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Impulse for Men

26 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.