The Myths of Men

Men often become nonviolent in societies that one, have adequate amounts of food, two, have adequate amounts of water, and three perceive themselves as isolated from attack. For example, the Tahitian men, the Minoan men on Crete, and the Central Malaysian Semai were nonviolent during the period in their history when all three of these conditions prevailed.

Dr Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power


Of all of the urban and cultural myths that run through Irish society, surely the most pervasive must be the myths of men. Men are brutish, men are uncouth, men are bound to traditional roles as husband and providers, men are strong, men don't express themselves, men are apparently by their very natures a whole host of often conflicting stereotypes.

So where do these ideas come from? We've been increasingly seeing men and masculinity portrayed in negative terms simply because they are men in the last few decades, an overflow of some of the more bizarre strata of other western cultures have worked their way into the Irish consciousness - the very popular cartoon characters Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin are depicted regularly on Irish TV as the ultimate "buffoon dads", soap operas dramatise shallow two dimensional characters, often violent or unfaithful, as representative of men.

These are meant to entertain, but the underlying message has crept into the way we as a society view our men. And the messages aren't limited to entertainment media but reach deep into international academic and sociological discourse.

In the 1990s political scientists warned that the demographic peak of millions of young males left by the baby boomers, famously dubbed "juvenile super-predators", would run riot across the US during that decade. Even though the demographic bulge came right on schedule, crime rates instead collapsed, young men did not live up to the expectations and stereotypes attributed to them by society.

Feminism as a movement in particular has played its part in demonising men as brutes who prefer to solve problems with their fists - by ignoring male victims of domestic violence, who are at least half of those who suffer non reciprocal violence, we get efforts like the white ribbon campaign, which paint men as permanent aggressors. Feminists in Sweden mandate that young boys should spend time in schools wearing dresses, because for a movement as crudely dualistic as feminism, there can only be two options, masculine or feminine, repression or emotional, violent or peaceful, competitive or co-operative.

Obviously things are a bit more complicated than that.

New research is showing for example that men generally aren't enormously competitive.

It's long been a popular stereotype: Men are hugely competitive, meaning cooperative effort is the exception rather than the norm, while women have a tendency to nurture relationships with others, making them much more likely to cooperate with one another.

A new Harvard study, however, is turning that cliché on its head.

"When I studied young children, I noticed that boys were typically interacting in groups, and girls tended to focus on one-on-one relationships," said Benenson, the study's lead author, who explored similar questions in her book Warriors and Worriers. "There is even evidence that these differences exist in six-month-olds -- but you can see it with the naked eye by about five or six years old, where boys form these large, loose groups, and girls tend to pair off into more intense, close friendships."

This directly conflicts with messages from one Carlos Goméz who made the news in the Irish Times a few months ago, who tells us

I watch all these men laughing and putting their arms around each other. I feel like there’s not enough of that with young men. We’re constantly competing – and I feel, in that world, we all lose.

And then we have this from the Journal reporting on the same person.

These are indicative of the kinds of cultural forces at work on young men in Ireland today. Solutions that may arguably have some value for men steeped in a macho culture elsewhere are being peddled as one-size-fits-all answers for men everywhere, including in Ireland, where no discernable macho culture exists.

Neither of course are men particularly inclined towards violence, no matter what society is trying to tell them. Less than 1% of men in Ireland have ever been convicted of a violent crime, and even if you make the very expansive assumption that conviction rates are a tenth of violence rates, that still means better than nine out of ten men are generally not violence prone except in extreme circumstances. That doesn't sound to me like a characteristic that can be laid upon an entire gender.

Further research supports this conclusion

Conventional wisdom and scientific arguments have claimed that societies with more men than women, such as China, will become more violent, but a University of California, Davis, study has found that a male-biased sex ratio does not lead to more crime.

Rates of rape, sexual assault and homicide are actually lower in societies with more men than women, the study found. And, evolutionary theories predicting that when males outnumber females, males will compete vigorously for the limited number of mates don’t bear out. The study, “Too many men: the violence problem?” is in the April issue of Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

“Here, we untangle the logic behind the widely held notion that in human societies where men outnumber women, there will be more violence,” said Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, a UC Davis professor of anthropology and co-author of the study.

