This is a long letter I wrote to a friend. Those of you who already understand male-female dynamics will already know all of this. But I thought it would be good to put these thoughts all in one place. I have much more I could say about this, especially the metaphysics of masculinity and femininity, but it’s long enough as it is
Hi Dogen, Do you have any articles on masculinity? My friend recently said he believes gender is completely a social construct and I’m not totally sure I agree, but I don’t have the resources to back myself up. Buddy.
There are two distinct issues to separate out when explaining the real existence of masculinity and femininity to someone who disbelieves in them. One is the actual facts; the other is the psychological/social reasons that the person holds these opinions. The facts are very straightforward and rather easy to comprehend; but most people have never even heard about them, and worse, many people are afraid to even hear about them — they even get enraged if you try to explain the facts, because they are afraid that acknowledging such facts will lead to sexism and repression, and they will often question the motives of a person who is interested in these topics. They assume there’s something evil about a person who wants to explore along these lines, and they subconsciously feel that they themselves will become evil if they allow themselves to think about them. I speak from personal experience. I’m not suggesting your friend will necessarily react this way, of course, but it’s a pretty common response. Even those that remain calm upon hearing these things will usually try and change the subject when it gets “uncomfortable.”
The ironic thing is that it shouldn’t be “uncomfortable.” It’s simply life as it is; it’s simply genetics. There’s nothing “evil” about the fact that men and women are fundamentally different. To suggest that there is something wrong with it is as absurd as to claim that plate tectonics is wrong because we don’t like volcano eruptions, and that therefore anyone who studies plate tectonics must be an evil, pro-volcano villain.
Of course, human interactions have a moral element to them, unlike volcanos. In fact, you might say the moral element is the primary feature that makes human interactions different than all other natural phenomena. So that’s why people get understandably nervous when you give naturalistic explanations for human behavior. It feels like you’re trying to excuse immoral behavior by pointing to naturalistic explanations. It makes people uncomfortable.
But, I’d argue, that’s a rather juvenile way of looking at the world. We can acknowledge certain human impulses as natural without endorsing them morally. Bands of primates naturally kill rival tribes over food and resources, but acknowledging this natural fact does not mean we endorse war and killing.
Perhaps that all seems rather obvious and redundant, but I’ve found that people who are quite smart and sophisticated somehow turn off that part of their brain when it comes to natural human differences, such as the ones between men and women. So I’ve found it’s important to tread lightly and compassionately when engaging these ideas, while at the same time it’s important to hold their feet to the fire a bit and get them to acknowledge this kind of basic reasoning, because otherwise the discussion gets lost in all kinds of nervous hand-wringing and avoidance of facts. If you’re not allowed to even present the facts in a discussion without the other person freaking out, then it won’t get very far.
It’s important to acknowledge to your friend that there is definitely a spectrum at play here. People are not 100% “masculine” or 100% “feminine.” People are highly variable. And a huge part of gender roles is socially constructed. We have to acknowledge this readily. Otherwise people start arguing straw men.
One of my favorite examples is that, in late 19th Century England, the color most associated with young girls was blue, and the color associated most with adolescent boys was a sort of rose-pink color. Blue was associated with the Virgin Mary (since she is often depicted with a blue shawl), and rose was considered a sort of watered-down red, as in the blood-red color of war (a male teen was pink… on his way to the full, deep red of a grown man).
Obviously, those colors are switched now. It’s pretty close to completely arbitrary. It’s kind of a silly example, of course. Not much that is substantive depends on what color balloons you bring to the maternity ward.
There are all kinds of examples of institutions that bear much more significance which have changed through the years, and from culture to culture. The legal property rights of women, for example. In pre-Roman, Celtic France (Gaul), women owned their own property regardless of being married, single, divorced or widowed. In medieval France, women had no property rights as individuals. In modern France, women have total legal equality with men, and in some circumstances (involving divorce) have more robust property rights than men do. Obviously, whether a French woman can own property or not is completely socially dependent. The difference is not in her genes, and it’s not written in the stars; it’s made up by social forces, 100%. Constructed, as your friend would rightly say.
Again, I find it necessary to be a bit painstaking with acknowledging these things, even at the risk of being a bit boring or pedantic.
