Guys and Dolls

Every semester I give my students a new set of articles to use as the topics for their essays up until midterm.  I look for ones that will offer opportunities for thoughtful discussion based on the facts and viewpoints provided so that my students can improve their writing and critical thinkingskills.  Sometimes, despite my best efforts, some articles just don’t seem to grab my students’ attention.  However, on occasion I hit the jackpot and pick a topic that—for reasons that I could not possibly have anticipated—hits a nerve and inspires some very interesting student writing.

This semester I added an article by Suzanna Danuta Walters entitled “Why Can’t We Hate Men?”.  At the point when I sent this to be copied for my classes, I could not have known that the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh would become an epic battle between the rage of sexual assault survivors demanding to be believed and the insistence of others that condemning without corroborating evidence—however strong the beliefs and emotions of the victims—is a mistake.  Partisan passions, scandal mongering media, and showboating politicians all helped to create the most incredibly divisive and mutually destructive nomination battle possible, and both the process and outcome will be studied and discussed for decades to come.

Not surprisingly, Professor Walters’ article has been the basis of a lot of student essays so far this semester, and the responses have run the gamut from agreeing that men are the source of most of the evils in our world to more evenhanded responses that saw her viewpoint as perhaps simplistic at best—and flat out insulting at worst.

Hatred tends to blind us to the complexity of the people whom we hate.  Just looking around at my classes on any given day I see men who are fathers, loving husbands, awkward singles, straight, gay, bisexual, talkative, shy, daydreamers, focused, politically conservative, aggressive, withdrawn, politically liberal, cerebral, apolitical, sad, upbeat, overwhelmed, confident—and virtually every other descriptor I can think to use.  To label all of them as brute oppressors and terrifying antagonists of women seems both foolish and impossible to support empirically.

This being said, our national dialogue about the sexual assault and harassment of women is both necessary and belated.  Human history has also been the history of organized warfare, daily violence, and cruel dominance—and a good portion of this has been perpetrated by men and has harmed women.  To argue otherwise would be ridiculous, and to fail to understand the pain of victims would be to deny the darkness that lies beneath our civilized veneer.

However, is it OK to hate men?

I would argue not.  Although we are all part of many groups and subgroups—and gender is perhaps the most easily recognizable grouping of all—men are not part of a collective hive mind and so must be assessed on an individual basis.  It is impossible to predict the behavior of individuals from the tendencies of the group.  In almost every collection of individuals—regardless of how they are sorted—you will find cruel and cowardly people mixed in with those who are decent and brave.  To presume every man is an animal and rapist—and so neglect the many good men in this world—might satisfy the rage of some, but it will build walls where none need exist and create a society that is far more lonely and suspicious than is actually necessary.

It is also appropriate to point out that men deal with a host of challenges as a group that are sometimes forgotten in the rush to castigate them for their “testosterone poisoning” or whatever the other clever insults of the day might be.  Men are 3.5 times more likely than women to commit suicide, account for over 90% of workplace fatalities, and are now far less likely than women to finish high school or earn a college degree.  Were we to point to this harsh statistical evidence of pain, danger, and ignorance affecting practically any other group in our nation, outrage would result—and a rush to find solutions would follow.  Unfortunately, men are presumed capable of bearing their pain on their own—or are somehow deserving of it—which are sad and isolating beliefs that condemn many to lives of misery and, worse yet, make them feel that asking for help is a sign of “unmanly” weakness.  Neither men nor women benefit when inane preconceptions based on gender alone drive our decisions or viewpoints.

Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 Presidential election convinced many that America is too innately misogynistic to ever overcome the more unfortunate aspects of the history of relations between men and women, but only the most blindly partisan could fail to note Secretary Clinton’s obvious shortcomings as a candidate.  Perhaps the better lesson to take away from her defeat in light of how so many women obviously did not cast their votes based on gender identity alone is that both women and men are looking more and more beyond mere surface realities regarding one another.  It could be the case that our perceptions are both more sophisticated and more nuanced than elite opinion could possibly imagine, and myths regarding how men and women see political and social issues dramatically differently might need to be discarded along with so many other ignorant and insulting ideas from the past regarding gender.

I hope there can be less hate and more understanding, less shouting and more listening—and more empathy and less derision—where relationships between men and women are involved.  Our differences are actually insignificant compared to all that binds us together as humans, and we should not allow partisans on either side of any issue seek to divide us for political gain.  There has been more than enough hurt and harm, and it is now time for healing to begin.


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