The anthropologists who conducted this study took their lead from recent developments in evolutionary theory. These new ideas challenge the claim that when in abundance males will necessarily resort to violent competition.

This reflects what happened to the supposed young male "super predators" that were to be stalking the land in the US during the 1990s. Someone threw a stereotype and men failed to show up.

Again and again in recent modern history we see these problematic stereotypes being invented, then solutions to these nonexistent problems inflicted on an unsuspecting male population by heedless social engineers. Is it any wonder men are finding it difficult to figure out where they stand?

The reality is that men like everyone else take their cues from the people around them, including what they see on the television and what they read in books and magazines. While it's not really possible to make generalisations about an entire half of the population, men can reasonably be said to often be practical problem solvers.

There may or may not be underlying biological reasons for this, but the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of technological and cultural advances throughout history have come from male researchers, scientists, philosophers, artists and engineers, something conveniently overlooked by most analysts of masculine traits. Huge cultural problems arise when this creativity and energy is interpreted as latent violence, which tells men that they should be more violent than they feel, and that they should try to control that nonexistent violence by adopting mannerisms more in line with cultural perceptions of positive femininity. And men are getting this message from the people and culture around them, our culture, Irish culture, whether borrowed from abroad or not.

In reality, men aren't more violent and competitive than women, they're less so, and yet their natural constructive and creative urges, their co-operative instincts are being smothered in the worst case of misidentification since Columbus thought he'd found India.

The rejection of these false attributes by men can be found in the growing "Men Going Their Own Way" movement throughout the US and Europe, where men are choosing to dissociate themselves from the social expectations being placed on them, or the increasingly infamous Herbivore movement in Japan.

The short answer is that grass-eating men are alarming because they are the nexus between two of the biggest challenges facing Japanese society: the declining birth rate and anemic consumption. Herbivores represent an unspoken rebellion against many of the masculine, materialist values associated with Japan's 1980s bubble economy. Media Shakers, a consulting company that is a subsidiary of Dentsu, the country's largest advertising agency, estimates that 60 percent of men in their early 20s and at least 42 percent of men aged 23 to 34 consider themselves grass-eating men. Partner Agent, a Japanese dating agency, found in a survey that 61 percent of unmarried men in their 30s identified themselves as herbivores. Of the 1,000 single men in their 20s and 30s polled by Lifenet, a Japanese life-insurance company, 75 percent described themselves as grass-eating men.

Note how Slate identifies this as a rebellion against masculine values, when in fact it's a rebellion against what society in that country identifies as masculine values.

Male stoicism which has been just as demonised as this supposed violent male nature can cause men to underestimate and ignore dangers and pressures in their own lives, it's true. However stoicism also means forbearance, tolerance, and healthy emotional control in stressful situations. It can actually serve a protective function, where excessive focus on problems without actually solving them can lead to anxiety and depression.

Men, Irish men at least, don't need to blubber into one another's arms about their problems, but rather need to understand that talking about issues can be a practical way to solve those problems, it is a useful activity. Masculinity isn't to blame for men not opening up but rather a profound lack of comprehension of how masculinity actually works on the part of those trying to "fix" men.

And of course the attacks on masculinity aren't confined to the creative instincts of men, but also to male sexuality. Men can stop rape, they tell us. No, men can't stop rape any more than men can stop burglary or muggings. Masculinity isn't responsible for rape, a tiny minority of deranged individuals are, both male and female. Male sexuality is something to be celebrated, not attacked.

The deeply parental aspects of men are likewise discarded by Irish courts removing men from their children, and the active encouragement of parental alienation by not just the legal system but by paralegal groups operating under the aegis of various charities, the cause of intense anguish for tens of thousands of fathers across Ireland today.

None of these are justifiable, based on any evidence or even sane, and yet this is what men have to put up with today. No more, I say!

The truth is that being a man is whatever you decide it means, as a man. Not what some academic wants it to be, not what some advertising campaign or social engineer tells you it is. Embrace your masculinity and all of its exuberant energy and creativity, control it, channel it to whatever ends you see fit, not anybody else's idea of what you should be, and above all else don't let anyone tell you that your masculinity is a bad thing.

After all, it's built the mightiest civilisation the world has ever known, they can feel free to hand that back if they're so tired of it.

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