People will use counterexamples as if they constituted real proof, and it’s sometimes hard for them to see the logical error they are making. If I argue that Somalis are taller than Filipinos, someone who is committed to height-as-socially-constructed will point to one short Somali and one tall Filipino and say “Haha, you’re wrong!” It’s a ridiculous argument, but people do it all the time.
Likewise, I’m about to argue the real facts about men and women. But there will be counterexamples. The counterexamples don’t disprove the real differences any more than a tall Filipino disproves that Filipinos are shorter than Somalis. Like a masculine woman, or a feminine man, does not disprove masculinity or femininity.
What we define as the essence of masculinity (or femininity) is obviously quite difficult to pin down. The first thing to establish is that there are genetic differences between men as a whole and women as a whole. This is actually very easy to show, and there are reams and reams of data about this. (I find it mildly alarming that we even have to bother proving this to people. It’s a bit disturbing how far people will go in denying science when their pseudo-religious ideas are on the line. For instance, I once went on a date with a girl who claimed there are literally no differences between men and women other than genitalia. That is, that the estrogen levels and testosterone levels in men and women are the same. I asked her, Well what if I told you that’s patently and absurdly false? and she just shrugged and told me she would rather believe it was true than look at a chart with blood work numbers on it… essentially that her lie was more valuable to her than confronting the truth!)
After I show the incontrovertible genetic side of things, I’ll get into the more conjectural issues about how these genetic differences manifest as what we call “masculinity.”
I’ve attached a couple documents and links to back this up, so your friend can see it’s not all coming from some lone, uninformed person. But I’m writing all this out in my own words, because I’ve read a great deal about these topics, and I can’t find links for all the points I think are relevant. The sources I provide below are a good starting point; anyone who is interested to pursue the concepts can find many more documents, papers, books, blogs, etc.
The single hugest, most unknown, and most important fact about men and women is this: you have twice as many female ancestors as you do male ancestors. So do I. So does your friend. So does every single human alive on the face of the earth. This is not a matter of opinion or conjecture. It is an irrefutable, basic fact.
How do we know this? Geneticists can compare genetic markers that exist only on the Y-chromosome to the overall genetic profile of a person. There are half as many such Y-chromosome markers as you would expect if the mix was 50-50.
But how is this possible? Isn’t there one father and one mother for every person? Well, yes, of course. But you have to account for intra-group mating patterns. Here’s an example that the New York Times gave:
There are two women (Ginger and Mary Ann) and two men (Gilligan and the Professor) on a deserted island. Both women spurn Gilligan and have a child with the Professor. Ginger has a boy named Gino; Mary Ann has a girl named Maria. When they grow up, Gino and Maria have a child. This child will have three female ancestors (Maria, Ginger and Mary Ann) but only two male ancestors (Gino and the Professor).
If you think this is a bad example because it involves a half-brother marrying a half-sister, suppose that just as Gino and Maria come of age, they discover another clan living on the remote East Side side of the island. East meets West, and Gino and Maria each marries an East Sider. But their children will still have fewer male than female ancestors in the West Side portion of their family tree. And if the East Siders have a similar social structure — one alpha male grandfather who impregnated all the women on the East Side — then the children of Gino and Maria will have fewer male ancestors in both sides of their lineage.
In fact, in most cases, you only have to go back a couple generations to start finding your “doubled ancestors,” both male and female. Your great great grandfather is also your grand-uncle; your second cousin is also your third cousin, once-removed, etc. In modern America, we have very little cousin marriage, but people don’t realize what a radically new situation this is. Throughout human history, all over the world, in all kinds of different cultures, people married their relatives all the time.
In deep, evolutionary history, going back as far as we can tell (back to the australopithecenes, even), about 40% of all males successfully reproduced into the next generation. The number for females is about 80%. Most women had children that survived; most men did not.
Sixty percent of all men that have ever lived were essentially genetic garbage, genetic waste that failed to reproduce. You can see numbers like this in many, many mammalian species. If a woman is fertile, and healthy enough to survive pregnancy and childbirth, she is basically guaranteed to reproduce. (Again, I’m talking about deep, evolutionary time, not modern society, of course). But a man, even if fertile and healthy enough to impregnate a woman, will likely never reproduce.
Why? Well, the short answer is that the alpha men hog all the women. Think of a silverback gorilla surrounded by a dozen female gorillas, while the smaller or younger male gorillas stalk around the edges of the cluster, hoping for a chance to take down the silverback.
