Stoicism is primarily about justice, courage, moderation, and practical wisdom. Mitigating negative emotions by distinguishing between what is up to us and what is not up to us—and what belongs to us and does not belong to us—is a way to practice these virtues.
But politics, like religion, is increasingly a moralistic endeavor. Conservatives, progressives, centrists, and libertarians all believe that their political ideology is the wisest and most just. It was simply a matter of time before some Stoics would start suggesting that a true Stoic must endorse this or that political ideology.
Partisan politics, however, undermines trust and respect in a group. It shows a failure to understand what’s your and what’s not yours.
I’ve seen a few Facebook posts promoting psychologist Jordan Peterson as a Stoic hero. Peterson’s big idea is that you will only create chaos if you try to change the world before you get your own life in order.
But his politics often overshadows his self-help message. Peterson shot to fame with his vocal opposition to adding gender identity to Canada’s civil rights law. Most legal experts, however, disagree that people will be forced to use alternative gender pronouns.
Peterson sees pronouns as a symptom of a larger problem. He rails against “postmodern neo-Marxism” (a straw man conflation of two different things). And his caricature of the left has caught the alt-right’s attention, though Peterson condemns the alt-right.
Meanwhile, left leaning Stoics are pushing progressive politics. Author and philosopher Massimo Pugliucci recently wrote on his blog that of course Stoics should call themselves feminists and support other progressive social justice causes.
I disagree with Massimo, however. I don’t disagree that feminism is about women’s equality. But women’s equality and gender equality, though related, are not the same thing. Further, feminism is only one of many ways one can support women’s equality. And I disagree with feminism’s frequent anti-male rhetoric, the way it ignores issues other genders face, and the popular claim that conservative women cannot call themselves feminists (especially if they’re pro-life).
I also disagree with the frequent progressive failure to reject bigotry as a matter of principle (e.g. “It’s not sexist when women say derogatory things about men,” “African-Americans can’t be racist,” or “Religion is just an excuse to discriminate.”).
Not being a progressive doesn’t imply lack of support for social justice. I believe that the equal rights of the individual are the basis for universal human rights. Further, these rights exist independent of government, and government’s first task is to protect these rights by not placing restrictions on how you live your life (so long as you don’t impose yourself on others). And I endorse the belief that people should be judged by their character, not by their race, sex, gender, religion, etc.
But I am not about to say that Stoics should be classical liberals. Other people’s choices don’t belong to me. Rather than say that Stoics must adopt certain political labels or causes, my position is that if a Stoic claims to value justice, courage, moderation, and practical wisdom then it is that Stoic’s responsibility to develop political positions that reflect this. Honest people will disagree, however, so this means there will be conservative Stoics, progressive Stoics, centrist Stoics, libertarian Stoics, and so on.
The best response to someone who says that a Stoic should adopt this or that political label or position is: “That’s not up to you.”
I just finished watching Ken Burns’ documentary series on the Roosevelts. Eleanor Roosevelt is known to history as a kindhearted person, a woman of character who treated others with human dignity. She was the primary mover behind the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Neither Eleanor Roosevelt nor Fred Rogers lived a charmed life, however. Mr. Rogers had a lonely childhood and was bullied by his peers. As a child Roosevelt’s mother would tell her how ugly she was. Her father’s alcoholism killed him, and she lived with abusive, drunken uncles. She married her cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt (so her maiden name and married were name the same). He was repeatedly unfaithful to her.
But Roosevelt and Rogers were forces for human dignity because of their pain. Not because they somehow got over their pain, but because they got past their tunnel vision. Their pain was the source of their empathy—even when personally attacked they could see the pain inside the other person and respond with compassion.
It’s something many of us aspire to but fail to achieve. And people who can’t get past their tunnel vision not only can be destructive—they often think their abuse of other people is morally justified.
