I have recently re-read a fantastic article by Allison Tieman entitled “The One Good Man”, which first appeared on the now-defunct Genderratic and was recently republished on honeybadgerbrigade.com. As usual, I find her work compelling and incisive. I wanted to quote a little bit of the essay and speak as to why it resonated with me today. I think it is one that will resonate with a lot of my readers, and shake up some perspectives.
The One Good Man sees in Woman what men lack. Woman is bright and charming and good. Men are dark and sinister and bad.1
-Allison Tieman, “the One good Man”
There are many young men today who see other men both historically and in general as brutes, monsters, and bullies. They are very comfortable with the notion that masculinity is about violence.
They don’t hold this belief with any great intellectual rigor, of course – as they see themselves, some (but often not all) of the men they are related to, and especially themselves as exceptional men, apart from all of the “toxic” men that make up the majority.
I was one such man for a great part of my life.
It’s easy to develop this belief as a young man today. I was blessed with a loving father, two good, kind, and joyous grandfathers, a host of uncles who were funny, charming, and wise men, and I still developed this dreadful belief.
I think there are a lot of “pull” factors that make this idea seductive to young men. By nature, teen boys’ brains are wired to look for threats. They by default see others as hostile or disapproving, rather than neutral2. They are also driven biologically to want to stand out and have higher status than the boys around them; they form exclusive in-groups of other boys that they see as in competition with the other groups around them3. In effect, it is the natural tendency of young boys to form gangs whose purpose is to protect themselves, each other, and their loved ones from the perceived threats of other groups of boys4. If your natural instinct is to hedge yourself off from all but a few other men, and then compete with and strive for superiority over all other Men, then a worldview in which most men are toxic can seem very intuitive – and justify any mental or actual leaps you take in the name of that competition.
I suspect that this is especially true of young men who don’t feel like they can compete with their peers on a level playing field. If you are not physically fit, charming, or popular as a teen boy – a especially if you are bullied – accepting a worldview where you are morally superior is a great way to level the playing field.
Nor is it easy to form positive opinions of Men when we rarely see them. Young boys these days are often alienated from their fathers – not just because of divorces or the rise in the rates of unwed mothers, but because there are so many men who work long, late hours, and come home exhausted and unable to engage with their sons. When you only see your father for a few hours each day not only is it difficult to form a bond with him, it is easy to suspect him of being a bad person5.
We also live in a culture that currently sees Men and Masculinity as being obsolete, as is expressed in triumphal works like Kay Hymowitz’s The End of Men. We see the needs and interests of Men and Boys as being inherently in competition with the needs of Women and Girls in a zero-sum game6, and see it as justifiable to hate and degrade Men and Boys in public discussion to protect the needs of women7. We have created a culture where saying “All Men are bastards”, “All Men are rapists,” and “Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them,” isn’t just permitted – it is lauded behavior. How can a young man, faced with these sort of media messages daily, and without the fully-formed media literacy of a reasoning adult, be expected not to internalize these messages?
For that matter, even a boy who does exercise his ability to criticize and choose not to internalize these messages, still has to negotiate with the cultural landscape to some degree. If Man-Hatred is laudable, then finding a way to agree with it, and hate Men makes sense as a strategy to get social capital; so long as they can make an exception for themselves.
And there are a parade of ideologies that offer him a way to do just that! Many members of the vocal minority of Radical Feminists who drive the media image of Feminism are willing to play exception games for Men who position themselves as “male femninists” or “allies” (as the current fashionable term has it.) I’ve met many feminists in my own day who are more than willing to declare in mixed company “All men are assholes! … present company excluded, of course.” to me because I was perceived as one of the in-group. Similar special exceptions are offered by Christian Traditionalists, Promise-Keepers, White Supremacists, and a slew of other gangs, clubs, and cults out there. Even the newer generation of Pick-Up Artists seem to have a similar for of exceptionalism where “Alpha Males” are seen as the rare few superior men who are right to hold a world full of “Betas” in contempt.
