete. That question belongs to feminism and has long since been answered in the affirmative. But the question of whether a man has any desire to compete with the object of his affection belongs to men. If men answer this question in the negative, women can have no say in that, even if they dislike the answer.

A New Example
Consider the following two statements:
  1. An equally qualified woman should be paid the same salary as man if they are both doing the same work.
  2. A man should never feel ashamed of earning a lower income than his wife.
One of those statements is deeply, profoundly, importantly true from an ethical point of view. The other is deeply, profoundly, importantly crazy. Which one is which?

Well, I won't hold you in suspense. Statement #1 is true, of course! Assuming there are no important economic differences between a man and a woman (differences such as age/work experience, intentions to take extended periods of leave, educational qualifications, internal versus external candidacy, and so on) it would be morally reprehensible and bigoted to pay the woman differently than the man. Equal pay for equal work.

That means that I consider Statement #2 to be crazy. But why?

Let's turn the tables a bit. Let's compare Statement #2 to an analogous statement, as follows: A woman should never feel ashamed of being less-able to nurse her infant than her husband. You see, no matter where you stand on the issue of gender roles and male-female interaction, nursing an infant is one of the most significant and uniquely female aspects of womanhood. It's true that there is nothing stopping a man from preparing a bottle and nursing a child. In fact, it's true that every man who has a child will find himself doing this very thing on numerous occasions. Nevertheless, if an infant were to always prefer being nursed by his father rather than his mother, I submit that that woman would feel a significant - and perfectly natural - sense of inadequacy with regard to nursing her child. This is due to the fact that, as I said, nursing her infant is one of the most significant aspects of life as a woman.

Likewise - and regardless of how much women wish it were not so - being thought of as a provider is one of the most significant, and at least traditionally, male aspects of manhood. Fifty years of feminism are not enough to suddenly nullify a man's deeply felt belief that he has a responsibility to provide for his family. It simply does not matter that a woman may prefer it to be otherwise, nor does it matter if every woman were to wish it otherwise. The reason it doesn't matter is because we are talking about the thoughts, psychology, and experiences of men, not women.

Just as a woman whose husband is the child's preferred milk-giver may come to terms with this and learn to make a maternal connection with her child through other means, a man who earns less than his wife may devise other important ways to feel like a provider. He may take on household projects, he may produce artwork, he may take on responsibility for household accounting, he may pick up slack in other aspects of household management, and so on. It is possible, and perhaps even easy, for a man who is out-earned by his wife to still feel like a provider, yes.

Other men, in fact, may not feel the same way at all. Other men may be perfectly comfortable with the fact that the wife is the family's primary bread-winner. Those men also contribute meaningfully to their relationships, and the family unit can be equally as happy and successful.

Notwithstanding all of this, one fact remains: It is crazy to suggest that any man "shouldn't" feel certain emotional pangs in response to being deprived an important traditional male role.

This is not a guarantee that all men will feel this way. Rather, it is a simple acknowledgement of the fact that men who choose to hold themselves to traditional male responsibilities are doing nothing wrong. To suggest that they are is as wrong as to suggest that no woman should under any circumstances become a homemaker. Millions of women make that choice out of personal preference and personal beliefs about how they want to define womanhood for themselves. If a man likewise determines that providing for his family is his primary responsibility, that is his choice!

Naturally, this is just an example I am using to illustrate the important difference between male-female equality - which is unequivocally good - and the point at which feminism ends and male psychology begins. The reason I feel that men need to create an intellectual framework of masculism is so that we can learn to understand precisely these kinds of issues from a male point of view.

Being a strong male provider is unequivocally good. This certainly does not mean that all men must adhere to that role. I have no problem with any man who does not or prefers not. But the image of a strong male provider is a heroic one, one that any father would be proud of his son for aspiring toward. Moreover, it is an image that even the strongest woman would be happy to live with - even the most successful and wealthy female captain of industry would be happy to be with a strong male provider.

This archetype, and all similar male archetypes, are every bit as positive as female archetypes, from the doting mother to the comely maid to the CEO of Yahoo to the Supreme Court Justice. If it's positive, it's good. And a man who aspires to do something good is a man with a strong sense of self and an admirable creed.

Therefore, when I hear or read statements like #2 above, I have to shake my head. Feminism has done an admirable job of framing certain gender issues, and we should accept feminism as it stands today. But feminism is ill-equipped to deal with male psychology. For that, only a male equivalent can fill the void.

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