Feminism’s ideal male

We see them everywhere. The woman—well dressed, sexy, self-assured, in command. The man at her side—slovenly, shambling, unshaven, unfocused. Even the hunky types seem to lack any male pride—Stanley Kowalski without the self-confidence.

The same image appears constantly on TV and especially in ads. It’s all about the woman, with the shadowy male a mere property or accessory highlighting her glorious female power, as in this advertisement for PayPal:


The woman in the photo, seemingly chosen for her resemblance to Sarah Jessica Parker, is voluble, aggressive, full of herself. The man, hunky but hunched over and recessive, serves merely as her assistant.

Todd Palin has got to be one tough customer to be four time winner of a 2,000 mile snowmobile race. But he was unshaven even at his wife’s acceptance speech, and in his role as husband of a political wife he stands meekly behind her. Do we really want to make their relationship the model for America? Will that be healthy for men, for women, for children, for society as a whole?

- end of initial entry -

Sage McLaughlin writes:

I think it’s important to recall that it isn’t simply the supportive role that the man is playing in this ad that is the problem, as though being supportive were intrinsically lacking in dignity. I know you don’t mean to suggest as much. What makes the photo grotesque is not the mere existence of a supportive role, but the incongruity of that role with the sex of the person chosen to fulfill it. A woman is glorified and her virtues enhanced in a supportive role; a man’s are not. And this is what is so objectionable and so unsustainable about feminism. A woman’s dignity suffers nothing from “standing by her man,” and is in fact increased by it. A husband, on the other hand, is thoroughly diminished when the wife is the dominant representative of their family to the world.

This is in answer to those who, misconstruing your position, might say that you wish for woman’s dignity to be reduced and her glory shuttered by having her forced into a role that you consider simpering and craven. In reality, what traditionalists believe is that each person’s good is best achieved by assuming a role in accord with his or her true nature. Thus there is even something inglorious about the woman’s position in this advertisement, simply because it’s incongruous with the person fulfilling it. She loses something of her natural femininity and grace by practically shoving her man out of the frame, as she seems to be doing.

LA replies:

Yes, but it’s not just a benignly supportive role he’s playing here. Everything about the photo diminishes him. And this is universal in today’s mass media.

Ben W. writes:

LA: “Do we really want to make their relationship the model for America? Will that be healthy for men, for women, for children, for society as a whole?”

Not any more than I want a black man as president and make that political relationship a model for America. Will that be healthy for men, for women, for children, for society as a whole? [LA replies: We’re screwed ‘08.]

Call me what you will (racist or whatever) but Sarah Palin has made it OK for people to vote Republican who did not want to vote Republican because of Bush, but also did not want a black man as president. Now people feel good again about voting Republican—for Palin (yeah, I know, it’s McCain not Palin for president but in reality no one’s excited about McCain).

BTW Sarah did say in a FOX interview a year ago that when she worked for Todd at his fishing company, he was tough on her as the boss. [LA replies: Sure, but that’s irrelevant to their public, paradigmatic roles.]

Ben W. continues:

BTW I’m tired of seeing sexless women like Hillary Clinton parading on TV. It is darned good to see a pretty woman in high heels and a feminine skirt day after day. No wonder she beats Obama handily among men in polls. Man is it good to get that drone Hillary off the screen and see a real female as God intended women to be.

LA replies:

Similar sentiments have been expressed by pro-Palin conservative men a hundred times at this site over the last two weeks. And for the hundredth time I repeat: The pleasure one has at seeing a feminine woman in a prominent role does not mean that she should be vice president.

Adela G. writes:

Apparently, when Western women say they want men who are buff, that’s not only slang for “physically fit” but also short for “buffoonish.”

John B. writes:

Yes—but the shadowy male is still the one who knows how to work the computer.

Ben W. writes:

LA: “The pleasure one has at seeing a feminine woman in a prominent role does not mean that she should be vice president.”

I agree 100 percent. You are perfectly right! That is the wrong role for her. No doubt about it. She shouldn’t be vice president. She should be president.

