Eleven weeks ago, Erin (my wife) and I welcomed our first child, a baby girl named Elin! We love her so much and it's so fascinating to see her grow each day.
Aside from the day-to-day ups and downs of being a new parent and balancing work life with an ever-demanding home life, this massive life event has faced Erin and I head on with preconceived notions about what motherhood and femininity are juxtaposed against fatherhood and masculinity.
I have clear expectations for myself when it comes to fatherhood, and it is to prove as well as I can to myself that I can and should be an equally capable, nurturing, and competent parent to Erin. It has been challenging for sure, given my parenting for the past seven weeks has been limited to nights and weekends now that I'm back at work (I'll take six months off when Erin goes back to work), but I'm trying my hardest and believe that there is no genetic or sex-based reason why Erin and I can't share this new responsibility equally.
Enter Dr. Jordan Peterson: this morning, I read an article in the New York Times that challenged head on all my assumptions about fatherhood and masculinity with a cold, hard, slap in the face. Dr. Peterson—as the article states, the "Custodian of the Patriarchy"—weaves a biblical, historical, and allegorical argument that masculinity is under assault, and if we just reverted back to traditionalist gender values with men in power and women in the household, we'd all be happier, safer, and more productive.
The article continues with interviews of 18-25 year old men that talk about their religious awakening when hearing about how Adam, representing the 'order' of masculinity, is compared against Eve, representing the 'chaos' of femininity. All their frustrations about not being able to function in today's leftist, Liberal society finally were validated if they just viewed the world through this traditionalist lens.
In perhaps the most controversial statement, Dr. Peterson insists that women should be 'redistributed' among men through enforced monogamy. He feels that today, women flock to the most powerful and hyper-virile men, allowing these select men to pick and choose the women they relate with without ever having to develop deeper relationships. He opines that in a world where all men—not just the powerful men—are allocated one female partner, the have-nots won't have to resort to the frustration and violence seen in the Toronto van attacks that killed ten people. Women would be happier too, because they would have a deep relationship with one person instead of being taken advantage of by the powerful men.
...where to begin...
Dr. Peterson is a dangerous, influential mind that needs to be stopped at all costs. He presents a handpicked account of masculinity today that is at best inaccurate, and at worst wholly detrimental to the human race. I believe that we as men have the highest responsibility to not only show him, but also his legions of disenfranchised male youth followers, that there is hope for masculinity—in a new form—that actually emancipates men from the unrealistic expectations and rigid definitions of a previous generation.
First of all, I can relate to these young men. When I was in high school and early university, I also felt the pangs of sexual inferiority, never having a girlfriend, and not 'hooking up' enough. I too felt that if I was just nicer, more polite, and more desperate, that eventually the hottest girl in school would date me. In my mind, my happiness and self-fulfillment was dictated by whether or not a 'hot girl' liked me. There was a void I wanted that person to fill and it was their responsibility to make me whole. The catch-22 is that it's precisely this desperation—and let's face it, mental instability and lack of confidence—that made girls see me as a better friend than boyfriend. It wasn't until years later, when I took responsibility for my own happiness and stopped worrying about getting a girlfriend, that I met my eventual wife and now am married with a baby. It was my issue to solve, not some make-believe hot girl.
What Dr. Peterson has done is he's given these young, sexually frustrated, disenfranchised men validation. He says 'Yes! You're right to feel that way! Liberal feminist women are the cause your sexual frustration!' (...not a direct quote...but pretty close).
Therein lies the rub. Dr. Peterson claims that we'd all be happier if we just went back to the olden times, where men worked on the farm with their powerful bodies and women worked the household with their love and nurturing to raise and feed the family. And the frustrating part, is that in that particular context of working on a farm, he might be right. Men might be better suited for physically-demanding labour and women might be better suited for caring for the family—it certainly worked well for my grandparents. His ability to pull from historical, animalistic, and biblical references to prove his point on gender roles isn't without some degree of fact.
