Archive for January 25, 2023

Review “OF BOYS AND MEN”   2 comments

I Just posted the following review of Richard V. Reeves “Of Boys and Men” on amazon and Goodreads. Beware the “opposite sex” syndrome.

I’m glad Richard Reeves wrote this book. I’m glad people are reading it. It’s important.

Having lived through the events of the late sixties and seventies as a woman and a professor of the psychology of women, I see him as the Marilyn French (the Women’s Room) or maybe the Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique) of the men’s movement. And I want to say up front I’m very optimistic that the men’s movement will be equally successful. But I want to talk about getting there.

I personally postponed reading the two books I mentioned because at some level I knew they would change my life. – and indeed they did. Painfully but fruitfully.  That’s why the consciousness raising groups were so important, because the first step had to be women’s recognition of the personal and community damage done by our blind acceptance of the patriarchy. And now the men are arriving at that point. Friedan identified the women’s issue as “The Feminine Mystique.” The identifier that seems to be sticking for the men’s movement is “Toxic Masculinity.” Both phrases summarize the fact that patriarchal assumptions have damaged us. I remember “way back then” hearing a talk by Warren Farrell on the advantages of the women’s movement for men. But that theme was too far ahead of its time. And for good reason. The women were fighting the power that kept them trapped on the “pedestal” while men seemed to have the power. Stepping off the pedestal seemed like a dangerous fall. It’s harder for men, I think, because, as possessors of the patriarchal power, it’s harder to see how damaging is that position at the top. But, as one man close to me said, they are living under the “sword of Damocles.” Just as women learned how destructive is “the feminine mystique” men, I hope, are learning the price they pay for “masculinity” as defined by the patriarchy.

And now I’m ready to talk about my reaction to Reeves’s book. The first part of it is impressive, necessary, and interesting with the factual and data inclusions. The impressive scholarship of the book is represented by the forty-seven some pages of “notes” at the end. But then the author falls into the ‘opposite sex” trap and I got my hackles up. First off, he declares – more than once – that people on the left “blame the victim.” I’m as far to the left on this issue as anyone I know of, and in no way do I blame the victim. My concern is how men have been victimized by the patriarchal culture, just as women were/are. And then, after a quick and subtle bow to the reality of what “significant differences” really means, he goes on to talk in generalized terms about men and women almost as if they are two different breeds. OK. I confess, maybe I’m reading it wrong, but that’s what hit me.  I remember, as a grown woman with a solid academic career, feeling shame and guilt when I read pompous declarations about women being, for example, nurturers. Yes, I have two children whom I have loved for almost sixty-five years, but, truth-be-told, I never felt a longing to “be a mother.” Even now I feel a smidgen of guilt about that. So how are men supposed to feel when told that “men are aggressive” If they aren’t. That’s the kind of thing that feeds the difficulty in assessing who one can be free to be.

No, those of us on the left in this issue do not “blame the victim.” We, or at least I, do look forward to the day when we can all be free to respect ourselves and others without feeling the need to dictate acceptable personality characteristics. Do I dare say I look forward to the day when we can be free to love without bumping up against the gender rules? As a matter of fact, I do believe that is happening. I remember Rosey Greer singing “It’s all right to cry” on the children’s record put together by Marlo Thomas back in the day.

So, as for Of Boys and Men, I’m glad Reeves wrote it. I’m glad people are reading it. I hope others will respond as emotionally and urgently as I did. And I hope they will realize he fell into the “opposite sex” trap when he suggested boys should start school a year later, as if all boys are behind the development of all girls. I hope this will be the beginning of the complex conversations, research, recommendations, and actions needed to refresh our systems to meet the genuine growth needs of all our people. And speaking of “all our people,” how about the men of color who have suffered such a different experience from the traditionally white subjects of psychological studies?

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