They see themselves as the real victims. Hitler, for example, was abused as a child and claimed he was defending Germans against their Jewish oppressors. Stalin was once a political prisoner who subsequently sent millions to the gulag in the name of economic justice.
Abuse is often excused as a justified punishment for a moral transgression. When we feel the desire to punish someone we should stop and ask ourselves what our true motives are. Setting healthy boundaries with people or not bailing people out from the natural consequences of poor choices aren’t the same as punishment. And punishment is sometimes necessary, as when someone commits a crime. But other times it’s revenge we’re after.
The Washington Post recently ran an op-ed called “Why can’t we hate men?” The outrage and the defenses it sparked were predictable. There’s a petition to sanction gender studies professor Suzanna Danuta Walters for writing the piece, but I don’t think that will accomplish anything. There are too many calls to fire or punish people instead of genuine efforts for dialog.
Men too often take the bait with articles like this. Their anger and defensiveness gives others the opportunity to laugh at them. Instead we must simply observe the fact that misandry has always been a thing in feminist circles. I’m not saying that all feminists hate men, or that misandry is a central aspect of feminism. But it is tolerated.
Far too many women have been subjected to gender based abuse, and this is the source of much misandry. And though we as a society rarely talk about it, women’s gender based abuse of boys and men is the source of much misogyny.
But none of this is an excuse for hate. Yet, we have no control over what other people do. The starting point is oneself. Promoting human kindness and avoiding hate is the most powerful thing I can do. It’s my responsibility. Look at what Eleanor Roosevelt and Mr. Rogers accomplished for humanity compared to Hitler and Stalin.
This is a challenge for every age, and ours is no exception. Every day brings a mean tweet from President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, millionaire Bill Maher hopes for a recession so Trump won’t be reelected, despite the harm this would cause for millions of working families.
Over at the New York Times David Brooks advocates “personalism.” He notes that, “We talk in shorthand about ‘Trump voters’ or ‘social justice warriors,’ but when you actually meet people they defy categories.” These labels ignore “the uniqueness and depth of each person.”
Personalism, Brooks continues, is about seeing each “person in his or her full depth.” This approach is I-Thou rather than I-It: “get to know their stories” instead of seeing them as data points.
Punishing people like Professor Walters won’t defeat the hate she promotes. Recognizing her humanity while also setting firm boundaries—including her responsibility to recognize the humanity of others—is a better approach.
And this can start with the question: “What do you think increased hatred will achieve for the equal human dignity of all people?”
We need a more comprehensive perspective on gender that isn’t biased against particular genders.
I began writing about men’s issues a few years ago because I wondered why mass shooters are almost always male.
In one article for the Portland (Maine) Press Herald I wrote that social pressure to be a “real man” can push some men and boys—especially if they feel insecure—toward violence. And the hazing men experience in all-male groups and frequent lack of deep male friendships can lead to social isolation.
The “real man” trope also creates problems for women. The chivalric notion that men must protect women can lead some men to feel like they’re entitled to control women, which can result in domestic violence. On top of that, increased gender equality can feel like a loss of status for some men, resulting in what sociologist Michael Kimmel calls “aggrieved entitlement.”
But a deeper problem is that we scold men instead of taking men’s issues seriously. Over three-quarters of suicides are male, but when gender is mentioned the focus is usually on women and girls. Females attempt suicide more than males, but a cry for help shows they believe someone might listen. Males commit suicide more often because they don’t think anyone will listen.
I pointed to our culture’s zero-sum approach to gender as part of the problem—talking about men’s issues means excluding women, except when moralizing at men about “toxic masculinity.” Instead, I wrote that “one way to encourage men to be more empathetic is to be more empathetic toward men.”
In the second piece I questioned the agenda of redefining masculinity. I accused academia of having an anti-masculinity bias. Some academics even call for the abolition of men as a social category. But even mainstream academia finds little good in masculinity. I noted that,
The Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory has some positive descriptions of masculinity, but mostly negatives concerning things men to do other people. According to the Inventory, masculinity is about violence, dominance, being a playboy, having power over women, disdain for homosexuals, emotional control, self–reliance, winning, pursuit of status, making work primary, and risk taking.
