Equal But Not the Same: A Letter from a Former Lesley College Professor

Larry Daloz sent this letter to Tom Matlack, and we needed to publish it.

Dear Tom,

I’m writing you a real letter rather than twittering at you because I’m 71 years old and want to tell you that I admire you and your work in a form that actually stays put for a while. I hope you will forgive me for invading your home.

Like you, I’m a writer. But I am also a former college professor who taught adult development for many years in Vermont and later at Lesley College in Cambridge. It was there that I began working with men. As you know, Lesley is a vigorously feminist place and the handful of male students, mostly mid-life working class guys, often took a beating when they first arrived. Mostly it confused them, so over time—this back in the mid-eighties—I put together small classes in feminist literature so they could begin to understand what these women were on about. Although I damned near lost my job when I gave a presentation called “Why I am not a feminist,” I was also the only male member of a conference of some thirty feminist academics for several years. But when I overheard one of my colleagues there reassuring another that “it’s OK, he’s one of us,” I knew it was time to leave. I had learned a lot, but something was missing and I had a pretty good idea what it was. I began teaching what became a course in men’s psychology and development.

I say all this because, like you, I have struggled over the years to hold the center and reach for a new, deeper understanding of what it means to be a man for the twenty-first century. I read your book and discovered your website not long ago and was both gripped by the power of many of the pieces and struck especially by your articulate and courageous recent effort to maintain your integrity in the midst of harsh criticism from both sides. The hardest thing of all, I think, is to acknowledge the radical truth of the Other even as we hold our own with full integrity. Brother Schwyzer is saying something very important—and true—even as is Brother Matlack. The work is to hold that conversation fully and stay upright throughout in all our strength. It is out of that excruciating tension that we have a chance of forging a richer, more fruitful, powerful, and loving manhood.

At the same time, I want to relieve myself of a few comments that I would like to think might strengthen and enrich your own thinking about all this.

Equal but not the same

I know you have made this point over and over, only to be lashed with jagged accusations of  “essentialism” and “gender binary.” But it cannot be said too often. We can be equal without obliterating all distinctions between men as a class and women as a class. If you are looking for support, I recommend you look at anthropologist David Gilmore’s work. Back in the ‘90’s his Manhood in the Making traced ideals of masculinity around the world and is still unchallenged in its recognition that despite wide variation across cultures, the cultural differences between genders are far more striking than the similarities across them. His more recent Misogyny, while strongly (and rightly) fuelling women’s assertion that men are misogynists, penetrates deeply into the male psyche to the deep fear of women that lies at its root. Or look at recent brain research. Or talk with people in the emerging field of evolutionary biology. Most of the radical feminist voices come out of a postmodern sociology that largely ignores reams of contradictory evidence from other fields.

Mothers are universally women

You may well be aware of the work of Dinnerstein, Gilligan, or Choderow – all women incidentally. The power of their observation that all mothers are women has still not been fully recognized. The point is simple and powerful: growing up male is a dramatically different task than growing up female. To know ourselves as males, we must separate from the female; to know ourselves as females, we must connect with the female. Especially where fathers are distant or absent or simply not emotionally connected in the early years, the tendency to equate being male with being separate and different from females is exacerbated. This helps to explain a part of your own confusion over why women seem to want us to be like them while we, for the most part, resist that like crazy.

It also helps us to span the quagmire of the nature-nurture arguments: it’s nature that all mothers are women; what you think happens after that depends on your politics.

Androphobia

One of my Lesley students years ago coined this term—“fear of men.” It came out of a heated discussion among mid-eighties feminists who were reacting (negatively) to Robert Bly and the emergence of men’s groups. Men should not be allowed to gather in groups, went the argument, because they will only foment rage against women. Should we then, Bly asked, prohibit women’s groups because surely they were fomenting rage against men? Obviously not, he went on, but it highlights the extent to which fear fuels the gender wars. What followed was a striking set of conversations about the many ways and levels at which each sex fears the other. Although Gilmore had not yet written Misogyny, I did my doctorate in New Guinea where he bases much of his research, and I know how deeply the fear of women (“gynophobia”?) runs in that culture—perhaps in all cultures.