Rachael S. writes:

I doubt our culture will ever be highbrow enough to appreciate the subtle things that might be wrong with this PayPal banner, which could be interpreted in different ways. For instance, to look at the banner another way: he could be the mature man showing his overly eager wife the new brain he bought for her online. I would have liked to see a more flagrant example of gender bias against men.

LA replies:

To me the message of this photo doesn’t seem subtle or ambiguous at all. But maybe that’s just because I’m a highbrow.

And by the way, I think there is a need for an organization to fight against the scourge of anti-highbrowism in our society. I’ve been taking it all my life, and I’m not taking it any more. Highbrows have rights too, you know?

Several years ago I gave a talk at the Council for National Policy, a leading conservative organization of which Phyllis Schlafly is one of the leaders. I had the honor to meet her for the first time in person and we talked for while and she also introduced the speakers of the panel I was on. A couple of months later I called Mrs. Schlafly on the phone about something, and she didn’t remember me at first. I described the panel I spoke on, and then she said, “Oh, you’re the one that gave that intellectual talk.” It was as though “intellectual” were something out of place. I mean, here’s a conservative organization that’s been holding three-day conferences three times a year for the last 25 years with every leading conservative in America giving speeches there, but an “intellectual” talk is seen as somehow odd.

LA continues:

Seriously, in response to Rachael, if this were the first advertisement we had ever seen of this nature, then there might be room for uncertainty about its intended message. But when the same type of image fills our media, I don’t think there’s any doubt at all about its meaning.

Laura W. writes:

The popular contemporary male has a “take-care-of-me-look.” Male celebrities and movie characters, with their ruffled hair, mussed clothes and unshaven chins, look as if they just rolled out of bed, as docile and gentle as teddy bears. If some male star appeared in feet-y pajamas one of these days, I wouldn’t be surprised. This obviously appeals to many women. The effeminacy of it all, I guess, is non-threatening.

While the ideal husband or boyfriend has become child-like and pallid, the ideal girlfriend is a paragon of strength. The girl club, or society of mutually-affirming females, whether middle-aged or teen-aged, is a real cultural phenomenon. Women have always hung together, but never with so much tribal intensity. Their loyalty to each other seems to say that overall, men are burdens; women, masters of adversity. The most familiar icon of this is the disturbing Sex and the City television series and movie. The men in the movie are servile and wimpy; the women are interesting, intelligent, gutsy, and fun. They adore each other. They are beautiful and yet have enough testosterone to fuel many long nights. I suppose many men are drawn to women like this.

Terry Morris writes:

If you really want to see feminism’s ideal male, try to catch an episode of the tv show Tori and Dean. Five minutes of a single episode will suffice.

John V. writes:

Ben W. writes, “I agree 100 percent. You are perfectly right! No doubt about it.”

[SMILE] Must be one of VFR’s legendary neo-sycophants…[/SMILE]

Paul K. writes:

Isn’t the prime example of this the ongoing Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie show? On magazine covers, he always has a weary, disheveled quality, looking game but slightly put-upon as he follows along on her worldwide quest to raise awareness and assemble the picture-perfect family. I once saw them interviewed together: she babbled nonstop while he sat slumped beside her, not trying to get a word in, wearing a just-shoot-me expression.

LA replies:

That’s interesting, because I hadn’t thought of the Brad half of Brangelina in that light, but rather as an incarnation of vanity. But I think there’s something to what you’re saying. She’s the one who is set on transforming the world, sticking herself into the center of the consciousness of everyone in the world with her never ending string of different identities,* manufacturing the paradigmatic family for the New Age, while he seems to be the one who is just going along with it and doesn’t give a damn about anything, except for his own laid-back, cute superiority to everything.


* For example, at the same time that we were hearing about the coming birth of her twins, there appeared shots of her reclining sexily on a couch. That photo shoot must have been done several months before, and it was startling to see it in the midst of the constant news about her pregnancy. Then I realized, she must have planned it that way. She must have had the shots made with the intention of having them published just when she was giving birth. She wanted to hit us both with the image of her as super-mother, and with image of her as sexy glamorous babe, at the same moment. It’s a Madonna-like manipulation of identities.

