Frida Ghitis and Mithal al-Alusi, who she has written about with praise as a man
Frida Ghitis—a noted foreign affairs journalist who started at CNN soon after it started in 1981 and covered covered the collapse of the Soviet Union from Russia, the 1991 Gulf War from Jordan and Saudi Arabia—published an opinion piece for CNN which asked the question, “Are Men Stupid?”
It got huge traffic, 4k comments, and really pissed me off.
I wrote a response, “Actually, No.”
I was content to leave it at that since the whole line of thinking in which modern manhood is defined by the likes of Charlie Sheen has long since lost its luster as a straw man to fight against. I am just sick and tired of yet another headline, yet another woman holding up the stupidity of men.
But a reader drew me into a tweeter conversation with the author of the original piece, Frida. Now I have scars all over my body from the Christmas massacre, which occurred when I got into a twitter fight with Hugo Schwyzer that spilled over to Slate columnist Amanda Marcotte and Roseanne Barr, shotgun and all.
So I treaded lightly, really trying to understand the author’s motivation and point of view. After an hour or so of exchanges Frida offered to email me to explain. Below is what I received. I asked her permission to publish it, which she readily granted.
I appreciate your concerns about my article, and I understand your concerns. And I definitely see why you found the headline, in particular, troubling.
Nevertheless, I think the discussion about why some men throw it all away for casual sexual affairs is, indeed, a legitimate one.
As I mentioned in our earlier exchange, I write about world politics. Like many other people, men and women, I have been intrigued by the frequent news of otherwise intelligent men choosing to engage in sexual liaisons that destroy their careers. As an observer of international affairs, I have seen the impact this has.
Still, you are absolutely correct that there are many men who behave admirably. I could not agree more. I have written about them in other articles.
They grace magazine covers and are the subject of interviews and praise on a regular basis.
There are countless men I admire and respect. But that doesn’t take away the fact that we see a parade of powerful ones who destroy their own careers in a way that simply does not make any sense. It is their behavior I wrote about, notwithstanding the headline chosen by the editors.
The very reason the misbehavior is noteworthy is because it deviates from the expected. We expect men to act intelligently, especially intelligent ones. They don’t always do that.
Without the foolish dalliances of people like Bill Clinton, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and many others, the world might look very different today.
The examples are many and we hear new ones regularly.
That is not to deny the obvious fact that many women also make foolish decisions. And it is not a claim that all men behave this way.
I hope this clarifies my views for you.
Frida subsequently sent me these links to stories she has written about men she admires:
A few brave Arabs speak up for Israel
N. Korea: Absurd, cruel, tragic and dangerous
One Man’s Life and the Future of Iraq
So in the end I still very much disagree with a story which asks the question whether men are stupid. Frida claims she had nothing to do with the headline, and agrees that it is unfair. But she actually asks the same question in the body of the text and is very broad in her own language. “The question has baffled women, mostly, since biblical times,” she states referring to men’s IQ meltdown.
If you are going to talk about leaders who make grave personal mistakes, which in turn have a negative impact on the rest of us, I suppose that is fair enough. But let’s not couch it in terms of manhood. Let’s just say that quite a few human beings who aspire to lead have a fatal flaw that unfortunately causes them to implode in ways that are sad and damaging.
That issue has nothing to do with the broader question of what it is to be a man in the 21st century and how we as men navigate the roles of husband, father, son and worker.
That said, I appreciate that Frida took the time to correspond with us and frame out what she thinks about men and to contrast the harsh language in the original piece with words of praise for men in general and the specific men in the stories she sent.
I learned something in the process. Which is that when it comes to gender sometimes having a constructive discussion requires being curious about what someone really thinks even when you are sure they are dead wrong. Sometimes they will really surprise you.