Stephen Marche is a better man than you are. Why, you may ask? He is willing to admit to his monstrous nature. All men have it, according to Marche, a journalist and novelist who thought he’d use his excellent writing skills to get a Sunday Op Ed in the New York Times on a subject he knows nothing about: male sexuality.
Marche’s essay, “The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido,” exposes what he calls the “ugly and dangerous nature of” said libido, and demands that we talk about this male “nature” for a change. (For a change?!!)
Using the recent exposure of men from Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose as evidence for men’s caveman nature, Marche claims that “there remains no cure for human desire.” In his concluding paragraph, which reads like the concluding paragraph of most high school essays where the student argues for a perspective that he believes is new just because it’s the first time he thought of it, Marche suggests that we ought to start studying masculinity. In a move that actually reverses decades of scholarship that analytically separated biological sex from the script of masculinity, Marche waxes philosophical, opining that “masculinity [read: male sexual nature] is a subject worth thinking about.”
Perhaps Marche would, in addition to acknowledging his own biological original sin, venture a trip to his local library, or perhaps a simple Google search, before we lose net neutrality altogether, where Marche would find a cornucopia of scholarly books and articles, and even entire academic associations, that have been devoted to studying masculinity over the past three decades.
When our students have an ah-ha moment and imagine that they are the first person on the planet who has ever thought of their idea, we always send them to the library, where they discover what has already been written on this idea. This humbling and illuminating task is responsible scholarship and responsible journalism. Stephen Marche seems not to have looked at anything already written on his topic.
Had Marche done any of the studying of masculinity he claims ought to be done, he might have found the textbook Men’s Lives, edited by Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner, now in its 9th Edition. He’d find The Caveman Mystique by See Jane Fight Back’s own Martha McCaughey, deconstructing the popular myth that men are just, deep down, biologically wired to ogle, harass, and sexually assault women. (If he’s an Amazon prime member, he can get both of them with free two-day shipping!) He could even attend the conference of the American Men’s Studies Association this coming March, which, believe it or not, has been in existence for 26 years.
Such exploration would have shown Marche how many people have made his argument before and how many have debunked it. Of course it’s tempting to use the deplorable behavior of Weinstein et al. as evidence for the highly popular idea that men are biologically wired to objectify, harass, and assault women whenever and wherever they get the opportunity.
But it’s not so simple because that logic ignores two things: (1) Those with institutional power behave this way, and they prey upon those over whom they have institutional power; and (2) Feeling like behaving that way with your body does not mean it’s your body’s nature or that your entire sex is driven to behave that way.
In short, men’s lascivious behavior is context-dependent and culture-dependent.
Those who study masculinity find the same thing those of us who study and teach self-defense to women find: that what our culture tells us about the true “nature” of women and men is, well, a load of crap. We may feel in our bones the power of our gendered scripts. That we feel them that deeply, that we embody them, does not mean these behaviors are biologically innate. It means that gendered expectations are lived ideologies.
When women get on the mat and learn to fight, they unlearn the script of feminine helplessness – something many of us assumed was our female “nature” and felt deeply.
Similarly, when men have women bosses and a culture that tells them they are expected to treat coworkers as peers, it’s amazing how much less they feel like pulling their dicks out and assuming those around them are into it.
Sorry/not sorry, Mr. Marche: your NYT Op Ed piece is nasty, brutish, and short on scholarly analysis.