Impulse for Men

April 2008

Slavery (and its reason, empire) is an evil thing. But slavery has been the engine behind some of the most inspiring architecture in the world. The pyramids, the Forbidden City‍—‍both were built by slave labour, but, once built, both were completely out-of-bounds to those who worked on them, and both are, still, inspiring. The Mayan temples have a similar history, and (while not products of slave labour) some of our most impressive modern buildings have taken an immense toll, in lives, and in environmental and economic cost.

Monarchy is similarly contradictory. The tyranny and, invariably, corruption of an absolute ruler distresses me, as does the idea of an elite class privileged entirely by their close relation to the ruling family. Yet the trappings of monarchy stir something deep within me. Chivalry, knights, princes and princesses, huge castles, wars and battles and crusades‍: all are pretty poor realities, but still I find myself unable to shake the‍—‍desire, maybe?‍—‍to belong to that kind of world.

Closer to home: I despise sexism. I consider feminism a hugely important work, and every day I'm reminded of my unjust advantages purely because I was born with a wang. I know many women who have a strength of character far greater than mine, and many of them have pretty firm and often unconventional ideas of what they'd like out of life. They're doing just fine.

And yet. Partriarchy‍—‍chivalry, as it's sometimes known‍—‍calls. My romantic fantasies all take the same clichéd shapes‍—‍protecting, providing, being ‘the strong one.’ All these things are deeply ingrained in me. So deeply ingrained that, if I don't question them, they seem right, and comfortable, and natural.

I don't think I'm alone in any of this. I have no answer for these impulses. I fight them, and I question whether I should be fighting them, and sometimes I give in to them. But I have no answer.

Aeonsim commented:

Yeah they're interesting questions, though two of them at least arise from from behaviours that are fairly basic, and that are generally advantageous under certain conditions.

Modern English like Monarchy I think is better than all of the alternatives, combining some of the best elements of a pure democracy with that of a Autocracy. Better to have someone born and riased to it to hold the "ultimate theoretical" powers of state than some mug who manages to convince or bribe a suitably large percentage of the population to support them. I much prefer someone born to it to hold such powers (though at the sametime I pitty them, it obviously isn't easy being such a person) in the knowledge that if they ever use them with out clear and overwhelming support from there people that they will lose them completely. Rather than some mug who's been elected for a few years and wishes to make there mark on the world by vetoing every thing they disagree with and who may eventually "claiming" a mandate of the "people" attempted to give them selves those powers for life.

With regards to sexism and Partrarchy they make a lot of sense in "low tech" cultures. Uncomfortable as it may make us, we are a sexually dimorphic species, in which the males are less genetically valuable to the species survival and on average more physically powerful. Not to mention that there is some evidence in unstable socities the ratio of birth's between males and females swings away from 1:1 to favour males. Thus in any society where there is some sort of threat, be it environmental or social/cultural those groups that protect the female portion of the population will survive better than those that don't. Heck there is even some arguement that it might be a programed genetic behaviour.

So yeah I'm not sure we should be trying to eliminate all those impulses, instead they should be "channeled" in a manner that is useful to both the species and society.

Matt commented:

Thanks, Aeonsim. I'm aware of most of that; I guess my question is more 'how?' than 'why?'

Still, there could be something to your suggestion that we redirect or channel these impulses rather than fight them.

Christina commented:

"...protecting, providing, being ‘the strong one.’ All these things are deeply ingrained in me."

When you look at those qualities or desires objectively, they're very good things. They become bad when you allow them to become all about you, rather than how you can use those to the benefit of others. E.g when protection turns into shielding people from anything you don't want (a sort of censorship and control); when provision becomes your sole right or responsibility (and the providee doesn't get a say); when strength is used as a method of abuse or manipulation (physically, emotionally, intellectually).

The trick is learning how to channel those wisely and in a way that helps others. This is, of course, the bit where I point you to the magical solution. Sorry. The best I can offer is to say that if you see women as equals, and treat them with respect and kindness and intelligence, you will counteract a lot of the sexism that is out there. Sure, it's not much, just one guy being decent. But it's a lot to the people you interact with, and it's nice to know there's a few guys out there who really do care about that stuff.

Also, despite being a feminist (not necessarily in a bra-burning "all men are bastards" way), there are times when I wish there was a guy to protect, provide and take care of me. It would be nice not to have to face the world alone. And then I get angry at myself for not being enough on my own, or for thinking that being with someone would somehow magically solve those problems. It runs both ways :)

Jim commented:

I like having Joy to protect and care and provide for me :P

KT commented:

I have some thoughts on the subject but can't seem to make sentences out of them. Instead, I'll just mention that I like the title of this post :)