Or think of Ghengis Khan, with his whatever-million living descendants. It’s estimated his harem was somewhere between 2000 and 3000 women. And those women were totally off limits to other men. So somewhere out there, there are between 1999 and 2999 men with no mate.
Or think of current polygamous societies. Many men living in Saudi Arabia have no mate, and what’s more, they have no prospect of ever getting a mate. They will die, almost assuredly, without reproducing.
There are plenty of societies that don’t practice polygamy, of course. Though our own American society is less and less a monogamous society. In the modern dating world, with social strictures about monogamy radically relaxed, there is a very small group of men that are having sex with the much larger pool of available women. The rest of the guys are striking out with girls, or not even trying, preferring to play video games and jerk off to porn.
Although there are a few matrilineal societies and polyamourous societies where women openly have many mates (some in Africa, and one I heard about in China) — and people who believe gender is a construct looooove to bring up these societies, even though they usually have only the faintest idea what they are talking about — none of these “matriarchal” societies reject women from procreating. In other words, despite their unusual social customs, the underlying genetic pattern remains the same: most women have children, and most men do not.
The one-woman, one-man monogamous society that we think is so “normal” is really a product of Christianity, and we are deeply mistaken if we think it’s “normal” in a deep, genetic sense. It’s a unique anomaly. And you can see how, as society becomes less religious and less moralistic, the natural patterns re-emerge, with all women able to find sex if they want it, but only a relatively small percentage of men able to do so.
Okay. Hopefully this huge, huge, major point is sufficiently proven. If your friend doesn’t “believe” this to be true, I’d invite him to read some more. It’s totally, 100% beyond a shadow of a doubt true. Anyone who disputes it is being willfully ideological and simply doesn’t believe in science for ideological reason.
Why it’s important
Remember, this pattern is extremely common among mammals, and it’s basically universal among higher primates. Women will reproduce if they stay healthy and stay alive. Men will reproduce only if they get into an “alpha” or “near-alpha” position in the society.
Basically, our species (along with many, many other similar species) has evolved to “take chances” on the Y-chromosome. If you’ve ever seen a picture of a Y chromosome next to an X chromosome, it’s all weird looking and puny. The X chromosome is all majestic and fully formed. (Some feminists will sometimes jokingly (or maybe they’re not joking, I don’t know) point out this difference to show why women are superior.)
Mutation occurs much more on the Y than on the X. Wikipedia:
The human Y chromosome is particularly exposed to high mutation rates due to the environment in which it is housed. The Y chromosome is passed exclusively through sperm, which undergo multiple cell divisions during gametogenesis. Each cellular division provides further opportunity to accumulate base pair mutations. Additionally, sperm are stored in the highly oxidative environment of the testis, which encourages further mutation. These two conditions combined put the Y chromosome at a greater risk of mutation than the rest of the genome. The increased mutation risk for the Y chromosome is reported by Graves as a factor 4.8. However, her original reference obtains this number for the relative mutation rates in male and female germ lines for the lineage leading to humans
Without the ability to recombine during meiosis, the Y chromosome is unable to expose individual alleles to natural selection. Deleterious alleles are allowed to “hitchhike” with beneficial neighbors, thus propagating maladapted alleles in to the next generation. Conversely, advantageous alleles may be selected against if they are surrounded by harmful alleles (background selection). Due to this inability to sort through its gene content, the Y chromosome is particularly prone to the accumulation of “junk” DNA. Massive accumulations of retrotransposable elements are scattered throughout the Y. The random insertion of DNA segments often disrupts encoded gene sequences and renders them nonfunctional. However, the Y chromosome has no way of weeding out these “jumping genes”. Without the ability to isolate alleles, selection cannot effectively act upon them.
I’ll highlight in case you skimmed over it: The increased mutation risk for the Y chromosome is a factor of 4.8.
Basically, nature takes risks with men. All a primate female needs, genetics-wise, is to be healthy and fertile. Messing around with a woman’s genes is a bad genetic bet. It’s much more likely to mess her up than it is to increase her fertility. Primate males, on the other hand, need to be messed up. If a primate male is neutral, genetically, there’s a 60% chance he won’t reproduce. Bad bet. So standing out, genetically speaking, is the Y-chromosome strategy.
