I normally reserve a huge amount of respect for Tedsters, but today was quite dismayed to watch Tony Porter’s rather shallow version of an “idea worth spreading.” This “idea,” as depicted in TED’s description, is “don’t act like a man,” because this can lead to violence against women. He goes on to explain that through the “collective socialization of men,” young boys learn the following equation: “women are of less value than men, they are rightfully the property of men and should be considered exclusively as sexual objects.” This, Porter tells us, is what leads to violence against women. Society has created this artificial “man-box,” as he calls it, which tells boys that they have to repress all of their emotions, never show weakness, treat women as prey, and so forth. Though this “socialization” is to some extent true, it is also to a far greater extent based on man’s “true nature,” and furthermore, this “man-box” contains many features that we truly should value. In fact, Porter’s example of how this masculinity equation leads to violence against women quickly undermines his whole point.
Porter uses an example from his young life in the Bronx when he and his friends were all around twelve but idolized and followed an older, sixteen-year-old boy who was being raised by his grandmother (when she wasn’t away at one of the many jobs she needed in order to support him). This older boy summoned Tony and then all of his friends up to his apartment to take advantage of a mildly retarded girl, whom the older boy had already sexually violated. Prompted by his fear of not being a man, Tony walked into the room but couldn’t go against his conscience. He “heroically” removed himself from the situation by lying to his friends, telling them that the sex was good. Though his friend would have seen this as a “pussy move,” Porter means to show us how noble his unmanliness was. However, Porter seems to be missing some rather glaring pieces of this story. First of all, this older kid wasn’t raised by a man, but rather his grandmother. Perhaps it was his grandmother who implanted this poisonous “man-box” idea, except that she wasn’t around much, so it must have just been floating up there in the Zeitgiest or communicated through that other tool of the devil: action films. In fact none of these kids in the Bronx were being raised by men and thus their views on masculinity can hardly be attributed to the careless misogyny of the important men in their lives! Yet Porter admonishes today’s fathers and important male role models to stop the cycle of violence towards women by stopping the reinforcement of the “man-box” qualities. How could he have missed the fact that the true culprit in his example was the complete lack of adult men in these kids lives? The true lesson should have been that any man, even the stereotypical “macho-man,” is better than no man at all!
Porter lists the qualities in this “man-box,” the qualities that lead to violence against women if reinforced, but his analysis here proves pathetically shallow. Nearly every quality that Porter lists is a quality that could have been immensely helpful to that mentally challenged girl in the Bronx! Had Porter been a “real man” (“man-box-man”), he would have been a protector, demonstrated power or control, demonstrated aggression and dominance, would have appeared tough, athletic, strong, and courageous, he would have made decisions without needing help, and he would have shown no fear. As far as the “man-box” list goes, this only leaves out “don’t be like a woman,” “be heterosexual,” and “view women as property/objects.” Porter missed a huge opportunity to “man-up” all those years ago not because he chose to refrain from sexually assaulting a mentally challenged young girl, but because he failed to perform the most quintessential and basic macho-move: usurb the alpha male position and take charge. A “real man” would have been a heaven-sent in this situation! He would have said, “You freakin pussies! You just don’t get it. Its not about getting laid, its about getting a hot, sane girl to have sex with you, which is hard to do and deserving of props.” Note that this is still a “predatory” mindset, but obviously one that is anathema to sexual assault. A real man would have taken the initiative, used his courage and strength to become a protector, perhaps to the extent of using violence to defend her. Wouldn’t this have been more ideal than Porter’s noble lie? Wouldn’t this have been patently more “manly,” in the “man-box” sense of the word? If so, then Porter’s whole argument just fell apart.
Porter skips over a crucial step. He goes from Football coaches yelling “stop playing like girls” to the conclusion that such things cause violence against women. What macho-man have you ever met that has somehow encouraged rape or sexual violence as cool or manly? None. What he fails to see is that the football star who Porter tells us would have been “destroyed” if his football coach said he played like a girl would be equally “destroyed” if his coach said that he played with half the strength and speed that he should, as a boy, be able to utilize. No young boy interprets these admonishments from coaches to mean that women are of less value absolutely; perhaps only of less value when you need a 250-pound lineman protecting your ass! In fact, all of the tough-guy talk on the football field about wanting to bang this or that cheerleader is establishing that women are the only thing of value–well, that and touchdowns, which are probably only valuable because they attract the attention of the cheerleaders. If anything, this mentality leads to violence against other men, as it is implied that women are so valuable that they are worth punching each other in the face for. This move would make some sense, as viewing women as objects worth fighting over could lead to male-on-male violence. But the link between this mentality and violence towards women is just left unjustified, vague, and assumed. Porter is obviously pandering to his audience.
I have heard “macho” frat guys bragging about taking advantage of some drunk girl at a party, but every time I have heard this, a still-more “alpha-male” in the room will seize the opportunity to one-up him in the “man-box-card” game. “You couldn’t get laid without her being unconscious! Haha! Must have been some night! Hahaha. Was she snoring? Haha!” That’s how things really go down amongst alpha males. A real alpha male would probably do something more than laugh, and that is a good thing! Guys who use “roofies” or otherwise take advantage of girls should have the shit beat out of them, plain and simple. And guess what, that sort of thing requires nearly every quality Porter lists in the “man-box.” The real problem has much more to do with a dearth of alpha males than a glut of them. Perhaps more guys don’t stand up and knock some sense into their friends for fear of getting stuck in sensitivity training, anger management, or otherwise punished for their evil male characteristics! The problem isn’t alpha-maleness, the “man-box,” or most of the qualities therein; it is the absence of alpha-males who use strength, control, courage, assertiveness, aggression, dominance, and yes, even violence, for good ends! Porter seems to think that evil prevails because men actively do something to their kids, but where is that old wisdom about evil prevailing when good men do nothing?