Sometimes, when I read the news, it irritates me to the point that I have
to respond somehow, and a few sentences in the comment section just won't cut it. My original post is here: [link]
, but I've decided to to just copy it over here, since it's easier to read that way. Being that this is a feminist essay, I'll prepare myself to be either inundated with all kinds of crazy comments, or to just have this ignored entirely. We shall see, I suppose...
Men are losing their self-confidence. The sentiment is everywhere in popular media, lamenting everything from males doing poorly in school to panicking about the loss of masculinity and what it has done and will do to males in our society. Today in a New York times article by David Brooks, a young male law student from Chicago is quoted saying that, "...one of the unintended consequences of the feminist revolution has been that men in my generation are raised without a strong self-identity, and, in essence, grow up to be little more than boys looking for mothers."
His comment is unusual in its use of proper grammar, something which is frequently lacking in similar types of comments (which are often rife with errant apostrophes and comma misuse, among other offenses). However, it also touches on something at its core that I think is true, although I am not sure that the original commenter realizes it himself. But I'll address the obvious surface problems with his comment first.
In my experience, most men are not looking for mommy-girlfriends; indeed a common complaint I've heard is, "She won't stop acting like my mother!" Additionally, he assumes that a strong self-identity must inherently be gender-based, which is entirely erroneous, but also a discussion that would be better addressed in another post.
So then where is the truth within his comment that I was talking about? On the surface, his comment can basically be reduced to, "Men are turning into sissies and that's really, really bad, guys." What underlies this sentiment though, is a statement about the source of ideal male confidence in our society: Power. He is right— men are losing self-confidence, because our society idealizes male self-confidence in what basically amounts to machismo.
What's interesting about power is that for it to exist, someone else must have given it up, or had it taken away. In a 1966 essay on racism and the Black Power movement, Stokely Charmichael makes a telling comment about whites and power:"When the Lowndes County Freedom Organization chose the black panther as its symbol, it was christened by the press "the Black Panther Party" but the Alabama Democratic Party, whose symbol is a rooster, has never been called the White Cock Party. No one ever talked about "white power" because power in this country is white. All this adds up to more than merely identifying a group phenomenon by some catchy name or adjective. The furor over that black panther reveals the problems that white America has with color and sex; the furor over "black power" reveals how deep racism runs and the great fear which is attached to it."*
Replace the appropriate references with females, males, feminism, and sexism, and you get a telling comment on reactions like that of our Chicago law student to the slowly shifting power dynamics in our society. Sexism and racism are two incredibly complex (and definitely related) societal problems. They both live and breathe "other-izing" people, and then wresting and keeping power away from the "othered" groups. Being white, my experience with racism is relatively limited, at least in terms of being on the receiving end. However, I do know what it's like for people to think that a boyfriend of mine was a terrorist because of the color of his skin, and he was not actually Middle-Eastern; I also know what it's like for extended family members to inform me that I was "dirtying" myself by sleeping with a Mexican— he wasn't Mexican either.**
The point here though, is about power. Whites, and white men especially, are used to being in power— over women, and over minorities. As I stated before, for power to exist, control must be given up or taken from another person. It cannot exist in a vacuum or in the context of one individual. The concept of power itself implies multiple individuals. Power is close to being a zero-sum game, unlike many other topics, such as lower achievement by males in school, that people like to talk about as being evidence of feminism's "bad influence" on society. It is why there must be a balance of power. For the balance to happen though, men must give up some of their power, and if their self-confidence is so tied up with being in power, it makes sense that their self-confidence would then decline.
That is a good thing. Self-confidence that is based in power over others and the ability to basically do whatever one wants to the out of power group without repercussions, is not really self-confidence anyway. It's just a power-trip.
If men are continually taught that power is self-confidence, we will continue to perpetuate a culture of systematic other-izing and oppression. Men, and anyone else in power, must find a self-confidence that is not rooted in power and control. Some of the most self-confident men I know are feminists; they are not constantly looking over their shoulders worrying about women taking power (and ego) from them. Rather, they face the women in their lives as fellow human beings, happy to share power equally because their self-worth is not wrapped up in dominating and oppressing another person.*Source: New York Review of Books, September 22, 1966. It may be controversial to use a quote like this, given the original essay (I really have no idea— I read the essay for the history class I am currently taking); however, it summed up the idea of the powerful fearing the oppressed quite well.
**Racism is still an enormous problem, and as someone who has grown up with white privilege, I don't feel all that qualified to address it outside of a few of my personal experiences. Any comments people have that can bring this issue more to light, especially in context of the ideas about power I've discussed, would be very much welcomed.