The Conformity to Feminine Norms Inventory also describes femininity in positive and negative terms. The negatives, however, are the effects of masculinity on women and girls. Femininity is about self as mother, being relational and connected, being silent and dependent, being married, looking young and thin, being ornamental, pleasant, relying on and deferring to men, and being virginal while also being sexy.
In contrast, I quoted Dr. Martin Seager’s nuanced statement that it’s not gender that’s toxic, but “gender influences the way and the pattern that damaged people (of either gender) follow when responding to their damage.”
And I quoted writer Rick Belden who observed that healthy masculinity is often defined as how men treat women. But how would we respond to someone saying that healthy femininity is about how women treat men? Belden concludes that we’d do well to shift our thinking: healthy masculinity starts with how well a man treats himself.
Instead of redefining masculinity I said we should focus on a man’s self-determination to be the man he wants to be so long as he respects the equal rights of others.
Though I had written several pieces for the Good Men Project, they decided not to publish this piece. GMP is a male feminist website, and I realized that feminism is too narrow.
In retrospect, I’m surprised I got away with as much as I did at the Good Men Project. I wrote that men are not second class citizens, but a group need not be oppressed for us to take their concerns seriously. Our failure to sometimes even acknowledge male victims of domestic violence is one example.
Part of the problem, I wrote in another GMP article, is that research shows that society has significant bias for women over men. This bias often manifests as a lack of empathy for men. For example, feminists tell men to show their vulnerability but also mock men with hashtags such as #masculinitysofragile.
In yet another article for for GMP I wrote that telling men to show their vulnerability is problematic when there’s little support offered when men do. I noted that the international concern for the girls Boko Haram kidnapped was matched with silence about the boys they’ve killed or kidnapped.
And I pointed to a Department of Justice study which found that a significant number of boys in juvenile detention are sexually abused—almost entirely by female staff—but the media and sexual assault prevention activists have largely ignored them. A bigger problem than acknowledging male vulnerability is talking about female perpetrators.
In this same piece I questioned
the popular belief that men arranged society to privilege men at women’s expense. But this doesn’t account for the reality that throughout history the common man was used as a beast of burden and as cannon fodder. Or that even today when most world leaders are men, the bottom of society — the chronically homeless, victims of violence, prisoners, combat deaths, etc. — is overwhelmingly male.
Rather than privileging men over women, patriarchy is more accurately a small group of powerful men exploiting both women and men. An important distinction is that while men have had greater opportunity for power and status, this power and status is not automatic or guaranteed. Instead, it must be earned with correspondingly higher risk. Failed men are disdained while successful men are lauded and rewarded.
On my personal blog I have rejected the claim that believing in gender equality means one must be a feminist. I think feminism is about left-wing women’s self-interest. Mostly that means equality, but not always. But because feminism is a movement of women and for women, a male feminist must take his talking points from women. Otherwise he’s “mansplaining” women’s issues to women. But this limits a male feminist’s ability to speak authentically about gender from his own perspective.
Despite my criticisms of feminist misandry, though, I also think the men’s rights movement is the wrong approach. I’ve criticized the MRM for its right-wing identity politics. While noting that MRAs are angry because they feel dehumanized, I concluded that both the MRM and feminism are focused on self-interest to the point of diminishing the concerns of the opposite sex.
I also criticized MGTOW—male separatists, or “men going their own way”—for playing the victim, promoting misogynistic stereotypes about women, and not really going their own way if they’re still preoccupied with women.
MRAs seem to blame feminism for almost every difficulty men face. But feminists didn’t create the modern world (though they have contributed greatly to it). However, we do need a more comprehensive perspective on gender that isn’t biased against particular genders and which takes the concerns of all genders seriously.
