Friday, March 19, 2010

Whaddya mean, "being a man"?

I keep thinking I'm going to just stop paying attention to Double X altogether, because really, it's like shooting fish in a barrel. But this bit of nonsense simply demands a response. Jessica Grose's latest purports to take on the issue of "Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them." First of all, the article doesn't appear to deal with any women whatsoever, so I'm guessing the "and the women who hate them" bit was just added as an afterthought to make it seem like an appropriate piece for a site that claims to represent "What women really think about news, politics, and culture."

Second, it thoughtlessly regurgitates and rides on the now-thoroughly-debunked myth of an alpha male-type hierarchy. According to Grose, omega males are those who have trouble "being a man." They're unemployed and "romantically challenged." In other words, they've failed. And characterizing it this way assumes, of course, that all male persons aspire to this narrow definition of masculinity, and that "omega" males endorse the values inherent in it but are simply unable to achieve them. It also implies that the problem lies with the individual men themselves, and not with the way our culture has responded to changing gender roles and economic conditions. And my understanding of Susan Faludi's point in Stiffed, which Grose references, is that the main forces underlying the alleged increase in the number of "omega males" are these social and economic conditions rather than some failure or personal choice on the part of the men themselves.

So Grose's take on "omega males" is unhelpful at best, and counterproductive at worst. What would be more helpful is a thoughtful look at how both men and women are feeling pressured by the gap between the changes in our social and economic conditions and the outdated expectations and socialization attached to our gender constructions. For instance, it seems to me that socializing boys to expect an easy entrance into the career field of their choice, which may have been appropriate 50 years ago, creates a false sense of entitlement in the current context and sets them up for disillusionment and resistance to changing roles and career options. And continuing to construct masculinity as primarily about competitive earning and career performance and material gain devalues other roles (like stay-at-home dad) that would be a valuable contribution to their families in tough economic times and that many men might find fulfilling if the negative connotations were dropped. And this is the counterpart to the way that socializing women to be primarily focused on childrearing and homemaking leaves them underprepared for the realities most women will face, and puts immense pressure on them to take on a disproportionate amount of domestic labor and feel that they have failed whenever problems occur in their families. Discussing how both men and women are often pressured by the disconnect between our outdated socialization and cultural expectations and the social/economic realities they actually face is an important aspect of feminist discourse, and writing snarky pieces that catalogue the types of failed men doesn't contribute in any perceivable way.


  1. I just cannot wait to see how Burn will misread this post so he can get all pissy and preachy.

  2. Ugh! I don't even understand why Double X exists. If I wanted to read mindless gender stereotyping about what makes a good man or woman, I'd read Cosmo.

  3. Meg'n3/23/2010

    @ Feminist Review
    Exactly! And at least Cosmo is honest about what they're doing.

  4. Anonymous3/23/2010

    I hadn't heard about the alpha-male myth debunking, but after reading this I googled it and read some very interesting stuff. Especially the parallel between artificially created wolf packs and human prison populations. Also the strength of the alpha male conception in pop culture in spite of scientists attempts to debunk it is telling.

  5. Hey Riley,

    I'll respond to this classic in due time. In the interim I just want to leave a heartfelt thought with you. Now if the world was a fair place and we had true equality between the sexes I would respond to you the same as I would to a guy. That said, Rachel tends to try to protect her clones from the real world and it would probably get just bounced.

    So Sunshine…in the interest of political correctness and to give this post at least a 50/50 chance of not being bounced let me just say that you're totally welcome to kiss my ass.

    Depending upon Rachel's sensitivity meter this morning this may not see the light of day. If not I'll channel it to you. You'll know you've received it if you get a blazing headache this afternoon. Keep smiling.

  6. Nice try, Burn. The thing is that there are certain things that just don't fly here regardless of the gender of the person you're insulting/threatening/demeaning. I honestly don't know the gender of many of the people who regularly comment here. I don't care whether you're threatening a woman or a man, your comment gets bounced. Got it?

  7. Please spare me. If you don't want me to comment here just ban me permanently. Absent that kiss my ass. If I need a lecture on what the "right thing to do is" I'll listen to someone that has actually done something with their life that deserves my respect.