Men are much, much, much more likely to have severe genetic defects. This is true of all primates, and it’s true in all human societies. In our own society, men are much more likely than women to:
• commit suicide
• be schizophrenic
• be clinically insane
• have bipolar disorder
• die or be injured in the workplace
• be killed or maimed by violence
• die in combat
• commit violence
• be born with severe birth defects
• be homeless
• be imprisoned
• be alcoholic
• be a drug addict
• suffer from social anxiety
• have an IQ below 75 (clinical retardation)
• be a shut-in
• have clinical depression
• be given psychological medication as a child
And of course, men have a shorter life span than women. (Imagine the outrage by feminists if these statistics were reversed!)
An important concept here is the bell curve. Most people will be average by most measures, be they men or women. But there is a mathematical distribution which can vary. The “fatness” of the bell curve, or the relationship between the mean and the standard deviation (STD). Here’s a rough graph of male-female intelligence distributions:
Half of women are below average, and half of men are below average. But there are many more men at the very low end. That is: more clinically retarded men than women. It’s interesting that this fact is something that most people subconsciously know, but which almost nobody acknowledges.
Also, I’d note just in passing, that people also know (intuitively or subconsciously, and sometimes even consciously) that men struggle much more with substance abuse, with violence (committing and being victims of), working in very dangerous or unhealthy conditions, committing suicide, etc. Our society is so obsessed with the plight of women that, in a subtle way, we blame all these bad things about men on men themselves. That is, if men have these troubles, it’s because men are bad. No one says this out loud, of course, but we just kind of slide over it in silence. If any of these factors were more common in women than they were in men, we’d hear about it every single day, all day long (like we hear about the “wage gap” for example).
In fact, I bet a lot of people out there think that more women are victims of violence than men, which is completely, hugely false. Same with suicide. In the US, for example, men are four times more likely to kill themselves than women. Four times! But I bet a lot of people assume that it’s worse for women, somehow. You can bet there’d be an Oprah special every other day about female suicide if those statistics were reversed.
Same with substance abuse. A female alcoholic is a poor soul. A male alcoholic needs to get his shit together. And the fact that there are many more male alcoholics than females is well… it’s just kind of their own fault, somehow, for being men.
This is the problem with people who genuinely think that gender is a social construct. They have an impervious theory, impervious to reason and statistics. It’s a variation on the No True Scotsman fallacy. “Men have all the power for unfair, socially-constructed reasons. Therefore if a woman is in an unfair situation, it is the fault of men. But if a man is in an unfair situation, it is also the fault of men.” Any fact, any assertion, can be excused by this “reasoning” (using that term very generously).
Now, I’m not pointing all this out because it’s “wrong” or “evil.” It’s simply the way things are. Here’s the radical statement: despite what modern people believe, society treats women much better than it treats men. When women are committing suicide, it’s considered a grave moral evil, something horrible, that couldn’t possibly be their fault, and we need to find what awful gender-oppression is causing it. When men are committing suicide (at four times the rate!) we basically shrug our shoulders and move on, perhaps with a little notion in the backs of our minds that it was probably their own fault.
Men are disposable, and nature intends them to be disposable. In fact, the phenomenon of male feminists is, ironically, a feature of natural gender imbalances between men and women. I’m not being ironic, or sardonic. This is reality. Men are simply worth less than women, genetically.
Imagine aliens came down tomorrow with ray guns, and told you they were going to destroy all of humanity except for 10 people, and then they would leave and never come back. They give you the option to choose the gender ratio of the survivors, and it was up to you to repopulate the earth and save the human race. If you choose 2 women and 8 men, you will have, in several years, perhaps 3 or 4 more babies. If you choose 2 men and 8 women, you will get 10 or 20 more babies in the same amount of time.
Women are vastly more valuable, on an individual level, than men. If a woman is killed, that’s it, over, a chance for a future human (from her womb), is wiped out forver. If a man is killed, well that’s regrettable and all, but who cares, really? The womb is still there, we can find one of these other disposable sperm units to impregnate her.
Everyone knows this, deep-down. It’s exactly the reason why we get so upset when women are mistreated. In old, more repressive societies, men tried to protect women by keeping them in the home and watching over them at all times and controlling their behavior. In modern, liberated times, men protect women by decrying violence against women, by fighting against sexism and “the glass ceiling” and “the wage gap” and so forth (more on that later). But the concept is the same: women are irreplaceable, and if we have to send men off to die in the coal mines or in the trenches to protect our women, so be it.
