Boyhood, Manhood, and Why I’d Like to Hit Something

This was sent to me by a colleague’s husband, who I’m sure realizes that it’s going to end up on this blog: “A Call to Arms for Decent Men” by Ernest W. Adams. At the top of the article on its original page is this line: “Gamasutra declined to run this column, but I still consider it to be part of the Designer’s Notebook series. Contains strong language.”

My guess is that strong language is not why Gamasutra declined to run it. Despite purportedly encouraging politeness and fair play, Adams’ article is actually a prime example of misogyny at its nefarious best.

To be fair to Adams, his intentions are good. However, what he is doing falls within the same umbrella of misogyny as the behaviors he’s criticizing. For example, while he says that “boys” who engage in online harassment are immature and need to grow up, the way in which he phrases their responsibility to act as decent human beings leaves a bit to be desired on the egalitarian front:

Men have more power than women: financially, politically, and physically. What distinguishes a real man from a boy is that a man takes responsibility for his actions and does not abuse this power. If you don’t treat women with courtesy and respect –- if you’re still stuck in that “I hate girls” phase –- then no matter what age you are, you are a boy and not entitled to the privileges of adulthood.

While biology may generally dictate that women are in fact physically weaker than their male counterparts most of the time, the presumption that physical strength is tantamount to financial and political power is insulting. The entirety of the feminist movement has been spent to disabuse people of the idea that men are inherently superior and more deserving of money and power, and Adams has simply accepted that the old Victorian mores are in fact truisms.

In essence, Adams’s article panders directly to the attitude that women are inferior beings and that “real men” don’t need to abuse women just because they can. In fact, by Adams’s logic, “real men” should protect and stand up for women because they are inferior and, by extension, apparently incapable of standing up for themselves. That’s not what he’s saying, exactly, but that is the attitude he’s created here.

The statement “A grown-up man has no problem being in the company of women. He knows he’s a man” presumes the same ideological framework as the “boys” to whom Adams is writing. He defends this position, stating that he has to assume this attitude in order to reach his audience:

Some of you might think it’s sexist that I’m dumping this problem on us men. It isn’t; it’s just pragmatic. Women can not solve this problem. A boy who hates girls and women simply isn’t going to pay attention to a woman’s opinion. The only people who can ensure that boys are taught, or if necessary forced, to grow up into men are other men.

It is sexist. It’s absolutely sexist to assume that only men can teach boys to behave like responsible adults. It’s sexist to suggest that responsible adults of either gender have a specific set of behaviors coded to that gender that aren’t universal to all human beings. Men and women alike have the responsibility as human beings to treat all other people with the respect accorded them simply by virtue of being alive, regardless of gender (or age, wealth, creed, etc.). So long as we accept that “men” have different responsibilities or sets of behavior than “women,” we are perpetuating a sexist attitude in which one gender (or the other) is dominant.

Suggesting that “men” need to teach “boys” to grow up and behave treats the symptoms, not the disease. Both chivalry (in the modern and medieval sense) and sexist harassment are symptoms of the same social disease, and by attempting to eliminate only the symptoms, Adams does not recognize that his prescription is contributing to the problem. We – both men and women – have to eradicate the attitude that presumes a fiction of superiority, and the elimination of symptoms will follow.

Finally, Adams offers a list of things “real men” should do to curtail the behavior of the “boys,” and then a list of ostensible counter-arguments from those “boys,” including this sparkling gem of classist sexism:

 “Women are always getting special privileges.” Freedom from bullying is a right, not a privilege, and anyway, that’s bullshit. Males are the dominant sex in almost every single activity on the planet. The only areas that we do not rule are dirty, underpaid jobs like nursing and teaching. Do you want to swap? I didn’t think so.

This paragraph makes me want to run out of my dirty, underpaid office – in a row of offices that belong to men who are (by Adams’s logic) also apparently dirty and underpaid – and use my feminine fists to demonstrate just how “inferior” my physical strength actually is. I’m not going to, but that’s the level of frustration I’ve reached with this article, which engages in the worst sort of chivalric fantasy in which Adams, the white-clad paladin, rides in on his shining stallion to defend the honor of delicate flowers offended by the malodorous hordes of the trollish unwashed. Women don’t need men to defend their honor. Women need to be accepted as human beings, the same as all other human beings, regardless of race, gender, sex, creed, or orientation.

To be fair, Adams does close with perhaps the only truly egalitarian sentence of the piece: “Let’s stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the women we love, and work with, and game with, and say, ‘We’re with you. And we’re going to win.’” With this statement, I agree wholeheartedly, but that’s not what the article has spent most of its time saying.

Which brings me to another, more difficult point. I live in the South, but I’m from the upper Midwest and arrived here by way of Boston. I’m used to opening my own doors, to holding the door for whomever I’m with, male or female. Here, that gets me funny looks and even causes consternation among men who don’t know what to do with a woman who holds the door. My point is that women need to be willing to do the work, to get dirty, to accept that in order to achieve equality, we have to put in the same effort as men and not expect chivalry if we aren’t going to give it. And men have to let us do it.

2 thoughts on “Boyhood, Manhood, and Why I’d Like to Hit Something

  1. I agree that the “dirty jobs” comment isn’t in good taste. However, I disagree that the author was trying to say that men are more INHERENTLY powerful than women. The statement is: “Men have more power than women: financially, politically, and physically.” Isn’t it the case that, even in more egalitarian societies such as our own, men STILL wield more political and social power than men? It seems like simply a statement of unfortunate societal fact rather than a commentary on the author’s belief about the inherent qualities of men vs. women. I also disagree that the author is out of line when he argues that it’s going to require the efforts of men as well as women to police the behavior of “men behaving badly.” It seems entirely realistic that these bad actors might be more likely to respond to negative feedback from people they perceive to be in their in-group–i.e. other men. It seems that the main thrust of the article wasn’t, “we need to protect these poor pitiful women,” but rather the idea that even if the majority of gamers are decent yet sit on the sidelines, nothing is going to change. There’s nothing sexist about wanting to protect other people, not matter what their gender.

    • He’s not arguing that men are superior, not explicitly, certainly, and probably not even consciously. But by stating in this context that men “rule” in most jobs and that they are more powerful, it implicitly authorizes the attitude that men are superior beings. Certainly, his intent is to make men behave better because he believes in that last line – “stand shoulder-to-shoulder” – at least on a conscious, overt level. But a lot of his word choices belie an attitude that assumes that women are inferior, although I’m sure if you asked him, he would genuinely say “of course not.”

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