So said Donald Trump during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings last month. While I don’t consider Trump’s opinion on anything to be particularly reliable, he is not the only person who thinks that men – young, old and in between – are having a hard time of it these days.
There is an attitude in some circles that men are coming under unfair attack by women, an attitude that says women fabricate or exaggerate past events to paint men in a bad light. The truth is that a new light is beginning to be shone on the inappropriate behaviour of men, especially men in positions of power — something that is long overdue.
In just the past two weeks in Canada, federal Conservative Justice Critic Tony Clement, Ontario’s Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson and senior Ford aide Andrew Kimber resigned or were asked to step down because of their sexual misconduct.
So, what’s with boys, men and violence? Four recent books explore this question from different but intersecting perspectives.
“I’m a nice guy until, suddenly, I’m not.”
This is how Daemon Fairless, author of “Mad Blood Stirring: The Inner Lives of Violent Men” describes himself. While he set out to profile violent men, including men whose work involves violence as well as men who engage in violent behaviour in their personal lives, he also takes a long hard look at his own violence. Fairless describes a number of times in his adult life when he used physical violence to respond to another man whose behaviour he found unacceptable. He acknowledges that, only recently, has he taken the time to analyze the rush he got from this behaviour and to understand it as something he shares with the men he writes about. In describing one such situation, he notes:
“Most people understand why I did it. I like telling this story . . . It makes me feel like a stand-up guy. The real story is more complicated.”
The dangers of feeling disconnected
In his new book, “Young Men: Rage, Race and the Crisis of Identity,” Toronto-based lawyer and activist Jamil Jivani explores the anger many young men – especially young men of colour – feel and what they do with that anger. He shares his own story: a young man of colour raised by his single-parent mother, dismissed as illiterate by the Ontario public school system, admiring the power of men in gangs, taking the first steps to buy a gun, but, instead, turning to community engagement. He writes:
“Across the Western world, an increasing number of young men are feeling disconnected from the countries they call home. Schools, police, family networks, faith institutions, media outlets, politicians and changing economies all struggle to connect with young men or fail to meet their needs. These gaps between young men and their countries create spaces for other influences to compete for hearts and minds. Sometimes these other influences win. And sometimes these influences are destructive.”
He also writes about hope; for young men, but also for the rest of us:
“Most good things in my life have come from being able to see a path to a better future, even when there was little good reason to do so.”
“When had he become such a guy?”
Journalist Rachel Giese takes on the issue of masculinity in her new book “Boys: What It Means to Become a Man.” Like Fairless and Jivani, she blends personal stories about raising her son with a broader examination of sex and gender difference. In the Preface, she writes:
“We haven’t cast enough of a critical eye on the demands of masculinity – for example, the expectations that men be physically aggressive, sexually dominant, emotionally stoic, tough and in control – and the impact those expectations have on boys who do or don’t live up to them. . . [In] order for change to be lasting, feminism can’t stop at transforming the lives of girls and women; it has to transform the lives of boys and men too.”
The male narrator of Miriam Toews’ novel of this name, considers whether boys pose a threat to the girls and women of the religious community in which they live, and concludes:
“Thirteen- and fourteen-year-old boys are capable of causing great damage to girls and women, and to each other. It is a brash age. . . .They are tall, muscular, sexually inquisitive creatures with little impulse control, but they are children. They are children, and they can be taught. . . I believe that with direction, firm love and patience these boys, aged thirteen and fourteen, are capable of relearning their roles as males.”
I have spent the past several weeks dipping into and moving back and forth among these books. They offer valuable insights, raise important questions and hold out hope that perhaps we can work towards a world in which Margaret Atwood’s comment that men are afraid women will laugh at them and women are afraid that men will kill them will no longer be true.