As Remembrance Day approaches, the media’s wartime love affair with our troops serves as an ironic reminder of how rarely in the fourth estate one sees sympathetic editorial treatment of manhood. Most of the year, men—not as individuals but as representative of their sex—are far more likely to be portrayed negatively: as control freaks, perverts and in general people to fear. Only for a brief annual pre-Nov. 11 interlude do we ever see glowing tributes to the traditional male virtues of honour, gallantry, steadfastness, stoicism, brotherhood and chivalry.
Indeed, an alien visitor to our shores this week might conclude men are the cherished apple of Canada’s eye. In its current issue, Maclean’s magazine features poignant “Last Letters from Kandahar” from those who died in combat. Then there’s artist Richard John-son’s Kandahar Journal, serialized in the National Post: eloquent pen-and-ink tributes to military rank and file. And Globe columnist and sometime war correspondent Christie Blatchford just published Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army, a paean to soldierly virtues. Let that visitor extend his stay until after Remembrance Day, however, and he will see the “lace curtain” once again descend on a positive portrayal of manliness.
Coincidentally, a short, but substantive new book called Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men? offers compelling and timely proof of widespread media disdain for men. The volume is formatted as a debate. The affirmative is upheld by the doyen of the men’s rights’ movement, and the only activist actually making a living from his best-selling books and lectures, Warren Farrell; and the negative by James P. Sterba, professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.
Farrell wins. Sterba puts up a game fight, but, amongst other weaknesses, he cherry-picks issues, privileges theory over reality, bases a pivotal argument on at least one extremely misleading (unreferenced) “statistic” on Canadian contested custody results, ascribes gay partner violence to cultural bias against homosexuality (a wholly speculative and unworthy gambit, similar to the bogus “black rage” defence) and fails to mount a persuasive challenge on the media bias question.
By contrast, Farrell reveals an intellectual grasp of the broader themes of atavistic sexual role-playing and the true meaning of “powerlessness” (even in democracies, only men are conscripted for combat; women are never conscripted to breed). He commands respect as a principled former women’s movement darling who bucked the feminist party line at considerable personal cost.
In his youth, Farrell spent three years on the board of the feminist-oriented U.S. National Organization for Women, wrote a book on the “liberated man” and for years wholeheartedly upheld the feminist credo in countless publications and public appearances. But once he included men’s perspectives in his public statements the applause died, and he was effectively excommunicated by the media.
Farrell’s anecdotes are telling. As long as he wrote from a feminist perspective, “the New York Times published everything I wrote. Once I began questioning the feminist perspective, they published nothing.” He was a guest on the Today Show three times as a feminist, but was never invited back after his conversion. A media consultant told Farrell he was never invited even on to Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect because “they wanted a male chauvinist [whom] they could make look like a fool.”
If you’re seeking an educational shortcut on the subject, this reader-friendly book illuminates the impasse between feminists and embattled men in a civil and collaborative way. Both Farrell and Sterba would like to see the gender wars subside into a co-operative, reciprocally beneficial “gender transition movement,” and so should we all in the interest of a healthier social order.
As Remembrance Day annually reminds us, war is the least attractive method for resolving group hostilities. If a truce between the sexes is to be achieved, the public’s sympathy must be engaged bilaterally. The media must recognize its culpability here, and reform their demonstrable ideological partisanship, which encourages misandry amongst women and social tension in general.
Soldiers aren’t a breed apart. They are ordinary men exploiting specifically male strengths to meet extraordinary challenges. Most men are the friends, not the enemies, of women and children. The media have helped ordinary women “take back the night” for decades. It is time that the equivalent struggle of ordinary men to “take back the knight” was accorded the engaged and respectful public attention men and boys deserve.