I heard this on an excellent podcast called Scene on Radio. John Biewen has enlisted Celeste Headlee this season to explore the idea of manhood in our society. You can hear this entire episode here. Well worth checking out. Below is a section of the conversation that literally made me stop, while listening, to hear it again and take note of it. Thankfully, and helpfully, John puts up the transcript of each show (bless him):
Joshua Goldstein: What the pattern of history shows across the board is that it’s really hard to get men to fight; it’s not a natural thing. So, just look at the pervasiveness of conscription through history; you have to draft men into the army and then, when it actually comes time to fight, a lot of armies have used either drugs or the rum ration in the British Army, a lot of these militias in Africa and recent civil wars giving various combinations of drugs, amphetamines and then after the fact, people are very traumatized by it.
Societies, cultures have to work at men from childhood. One of the strong motivations that a lot of cultures have found effective is this appeal to gender, that you’re not a real man unless you can fight in a war and so we raise boys to be tough, to not cry, and to suppress their feelings, except for anger; anger is okay, but sadness and stuff, not supposed to feel it, not supposed to show it. Man up, tough it out, soldier on, and after year after year after that, then they’re ready to be put into the military and they’ll be able to do these unnatural horrible things and follow their orders.
We could do that with women, as well, but it would undermine the appeal to men that they’re proving their manhood. When women have gone in the military, sometimes the men say, “hey, if a woman can do this job, then what’s that make me? I thought I was proving what a man I was.”
Barry Lam: Goldstein became interested in the provocative idea that the need to prepare men for the violence of war is where our ideas of manhood come from. This idea runs counter to the view that men are in some ways, biologically or naturally, violent and aggressive and that they are the source or cause of war. Instead, Goldstein likes the view that a culture perceives a need for its members to engage in violent force on its behalf and it fulfills this need by establishing for its members that the traits that make a good man are the very ones that make a good soldier.
Tom Digby: My name is Tom Digby. I am professor emeritus of philosophy at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. The book is titled Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance.
Barry Lam: In Digby’s book, he finds three important norms of manhood that he thinks follow directly from the norms for being a good warrior.
Tom Digby: The number one requirement actually, of a warrior is to be able to manage the capacity to care about the suffering of others and of himself. You care deeply about the people you’re fighting with, but you don’t care at all about the suffering of the people you’re fighting against.
Barry Lam: Selective empathy. You have controlled and marked empathetic care for those in your community, under your protection, and none at all for those outside of it. The second Digby calls a faith in masculine force.
Tom Digby: You know I describe it sometimes more broadly as just a faith in force. For example, when a man is expected to be able to unscrew the lid from a pickle jar, there’s this assumption that men are strong and forceful and able to do forceful things.
Barry Lam: The idea is that a real man, a good man, the norms for a man include the capacity to solve problems using physical force, but this faith in force also means that the society itself seeks out masculine force to be the solution to its problems. The counterpart to the norms for masculinity that derived from the warrior are the complementary norms for femininity.
Joshua Goldstein: The woman is going to represent the normalcy of society; while the men are fighting wars, the women will be maintaining civilization, the kind of things that the men can feel like, “I’m fighting for my girl back home” and the whole way of life that she represents, so that’s sort of how it’s been structured as a way to motivate the men.
Barry Lam: If Goldstein and Digby are right and part of the very standards for being a good man are the traits for being a good soldier and built into the norms for being a woman are only complementary or supportive traits, then the disadvantages that women face in trying to be soldiers are going to be deeper than just physical ones.
The rest of a fascinating discussion is here.