The perspective I’ve been promoting hasn’t yet accomplished that. I’ve been writing almost entirely about men and boys in an attempt to articulate a male perspective on gender that takes men’s issues seriously without portraying men as victims, which doesn’t promote sexism against women, and which promotes equality.
I do this because I believe that the well being of men and boys matters to society as a whole. For Arc Digital I wrote that men’s roles are changing in unexpected ways, including record numbers of men dropping out of the workforce. The job market has changed greatly, but expectations of men’s earning power—which relates directly to men’s ability to find love—haven’t changed. So young men are increasingly dropping out. Further, Warren Farrell and John Gray recently wrote The Boy Crisis about boys falling behind on several measures in 63 developed countries, and the role that father deprivation plays.
Our first concern should be to promote men’s well being. And that directly supports concerns about the impact of men and masculinity on society at large, including decreasing violence and supporting economic growth.
Mass shootings—especially at schools—have gotten a lot of attention, but there’s another type of violence that kills far more teens. Suicide.
I was talking with a middle school principal the other day. He said teen suicide is increasing at an alarming rate. The Centers for Disease Control agree. The CDC says teen suicide peaked in the early 1990s and declined thereafter only to steadily increase after 2007.
In 2015 the teen suicide rate was 14.2 per 100,000 for boys and 5.1 per 100,000 for girls. The media focuses particularly on girls because the teen girl suicide rate doubled between 2007 and 2015 compared to a one-third increase for teen boys.
Taking the needs of boys and men seriously seems to be a big missing puzzle piece. Dr. Warren Farrell and Dr. John Gray recently published a book about The Boy Crisis. They claim fatherlessness is the leading cause of boys’ problems. In an interview with Bettina Arndt, however, Farrell was clear to point out that suicide and murder occur only in a very small minority of boys—most boys raised by single mothers turn out just fine.
What is clear, though, is that troubled boys are far more likely to kill themselves than they are to kill other people. But we only seem concerned when a boy or a man harms another person, at which point we blame “toxic masculinity” and prescribe redefining masculinity along feminist lines as the solution. Instead we should be asking how best to reach out to troubled boys.
And we should be asking how best to reach out to girls. A doubling in teen girls’ suicide rate is alarming. As we were talking, the principal’s wife added that the “mean girls” phenomenon needs to be addressed more directly. Males are more violent, but females engage in “relational aggression” more frequently than boys. And this increases risk for suicidal ideation.
Writing for Psychology Today, Dr. Ditta M. Oliker describes “female aggressive behavior” as:
Excluding, ignoring, teasing, gossiping, secrets, backstabbing, rumor spreading and hostile body language (i.e., eye-rolling and smirking). Most damaging is turning the victim into a social “undesirable”. The behavior and associated anger is hidden, often wrapped in a package seen as somewhat harmless or just a “girl thing”. The covert nature of the aggression leaves the victim with no forum to refute the accusations and, in fact, attempts to defend oneself leads to an escalation of the aggression.
The power of social media to instantly reach hundreds or thousands of people with rumor spreading, shaming, and explicit calls for social exclusion is unprecedented. Social exclusion and public shaming is difficult for anyone, but even more so for adolescents. Dr. Jean Twenge claims that social media makes children more depressed and anxious, dubbing people born after 1995 “iGen”—a cohort with a profoundly different adolescent social experience compared to people born before 1995.
The link between social media and increased teen suicide—not to mention school shootings—has yet to be proved. But it seems undeniable. The principal said the ubiquity of social media is a huge factor in rising teen suicide rates. He said that in years past kids might make fun of a peer in front of a half dozen other kids. But today something posted on social media is seen by hundreds or even thousands of people.
