How can a man embody manliness after three waves of feminism? (Part 1)

First wave feminism, beginning in the late nineteenth century, called into question the idea that women were especially well-suited for running household affairs and thus were ill-suited to taking an active part in the affairs of the city.

  • Hence, the shift effected: from private anonymity to public visibility.

Around the 1960s during the Vietnam Era, second wave feminism comes into being. Those without voice and without recognition of the manifold nature of sexuality were able to draw attention to forms of discrimination and oppression.

  • Hence, the shift effected: from voicelessness to voice.

In the past thirty years, third wave feminism has testified to the exploitation of women in the developing world, not least those former colonial subjects living in the aftermath of colonial rule.

  • Hence, the shift effected: from powerlessness to a sense of power.

No reasonable person would deny the importance of these three waves of feminism for women living in the past or for those seeking to lead full lives into the present. What has yet to be considered, however, is what effects these three waves have had on men’s ability to exhibit the mean of manliness without being regarded as perpetrators or wimps.

*

It seems to me that two modern male figures dominant the social scene: the Brawny Man and the Sensitive Man. The Brawny Man, who came to prominence during the early 90s and who remains on college campuses and in gyms today, has overfed his physical part. He is concerned with getting bigger and bigger, with ineffectually growing stronger and stronger, and he spends his leisure time seeking pleasure, showing off, and watching sports.

His counterpart is the Sensitive Man. This character has strange predilections for esoteric art and music, has skinny legs and skinny arms, a round  tummy, and a concave chest. He lacks physical strength and spends most of his time being sensitive, ironic, and wanting to be an artist in the art world, a musician in the indie music scene, or a scholar in the academy. He is a cowardly wuss.

The Brawny Man is too hypertrophic, uncouth, incapable of compassion, and prone to angry outbursts; the Sensitive Man is too weak and overindulgent to be of much good. Neither figure embodies manliness, and both are unharmonious within and without.

Tomorrow, I aim to show how the discussion of guardians from Book III of Plato’s Republic provides a beautiful sketch of the kind of man who has properly cultivated his ‘spirited part’–his thumos–to the point where it has become stretched and cultured yet not softened and removed. This sort of man is physically strong without being aggressive or intimating; cultured without being a dandy; courageous without being hot-headed; well-spoken without being too nice with his distinctions; and temperate without being an ascetic. He is thus admired by men and women both and worthy of love and of being loved.

‘I arrived a bit early…’: How Susan made it to Chinatown

On Tuesday night in the hours before the rain came, she’d brought Sigrid Nunez’s Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag over to my place (to read part 1 of the story, go here or simply look one column over to your right) and placed it on the orange chest next to my copies of Seneca’s letters and Craig’s book on God. That night, we’d shared a bottle of wine from Piedmont, on the far wall we’d hung the photos that she’d taken years ago of a brooding spring lake in Switzerland, and we’d spoken enchantingly of I forget.

Of Susan? No.

The receipt said that she’d bought the book on the night of April 19, 2011. What had happened that night, and how had the book fallen into her shoulder bag?

Oh, souvenir involontaire, dear Andrew! The memory of the moment I’d bought the book, the wetness of the streets already getting dark, the lightness of feet on the ground. No need to look at my journal, dear friend. It all came back to me as if I was living it now.

I recall that after work I had some time to kill in Soho, so I meandered about after I got off the F train at Broadway/Lafayette. [And did you walk down Lafayette, which around that time would have been heavily trafficked, or did you head down Crosby, strolling along the cobbled street and past Housing Works? I think the latter.] Yes, Nunez’s book was on the display table and caught my eye immediately, as I had just finished reading Regarding the Pain of Others. Susan’s final book.

Something about Susan, I’ve always been drawn to her. Part of me finds her terrifying (is that the word I’m looking for?). So fiercely bold, so stubbornly opinionated, so boldly intellectual in a way I could never be. I admire her for that. It also scares me. Stating my opinions openly has never come easy.

Yet Susan and Susan’s work seem to linger with me, year after year. There’s the essay she wrote after Sept. 11th. Or how she told Annie Leibovitz that Annie was a good photographer but that she hadn’t really done anything yet–not until Susan took her to Sarajevo. But then the touching photos Annie took of her on her deathbed. My… And her lines about images and war…

Why Susan? Perhaps it was that my father gave me the middle name Susan or that I shared her love of French New Wave cinema. [Or was it that she cared about art, loved art dearly, dwelled within art as much as you live beside it?] Nunez’s book seduced me into wanting to know more about this dark and alluring woman. To know more, as if meanderingly, about myself.

I was wearing my trench coat that evening, that I remember well. Whether I had an umbrella with me or whether I had forgotten it, I’m not sure. I’m inclined to say No, knowing how often I forget to bring one along with me. I remember my hair was frizzy in the dampness. I remember the warmth of the air. With Sempre Susan tucked into my bag, I continued to walk, pausing some long moments to look at gigantic goldfish glowing in tanks at a Chinese fish place. It was on the corner of Broom and Mott, and all of Chinatown was packing up for the night. Inside, there were men cleaning off scales and wiping down stainless steel display cases. Above, the moon hung full and pale. The night was damp, my hair was damp, and the smell of fish hung warmly in the air.

I arrived a bit early and settled in the back of the Vietnamese restaurant, opened the book and waited for you.