Most men are genetic garbage. That’s why there are a bunch lying around to mine coal, and get radiation poisoning when there’s a nuclear meltdown. The famous “Fukushima 50” — actually there were 180 of them — were volunteers who went back into the meltdown zone in Fukushima, Japan, to try and secure the waste and shut down the reactor, etc, and who all got accute radiation poisoning as a result, many of them dying. Every single one of these humans was a man. No one even blinks an eye at this! It’s perfectly normal, and natural.
What about male advantages?
I’ve deliberately avoided about talking about the good side of men, because it’s a much touchier subject. It’s undeniable that women have been traditionally kept out of arts, sciences, leadership, etc, and not just in the West, but in the vast majority of all societies. There must have been countless women in the past that could have been great artists, composers, writers, politicians, etc, who never got the chance because of male domination of those fields.
However — and here’s the touchy part — even if everything is made equal, there will never be as many great female mathematicians (for example) as there are male. Even today, when there are more women than men in American universities (and the pro-female gap gets wider every year), when even the slightest hint of gender discrimination will bring a lawsuit raining down on the heads of university provosts, women simply don’t create amazing new mathematical proofs. All the very high-end intellectual work done in the hard sciences is by men. And this is never going to change, no matter how much we wish it would. It makes us uncomfortable to acknowledge this, but the truth is not concerned with our comfort levels.
Why is this? Well, if you’ve followed closely, you probably already see why. Just as way more men than women are legally retarded, way more men than women are intellectual geniuses. All that crazy genetic experimenting that goes wrong for men on the bad-end of the bell curve (which gives us male alcoholism, depression, suicide, violent tendencies, and retardation) sometimes works out, giving us brilliant composers, brilliant mathematicians, and ruthless, world-conquering generals (maybe that belongs on the bad end, I don’t know).
100 women, grouped together as an amalgam, have just as much intelligence as 100 men. But the group of men is much more likely (like much, much more likely) to include a true genetic screw-up and a true genetic genius. It’s not sexism that keeps women from the very upper reaches of math, it’s just the cruel way the world works.
By the way, this is not opinion, it’s simply true. We don’t hear about it, because it’s uncomfortable and seems even a bit cruel to point it out. It’s out of fashion. But while we are quick to see the fallacies of past cultures, as our friend Lewis points out, we are blind to our own fallacies. Future cultures will marvel at how blind 2013 Americans are to this simple science.
Women seem to do well at the high-end of the bell curve in many disciplines. I picked math and physics because it’s so clear cut. I don’t actually think we missed out on very many great female mathematicians due to patriarchy. But we almost certainly have a poorer literature because of the traditional exclusion of women in olden times. Once women were allowed to educate themselves and write novels, in 19th Century England for example, they quickly created some of the most astounding novels ever written. I consider Middlemarch to be every bit as accomplished as Moby Dick (though I prefer the latter, probably due to my — yes — inherent masculinity).
IQ doesn’t come close to measuring the worth of a person, nor that person’s potential for creative innovation or simple ability to manifest beauty in the world. It’s rather clumsy, but it’s real. The discussion about it that I’ve included here is a stand-in for any number of traits. The point is that the distribution of these various traits is not the same among women as it is among men. All the wishing in the world will not change this fact.
[Commentary as an aside: The problem is that we’re so committed to absolute equality as the highest moral good that we simply can’t process information which suggests that not all things are equal at all times. You and I have talked about this. My belief is that humans have absolute value regardless of their ability to do higher mathematics, or their ability to command armored tank divisions, or whatever (or regardless of their ability to gestate fetuses, for that matter). I believe we are all created out of the same divine power, we’re all children of God, we all have the Buddha-nature, however you want to put it. Even the lowliest creature has intrinsic worth.
