SPSMM Responds to Paul Elam

The Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity (SPSMM) editor for the Good Men Project Magazine (unnamed in the article) has responded to my rebuttal of Chris Kilmartin’s blanket condemnation of masculinity in the piece entitled, “Violence is a Men’s Issue.

The purported gist of the response, as I understand it, is that since some men are violent that it looks bad for all men. And that consequently we should coalesce, as men, to confront it within our ranks. But unfortunately the author quickly and erroneously mischaracterizes the nature of my argument. “Mr. Elam wants you to think about the issue in terms of men vs. women: who’s more likely to start violence, who’s more likely to engage in violence, and who’s more likely to get hurt,” is offered to readers.

Actually, between myself, the person who wrote those lines and Kilmartin, I am the only one doing just the opposite of what is alleged.  My contention has been clear throughout; it is not “men vs. women” but perpetrators vs. victims.  It was SPSMM that narrowed the view of societal violence through a gender specific lens, managing only to acknowledge and address male perpetrators and female victims.  How much more instigating of a men vs. women mentality can you be than that?

I certainly did bring up women’s perpetration of IPV. It was the necessary counterbalance needed to address the divisive and significantly biased nature of Kilmartin’s offering.  And it should be part of any rational discussion on societal violence.

In my attempt to rattle loose the prejudicial nature of the ‘men only’ approach to dealing with violence, I offered the question of whether the significantly higher incidence of arrest for violent crimes in the African American community pointed to a condition of “toxic blackness,” for which the African American community should intervene on its own. It is clearly an idea I find lacking.

The response to this was, “Black communities throughout the U.S. have found a myriad of ways to try to prevent their young men from becoming violent and thus being killed or incarcerated (admittedly, some programs have been more effective than others). Kilmartin is arguing for the same: that we, as men, find ways to help other men refrain from violence.”

And of course this misses the point entirely.  The African American community is certainly seeking ways to prevent their young men from becoming violent, but I have not heard of a single community effort that targeted “blackness,” toxic or otherwise, as the source of the problem.  And yes, Kilmartin is arguing for more of the same. The African American community also has problems with violent and abusive women, like every other community.  And like every other community that violence is scarcely acknowledged as a problem.  Regardless of the good intent, it feeds the misconception that violence is the exclusive province of males, and it leaves the same trail of unrecognized, traumatized adults and children in its misandric wake.

Finally, and most disappointingly, the response ended on the ironic note of mandated gender roles, and not without a somewhat personal shot at me, as written in the following:

“This seems to be especially problematic for Elam, who believes that men should “abandon any notion of commitment to women or vulnerability to them,” and who is “anti-marriage and anti-commitment to the core.”

To be fair, this is a very accurate representation of my beliefs, even though obviously served up as an attempt to shame.

My sentiments are pro equality and anti gender roles.  I remember well the same year that we landed a man on the moon that the help wanted ads were divided clearly between men and women, reflecting higher and lower paying jobs respectively.  It was an arrangement, while understandable in a world that demanded male bread winners, that was no less suffocating the ambitions of women who wanted to choose the path of self reliance and self sufficiency.  We have come a long way since then, and I laud those changes. No one should be forced, by public policy or social coercion, to live up to expectations based simply on the sex they happened to be born with.  It is unthinkable in a world striving for any sense of personal freedom and justice.

But as we keep learning that we still haven’t learned, that should apply to men as well.  I am not, nor are my fellow males, the congenital bodyguards assigned to protect women- even as we strive for their “equality.”  If that path is chosen by a man, so be it, and I find no fault in it. But that path coerced or followed under duress is nothing but evil.  Telling me that it is “my job” to protect and provide for my equals is no different than telling a woman in an office to fetch the coffee for all the men, or that she should not be allowed the same pay for the same work.

So I reassert that SPSMM is misguided in it’s efforts. A few violent men does not make all men look bad. And a few violent women does not make all women look bad.  It all makes violent people look bad. Unless, of course, you are simply looking to play a game of pin the tail on the scapegoat.

Until we start getting this, and address our problems as a community of equals, we are only perpetuating the same old sexism under a different guise.

I didn’t much like it in 1969, and I don’t much like it now.

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