The organizers put me in the same room as comic-book artist Madison Clell, who is now a good friend. At this time, however, she was a complete stranger.
Apparently they thought “
“Should we get a new room for you?” our female handler asked
Madison and I had met only an hour before. She looked me over with a cool and penetrating gaze. Then she turned back to our handler.
“Nah,” she said with a smile. “He’s harmless.”
But, of course, no guy wants to be told he’s “harmless.” Instead, in our beastly heart of hearts, we all want to be James Bond… you know, sexy and dangerous. Tempting to the ladies. Good with flying cars and machine guns disguised as umbrellas.
I thought of this incident when I received my contributor’s copy of the new anthology, Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power, edited by Shira Tarrant. I would be blogging about this anthology even if I weren’t a contributor. Consisting of essays by pro-feminist guys on many dimensions of the male experience—I wrote about fatherhood, of course—Men Speak Out is unique in covering issues near and dear to the heart of Daddy Dialectic.
I felt a little flutter of anxiety as I opened the covers. You see, I have a special angst about antisexist, pro-feminist writing by guys. I worry about the possibility it could be deemed “harmless”—that is to say, bland, pious, wimpy. I want male pro-feminist writing to be muscular, confrontational, and courageous—not in a flashy superficial sense, but in a way that shows the writer has really dived into the heart of his own experience.
I can’t stand antisexist writing in which the writer portrays himself as a hero in the struggle against a sexist world—I want to see the writer lose as well as win, because that’s what’s going to happen when you pit yourself against centuries of traditions that live on inside of you as well as outside. I don’t want to see the antisexist guy frame it as someone else’s struggle—I want to hear about his struggle, with himself as well as both men and women.
I don’t want the antisexist guy to reflexively agree with everything a woman and “feminism” says. I want to see him battle for understanding and stand up for his own ideas and tell the truth about his life. The purpose of antisexist male writing is not to curry favor with feminists. Its purpose to hold up a mirror to individual men and ask them to change their lives--and better yet, show them how to change their lives, and to be proud of progress when it happens.
I am relieved to report that most of the essays in Men Speak Out do that, and much more besides. The best essays helped me to see my own experience and ideas in a new light, and that’s the most you can ask writing to do. You can buy it here.