On the subject of how feminism can do better to help men, one suggestion I’ve heard many times, is that we need to provide better role models for men.
Honest question: what does that even mean? I don’t understand what “role model” is, why I would want one, or how it would solve anything. To me, “Who are your role models?” is a writing prompt they give you in elementary school, which was endlessly frustrating and never made the least bit of sense.
My frustration is compounded when people go on to suggest specific celebrities to be role models. For example, “Terry Crews is a great guy, and a great model for 21st century masculinity.” So, I know Terry Crews as someone who has done work against sexual violence, but that doesn’t make him a role model to me. I’m confused about how that would even work. Are you suggesting that I follow news about Terry Crews and imitate what little I can glean of his viewpoints and habits? The solution to the crisis of masculinity is… more celebrity news? Color me skeptical.
I brought up the subject of role models on Pillowfort, and Sennkestra pointed out that there are really two distinct concepts of role models:
- Someone who is held up as a moral exemplar to be emulated. Terry Crews being an example.
- Someone from who you emulate to learn behavioral scripts, often unconsciously. For example, when I started blogging I modeled my style on other bloggers I followed, but I don’t remember who that was exactly, and have no reason to believe they were moral exemplars.
While everyone has role models of the second sort, we don’t all have role models of the first sort. And that’s why elementary school writing prompts about role models are so frustrating. They’re asking for someone we idolize, who we strive to emulate. But to the extent that I emulate anyone, I don’t just stick to one person, and I’m not conscious of who exactly it is.
So, it does not make much sense to suggest specific celebrities as role models for men. In general, we don’t use single individuals as role models, we imitate a large number of people (and characters) around us.
Initially, I just wanted to complain about the way people talk about positive male role models, but then it felt like my criticism was too destructive. Pointing to celebrities is not a good way to make better role models for men… so how do we create better role models for men? So now I present the second half of this article:
A road map to better role models for men
We start with the abstract: how should men behave? And if you’re a man, then you behave that way, becoming a good role model to those around you. It helps to explain why you behave that way, to criticize others who significantly depart from the ideal. But it also helps to just embody your ideals, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Some people will have more influence then others, especially celebrities and creators of mass media, but I don’t think we should lean on any particular celebrity or fictional character, because a lot of men may simply not care about the same celebrities/characters you care about.
That leaves the question, how should men behave? I guess this doesn’t seem so hard to me, since ethical behavior is not a gendered issue. Men should behave the same way any other good person would behave regardless of gender.
In fact, one may ask, why do we need men to serve as positive role models for men? Couldn’t men equally well emulate the women in their lives? I think men do in fact emulate women often, often without thinking about it or worrying about the whole gender thing. Still, it seems best if we provide positive role models who are specifically men, for a few reasons.
First of all, I observe that many people seem more quick to emulate people of the same gender.
Second of all, there are certain male-specific problems, and we need to show ethical ways of dealing with them. My understanding is that one common frustration among men, is pursuing romance/sex in a culture that expects men to always take initiative and control. Given my orientation I don’t think I could provide any specific advice, but I’m just pointing to it as a major issue. Another common issue for men, is expectations regarding success. Men are expected to outcompete their peers in every aspect of life, from career to love to hobbies. But obviously not everyone can be above average. We need healthy ways to deal with failure and mediocrity; to show people that they don’t need to win to succeed, that they don’t need to succeed to be happy. And we need to stop putting down others for not winning.
Finally, it’s important to show some harmless male gender markers. I’m talking basic stuff like appearance, mannerisms, and personal interests. Many binary-gendered people seem to enjoy adopting some sort of gendered expression, and it’s good to suggest harmless outlets for that expression–without suggesting that any particular expression is mandatory.
This is just a brief outline. If there’s any specific point that you would be interested to see further developed, let me know.