- Gender WarriorsBoys Will Be Boys
criticism, toxic masculinity, #MeToo, feminism, cancel culture, military
By Clementine Ford
One World, 2019
362pp. PB, $17.95
There are few things in American life more problematic or pratfall-prone than a privileged, straight white man like myself holding forth on the topic of feminism. The innumerable things that men know about the universe and are happy—happy?, no delighted—to tell women about even has its own word now—"mansplaining," a term I am sure nearly everyone reading this has heard at least once in their life. I'm fortunate enough to have been accused of mansplaining twice just this week, so allow me to explain to the uninitiated how mansplaining works—mansplaining occurs when a man …
I could go on here to try to see if I can outline an even more cutting-edge concept—that of metamansplaining, but I think you get my drift. I am, among other things, a straight white man with a healthy love of loutish behavior living in the twenty-first century, a time when the most likely reaction to anything seems to be outraged offense. As a therapist I met at a party in San Diego once said, I am "an asshole, but in a really cool way." Part of the problem is that I spent my twenties in what amounts to a toxic-masculinity incubator—the Marine Corps infantry, a milieu where being called a "bitch" was a common unisex greeting, as in "What up, bitch? You ready to go to the fucking gym or what?" Given the fact that my years in the Marines were preceded by four years at a male-dominated military college in Texas, perhaps I can be forgiven for my tardiness to the conversation about the state of gender relations in America.
Late at night, exhausted by my doltish fits and the ensuing embarrassment, I often worry that my idea of manhood is nostalgic, irrational, and twenty years out of date. My first opinions about feminism were derived from my experience as a cadet in the nineties when the rumors that the National Organization for Women was going to shutter the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets in the wake of a sexual-harassment scandal were rampant enough that several of my friends began making inquiries about transferring to the University of Arizona's ROTC program. This was a time when it was common to see black bumper stickers bought from our comrades at the Virginia Military Institute that featured a solemn-looking cadet wearing a shako next to the words save the males.
Still, the fighter in me, the connoisseur of underdogs, the lover of tomboys, the son of a single mom, sees rather clearly that the world has changed, that many basic personal freedoms that I take for granted as a dude must be, in essence, stolen from the world if you are a woman. And in this foul era of Donald Trump, it is clear that female liberation is increasingly under threat by powerful forces and that a vigorous, pugnacious, tactically proficient feminism is necessary. More mansplaining: The more time I spend with women today (in the form of my students and my friends, most of whom are women), the more convinced I become that a lot of today's feminism is beneath them. It often feels monolithic and like a two-note symphony—men are pigs, women are saints—and doesn't seem much interested in addressing the full complicated [End Page 152] range of real-life gender relations.
In Boys Will Be Boys: Power, Patriarchy and Toxic Masculinity, the new book by Australian feminist Clementine Ford, the #MeToo Generation gets a book that is unworthy of them. From page one, it's clear that this is a book about militant feminism for militant feminists, and if any of the various ideas on offer give you pause, then fuck you. In an author's note that is essentially an extended trigger warning, readers are urged to "please go gently if [they] are likely to be triggered" by descriptions of misogyny...