There is much more to say, of course, but I have taken too much of your time already. Let me just say that you have my deep respect and firm support as you move ahead in your important work. The old men’s movement happened because women had changed. As such, it only took us so far. This time the world has changed, and women can only take us so far. The real work of helping our brothers step up to a dramatically different gender world is ours to do. You are clearly among the leaders in that work. For that I want to thank—and join—you with all my heart.

Sincerely yours,

Larry Daloz

Senior Fellow

The Whidbey Institute

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

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Comments

  1. This guy sounds like the type of person you’d want to listen to for a long time. Wish my professors had been like that.

  2. The voice of reason. Say what you will about the elderly, but a lifetime of wisdom is hard to come by.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    He didn’t get out in time.

  4. “Or look at recent brain research. Or talk with people in the emerging field of evolutionary biology. Most of the radical feminist voices come out of a postmodern sociology that largely ignores reams of contradictory evidence from other fields.”

    I am surprised no one has ever said anything like this in the articles here before. You could also add history as well.

    • I think it was only when his job couldn’t be threatened anymore because, in his words “I knew it was time to leave” that he was free to speak the truth.

  5. Joanna Schroeder says:

    Lovely. Awesome. Wise.

    There is beauty in our differences.

    Let’s do remember that there are also variances from the generalizations, and they are quite common and those who veer from the standard set of accepted gender norms are just as important and valid.

    • If something is represented at about less than 10%, how common is that really?

      • Enough to account for millions of people in this country alone, so, relatively common. But I assume Joanna was also talking about female sports fans, or male fashion fiends, and other relatively common stereotype-breakers.

  6. “I say all this because, like you, I have struggled over the years to hold the center and reach for a new, deeper understanding of what it means to be a man for the twenty-first century. ”

    I keep saying that in many ways GMP is middle aged and there needs to be a greater diversity of voices – from the young to the old. One voice comes out from the wilderness – and I hope we will all hear more.

    “….I have struggled over the years to hold the center….”, and I would like to hear of that journey, how the road has moved left and right and up and down. Where were the stop signs, and where were the sections of open road across landscapes with skies that never end?

    I had to laugh as I looked up Larry’s book “Mentor: Guiding the Journey of Adult Learners”. A whole chapter on the “Yoda Factor”.

    “”Looking? Found someone you have I would say, mm?”” P^)

  7. Professor got it right. The fear of domination by another gender is causing this gender war leading to mutually assured destruction.

  8. Mervyn Kaufman says:

    The professor’s letter is beautiful, profound and, I think, absolutely necessary. It recognizes gender differences, for one thing, and affirms that they will always be with us. Today, however, another element is pushing itself into the core of social concern: gay parentage. I know of one gay couple who dote on their baby son, delivered to them by a surrogate mother. One partner is a hard-working professional; the other, a stay-at-home parent. Will these disparate forces create the balance routinely sought in male-female parentage? How will young females began to grasp the vagaries of the real world without a female role model? Similarly, how will young males come to understand the complex and often fraught relationships between adult men and women without growing up in a so-called gender-balanced family? Years ago, an aggressively gay male I knew referred to himself repeatedly as being part of “the third sex.” Had he elected to become a parent, would his children have followed suit? I’ve always wondered.

  9. Very interesting letter with some thought-provoking ideas. Thanks for publishing it.

  10. What. The. Frack.

    Sorry, I’m going to disagree here. Wholeheartedly.

    First, I disagree with there being this wealth of evidence that human males are SO different from human females. Um, no. Compare human beings to *any* other species, and our sexual dimorphism (that is, significant physical differences between male and female) is TINY in comparison.

    Not that it isn’t there, to some extent and with some people. But in general? Nope. Please site me some studies that show the difference is SIGNIFICANT.

    Second, you CANNOT, in this day and age, study differences in men and women and determine they’re definitively biological. You CAN’T. Sure, plenty of studies can say “ooo look different!” but they CANNOT say it’s because of biology vs. culture. We’re STEEPED, from the day we’re born to the day we die, in the idea that we’re different. I have seen NO studies that are able to effectively tease apart biology and culture. Period.

