Paul Pierle is waiting for a return to a more progressive path, for politics and for men.
Every election year in America, I’m reminded of a demographic that bothers me:men are much more likely to vote for Republican conservatives. Maybe it wouldn’t bother me so much if this were the 1980’s or before, when it seemed Republicans had a connection with reality, fairness, compromise and reasonability. But now that the political fulcrum has shifted so far to the right, and stubbornly insisted in its legitimacy, I find it hard to abide.
I guess like all people I want to believe whatever team I belong to is the best, or, at the very least, just as good.In this case, since I believe in the innate quality of all humans, I certainly don’t want to admit that men are somehow lesser, in my opinion, than women.
I think the answer lies more in traditional gender roles than it does in inherent male/female differences.The traditional man is expected to be self-reliant, to fight adversity without complaint, and to protect and provide for his family. He is often taught that emotions are a sign of weakness, only to be tolerated in women. In this narrow framework of character some men may thrive with their natural abilities, but many will find it confining and difficult.And despite the personal frustration this causes many men, there has previously been no alternative community to address their problems. Men have been left to do their best to survive within this traditional box, with unhealthy coping mechanisms and varying degrees of success. This has fostered psychological effects on the whole of male humanity within American culture. If a man cannot be completely successful in competition with his peers, he tends to employ a facade of self-confidence and bravado to hide his insecurities. He may even deny his insecurities to himself, and come to believe his forced persona defines his true character.He wears this like a suit of armor; without it, he is vulnerable to complete failure as a man, in the eyes of men and women alike.
Also, within his struggles, he realizes his success can be secured by procuring a position above other men. Opportunities may arise to bolster his own condition at the expense of another. He can put the other guy down, take advantage of his weaknesses, and maybe even bend the rules to win in any given situation. As a person who is defined by his persona, he may ignore his moral compass in favor of his own success. He may justify his actions as survival tactics, or as a normal part of male-male social interaction–e.g., teasing or hazing. This competitive nature of male society has some positive consequences. In the honest struggles to succeed, a person can develop positive self-confidence and self-reliance, appropriate humility, and even a sense of respectful community with other competitors. To obtain these benefits from such competition, however, a man needs a solid base of humanity; he needs a place to return to where he is ultimately accepted as worthy, no matter how bad a defeat he has suffered. Too often, however, men do not have this sanctuary. As men define themselves by their “armor,” they are unable to face their defeat with honesty and dignity; they turn from it in denial. They work frantically on repairing their armor, separating themselves further from their inner humanity, and even more so from the humanity of their rivals. Their perception becomes of a dog-eat-dog world, in which they are on their own to secure survival for themselves and their women and children.
People are certainly complex and individual. Within this culture, which is both traditional and patriarchal, it is possible for them to adopt many characteristics that define their personalities, and so there becomes a vast spectrum of the type of man that emerges from such a society. But in a macro sense, societal trends are sometimes definitive; in this case–back to original subject matter–men more often vote for conservatives.
And in light of the above, it makes perfect sense. Take the issue of welfare, for example. A man who has grown up more within a society of competition than in one of understanding and cooperation, will tend to see two problems with it (welfare). First, it takes taxes away from his earnings to fund such welfare, and that’s money that he perceives as earned, due to his personal success, no matter how limited it may be.Secondly, if he is removed from his own humanity and that of his competitors, he sees the unfortunate recipients of welfare as those who have earned their own poverty by not struggling to achieve success like he has. And let’s face it, it’s likely that at least a few of these recipients are as he sees them, lazy and irresponsibly dependent.
A man who has had the fortune to have grown up with a base of human acceptance and moral support might be more likely to see things differently. He may take the time to consider the plight of welfare recipients, and wonder if many of them have been the victim of circumstances and misfortune that have prohibited their success. He may recognize how he has been fortunate to achieve what he has. He may realize that his success, even through no fault of his own, may have been contingent on the failure of others.
Of course, as a liberal, I’m suggesting that the second man has a better approach to the issue. But I wouldn’t completely dismiss the position of the first man. Like most dichotomies, there is some validity to the other side. In this case, overcoming challenges has definite value. At some point, people should be responsible for their own situations; it’s beneficial to themselves and everybody they rely on, to focus their attention toward positive goals and away from excuses, no matter how legitimate. But I think this realization of personal responsibility is not mutually exclusive from the liberal thought process. We can believe in individual personal responsibility while maintaining the knowledge that sometimes that responsibility is not enough for success–that sometimes, due to bad luck, people fail despite being personally responsible. In fact, I think it’s important that we acknowledge and assimilate this conservative understanding, for two reasons. One, because it is just a good idea to encourage personal responsibility even as we secure a safety net for the unfortunate poor, (of course, movement has been made in this regard by adding work requirements to welfare). Secondly, I think it’s only through acknowledging the truth, or at least admitting whatever legitimacy exists of our political rivals, that we bridge the chasm of political dysfunction. In a larger sense, considering evolving gender roles in our society, I think this is what The Good Men Project is all about. It is a counterpoint, or a buffer, in response to the radical feminist notion that woman=equality=good, man=patriarchy=bad. It suggests that men, even those who have matured under traditional gender roles, are worthy humans deserving of emotional regard, and intellectual respect.
That said, I think both politically and socially, America has made progress along these lines. The problem is, this progress has, I feel, only been put into place by liberals/Democrats. What has happened, as liberal America has embraced this centrist notion of progress, is that most conservatives have moved to the right. Instead of accepting this progress as inclusion and compromise, they have in response become defensive and illogical. (I can hear them saying, “I know you are but what am I?”). I can only hope that this is a sign that they are getting desperate: that the rope in this tug-of-war is beginning to fray within their ranks, and once it breaks, we’ll be free to return to a more progressive path.
Illustration: Republican Elephant and Democratic Donkey by Flickr/DonkeyHotey