Esquire Writer Complains ‘Feminine Contempt Is Everywhere’ — Is It, Though?
2:55 pm, August 9th | by Amy Tennery
Yesterday Esquire published a story by Stephen Marche titled “The Contempt of Women” with the subtitle “The rise of men. And the whining of girls.” Really — I’m not making that up.
What is there to say about this piece? For starters, for a story mocking “girls” for their “whining,” it comes across as kinda whiny. It points to ’90s relic Homer Simpson as a recent example of male buffoonery in popular culture. It implies that rape comedian Daniel Tosh perhaps suffers from a crisis of confidence. It suggests that all “ordinary women” have a contempt for men. It provides a single, one-sentence quotation from Christine Lagarde as evidence that all female political leaders lack compassion. This is a long-form way of saying “The Contempt of Women” inspires so many headdesky moments, you’d better come to it equipped with an armful of Advil. The piece reads, at times, as though Marche has fallen into a Lebowskian-scissor-dream delusion.
But for all its shortcomings (its accusation that Michelle Obama regularly, gleefully emasculates her husband chief among them), “The Contempt of Women” gets a handful of things right. And we shouldn’t completely dismiss it.
As Marche points out, the so-called “masculinity crisis” that’s unfolded lately is really a “crisis for idiots.” It’s a crisis for people who buy into the Brawny Man approach to masculinity. And we can see this insecure manhood proliferate in every aspect of American mass culture. It’s in the pages of the New York Times; it’s in our T.V. shows — and in our beer commercials:
GASP — a purse???
This pattern is what I like to call the “Are You Sure You’re A Dude?” phenomenon. It’s coded messages telling us over and over that you define your masculinity in the beer you drink, the clothes you wear and, yep, how you treat women. And it should come as no surprise that the guys who pass this “test,” the ones who are most macho, are often the most sexist ones of all. This hurts everyone — including the guys who feel like they have to buy their own trained masculinity.
And it’s the (hopefully impending) decimation of this macho culture — the real war on guys — that signals Marche’s “rise of men”:
There are always going to be stupid men in the world, but the ignorant and insensitive, the uninterested and uncaring, will have no place in it. I suppose I should feel compassion, or some kind of weird gender loyalty, for the guys who can’t figure this out. In all honesty, I don’t. There is no masculinity crisis.
There’s a crisis for idiots. The Tucker Maxes of the world are doomed. That’s not the end of men. It’s the beginning.
He’s right. The end of “ignorant and insensitive” masculinity may be among the best things to happen to men — and women. There’s a lot of hyper-masculine culture about which women are rightfully ticked.
Marche’s argument goes off the rails, however, when he addresses women’s place in this cultural shift. “Contempt for men has become so widespread and acceptable that it’s a commonplace for politicians’ wives,” Marche notes, perhaps referring to the soon-to-be-former Mrs. Strauss-Kahn? (I kid.) Marche seems incapable of recognizing the difference between criticizing male performance and criticizing the men. And it’s in that failure of recognition that Marche (either purposefully or inadvertently) reinforces some of the worst stereotypes about feminism.
As Shakesville put it in its fantastic response piece:
There’s a lot wrong with this article, starting with the basic problem that Marche cannot (or will not) distinguish between contempt for men and contempt for expressions of patriarchy-compliant masculinity… privileged people who don’t want to be held accountable for their behavior like to accuse the marginalized people contemptuous of that behavior of being, instead, contemptuous of their personhood.
We don’t have a “contempt for men” — we have a contempt for assholery. And Marche’s inability to make that distinction only proves he’s part of the problem.