    Third, ENOUGH with talking about only men and women! Sure, many of us have a distinct biological sex and a distinct gender identity – but that DOES NOT MEAN every human is born with either XX or XY chromosomes, or that we are all la la la happy with our gender identity as STRICTLY male or female. Biological sex IS NOT always distinct in people, and gender identity IS fluid! Part of the very reason it isn’t MORE fluid is because of these ideas that we must choose one, and it should probably be that biological sex you were born with – ASSUMING, of course, that it was all in a neat lil box from the get-go anyway!

    Fourth: Look, I get it. We have been told for forevs that we need to pick a gender. I get that challenging that is difficult and feels like we’re challenging your manhood. I KNOW men have been getting the short end of the stick in all this – the ladies want to shake it all up, and yet the media and everything else in the world is telling you to MAN UP already… I GET IT. But allowing blaming fear and the challenge to your masculinity to end the conversation and just re-iterate gender stereotypes and performance and binaries?? Can’t we move past this to something better? Can’t we actually LEARN from what feminism got wrong?

    • Nikki,

      I do not understand the need for CAPS to highlight your points. By doing so you have actually helped prove some of his points. Genders are not equal and we have various difference and similarities. To only explore the “reason we are the same” leads to ignoring the “reasons we are different”

      Your 4th point, states the samething that the author stated but in different words.

      • Julie Gillis says:

        How are genders not equal? In terms of Human Rights? Liberty? Freedom of expression? If they aren’t equal, who is “more” equal? Does it depend on the circumstance? Or are you speaking in terms of biological differences. How is using caps to emphasize a sign that genders aren’t equal?

        • Julie

          Women’s equality is made out of technology that provides reliable birth control and a surplus of female friendly jobs and special programs, which men pay the lions share for. Its all an illusion. Were some cataclysmic event to occur which sent us back just a blink of an eye, the illusion would be broken.

          • Julie Gillis says:

            And I think the illusion would be broken for all of us. Come the apocalypse, no one will be equal-Warlords and people trying to avoid the warlords. The worst of human behavior would occur yes. And that’s nothing to look forward to, for men or women. If we set to such a thing, disease, death, destruction, of most human beings being disposable, no one is gonna have a good time of it, certainly not men either. We have 7 billion on the planet. I’m voting for keeping birth control going and maintaining a world where more people can reach their human potential, in terms of rights, brains, and body.

            I doubt the middle ages were all that swell for your average man. No education, plague, wars, Lords, so forth. Only one dude gets to be the King, and even he could get the plague.

    • ThursdayFae says:

      I think the point that he is making is that it is okay to pick a gender. The current state of the gender wars want to erase gender, and while we are all bound by a common humanity, we can’t ignore that women and men ARE different, biologically, psychologically, and culturally. I read a study (I haven’t had time to look it up to link it here, because this was in a science journal in college) that mapped the functions of male brains to female brains. We’re wired differently. That’s why men tend to be better at certain kinds of reasoning and women seem better at multi-tasking. Of course, there are going to be persons of either sex that buck the norm–the variety in our genes makes that inevitable. But scientific discovery is about seeing patterns, finding truths that can be applied to more than just one case study. So there *will* be generalizations, but generalizations aren’t inherently bad. They’re a means of explaining larger concepts.

      And what is so wrong about identifying as one or the other? And what is so wrong about choosing to identify as the sex one was born? I’m female, biologically, psychologically, and culturally. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. And I wouldn’t even say that I ‘chose’ to be female–I just am. And I enjoy being female. I don’t *want* to be treated like a man. I want to be treated EQUALLY to men, but not the SAME. We don’t have to erase gender identity, we don’t have to destroy what it means to be ‘male’ or ‘female’ in order to find a place of balance and equality.

      I don’t think that everyone fits into the gender binary. In fact, I know they don’t. But just because there are some people that don’t fit into that binary doesn’t mean that those of us who DO have to deny that is how we understand ourselves. I want to be treated like a woman, because my womanhood is part of what defines me, and I want it to be acknowledged, just as I want my intelligence and creativity and talent to be acknowledged. Identifying as a woman is part of what makes me who I am, and that distinction cannot be made without having male counterparts. We CAN treat everyone as equal without having to treat everyone the same.

