I have mixed feelings about the Guardian, the mainstream left-wing newspaper from the United Kingdom. Although they publish some interesting and informative articles, (such as those on the MPs’ expenses scandal and the recent government intelligence revelations), so much of their content consists of opinion pieces. If the opinion is sensible and uncontroversial, then nobody pays it any attention, so the more badly-thought and outrageous the opinion, the more successful the article. These articles invariably lack anything resembling objectivity or research, and are gleefully designed to elicit a negative response from the readers (who flood to the comments section to voice their weary opposition to such transparent goading), thereby increasing page views. It is the same as trolling.
These are the actions one would associate with tabloids and, let’s be honest, blogs, not a supposedly “proper” paper (I do not think it is hypocritical to hold professionals published in a national newspaper to a higher standard than amateurs on the internet). An average piece by, say, Laurie Penny can be just as under-researched, exaggerated, and full of non-sequiturs and flawed conclusions as something by Richard Littlejohn in the Mail. The politics are different, but the tactics and the quality of writing are the same. I find the Guardian is increasingly relying on “columnism” more than journalism. From a newspaper which sees itself up as being above other papers, this is especially disappointing.
Lola Okolosie has recently written an article decrying stoicism (with a small “s”), subtitled “Men are hemmed in by narratives telling them that stoicism is manly.” Although it is nowhere near as bad as some of the paper’s offerings, I could not accept its premise. In Okolosie’s opinion, stoicism is a restrictive and outdated attribute, one which is forced on men as an unrealistic macho ideal. She believes this would be very bad for her young son, and wants him to grow up outside this supposedly restrictive system.
There are numerous problems with this position. For a start, I strongly disagree that stoicism is restrictive. Stoicism – in both its classical and modern definitions – does not imprison its practitioner. Quite the opposite; it frees one from harmful emotions. If carried out successfully, it stops us feeling negatively affected by external occurrences not in our control. Anyone who practises stoicism could tell you that rather than being restricting, it is actually liberating. Letting your emotions take hold of you and control your actions seems, to me, to place far greater restrictions on someone.
When she says: “Being stunted emotionally and unable to share meaningfully with family and friends isn’t what I want for my son”, I would agree. But I would then argue that being stoic is not the same as being emotionally stunted at all. A stoic understands emotions perfectly, and knows how to deal with them, whereas someone who is emotionally stunted is unequipped to deal with their feelings. Her sentence in this instance is correct, claiming that this is stoicism is not. There is nothing in a stoic mindset which would prevent anyone from being a caring, sharing, active part of their family.
In order to understand why the writer has come to these conclusions, we must examine the real reason behind the article: Okolosie does not like traditional masculinity. Why is this the case? We must look at the issue of equality. While all sensible people will accept that the undeniable fact that there are many and varied situations in which women have an unfair disadvantage as a result of institutional sexism, many people are less inclined to accept that there are also some situations in which men have an unfair disadvantage, such as divorce courts. Just as women are under-represented in the board room and the world of technology, men are over-represented in the homeless population, in workplace accidents, and in suicide figures.
There can be no true equality unless the balance is redressed for both groups. Thankfully, many feminists (male and female) have started to notice the areas of life where men suffer disproportionately, a welcome and overdue development, and are seeking to rectify this situation. But some strands of modern feminism blame all of society’s problems on The Patriarchy, as if it is an omnipresent force controlling everything, and are incapable of entertaining any other possible factors or reasons on a case by case basis. By this logic, if a woman suffers an injustice, it is because of the patriarchy (which may be the case, of course), but if a man suffers an injustice, it also must be because of the patriarchy. On these terms, men are expected to believe the ridiculous notion that anything bad that happens to them is ultimately their own collective fault, as if someone could be both victim and perpetrator. I find this very unfair, and completely unhelpful.
This sort of flawed thinking leads to articles like the one in question. The author has decided that the patriarchy is responsible for all ills, and has therefore come to the conclusion that masculinity is bad. In order to prove her point, she has scapegoated the supposedly masculine trait of stoicism – which in reality can be used freely by men or women – and completely misrepresented it in the process. What I find particularly worrying a piece from her closing remarks:
Raising someone not to be tempted by the privilege their “winkie” will be given in a society rife with gender inequality will be complicated. It will be worth it if I can raise my child to be free from the confines of traditional masculinity; that which continues to wreak havoc on so many lives, including that of “the man’s man”
She wants her son to be free from traditional masculinity, of which she believes stoicism is part, but as I have demonstrated, she has not successfully proven why masculinity is bad; stoicism certainly isn’t. Imagine someone saying that being feminine is bad. Why should men have to abandon manly attributes, unless it is their choice to do so? Of course no-one should be forced to act in such a way, but neither should anyone be forced not to. She says she does not want her son to be held to restrictive ideals, yet she wishes to instill in him the idea that as a male, he has inherent unearned privilege, ie. she wants to make him feel guilty for being masculine.
As someone who wants equality (regardless of gender, ethnicity and just about any other category you care to mention), as someone who practises stoicism to the best of my abilities, and as someone who happens to be a man (and refuses to feel guilty about it), I found this article disagreeable in the extreme.