I believe that our modern, secular world is infected with utilitarian, pragmatic ideas that came out of the Enlightenment era, which go awkwardly hand-in-hand with our belief in radical egalitarianism. We simultaneously believe in pragmatic, here-and-now usefulness, even as we insist that everything is totally equal and any apparent difference is a “social construct.” This is really, really dangerous for the people that hold this belief (which is most modern people, in one way or another). Because if the value of a person is tied up in his or her equality, then any proof that one group is “less equal” in one way or another gives us chilling visions of gas chambers and wife-beating. I mean, if a woman’s value inheres solely in her ability to be equal to a man at math (or whatever), and we see evidence that she’s simply not capable of doing math at that level, then the implication seems to be that she’s “lesser” and men have every right to dominate, rape, torture, kill, enslave, etc.
This gives us horrors! Of course it does! And well it should. It’s a horrible way to think. But it’s the inevitable outcome of insisting on radical egalitarianism in the face of all evidence to the contrary. I don’t know your friend at all, and I would never accuse him of such thoughts. I merely speak from experience. When I first encountered ideas and facts that began to convince me that women and men were fundamentally, biologically different (along with analogous ideas concerning other possible groupings of humans), I felt like the guy in Vertigo when he’s at the top of the clock tower. I felt as if all my moral pinning were being taken away, and more than anything I felt afraid and angry.
But, given a bit of time, I came to conclusion that any worldview which induces vertigo in the mind when the mind encounters simple science, is probably not a very sound worldview! A robust and sane philosophy must be highly amenable to reality. Obviously. The idea that gender is a social construct is not robust, and in the end it’s not sane.]
So what is masculinity?
You titled your email “masculinity” but you don’t say that your friend ever mentioned that specifically. You said he claimed that gender is a social construct. So I don’t know if explaining my ideas about what masculinity is will be helpful or not. But I know you’re probably interested, and I certainly am, so I’ll attempt an explanation here.
This is the real core of the matter, but it’s much more difficult to prove with science. I went into such great deal about the scientific concepts because I wanted to set the table for some ideas which I believe to be sound, but which would seem rather specious to the average “gender constructionist” without some prior grounding in genetics. To be clear, I don’t think genetics is the total answer, I just think it’s undeniable and it’s important.
Likewise, let me reiterate the caveat that I started with, that of course many of our ideas about gender (maybe even most of them) are indeed socially constructed. Boys are blue, girls are pink, and other such nonsense. Humans are social creatures, and anyone who claims that biology is all is a moron. I would be at pains to not be included in this group of morons, please.
Nevertheless, let’s explore what essential masculinity might mean. I’ll speak more poetically here, if you might allow it.
Imagine you’re a Viking peasant in the year 892, living in Norway. You’re a young man, just out of adolescence. Viking society is relatively egalitarian, gender-wise, especially compared to your contemporaries in Spain, Arabia, or China. But still, a poor Viking peasant without access to proper armor, or a sword, or several fishing vessels, or literacy… you’re prospects for getting a wife are pretty low. The local chieftans take primary wives, but they also take concubines, and they are not about to let you share their women out of pity. Essentially, you are in the position that 60% of all men who have ever lived are in: genetically, you’re facing the elimination of your line; emotionally, you’re facing a life desperation, depression, and destitution.
There’s a girl on the next farm over who you fancy. She’s not a great beauty, but she’s charming, sweet, and pretty enough in her own unique way. However, she’s also caught the eye of many other guys your age. If this was a story book, you’d woo her with the fervency of your devotion. But it’s not a story book, and the chances you’ll actually get to marry her, in your position, are pretty slim. This girl will get married and have many children. She has her own wishes and desires, many of which will be disappointingly crushed, but facing genetic apocalypse and a life of total loneliness with no companion is not one of them. She might not be happy with her husband (though she may very well be happy with him), but in any case she won’t be a reject. You, on the other hand, will be a reject. Unless you do something about it.
You’ve heard rumors about the discovery of a new land far to the north and west, uninhabited, but potentially fertile; a strange land filled with living volcanoes and hotsprings. A local lord comes to the village and explains he is organizing a colonizing expedition. Any free man of sound body and mind who signs up will be given a plot of land in this new “Iceland”, as they are calling it. He will be given total autonomy over this land, and after a time will be allowed to come back and collect any family and property he wishes to take to his new homestead. The risks are high. There is a good probability the ship will sink at sea, or be crashed against the rocky shores of “Iceland.” The food may not grow, the fish may not come, the animals may die. But if you succeed, your life will be changed forever, and greatly for the better.