MGTOW are against marriage, and many eschew relationships with women altogether. They claim society is gynocentric:
men being expected to accommodate feminism while also fulfilling the traditional male role,
the welfare state being primarily a forced transfer of resources from working men to women via taxation,
women’s marital obligations ending at divorce (which mostly women initiate) while men’s obligations continue as alimony,
family court’s discrimination against men, who typically are not given equal child custody and can be forced to pay child support even when a DNA test shows no biological relationship,
and the specter of false rape allegations.
Mgtow.com says they’re all about individual sovereignty—“the manifestation of one word: ‘No.’”
Avoiding marriage and fatherhood are legitimate choices. But there are three disagreements I have with MGTOW:
First, women seem to be one of the primary discussion topics. Imagine a man who quit drinking but continuously talks about alcohol. He’d seem like a dry drunk rather than someone who truly left alcohol behind. Or imagine a man who rarely mentions football and seems bored when others bring it up. He’d seem like a man who is truly not a sports person.
Why, then, do so many men who say they’ve gone their own way—that is, away from women—when spend so much time talking about women? A man whose life does not revolve around women, it seems to me, would instead talk about his hobbies and interests. MGTOW who rarely talk about women and instead talk mostly about how to unplug for society, live off the grid, etc. seem like they’ve truly gone their own way.
Second, MGTOW beliefs about women’s “true nature” are mostly a collection of crude stereotypes: women don’t think logically, they’re narcissistic, they’re manipulative, and the female brain is inferior — that’s why women can’t take responsibility for anything.
However, MGTOW are outraged over feminists’ pejorative claims about masculinity being about domination, misogyny, and homophobia. The irony, apparently, is lost on them.
This enmity, however, not only comes at the expense of our shared humanity—a person can’t be happy so long as he’s focused on blaming someone else.
Finally, MGTOW seem too focused on the blame game. Life is unfair, but do MGTOW really think they have it worse than other people? If MGTOW don’t believe society will change then why even bother collecting grievances?
A man can choose to focus on what is under his control—his deliberate actions and choices. And he can focus on his goals—what he wants to do now that romantic relationships are no longer an issue for him. But focusing on women and societal wrongs will only hold him back.
Incivility is the order of the day. And this incivility finds its roots in moralistic self-righteousness, which leads to a sense of urgency where any means are justified. Such people don’t even realize they’ve abandoned their values. That’s one reason why President Donald Trump’s supporters are willing to excuse anything he does.
But this phenomenon is not limited to the right. Decades ago second wave feminist and sometime Ms. magazine editor Robin Morgan said, “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”
Her sense of entitlement is noteworthy. Hatred is not excusable because someone is oppressed. Hatred is self-betrayal of what you say you stand for. And the claim that sweeping and derogatory generalizations about a group of people is not hate if you lack power is a paper thin rationalization.
Feminists today take to Twitter with hashtags like #menaretrash, #maletears, and #masculinitysofragile. They say they’re being ironic, but as I noted earlier this is a passive-aggressive excuse for dehumanizing half the human race.
Yes, there are feminists who oppose sexism in all forms, just as there are conservatives who are true to their beliefs. Double standards, however, are too often the case.
Progressives were outraged when Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” But the truth is that he was repeating a feminist meme that said men instead of refugees (and M&Ms instead of skittles). Where was the progressive outrage then?
Worse, Lena Dunham recently called for the extinction of straight white men – a comment that rightly would be labeled fascist had it targeted any other group.
What is feminism?
Conservative columnist George Will left the Republican Party because of Donald Trump. And some feminists have left feminism to pursue more balanced gender equality instead.
Feminism is about women’s self-interest. Usually this means promoting equality, but sometimes it means being anti-equality. For example, the National Organization for Women opposes shared parenting after divorce (but NOW has since deleted the link).
Feminists often don’t see this as a double standard because many of them believe that men arranged society to privilege men at women’s expense. But like most conspiracy theories this doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
Throughout most of history men have not been privileged. Ancient kingdoms and empires were tyrannies run by small groups of men. The common man – the overwhelming majority of the male population – was a beast of burden and cannon fodder. The common man did gain rights before women, but the gap between universal male suffrage and universal female suffrage is less than a century.
