Friday, June 16, 2006

Alpha Male Feminism: Be a Man, Part One

Be a Man
I think it's fairly telling that a lot of what gets discussed in the ol' blogosphere around feminism as it relates to men is rehash after rehash of the "Nice Guy" discussion. I don't think I want to do yet another rehash of it...suffice to say that it's pretty obvious there are both lots of guys who really are nice and caring, and lots of guys who go around in whatever way saying they are nice guys, but behaving like (anti-feminist) jerks. And yet, I don't feel like I see enough discussion about the different sorts of identities that various men who identify as feminists can take on. We see a lot of: "Don't be a 'Nice Guy' (capitalized to show that such guys aren't nice at all), but there seems to be something of a lack of alternatives offered up, and the one most often given is problematic: "Be a man."

Zuzu from feministe riffs a bit on the nice guy thing, giving her take it, pointing out that if she's looking for a man at all, she's looking for a Decent/Good Man, not a Nice Guy:
They’re also a far different animal than the Good Guy, the Decent Guy, the Salt of the Earth, or, my personal favorite, the Good Man. Because I am old enough that I’m not really looking for a “guy” anymore. From Say Anything:

D.C.: Lloyd, why do you have to be like this?
Lloyd Dobler: ‘Cause I’m a guy. I have pride.
Corey Flood: You’re not a guy.
Lloyd Dobler: I am.
Corey Flood: No. The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy.

I like zuzu's take on all of this, especially when she notes what she might like in a man:
That doesn’t mean he can’t have a wicked sense of humor or that he has to be dull. But it does mean he has to respect me and value me as an individual.

So one message here is pretty clear, and the Say Anything quote is a nice touch: Real Men respect women. (Of course that's not all men should do--as Dave has pointed out to me, that's a moral floor, not a moral ceiling.) But even within something as simple as a movie quote, there's a lot tied up in "Be a man," and especially so for feminist men. So when Corey says "Be a man," we get what Corey is saying: Step up. But, while "be a man" certainly can mean "respect women", traditionally it has meant things like "don't be a wimp," "don't be like a girl," "be strong (and silent)," "don't express yourself except through violence," "be cocky" and that sort of thing. I'm not very sure about other feminist men out there, but when I hear 'be a man,' I tend to cringe, rather than be inspired.

And this isn't just about my personal dealing with being more of a beta-male than an alpha male (at least, I think it isn't). Given the flavors of feminism that I tend to embrace, the very notion of the 'alpha male'--here used in a loose way, like most people use it, I think--can be seen as anti-feminist inasmuch as one's feminism embraces non-dominance/hierarchic thinking and one's alpha male-ness embraces domanance/hierarchy.

Dominating Other Men
Another way of putting it is this: That entitlement that men experience? It doesn't come from only oppressing women--it also comes from dominating other men. Domination-hierarchies are multi-faceted; if you have one domination hierarchy(in this case men above women), you invite various others (alpha-male/beta-male, white male/male of color, white woman/woman of color). Of course, a lot of this just hangs on how one defines 'alpha-male'--there's likely a distinction to be made between Alpha Male and alpha male, along the lines of the distinction between Nice Guy and nice guy.

Revenge of the Twerps
But the whole bully attitude that one might associate with Alpha Males (capitalized) is more pervasive, even among feminists, than you might at first suspect--and I think to the degree that it is pervasive, people are forgetting the aspect of patriarchy which dictates that men dominate other men. For instance, jedmuns of Pandagon, points out that he thinks Hugo is a 'twerp':
You can be a feminist and an alpha male at the same time. Not all feminist men are as twerpy as hugo.--jedmuns

When jedmuns points out that one can be a feminist and an alpha male at the same time, and then in the next breath basically pulls the patriarchy-bully move of name-calling another guy--asserting his own dominance over Hugo in whatever small way that calling somebody a twerp is meant to do--he is buying into what I see as an anti-feminist, dominance/hierarchy model of male interaction. Bullying other males isn't in line with the sort of feminsm that I subscribe to. Keep in mind that I have no problem with jedmunds criticising Hugo--but criticism through name-calling (especially a term like 'twerpy' which is a typical alpha-male bullying-of-other-men term, one which likely wouldn't be used by a guy to describe a woman) is something else entirely.

And Amanda from pandagon jumps on jedmuns' bandwagon--although she makes a slightly different point. She says:
Bingo, jedmunds. It’s as simple as that. This shit frustrates me to no end, as I tend to go with men that have aggressive personalities (they’d have to, to keep up) and yet their politics are spotless. Because I aggressively vet for that.

Not that I’d need to. You don’t actually meet hot, confident, fun men where I live that are conservative. Consevatives tend to be dweebs.

Even though Amanda says "Bingo, jedmuns," I think she's actually making a different point. When Amanda calls for men with aggressive personalities (and even when she calls some men dweebs), she's not as easily buying into the dominance/hierarchy as jedmuns does--because jedmuns is a man, and as such is in a place to either exercise dominance over other men (in this case by name-calling bullying), or to not. Amanda has lots of choices too, but one of them is not to dominate other men as a man.

That said, even Amanda's point is, I think, more controversial than she might admit. Being a man with an agressive personality while not being a bully-who-embraces-dominance-models of male interaction is a tricky business, to the degree that it is possible at all. Everything hinges on what 'agressive personality' means, of course. Let's imagine an man with an agressive personality to be one that sort of automatically draws attention when he enters a room--or 'takes up space' as others have put it. Well, in a dominance/hierarchy/patriarchy, for a man to take up space is to take away space from other men, at least to some degree. So just how aggressive a personality can men have without embracing anti-feminism? When Amanda says "their politics are spotless," does that mean that their aggressive personalities don't automatically (being in a hierarchy/dominance patriarhcy) cause them to dominate other men? Do aggressive personalities in men tend toward the bullying that jedmuns does in calling Hugo a twerp? And what does it mean when feminists like Amanda back up men like jedmuns in their dominance-tactics?

Of course, it's important to note that confidence does not equal dominance; to the degree that men and women think that 'be a man' means 'be confident', it makes a lot of sense. Amanda says:
I’m still flummoxed about why confidence is such a shady thing to want. I require it in a man. Period. I’m smart and opinionated and any man who wants me better not be the sort who needs to be constantly propped up by being superior to a woman. That’s a fact. I consider it charity at this point to write off anyone who doesn’t have the confidence requirement.

But to the degree that 'being confident' entails doing things like name-calling other men to assert one's alpha-male-ness, 'be a man' takes on the same basic negative connotations of 'don't be a wimp' or, even, 'don't be like women'.

Ok, this one is long enough; perhaps more on the different ways men might be confident without bullying other men later.
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