Imagine my surprise to log on to Culture War Reporters to jot down my Tuesday post, only to find Elisa having already written something. I can only imagine that her cutting in on my territory means that she’s looking to start a fight so vicious, bloody, and prison-lunch-line-shanking-ly brutal it will make the combined carnage of the fall of Masada and the genocide at Wounded Knee look like a slap-fight between a couple of elderly Mennonites.
But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to make good on my promise last week- to investigate and determine whether or not Art of Manliness is sexist.
Of course, before we begin we have to define what “sexism” is. The obvious answer would be discrimination/prejudice against women, but it has got to be more than that. The stereotyping of women (regardless of whether its positive or negative) has also got to be a part of sexism, just as much as it would be a part of racism or any other form of bigotry.
Now at first glance, Art of Manliness really doesn’t touch on the subject of gender relations all that much. For every one of their articles on subjects such as “What to Wear on a First Date“, there are ten articles on how to shine your shoes, shuffle a deck of cards, hitchhike around the US, make maple syrup, and even a world history of shaving. On the whole, the blog is far more invested in trying to break from what it sees as a culture totally lacking in strength, competence, and independence.
But of course, you really can’t devote an entire blog to what makes a man a man without every once in a while stumbling across the subject of women.
For example, take a look at “Women and Children First? Down with the Ship?” or “Womanly Things We Wish Women Still Did“. In both cases, the author simply brings up the subject, allowing the readers to duke it out in the comments section on whether or not the old cry of “Women and children first!” is still right or fair (or if it ever was to begin with).
On the whole, Brett McKay (the principal author) understands that the subject of feminism and feminist issues are still quite controversial, and only more volatile in the venue of his Art of Manliness blog. For the most part, he either allows his readers to debate such questions as “should men hold doors open for women?”, or refers the issue to his wife (and co-author) Kate. Indeed, from everything I’ve read on the blog, it would appear that the single most “edgy” post on gender roles (“What Can Manly Men Expect of Women?”) really doesn’t do anything more than point out (what the author sees) as a double-standard in what men and women can ask of each other. In fact, I’ll stick my neck out there and say that the author makes some solid points on women’s issues and feminism.
When I was in college, my house was once visited by a collection of female students bearing cookies that they had baked for the men of the campus. The self-titled “Domestic Divas” claimed their mission was to call for a return to “Biblical” roles for men and women, and a rejection of “feminism”. My reaction, and the reaction of every sane man and woman on that campus, went sort of like this:
As many pointed out, this well-meaning but idiotic group had ignored the fact that their ability to be at college (or to speak to men without us having spoken to them first) was a direct result of feminism. And while perhaps not as extreme as in the case I just cited, this basic problem seems rather prevalent in our culture- many women seem to take the struggles and hardships of their predecessors for granted. The (few) benefits of 1950s society are looked back on fondly, but the abuse, neglect, and degradation is completely forgotten. I don’t think Brett McKay is sexist for decrying equality in gender roles combined with inequality in social expectations. McKay isn’t stating that its a woman’s place to dress up for a date, but simply that its as an appreciated gesture as flowers or getting the door.
No, I think Art of Manliness is sexist for completely different reasons.
And in the defense of the authors of the blog, I don’t think it’s anything intentional.
My main issue comes down to this. Art of Manliness is a good site. Heck, it’s a great site. The information is useful, the writing is concise and simple. The subject matter is instructive and edifying. Only it’s directed solely at men.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I don’t think both myself and the males of my generation could stand to toughen up a bit…
I just don’t think that the characteristics or skills in the blog are in any way unique to men. Starting fires, shooting guns, shuffling a deck of cards, picking out a good scotch, backing up a trailer, breaking down a door, wrestling alligators (yeah, that’s an article)- these are all things just as useful to women as they are to men. There’s even an article titled “How To Parallel Park… Like a Man!“.
See, I’d imagine that we’d just call that “Parallel Parking”, since driving isn’t exactly exclusive to men or something men are just better at. And I don’t want to hear the whole “Men are evolutionary predisposed to having better spatial judgment” schpeel. First, if it’s correct, it just means men are more likely to have better spatial abilities- it’s not universally true. Second, just because I’m six feet tall doesn’t mean I stand a chance against a five foot NBA star in a basketball match- training trumps negligible physique every time. I’m a man and a relatively new driver- I’d bet that every woman driver in the city I live in can parallel park faster and better than I can.
The real problem with Art of Manliness isn’t so much the content but that the content is labeled as being “for men”. Even the abstract qualities brought up in the blog are good for men and women alike. The post on the virtue of justice uses an illustration in which justice is depicted as a woman, for ****’s sake. Bravery, intelligence, perseverance, leadership, heroism- can you really tell me that these aren’t just as admirable in women as they are in men?
(Just as a final note, I want to thank and recommend Reaction Gifs, from where I frequently borrow my illustrations- it’s a neat site, check it out).