The New York Times under its former managing editor Howell Raines had an expression, “filling the zone,” which described how, when there was a big news story, they would cover it from every possible angle at once. Well, Jolie seeks to fill the zone of the mass consciousness with her multiple aspects and dramas, so that no one can escape from her. Yet this is so odd, because in herself she is without charm, without any gaity or appeal. What she projects is mainly a heavy, ego-centric, negative emotional energy. Years ago her father, John Voigt, said she was mentally troubled, and I think what she is doing is playing out her mental disorder on a global stage.

Paul K. replies:

I see him as vain but passive, with a weak personality (like many actors). Perhaps because he is accustomed to being dressed and groomed while on the set, he doesn’t seem to make much effort left to his own devices. He seems an empty-headed sort of guy who would be happier drinking beer and watching TV in his off hours rather than pursuing causes.

Admittedly, I’m inferring all this from a few tv shows and articles I’ve read while in line at the supermarket. At the same time, I’ve heard women name Pitt as the epitome of male desirability.

LA replies:

I saw an interview with him on TV a few years ago (around the time “Troy” came out, before he hooked up with Jolie), and he seemed intelligent and serious. I also respected some of his acting work I had seen. But when he joined up with Jolie, they formed this THING that we can’t escape, that stands for nothing except its own vanity. Now I wouldn’t see one of his movies if I was paid.

Rachael writes:

You write: “Seriously, in response to Rachael, if this were the first advertisement we had ever seen of this nature, then there might be room for uncertainty about its intended message . But when the same type of image fills our media, I don’t think there’s any doubt at all about its meaning.”

I disagree. It is exactly because our culture is saturated with this type of message that we have become inured to the subtle. We are served up grosser, more vibrant examples daily: like the one with the suited business woman who comes home to find her dog, kids, and naked husband running amok around the house, to which she lifts her eyes to the ceiling in exasperation; or the one where two phone plan services are advertised on a split screen, the man hawking the obviously lesser version—his split screen diminishing until he is finally pushed out of the picture completely by his unflappable female competition; or the one where a male doofus tastes the KFC’s new chipotle flavored fried chicken and asks his confident wife what it is, and she responds in a sarcastic voice “Flavor.”

I was simply saying (humorously, I might add) the message would be better illustrated through a more obvious example, I wasn’t criticizing being “highbrow.”

Laura W. writes:

You wrote: “Similar sentiments have been expressed by pro-Palin conservative men a hundred times at this site over the last two weeks. And for the hundredth time I repeat: The pleasure one has at seeing a feminine woman in a prominent role does not mean that she should be vice president.”

Just how many states are necessary to ratify a constitutional amendment? If things keep heading this way, male suffrage is doomed. And you said women were unserious about politics!

Laura W. writes:

“She wanted to hit us both with the image of her as super-mother, and with image of her as sexy glamorous babe, at the same moment. It’s a Madonna-like manipulation of identities.”

This is an astute observation and it reminds me of what is so dizzying about the modern woman’s plight. She must always be a schizophrenic mix of identities: career woman and attentive lover; sex-crazed and motherly; hyper-efficient and nurturing; aggressive and submissive. Essentially, she must be male and female at once. Think of Queen Victoria. She ruled an empire and yet never was in deep conflict over her femininity. She could preserve her femininity (yes, I know she wasn’t pretty) because she wasn’t surrounded by a culture that glorified psychological androgyny.

Virginia Woolf was the first to sense the advent of this inner androgyny and to recognize unconsciously the mental crises it would precipitate. It is no wonder that she personally dissolved into mental illness and threw herself into a river.

John B. writes:

Laura W. may be more right than she realizes about male suffrage. One can easily imagine the rhetoric that will be employed to abolish it:

“Well, yes, all—men, was it?—are created equal; but at the same time, society has to recognize that certain differences between the sexes are ‘hard-wired,’ intractable. Just ask Lawrence Summers. This is not to say that men are inferior; it’s simply to acknowledge that Nature has given them a certain role and place. Because testosterone warps their judgment and renders their psychological processes unstable, that place has nothing to do with governance.”

Fortunately, we probably won’t start hearing such statements for, oh, another five months.

