Today is Valentine’s Day. Love it or hate it, it’s been around for hundreds of years, with the association with romantic love said to date back to the 14th Century days of the poet Chaucer.
More recently, the feminist campaign, V-Day has claimed February 14th as a day to focus on violence against women and girls. V-Day uses Eve Ensler’s hugely successful The Vagina Monologues stage play, to raise money for and awareness of initiatives to end "men's violence against women".
Since 2012, V-Day has been superseded by One Billion Rising, which invites women all over the world to “rise up” against violence against women and girls by dancing and drumming.
A day which has long been about (predominantly heterosexual) men and women celebrating each other at our best, has become a day for women (and their male allies) to highlight men at their worst.
End violence against everyone
For the avoidance of doubt, I’m against violence by anyone against anyone and I certainly wouldn’t challenge any individual’s right to speak out against violence---particularly those who have been on the receiving end of another human’s brutality.
I do find the deliberate co-opting of the one day in the calendar when men and women have traditionally expressed their love for each other to be deeply cynical, but that’s a detail I won't labour over here.
What concerns me more about V-Day and One Billion Rising is the oppressive gender politics that lurk in the background of the movement. From all I have seen, it seems to be another iteration of the binary belief that women HAVE problems and men ARE problems, driven by a form of feminism that Warren Farrell said: “articulated the shadow side of men and the light side of women but neglected the shadow side of women and the light side of men”.
This principle can be seen in action in Eve Ensler’s “Man Prayer” which was turned into a short film for One Billion Rising in 2013 and is doing the rounds again this year.
The prayer is described as being “for all men” and those behind the film say: "we hope all of you will watch it and share it with every man you know”.
On V-Day’s You Tube page, the movement makes the interesting claim “violence against women hurts everyone, including men,” though they fail to mention that violence against men tends to do more damage to men. And then they “invite our brothers to take up this cause, and be free from the limiting strictures of our modern definition of masculinity”.
Modern masculinity is bad and wrong
And therein lies to key message behind Eve Ensler’s prayer---modern men and modern masculinity are bad, wrong and unhealthy. The only healthy form of masculinity is the feminist version of masculinity, which is to be more like a woman, because women, of course, have an innate moral superiority.
The thrust of Ensler’s prayer is to pair up supposedly opposite qualities and attribute the unhealthy half of each couplet to modern masculinity and describe the apparently healthy, feminine and feminist qualities as the way men should behave.
So bad men are presented as people who dominate space, are controlling know-it-alls who move abruptly and are obsessed with performance and outcomes.
In contrast, good feminist men behave more like women who, apparently, create space, are kind, listen, move slowly and value experience and touch.
This interpretation of what masculinity is and what masculinity should be would be laughable if it wasn’t articulating a view of men and manhood that is pervasive in the post-modern mindset.
Feminists like Ensler often complain that the “patriarchy” creates a gender hierarchy where men and masculine qualities are given more value that women and feminine qualities.
According to the American philosopher, Ken Wilber, this tendency is typical of second-wave feminism. He says:
“While it allows for inherent differences between the masculine and the feminine modes, essentially it says all of the feminine-mode differences are positive and all of the masculine-mode differences are negative. The masculine mode includes hierarchical ranking and behaviors that are authoritarian, aggressive, analytical, divisive, etc., while all the feminine-mode qualities are healing, positive, and looked upon as constructive. In this view, all of humankind’s problems are seen as a result of men’s oppression of women."
Men are bad, women are good
Once you define masculine qualities as being inherently bad, as Ensler does, it then becomes logical to wage war on those qualities, to dismantle masculinity, to emasculate men and think you are doing men, women and the world a favour in the process.
What Ensler is essentially trying to create with her Man Prayer, is a new type of gender hierarchy where women and feminine qualities are given more value than men and masculine qualities.
“May I be a man who appreciates listening more than knowing” says Ensler’s Man Prayer.
But how about being a man (or a woman) with advanced listening skills who also knows a lot of stuff? Can’t we have both?
Best of both worlds
“May I be a man who creates space rather than dominates it” says Ensler. But why not aspire to be a man or woman with the ability to both create space and dominate that space in a way that creates something new and wonderful, depending on which quality is called for at the time.
“May I be a man who seeks kindness over control,” says Ensler. But how about helping men and women to develop both their empathy (where kindness comes from) and discipline (which control can be an unhealthy version of), knowing that both have value.
“May I cherish touch over performance and the experience over getting there,” says Ensler. But why can’t we have both? Especially on Valentine’s Day? Can’t men and women together have a wonderful experience, where they cherish each other’s touch, perform to the best of their ability and enjoy getting somewhere in the process?
The most ridiculous aspect of Ensler’s feminist view of men and boys is that she claims to be liberating men from “the limiting strictures of our modern definition of masculinity” by insisting that men adopt a whole new set of “limiting strictures” created by the post-modern view of how masculinity should be constructed.
That's not freedom. That's not liberation. That's not a vision for a future where men and women are equal, autonomous and empowered to work together to create a world free from violence.
Here’s a final word from Ken Wilber:
"Feminist thought…still has a lot of cachet today. Of course, there are cases of victimhood, but the vast majority of cultural structures have been cocreated by men and women. That’s a much more adequate way of looking at it and, frankly, a much more truthful way, which also fits the evidence better and allows us to look at data more effectively.
"That’s not to stay that there aren’t cases of oppression and victimization. But in overemphasizing those and in making victimhood the essential definition of the feminine, feminism went too far.
"Unless we come up with a different view of how the relationships between the sexes historically have been cocreated by men and women and not merely imposed on women, we are basically looking at women as sheep and men as pigs.
"We need more creative, more integrative, and more accurate views of why men and women have the relationships that they do have to each other, and how they contribute in their own ways to creating societies."
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the insideMAN editorial team. Whether you agree with the views expressed in this article or not we invite you to to join the conversation about men, masculinity and manhood. Our only request is that you express yourself in a way that ensures everyone’s voice can be heard.