All it takes is one good push for a young man to get caught in the pull of these ideas, and come out resenting his fellow man. For me, it was being bullied, and eventually sexually molested by bullies that pushed me to studying and identifying with radical feminist doctrine. For some of the other men I have worked with it has been coping with an abusive mother (this was their way of explaining why they deserved it), having a drunken or absent father, or a particularly nasty male teacher. I don’t believe that the event has to be especially traumatic – it need only be a poignant moment in a boys life.
Many young men who adopt these sorts of views become convinced that they represent the vanguard in a new form of masculinity. The “New Man” rejects “Toxic Maculinity” of the past – often reviling its symbols like Western-genre films, professional sports, hard rock music, etc.. They focus on developing into sensitive (“New Age” or “21st Century”) men,or they see themselves as revolutionaries, and focus on getting power so that they can use it to help women and hurt Men through laws, religious teachings, bureaucratic policies, education, etc.
The problem is that these ideas have real, painful, and destructive consequences for the men that hold them. The human intellect is not as good at holding on to exceptions as we believe it is, and men who loath Men in general come to loathe themselves. In my personal experience, and in my experience with other men struggling with the notion of “Toxic Masculinity”, it comes out in self-sabotage and stress-related illness.
It also makes them prime candidates for abuse. Because they have split the world into male and female, good and evil, and decided that the two lines are one and the same, they cannot allow themselves to really see women as being bad, selfish, or evil. If a woman acts, badly, it is because a man made her do it, and if a woman hurts a man, he must have done something to deserve it. This means that when they do fall in with abusive women, they are adept at taking responsibility for her abuses of him. He assumes that she will stop hurting, hitting, or cheating on him when he just figures out what she needs. The kind of abuse I have seen these men put up with is staggering. As Ms. Tieman put it:
To maintain the image of Woman as bright and charming and good, the One Good Man swallows Her darkness. Her rages, Her excesses, Her cruelties are his responsibility, not Hers. All Her goodness is not chosen because She is helpless in Her goodness—as She is helpless in Her femininity. But because it is not chosen, it is not goodness and it feeds nothing in the One Good Man1.
-Allison Tieman, “The One Good Man”
The irony here is that while this man sees himself as being on the side of Women, he is treating all women with an incredible level of disrespect: he is treating them as something other than a whole human being, capable of good, evil, and making their own choices. By placing all the blame for women’s bad behavior on himself and other men, he is reducing them to the level of children. And women do see this, and it loses it’s charm very fast.
There are many ways that the idea that oneself is one of the only “Good Men” in the world can damage a relationship. I wounded my marriage by refusing to show leadership, even when my wife desperately wanted it, because I didn’t want to be one of “those men” that were always telling their wives what to do. I have seen other men afraid to say “no” to their wives for similar reasons – even when she was asking to sleep with someone else. And I have seen men so afraid to get into conflict with their girlfriends because they didn’t want to be a “cad” that they spent years in an unhappy relationship with someone they didn’t want to be with.
But the worst consequences of these beliefs are personal. They cause a man to close himself off from friendships that might be a great support to himself. They cut him off from male company that might offer him emotional help and support that he really needs. And they keep him from exploring the ways of masculinity that can teach him how to get the most out of his mind and body.
Before a man can be really healthy, he needs to come to terms with Men and his own masculinity. Imagining that all other men are the bad guys, and you the one exception makes you stand alone, and keeps you alone.
1. Tieman, Allison, “The One Good Man” in Honey Badger Brigade: Nerds Bite Back, retrieved from: http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/2015/07/26/the-one-good-man/, on July 29th, 2015.
2. Brizendine, Louann, The Male Brain,
3. Gurian, Michael, The Wonder of Boys,
4. Donovan, Jack, The Way of Men,
5. Bly, Robert, Iron John: Abook About Men,
6. Hoff-Sommers, Christina, The War on Boys,
7. Hoff-sommers, Christina, Who Stole Feminism,