Isn’t what it used to be, apparently. It always amuses me when my reading books gang up together to promote a certain perspective on the world. Yesterday I came across this intriguing paragraph in Tom Wolfe’s novel I am Charlotte Simmons:
‘..the feeling itself, male humiliation, is unspeakable. No man can bring himself to describe it. The same man who will confess with relish and in lavish ghostwritten detail to every sort of debauchery and atrocity will not utter one peep about the humiliations that, in Orwell’s phrase, “make up seventy-five percent of life”. For confessing to humiliation means confessing that he has cringed, caved in, surrendered his honor without a fight to another man who has intimidated him – that he has been unsexed and has plunged into a misery worse than the prospect of imminent death.’
Then a little later I was reading this:
‘In a culture where women no longer collude with many men’s view of them as predominantly passive, lacking and vulnerable, many men suddenly find themselves without women onto whom they can project their own unconscious lack, loss and envy, and may feel overwhelmed by feelings they never knew they had. Unfortunately, culture, by undervaluing emotional ways of thinking and knowing, cuts many men off from the very thing they need to help them – the emotional means of resolving and coming to terms with feelings of envy, loss and vulnerability in a creative way.’ And a little further on: ‘In many men’s phantasy […] there seems to be something ‘real’ about women with which the culturally accepted phallic version of ‘masculinity’ cannot compete, which does not seem to rest on the need for power and control.’
From Psychoanalysis and Culture. Contemporary States of Mind, Rosalind Minsky
And to round the day off, there was this:
‘Why do people with the fatal gene [the Y chromosome] do so badly? Society plays a part, and stupidity helps, but the testes are much to blame. Some of the harm is direct, for their secretions damage those who bear them. The cells of the immune system die when exposed to testosterone, and the male body, with its vast quantities of the substance, is less able to make antibodies than is its opposite number. As a result, men find it more difficult to fight cancer and to resist infection by a variety of diseases…’ However it is also true that ‘boys still face a doubled risk of accidental death compared to girls’ and that ‘Each year in Britain, five million man-years of life are lost to a demise that could, in principle, be avoided. Smoking, fat and stress all specialise in one segment of society. From gout to hernias (four and nine times more common in males) men suffer while their partners are spared.’
From Y: The Descent of Men by Steve Jones
What’s going on here? All of these books focus on contemporary culture and the relationship between men and women, Wolfe from a perspective of power and knowledge, Minsky from the psychoanalytic viewpoint, Jones from the biological arena. All three insist on the challenge to patriarchy that men are currently undergoing, be that from a social-historical point of view with the increasing equality between the sexes, or from a medical point of view, now that advances in genetics can make reproduction free from male assistance. What I found most interesting was the consistent implication that men have been socially and genetically estranged from the creativity needed to respond sensibly and strategically to the difficulties they face. Put a man in an awkward position, these three authors suggest, and he will instantly work to make it worse. After reproduction and aggression, man’s greatest instinct is for self-sabotage.
But is this all true and accurate? I ran the quotes by my husband to see what his reaction would be and he seemed particularly taken by the final one, shaking his head mournfully over the conundrum that is testosterone. ‘It makes me who I am,’ he sighed, ‘and it destroys me. Just like the lion, whose long mane prevents him from hunting properly.’ And that little serving of irony was all I got out of him on the subject. Generalisations are one thing, but yesterday’s reading built up a picture piece by piece, of a significant sea change in social organisation. One that suggested another, more far-reaching crisis in masculinity than the one that rocked the end of the nineteenth century. Is the future really going to look like a woman’s world?