We’ve yet to have a movement with a comprehensive focus on gender issues. And there might not be anytime soon.
The latest documentary by sometime feminist Cassie Jaye has caused no small amount of controversy. More so than previous documentaries such as Daddy I Do, where she criticizes purity balls and father’s attempts to protect their daughter’s virginity. Or The Right to Love, which supports the fight for marriage equality.
The Red Pill looks at the men’s right movement, challenging what we think we know about gender issues.
The film is controversial because of its positive portrayal of the men’s rights movement. Jaye gives A Voice for Men founder Paul Elam a sympathetic hearing without challenging him on his ranting online persona. Also unquestioned is men’s rights activists (MRAs) failure to take women’s issues seriously while demonizing feminists and blaming them for problems men face. And left unexamined is the claim that society is gynocentric.
But Jaye does ask feminists tough questions. They avoid the issue of paternity fraud and stand firm in their opposition to a legal presumption of shared parenting. On the issue of father’s rights Katherine Spillar from the Feminist Majority Foundation says a man’s choice happens before he has sex. Another feminist in the film says men have a responsibility not to put themselves in these situations. Which would be misogyny if someone said that about women.
Later in the film feminist Michael Kimmel denies that domestic violence against men is a serious issue despite a Centers for Disease Control report (tables 4.7 and 4.8) showing that 5.066 million men have been pushed or slapped by an intimate partner in the past 12 months compared to 4.322 million women. Even with severe domestic violence the CDC found more male victims than most people would expect – 2.266 million men and 3.163 million women in the past 12 months.
Men and gender: It’s complicated
Since the advent of second wave feminism a half century ago men have struggled to proactively discuss gender issues. Today the Internet is the primary medium for MRAs to vent their concerns and anger, often anonymously. And anti-feminism is their focus.
Meanwhile, male feminists advocate men checking their privilege and acknowledging their collective guilt as oppressors. But feminism is a female perspective on gender where men’s issues are usually discussed in terms of how masculinity affects women. It’s difficult for men to speak genuinely about men’s lived experiences when taking their cues from women.
It’s a complex situation without a clear solution.
A movement is born
The central text of the men’s rights movement is The Myth of Male Power, written in 1993 by former male feminist Warren Farrell. His key point that the male role requires men to devalue their lives in the service of others sparked a movement even if it didn’t become mainstream.
Male disposability garners such little concern that few people have even heard of it. But MRAs present several statistics backed by United States government reports, including men being 93% of workplace deaths, almost four in five suicides, and 98% of combat deaths. They note that Boko Haram kidnapping girls generated an outpouring of international concern while the boys they burned alive were ignored.
Male disposability isn’t just about death. High divorce rates have decreased father involvement in children’s lives, reducing men’s value to a child support check. Yet research shows the essential role of fathers in children’s lives – boys especially. And boys are falling far behind girls in school, but little is being done about it.
MRAs are angry because they feel dehumanized. But feminists feel dehumanized by MRAs. Jaye shows footage of a feminist protest against Farrell without giving the context for why feminists labeled him a rape apologist. In The Myth of Male Power Farrell writes, “before we began calling this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting.” MRAs respond that this quote must be understood in its larger context. Though Farrell was not advocating rape, flippant comments about rape are always cringeworthy.
Where do we go from here?
Both feminists and MRAs seem passionate about equality and sensitive to gender bias while at other times being anti-equality and promoting gender bias. But this isn’t as inconsistent as it seems. Both feminism and the MRM are primarily about self-interest.
In the end Jaye concludes that she supports gender equality but is neither a feminist nor a men’s rights activist. But she’s not sure what direction that might go in. Despite my criticisms of the documentary, I agree with Jaye’s conclusion.