    • Nikki – hello! P^)

      Here we go. It seems that you are focused on biology as form. It’s an area of science that is well trodden. However, due to the advent of some rather sophisticated tools, primarily Functional MRI, it is being shown that there are functional differences across the whole of the human biological system which need to be investigated further.

      How about the Vagus nerve and neuroplasticity in Brain function. Odd how women who have a traumatic thoracic spinal section can actually have Vagusl nerve sexual experience and even orgasm, but not men. As to why the vagus nerve which by passes the spinal column in both has the ability to react with brain plasticity in women but not men …. well the studies are ongoing. And I did not pick that as an example to come up with some weird form of female privilege – It was just the first that sprang to mind. It’s also one of the better known issues and areas of research – it’s slow due to funding – but relatively easy to find.

      There is a great deal more to sexual dimorphism than genitals, and there is a great deal of ongoing work to look as no just Structural sexual dimorphism but also the whole unexplored planet of Functional sexual dimorphism.

      Assuming that the same structure provides the same function in both sexes is an old assumption that is proving just that – an assumption.

      So get your Fracking dander down! P^)

      … and I’d love to know how the differences in Vagus nerve function and Brain plasticity can be accounted for by Culture or Gender? I know some guys who would love to know the trick and get back some lost opportunities! P^)

      • I’d like to say that I found your comment to be really interesting, and great food for thought. Also, the outmoded thought of form=function is something I’m quite familiar with in archaeology. We are currently battling against a similar problem: old assumptions that an two objects that look the same did the same thing. I’ve never really thought about it in terms of biology before, though. It’s definitely something to think about. Thanks. :)

    • “I have seen NO studies that are able to effectively tease apart biology and culture. Period. ”

      You might wan’t to watch this documentary series: http://rixstep.com/2/20111127,00.shtml
      Password: hjernevask

    • Compare human beings to *any* other species, and our sexual dimorphism (that is, significant physical differences between male and female) is TINY in comparison.

      i disagree in most species the male and female look identical apart from genitals. whereas it is quite easy to spot the difference between the average man and woman eg. beard, hips, breasts, height, strength etc

      sexual dimorphism in humans is moderate to large

    • spidaman3 says:

      Umm levels of androgens vs. estrogens? Body composition? Protein synthesis? Fat storage? Strength levels? All these women who run sub 10 100s, dunk basketballs, and can bench press 1.5x their body weight are really hiding from us people. Also history is pretty much male propaganda. Adult human males want to hide us from the truth. Assyria was not destroyed by Chaldeans, Medes, and Scythians nope. Neither were the Persians defeated by the Greeks, nor the Axis powers defeated by the Allies. The truth is this: the Mighty Goddess Ishtar got her amazons defeated all of those mighty empires. That’s right, the Goddess of Sex and War and her band of women with their missing right breasts destroyed the evil Assyrians, opened the door for the West to take over, and defeated Fascism. I am sorry for this secret, but men don’t want us to know what really happened.

    • “Second, you CANNOT, in this day and age, study differences in men and women and determine they’re definitively biological. You CAN’T. Sure, plenty of studies can say “ooo look different!” but they CANNOT say it’s because of biology vs. culture. We’re STEEPED, from the day we’re born to the day we die, in the idea that we’re different. I have seen NO studies that are able to effectively tease apart biology and culture. Period.”

      If this is true then there is no good evidence for the idea that it’s nurture instead of nature. If we can’t “tease apart biology and culture” then the most that any feminist, or anyone for that matter, can say is “I don’t know what causes humans to behave the way they do”.

  11. I’d like to hear more from Larry Daloz. I am in total agreement that men and women are equal but not the same. And that a lot of gender wars spring from fear. Fear of the other gender. Fear of being used. Fear of not receiving the things I suspect both men and women really want. Partnership, commitment, love, happiness, equality….all that good stuff.