Do you go? Well, some would and some wouldn’t. It’s a pretty scary proposition, with little guarantee of success. But, let’s assume you do. After all, someone will go, and in fact, someone did. Many did. These men set off across the sea and colonized Iceland. The ones who survived and prospered created their own homes, their own jobs. You’re among them, and upon your return to the Viking homelands, you proudly go up to the father of that pretty local girl and proclaim your worth. And she’s giving you the eye in the background, too. You get the girl, you create a new life together in Iceland.
Now, I’m not an expert on the colonization of Iceland, so anyone who’s deep into this stuff can probably point out a bunch of historical inaccuracies in the way I’ve portrayed it. Maybe the only men who were allowed to go already had wives; I have no idea. But the story I’ve created is true in a universal way. And it was men who built the ships and captained them and manned the oars and died at sea. That much I am sure of. Because men have always done these things. And not because women were prevented from doing them. But because women, as a whole, don’t even dream of doing insane things like that. Men do insane things. Very often, most of the time perhaps, the insane ideas turn out to be disasters. Men do all kinds of batshit crazy schemes. But occasionally they work, and when they work, men are redeemed from their given, biological role as the extra, leftover genetic garbage collectors.
Men feel compelled to take risks. These days, there’s not much strange-island-colonization going on. The Vikings of today are the kind of people who drop out of Harvard to start a computer business in their mom’s garage. Whether that’s a good or bad change, I’m not entirely sure. But the essence remains the same. That Viking ship essence is what I’d call the essence of masculinity.
I’m sure you realize this already, but in the interest of making my assertions as foolproof as I believe them to be, let me point out that I don’t mean to claim that women never take risks. Of course they do, every day.
But there’s a reason that we’re always claiming women pioneers as “the first woman to do X,” where X is something that men have done many times before. X is usually some insane feat, like that guy who jumped from outer space and parachuted to earth. It’s exceedingly rare for a feat like that to be accomplished by many women first, only for a man to later become “the first man to do X.” It’s not because of sexism or some horrible oppression of women. It’s because women literally do not feel the insane burning desire to do X. Men do. It fucks us up, it makes us insane, drunken, violent, and horrible. But it also makes us push the outer limits of what was previously thought possible.
There’s an old sexist joke that goes, “A woman can do anything a man can do, as long as the man shows her how first.” That’s pretty crude, and though I might chuckle at it a bit, I’d be pretty upset if someone told me one of my Harvard-educated sisters literally needed “a man” to show her how to do something.
But there’s a kernel of truth there, and not because of any deficiency in women. The core of the truth is that men, due largely to our own massive deficiency compared to relatively sane and normal women, are constantly driven to do stupid stuff. You can see it in the joy that boys take in setting off M-60’s down by the dock on Fourth of July. You can see it in a bar fight between two idiotic bro’s trying to impress the cute girl at the bar. You can see it in the violent convict who’s serving back-to-back life sentences for serial rape. And you can see it in the paintings of Van Gogh.
That’s what I call the essence of masculinity. As men, we have a fundamental yearning in our souls. There as many different strategies of filling that hole as there are men in the world. Some men write philosophy, some men sit around and eat pizza and play World of Warcraft. Some men rape innocent women, some men spend their whole lives composing sonatas to the girl that got away.
Despite all I’ve said here, I believe the idea that gender is a social construct is a noble idea. It’s rooted in the desire to treat all people as equal. It looks at the obvious inequalities in the world and wishes to find a way to erase them, so that we can finally have a world that’s fair. If we could just convince enough people that it’s all in our minds, perhaps we could create paradise on earth.
But it’s doomed to fail, because it refuses to accept reality. Reality is really not so bad. It’s beautiful, many-faceted, and complex. I believe if you can embrace reality and still not give up your ideals, then you have a chance to do some real good. I argue very strenuously against the “gender constructionist” people not because I want men to be on top, not because I hate women, and not because I want to enforce some rigid structure. I argue so strenuously because I believe that Creation, as it is, is marvelous, and that to deny some of the basic facts of Creation is to live a poor life, grey and ugly.
From a personal perspective, I might also add that I’ve found that women love love LOVE to be acknowledged as women. Their very most inner soul cries out to be recognized as a woman. I’ve found that even the most vehement post-Marxist university feminist lights up with joy when her true identity is revealed, celebrated, and enjoyed. How could it be any other way? It does a great disservice to men and women both to insist they be other than they truly are. Despite the nobility of the sentiment behind “gender constructionism,” it is in the end an ideology which deadens life, which is cruel to humans, both male and female.
