A Feminism for Men: Why Senator Hawley is So Right and So Wrong

By James Gilligan and David A.J. Richards

It has been observed that the right wing in American politics, as represented by Senator Hawley, has become increasingly worried that American males are losing their potency as a result of the recent critiques of patriarchy (meaning male domination of women and other men). We agree with Hawley that American men are in danger. A central mistake, however, that Hawley and other right-wingers make is to overlook the fact that the real threat to men, the life and death threat, is patriarchy. By blinding themselves to the distinction between sex, which is biological, and gender which is psychological and cultural, they miss a crucial fact. Throughout history, traditional definitions of masculinity have most often included the notion that to prove one is a "real" man or a man among men, one must show one's willingness to engage in lethal and/or sexual violence. Men have been taught to believe that this is a way to demonstrate their power and their superiority, thus becoming in our former president's terms, a winner rather than a loser. It is often overlooked that the main victims of men's lethal violence are men. Men's deadly violence is most often directed toward men, whether in the form of homicide and suicide or war and capital punishment, in contrast to men's sexual violence which is more often directed toward women, as in rape and incest. To put it starkly, patriarchy requires men to engage in violent behavior more often and more destructively than women do, and men are more often the victims of men's violence, whether inflicted by other men or self-imposed. Senator Hawley is right in saying that men are at risk; where he is wrong is in seeing feminism as the problem rather than the solution. Although feminism itself is relatively recent, historically speaking, it's insights are long-standing. Great works of art from the tragedies of Athens to Elizabethan London have repeatedly drawn attention to the honor codes of patriarchy that require a man to defend his honor at all costs. Over and over again we see how when manhood is shamed, violence is imminent. Indeed, no one more acutely exposes this tragic patriarchal dynamic of shame mandating violence and its costs to men then Shakespeare. As Hamlet says to the Player King, art holds a mirror up to (human) nature, and as we have found in our studies of violent men, the violence of Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, Coriolanus and Timon of Athens are mirrored quite precisely not only in the acts of violent criminals but in forms of political violence at home and abroad that have historically threatened and now perhaps even more ominously threaten the future of democracy and the survival of the human species. But if Shakespeare exposes the causes of violence, he also shows us the solution, in what we might consider the "feminism" of Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure---that is his rejection of violent punishment and the culture of an eye for an eye that mandates revenge. Instead, Vincentio replaces retributive justice with restorative justice and the play ends in reconciliation rather than tragedy. Lest this sound soft or unmanly, let us count the costs to men of manhood under patriarchy: men are both the perpetrators and the victims in 80% of homicides and suicides, men are the vast majority to die in combat and by capital punishment, two -thirds of the deaths occur to men from what are recorded as unintentional fatal injuries or so-call "accidents" (than which nothing is less accidental) such as working in hazardous occupations or engaging in reckless risk-taking behaviors such as speeding, drunk driving ,and dangerous sports. It is the concern with impotence that fuels male violence. That is why Senator Hawley and his allies on the right are mistaken, both in their diagnosis of the problem facing American men and its solution. A feminism for men shows a solution that patriarchy hides as unmanly. If Senator Hawley really cares about the dangers facing American men, he would wholeheartedly support feminism and its rejection of the traditional codes of both male violence and female silence.


Image by AP