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Role Models And Privileged Pride

Hugo Schwyzer is once again venturing back into the question of "do men need male role models?" I've written before about my take on the issue, which boils down to agreeing that there's utility in a role model who has shared your experiences, but putting much stronger emphasis on the diversity of experiences within the genders, the blurriness of the line between them, and the importance of other axes of difference.

This time around, Schwyzer uses the example of male aggressiveness. He argues that men are, on average, more aggressive than women, and so women can't show men how to channel their testosterone. In comments, I suggest that we should be more specific and say that aggressive people need agressive role models, and that most people in both groups would happen to be men. Certainly I can name a number of women who would be much better role models for a testosterone-crazed boy than I would. (This is similar to my response to the argument that since women are usually too weak to be good soldiers, no women should be allowed on the front lines.)

But after I posted that, an idea occurred to me. I think there's a sense in which I agree with Schwyzer's conclusion about the need for same-sex (and same-race, and same-religion, etc.) role models. But it's built on a quite different foundation. Schwyzer's explanations rest on the idea of internal differences. There's something going on inside men's minds and bodies, whether due to Y chromosomes or early-childhood socialization, that makes men and women profoundly different. But I would say that men's greatest need for male role models (and likewise for any other socially marked group) arises from external conditions.

To me, being a man is not mostly about having facial hair or being better at math. It's about finding myself treated a certain way by the world around me. Society extends a certain set of privileges, expectations, opportunities, and responsibilities to me on the basis of my gender. It's a basically existential proposition -- we find ourselves thrown into gendered/racialized/etc. social positions, and we have to decide, with guidance from others, how to deal with it. Becoming a "good man" on top of being a "good person" is mostly about learning to deal in a constructive and progressive way with all of this. Women, not being able to directly experience a life of male privilege, cannot be ideal role models for men in this respect (though I would add that 1. there's value in the outsider's perspective, 2. some elements of the female situation resemble the male and hence can be modeled across gender lines, and 3. insofar as various forms of privilege have similarities, women who are white or rich or what have you can be role models by analogy).

The seed of this perspective was laid back when OSP had its brouhaha over the question of racial pride. It seemed to me that there was a role for something that we could call "white pride." It would be a pride in, and a desire to emulate, whites who had done the right thing with their whiteness. Abraham Lincoln was the example that sprang to mind (though I'm sure if I knew more about the history of racial issues I could think of someone better). He experienced privilege -- no black person could have won the presidency in the 1860s -- but he worked to undercut it by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. (Whether this is a historically accurate picture -- and I'm cynical enough to suspect Lincoln's motives were not nearly as pure as they're made out to be -- is beside the point. The point is the archetype that the legend of Lincoln presents us with.)


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