Ross Douthat, writing in Sunday’s New York Times in response to the misogynist mass shooting in California last week, raised a question about the contribution that feminism can make to men’s well being, and to women’s safety. Specifically, he criticized feminism, and “sex positive” feminism in particular, for not giving men “reasons, despite their lack of sexual experience, to first respect themselves as men.”
I agree with Douthat that sometimes what is called “sex positivity” has seemed like a romanticization of all manner of sexual expression without recognition of the challenges faced by many in achieving sexual pleasure or fulfillment. Where I disagree is with his claim that feminism has failed to provide men with models for the development of a self concept that is independent of sexual power. Each of my five reasons to respect yourself as a man could have come from almost any feminist Introduction to Gender text book. What feminism has not done is vindicated oppressive forms of masculinity. But that’s good, because those are the ones that lead men like last week’s shooter to feel so desperate.
So, Mr. Douthat, here are 5 feminist reasons that men should respect themselves as men, regardless of sexual experience. Feminist hint: They work for all human beings.
- Compassion: Respect yourself because you have concern about the needs of others, and because you act toward others in a way that shows your care.
- Strength: Respect yourself because you have the internal fortitude to withstand the injustices and the traumas that you face.
- Humility: Respect yourself because you know when to ask for help from others. We cannot survive in isolation. We need others.
- Generosity: Respect yourself because you give freely to help support those around you.
- Humanity: Respect yourself because you are one among a community of human beings. Your manhood does not define you. Your humanity does.
This is not about distinguishing good men from bad men. This is about helping men see themselves in terms of their shared humanity. So, men, respect yourself for your compassion, strength, humility, generosity, and humanity, and remember that humanity trumps masculinity or femininity any day of the week.
Sheet music image is from Harold Rossiter Music Company and is in the public domain.