You and I have talked about homosexuality, about tough straight women and effeminate straight men. I do believe such people are the way they are because it’s who they are. It’s ridiculous to insist that they behave according to some pre-conceived notion of “masculine” and “feminine.” I have no agenda that makes me insist that all men be bloody warriors and all women meek housewives. In fact, I feel it’s a bit undignified for me to even have to protest thus. But the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that people — many people! — actually believe in such patent falsehoods as that there is literally no general difference between man and woman. Tell that to the gorilla. Tell that to the praying mantis. Tell that to any wise person from any culture, anywhere in the world, at at any time other than the last 20 years. It’s crazy!
There will always be exceptions; there will probably (unfortunately) always be social conventions that unnecessarily force men and women into roles they really don’t want, purely because of their “equipment.” I believe the answer to this dilemma is not to deny reality. But to cultivate a flexibility of mind that allows for natural gender differences to flourish in a way that makes most men and most women feel happy and fuliflled, even as it allows for the exceptions to the rule to live out their lives in peace and without harrassment. We can never acheive this goal if we refuse to acknowledge reality.
I believe I’ve proved my point rather thoroughly. Someone who is dead set against acknowledging any of this will simply not listen to reason, and so it would be pointless to continue. For anyone that was previously on the fence, but who is intrigued to learn more, here are some links and books that might help. I phrase it this way because, as you know, I was at one point very much opposed to acknowledging any of this. I thought it laughable, bigoted, and ridiculous. But learning goes a long way, you know. It doesn’t save the soul, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
First attachment is a speech called “Is There Anything Good About Men?” Good reference for a lot of the stuff I put in the “Science” section.
Here’s the NY Times reporting on the same speech: http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/08/20/is-there-anything-good-about-men-and-other-tricky-questions/?ex=1345348800&en=ab869ff9248e16a4&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0
A bit about gender differences in suicide rates: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_and_suicide
Interestingly, women do more “attempts”, men do many, many more “successes.” I’ll leave that up to the wags to parse that one.
A bit of wikipedia searching can back up all the other claims I made about alcoholism, violence, workplace deaths, etc.
Some books I would recommend:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Way-Superior-Man-Challenges/dp/1591792576 Kind of New-Agey, but still solid overall
http://www.amazon.com/Eros-Mysteries-Love-The-Metaphysics/dp/0892813156 Very esoteric stuff, kind of hard to read, but fascinating
Some thoughtcrime blogs:
Please keep in mind I don’t endorse every idea on those blogs. They’re written by men who examine these things with the primary objective of getting laid, so you know, caveat emptor. The Rational Male blog is pretty solid; I like it. I recommend the “Unplugging” series from the page I linked. The Heartiste blog used to be great a few years ago, but it’s been opened up lately to some anonymous authors who seem pretty racist and misogynistic to me. I linked to the “16 commandments of poon” because it’s the distillation of his insights of around 2007-2008 when the blog was really good. I wash my hands of the stuff that’s currently on the front page there. The Xsplat guy is actually extremely wise; he’s into qi-gong and meditation. He’s this older dude living in SE Asia with all these hot young girlfriends. Sounds sleazy, I know, but if you read it for a while you’ll see he’s actually a really cool dude and he’s got some very wise things to say about happiness and about men and women. If you get this far into investigating, I recommend you go back to the beginning of his archives and read forward from there to the present. His most recent posts don’t make much sense without the background.
Well, brother. There you have it. I actually have a lot more to say on this, believe it or not. But hopefully this gives good food for thought, and a bit of ammo if you want to have a nice discussion with your friend. It’s all from a place of love, I hope you know.
Incidentally, I went to my first qi-gong class on Sunday, taught by a girl I went to high school with it, believe it or not. It’s pretty amazing. If you haven’t tried any before, I recommend. I intend to investigate and practice more in the coming weeks, so I’ll let you know what I come up with that’s interesting.
I woke up at 2 pm today so I’m still wide awake, but I have a Skype call with the Colombians at 8 in the morning, so I should probably go get some shut eye. Take care, sir.