As I grew older and got into my own relationships with girls and women, I sometimes behaved as I saw my father behave. I, too, became defensive and verbally abusive whenever the girl or woman I was dating criticized or challenged me. I would belittle my girlfriends by scrutinizing their weight or their choices in clothes. In one particular college relationship, I often used my physical size to intimidate my petite girlfriend, standing over her and yelling to get my point across during arguments.
I had internalized what I had seen in my home and was slowly becoming what I had disdained as a young boy. Although my mother attempted to teach me better, I, like a lot of boys and men, felt entitled to mistreat the female gender when it benefited me to do so.
Miriam’s reaction? “Love it.” My reaction was more ambivalent. The problem is, the narrative about male social and sexual development that many feminists have embraced is extraordinarily troubling.
(And, by the way, when Mr. Hurt says that he “felt entitled to mistreat the female gender when it benefited me to do so,” it would have been more honest for him to say, “I felt entitled to mistreat people when it benefited me to do so.” Aggressive men are aggressive toward women and other men. This is an important part of the equation that feminism often overlooks.)
The narrative that Mr. Hart (and many other feminist men) offers goes something like this:
“I used to be an aggressive, entitled, misogynistic man. I had several sexual relationships, but always treated the women in my life poorly, and learned to behave this way from other men. This went on for many years until I finally accepted that as a man I am a sinner, and can atone for my sins through feminism.”
This narrative has two important subtexts that are worth pondering: (1) “There is a ‘Beast Within Me,’ and I am virile, powerful, and capable of aggression” (2) “To become a good man, I have tamed the ‘Beast Within’ and have learned to channel this masculine energy in positive, life affirming ways.”
It should go without saying that men such as Byron Hurt should be congratulated if they have learned to treat women with respect and have disavowed their formerly aggressive behavior. I say it should go without saying, because it’s become obvious to me that certain people are going to read this and say, “Miguel is trying to hurt Mr. Hurt!” And while I’m not trying to hurt Mr. Hurt, or Hugo Schwyzer, or any other man who has come forward to speak honestly of his own youthful aggressive or entitled behavior – and in fact I applaud such men for changing their attitudes and speaking out against misogyny – I do find the narratives they offer troubling when they are presented as the experience of “most men.” It’s troubling because these narratives disappear a lot of men for whom being “too aggressive” was hardly the hallmark of their youthful selves. It’s troubling because feminists – some feminists – see vulnerability in themselves and in homosexual men and yet, in the case of heterosexual men, they seem unable – or unwilling – to think of the “good man” as anything other than the man who has “tamed the beast within.”