M. Mason writes:

While it’s certainly true that liberalism often presents us with blatant imagery of the male as a mere prop or accessory highlighting glorious female power, holding up this particular advertising photo as supposedly incriminating proof of yet another example of it seems awfully strained to me. There’s a difference between a convincing “highbrow” analysis and a case of projecting what is indeed a legitimate criticism of our culture onto a scene where it doesn’t really apply. When I look at that picture, I just don’t see the overt (or even a subliminal), insidious message that Mr. Auster claims is there, let alone it being “grotesque” as Mr. McLaughlin says. What I see in that single image is a vivacious, animated (and probably more talkative) woman who simply appears to be more extroverted than her quiet, steady (and likely more introverted) husband, no more and no less. And far from there being something abnormal—let alone morally wrong—about such a behavioral dynamic in a male/female relationship, that sort of thing is obviously very common and always has been throughout human history.

LA replies:

It’s not “strained,” and I’m not “straining.” If that photo seems to you not to be expressing anything about our feminist culture, and if seems not to have anything in common with the typical portrayals of men and women in our entertainment media as well as the men and women you see on the street, fine. That’s what makes horse races. But the fact that you don’t see what I see, doesn’t make what I see “strained.”

Philip M. writes from England:

“Think of Queen Victoria. She ruled an empire and yet never was in deep conflict over her femininity. She could preserve her femininity (yes, I know she wasn’t pretty)”

This is rather unfair. Look at these pictures of Queen Victoria when she was young—don’t forget she had loads of children and there was no photoshop in those days.

Laura W. should be careful. If she comes to England she could end up in the Tower for saying things like that. (The Tower of London I mean, not Tower Hamlets, we are not that barbaric).

Seriously, it is interesting to see modern advertising getting some traditionalist deconstructing on VFR. This stuff can often be very telling. My friend has just got back from Amsterdam, and he said it was really noticeable that so many of the signs giving directions and so on were of blacks rather than whites. This is the kind of thing that would seen as a really petty, trivial thing for a white person to bring up in polite conversation, yet in all mono-ethnic society any public instruction or sign would naturally be in the ethnicity of the nation concerned. It wouldn’t even be a conscious decision. But in Europe these subtle decisions have a very crafted message—that we are no longer the default position, no longer the assumed or rightful peoples of our lands. And it is unsettling.

LA replies:

I agree that Victoria was fetching when she was younger. Remember, she was a product of Romanticism. Further, she and her husband Albert were very happily married and basically created the image of 19th century family domesticity that lasted well into the 20th century. It was after she became a widow, in early middle age, that she withdrew from the world and adopted the stiff and forbidding look that became associated with “Victorianism.”

As for Philip’s observations about subtly propagandistic, national-identity-changing advertisements and other images, it is through such insensible (meaning not sensed by people) means, which aren’t opposed because they seem too “trivial” for people to bother noticing them even as they are ubiquitous, that society is transformed. At VFR whenever I bring up these types of “trivial” yet ubiquitous aspects of the liberal culture—for example, female TV news personalities and government officials with plunging necklines and upper chests exposed—there is a reaction against the silliness or neuroticism of noticing and caring about such things. That very reaction is the way that consciousness and criticism of the ubiquitous liberal culture is suppressed.

September 13

Laura W. writes:

I misspoke. I meant the Queen was not pretty enough for today’s Palin fans, who would not be cheering in all likelihood for a Victoria vice presidency. Also, Victoria’s family life was a sign of her well-adjusted femininity. She ruled, and yet she considered Albert her personal lord. This is much easier, and less paradoxical, when you claim an empire by heredity, rather than through a hard-won, democratic vote.

M. Mason writes:

All right, you’re not “straining.” You see what you see. I’m certainly not denying the right to you, me or anyone else to an honest, candid reaction to what they “see” in a picture like that. The difference here is simply one of perception based on an individual’s inner assessment of things, and that inner assessment is based on complex intellectual, emotional, (even spiritual) and other factors too complex to go into.

