RSS
Men are the worst. Here's how they can be better.
Throughout our violent, sexist history, the world has had a very big man problem
 
It's time to pass on new lessons to our sons.
It's time to pass on new lessons to our sons. (David P. Hall/Corbis)

I'm a man with a man problem.

Allow me to explain.

As I wrote in a column a few months ago, I feel shame and disgust every time I hear about a mass shooting and then learn, invariably, that the murders were committed by a man. The same with news of gang rapes (and subsequent lynching of the victims). And the viciously sexualized verbal abuse that women writers regularly face online from their male "critics."

I didn't feel any less shame and disgust when, on May 23, a highly disturbed young man named Elliot Rodger murdered six people in Isla Vista, Calif., in an explicitly misogynistic rage.

The subsequent flood of impassioned commentary about the persistence and pervasiveness of sexism in our ostensibly liberated culture, including hundreds of thousands of #YesAllWomen tweets, has been mildly cathartic — because it has made the crucially important point that Rodger's hatred of women was merely an extreme version of attitudes that are very widely held by men and acted on every day in the U.S. and around the world. (For my money, Amanda Hess has written the most thoughtful statement on the shooting and its cultural aftershocks.)

But I'm afraid something has been missing from the conversation. Yes, misogyny is very close to the core of the problem. But perhaps even more primary is the refusal of so many men to acknowledge their own emotional lives — their anger and violent impulses, their unjustified sense of entitlement, their hormone-addled horniness — and assert control over themselves.

The male refusal of self-awareness and self-mastery is especially galling given the chauvinist trope one still hears so often among men when they get together to bellyache about the women in their lives (or the women they wish were in their lives). "She's just so emotional" must be the most common shorthand statement of sexism in the world.

Implication: If only women could be more like men — calm, cool, dispassionate, rational — then maybe they could join us in becoming philosophers and managers and poets and priests and executives and artists and statesman. But alas…

But nothing.

The fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of wars, massacres, rapes, beatings, and barroom brawls in human history have been initiated and prosecuted by men — quite often by men in a fit of indignant rage.

And in case you haven't heard: Rage is an emotion.

Remember that the next time you hear a man suggest that a woman's display of tears (or, God forbid, her own expressions of anger) disqualifies her from respect or deference, or precludes her from taking on a position of authority.

This is what psychologists call projection: The attribution of qualities to someone else that one wishes to deny in oneself. Men find it extremely difficult to control their emotional and sexual impulses, but they're embarrassed to admit their weakness. So they blame it on women, who are forever being accused of provoking, seducing, enticing men into bad behavior.

Civilization is positively overflowing with examples.

Think of Eve, blamed for tempting poor, unsuspecting Adam into transgressing the Lord's will and launching humanity onto the path of sin — leaving as an open question whether a race of men might have avoided temptation altogether and lived forever in harmony with God.

Think of countless religiously based rules and restrictions on what women can wear and how they can present themselves in public — rules and restrictions that exist to keep them from arousing the (supposedly) uncontrollable lust of men.

Think of how the remnants of these strictures in our time lead some to persist in blaming victims of sexual violence for encouraging (or at least insufficiently discouraging) their own assaults.

Boys will be boys, don't you know.

Actually, I don't know that at all — and neither do you.

I'll be blunt: Either men are capable of mastering their emotions and impulses, of displaying self-control and self-restraint, or the entire civilizational edifice of morality is a crock.

Morality stands or falls with the human capacity to override emotions and impulses — to do what's right even when doing what's wrong would be simpler, more satisfying, or more pleasurable.

Is moral self-mastery difficult? Of course it is. That's precisely what makes it admirable. Giving in to our wanton desire to take what we want — or lashing out in a violent fury at a person's, or a gender's, or the world's refusal to give us what we want — is always easier than putting ourselves in another's place, recognizing his or her intrinsic dignity, and restraining our urge to treat that person as a means to our own pleasure or satisfaction.

But what is difficult is not impossible.

It is long past time for men to own their emotional lives and stop shirking responsibility for the brutish, disrespectful, and sometimes ruinous actions they undertake while under the sway of their unruly passions and drives.

The woman you long to sleep with, like the world itself, owes you absolutely nothing. Let that be seared into the brain of every leering, groping, cat-calling, date-raping, would-be mass-murdering man in America.

That, and nothing less, is what it would take to solve my man problem — and ours.

 
Damon Linker is a senior correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is also a consulting editor at the University of Pennsylvania Press, a contributing editor at The New Republic, and the author of The Theocons and The Religious Test.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week