  12. Super Evil Chicken says:

    @ Nikki

    “First, I disagree with there being this wealth of evidence that human males are SO different from human females.”

    What do you mean you disagree with it? Do you want it to be suppressed?

    Politically correct people like you have actually held back medical science because you’ve made that area of research a taboo

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    jamesq
    Sexual dimorphism is quite common many species, and it’ssometimes considerably greater than in h. sap. In addition, there are the display factors–manes, gaudy feathers, etc–common to males but not females.

    • Sexual dimorphism is quite common many species,
      depends on what you mean by sexual dimorphism as to how common it is. a male and female dog look identical apart from their undercarriage (and nipples) to my eye

      In addition, there are the display factors–manes, gaudy feathers, etc–common to males but not females.
      what, you mean like beards on men.
      humans are moderate to large on the sexually dimorphism scale, thats always been my understanding of the science. i even did a quick net check before i posted

      • spidaman3 says:

        male dogs are normally larger (and muscular), and depending on breeds better looking (Akita Inus for both instances), lot’s of birds have high sexual dimorphism (peacocks, chickens, and ducks). Of course there are lions. In ungulates most males have horns (and for the females that do, males have larger horns). Male Orangutans become flanged (the big faced ugly ones). Hyenas are the opposite and an exception in the mammal world. Male Whales and other cetaceans males are a lot larger than females. Calico cats are mostly female (males have XXY). Other than the calico cats, I think most sex dimorphism is determined by testosterone (or a variation of it).

        • Hyenas are the opposite and an exception in the mammal world.
          i remember reading once that female hyenas have more testosterone than the males, and prefer to mate with males who show submission

  14. I’m grateful to have found this site because it’s a place in which I can see into the hearts, minds, and souls of men and see them as real, whole, caring people. It’s a warm and refreshing place. It’s one that revives me and strengthens my empathy and compassion. It reminds me that sexism hurts men and women because we do not open up and see each other as fully human. This is important works for me since I got into feminism after the rape and murder of a high school friend. It’s not surprising, then, that a lot of my feminism is informed by a fear of men. I know the term feminism is deeply political, especially on the internet, so I’m not going to try to classify this project, the authors, or even my own views as more feminist. But, thanks to this project and the men involved, I have a fuller understanding of men.

  15. Beautiful ideas, beautiful words. Thank you.

    Regarding sexual dimorphism… C’mon! :D
    Over 90% of the people you see around, you istinctively get their gender right. Even if you see them from behind, just the way a person walks and move is usually enough hint to tell.
    Then, sure, there are some people whouse apparent gender is not so obvious, or they share traits with the opposite gender; and I’m fine with them.

    But denying the genders – on average – are different, is just that: denial. :roll:

    • I think the original comment regarding sexual dimorphism was discussing it in scientific terms. You can’t measure how sexually dimorphic the human species is by saying that most people can tell the sex of people they look at. Firstly, sexual dimorphism isn’t just about outward appearance. More importantly, though, is the fact that we instinctually tell the difference between the sexes in our own species, because it’s our own species. Or for example, we can tell individual people apart from each other easily, but we have a hard time telling one zebra apart from another. Yet a baby zebra can identify it’s mother among the herd. Get what I’m saying? :)

      There’s a great picture I can’t find just at the moment. It’s of two faces next to each other in black-and-white. One looks male, the other female. It’s the same face, only the contrast and shading have been altered. The size and shape of all of the physical features are the same. What his suggests to me is that when we see an individual one of the first things we try to determine is whether that person is male or female. We are programmed to determine the sex of people in our species.

      By the way, I’m not sure whether humans would come down on the side of moderately sexually dimorphic, or not very, based on scientific study. I haven’t looked into it.

  16. HidingFromtheDinosaurs says:

    Well, this guy finally sounds like someone I can get behind. I’ve been asking for some real scholarship (the kind that involves more-than-superficial fact checking and substantiated claims) in these discussions for a long time. I’ve also been longing for more people who know how to treat opposing viewpoints with respect and respond to them civilly, rather than resorting to cheap rhetorical tricks and character assassination.

    I’ll be sure to check out his work, then the books he recommended.

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