However, since I don’t see what you see in that particular ad, then to me it looks as though something more is being made of it than what is warranted, particularly compared to literally dozens and dozens of aggressive, absolutely blatant examples of the sort of thing you describe that can be seen in popular magazines today. Using one of those instead, in my opinion, would have really proven your point far more effectively and I would have undoubtedly agreed.

James M2 writes:

I agree with the others who feel that this banner is not one of the most overt examples of the media trend in question. However, for those that are having trouble seeing it, I have a suggestion: Hold the photo in your mind and then overlay the image with Ward and June Cleaver, or another archetypal traditional couple. Placing them in the same poses with the same facial expressions should set off a sort of cognitive dissonance which will reveal the nature and intent of the original banner.

Ben W. writes:

Allow me to suggest the thesis that the downgrading of the male is tied to the abandonment of God. God as the source of life, as the source of order and authority, as father, as the source of family, as a “he”—to lose sight of God is in effect to lose sight of the structure and role of the male in society and family. The death of God is in essence the death of the male. All identities are then in flux and transgenderal.

For society truly to appreciate a man as a male means a belief in God. Conversely for a man truly to appreciate the figure and role of a woman is to believe in God. Only true religion can have true sexuality. Apart from God the erotic descends into the bestial and the asexual and the transgenderal.

Donald Barthelme wrote a funny but true story “Angels” in which he joked that the angels had a crisis and did not know what to do with themselves when God died. Or maybe the angels were proxies for men …

Gregory F. writes:

The discussion on the role of men compared to women struck a cord with a memory of something I read long ago by Marx and Engels in the first chapter of The Communist Manifesto: “The less the skill and exertion of strength implied in manual labour, in other words, the more modern industry becomes developed, the more is the labour of men superseded by that of women. Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class.”

Perhaps American society has swung so far left that men are truly marginalized to this point … The problem with equalizing everyone through the redistribution of income combined with the effects of lowering standards of admission for minorities and women cannot fail to lower the quality of people coming from our once stellar institutions. The quality of work decreases dramatically with a decrease in competition, which we all saw in the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.

Capitalism needs limits like Child Labor laws and what not, but Western Civilization was built on the backs of white men, not women or minorities.

Sara R. writes from England:

You say re Angelina Jolie: “Years ago her father, John Voigt, said she was mentally troubled, and I think what she is doing is playing out her mental disorder on a global stage.”

That is exactly right. It occurs to me that if young people were shown that the celebrity life is not the apotheosis of goodness, and that many celebrities are either empty suits with empty lives looking for a role to play (viz. Madonna), or merely playing out their mental disorders on a world stage (Jolie, Amy Winehouse) maybe they would learn to focus on the most interesting life there is—their own. If only there were an effective way to show them that constant travel, mountains of stuff and endless sexual variety does not necessarily a good life make. Perhaps someone would like to suggest one?

So far as the ad is concerned, it is not the most flagrant example of what Mr. Auster is pointing to, it is in fact very subtle. I’d say that the woman—who does look like Sarah Jessica Parker—is “marking” her man. By leaning into him and holding back his arm with her arm she is saying “I want your body because you are hunky, but I don’t want any of that male aggression stuff, and you will just have to put up with my agenda—because, I’m hot and you want me, don’t you?” And he does want her partly because well, he’s a man, but also partly because the culture has unnaturally “bigged up” the importance of sex, sexual conquest and sexual variety, so he’s going to go with the programme.

Most people in the West think that the de-nature-ing of men actually represents an improvement, an advance. I think that is because when it comes to the Substantive Order, i.e. the world of nature, the world of society and the transcendent world, our culture only recognizes the second, the social world, and so it cannot understand either the impact of biology (nature) or a higher moral order (the transcendent)—it can only understand the great game of sex, celebrity and consumption—the “stuff” in the middle. In a healthy society, we would understand that the “stuff in the middle” is fine, but that it is linked to “stuff below” and “stuff above” which, to have a good life, we ought to take into consideration. Instead we have a situation where there is no “below” and there is no “above” there is only “stuff.” The great challenge for Traditionalists, will be finding a way to communicate to people lost in this particular delusion, how they are dis-owning and de-valuing their own lives, by falling for this “stuff.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 12, 2008 02:38 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):