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