But, his examples do not accurately portray today's reality. In modern times, the men aren't going out to the field to lift bales of hay; they're becoming CEOs and Presidents and their power isn't whether or not we start the harvest, their power is whether or not women get a right to vote or own land. The nature of 'work' and the power that comes along with that is exponentially different today than it was decades or centuries ago. And women decided that didn't work for them, so they became feminists and they emancipated themselves from the home. And they continue to fight for that, as they should and as we should support them in every way possible. There wasn't really a strong reason to emancipate themselves from the home to work in the fields, but now that those fields aren't on farms but instead in Board rooms and Oval offices where hugely impactful decisions are made, emancipation was a necessity for women.
But what have men done? We've clung to this notion that in order for us to be 'men' and continue in our gender role of having power and dominance, we still need a woman in the home supporting us. We've somehow overlaid this with the animalistic idea that men are Alphas, with the right to procreate with any female we choose, because that's what strong men do.
Dr. Peterson takes this historical context, overlays it with animalistic examples, and points emphatically, 'See! The women don't know their place! That's why men are so disenfranchised and violent!' (again, not an exact quote).
But we don't live in that world anymore. The nature of work and power is different. We don't need to rely on preconceived notions of gender to balance our roles in society today. A woman is an equally capable CEO as a man is, because being a CEO doesn't require a specific biological, physical form like lifting a bale of hay might have benefited so many decades ago before machinery.
And similarly, being a caregiver isn't so gender-specific either. Only 16% of babies in the US are exclusively breastfed in their first six months. That means 84% of babies—some by necessity, some by preference, some by convenience—are relying on non-female-breast modes of nourishment. Just like decades ago when babies relied so much more heavily on a mother's milk as the primary source of nutrition, today the plethora of baby formulas and foods mean that female with breasts are no longer the required caregiver form. There is no other physical reason why a woman should be a better caregiver than a man once a baby is born.
There's an argument to be made that it's also our hormonal differences that separate men and women, and that maybe women are more suited to caregiving and men more suited to breadwinning because of our innate personality characteristics. I would say that assuming women can't be President because they're too emotional is no different than assuming men can't be stay-at-home dads because they lack that 'x factor' that supposedly makes women more conscientious caregivers.
Fortunately, we're an advanced race, with the power of thought, foresight, reflection, detailed communication, and ability to learn. Men and women come in all variations of temperament and personality—there are women who aren't emotional (surprise), there are men who are conscientious (double surprise). To make a blanket assumption about personality characteristics invokes layers upon layers of context, societal norms, familial roles, hormonal differences, and a long list of other extraneous factors. And our personalities do change overtime—I'm a different person than I was 10 years ago.
In short, we're all a bit unique in our own way beneath the physical differences that our genetics prescribe and give us either advantages or disadvantages in physical performance. It just so happens that physically genetic men and physically genetic women have some of clearest and easily recognizable differences, and more and more, those differences are increasingly irrelevant when it comes to caregiving and breadwinning.
So this is the crux of Dr. Peterson's argument against my lived experience. I don't yearn for the olden days where I metaphorically work the farm all day only to come home to my child-rearing, homemaker wife. I think that view of masculinity is outdated and constraining. Instead, I want to experience child-rearing as well, just like my wife wants to work the farm sometimes too. It's this give-and-take that's completely lost in Dr. Peterson's argument. The olden days vision of work and caregiving is categorically different today. It used to be that work meant physical strength and caregiving meant breastfeeding, and from those two things gender roles were established. Today though, work means power and influence and caregiving means love and nurturing. There is no physical requirement of either one of those roles.
What has happened is that women have realized this and seized it, and rightfully so. However we as men haven't changed anything...we should realize it as well and finally seize it to become better caregivers too. There has been no more fulfilling, amazing, joyous experience in my life than the past eleven weeks caring for my daughter. I love her deeply and I'm a capable, knowledgeable parent. I'm learning empathy and patience with an incessantly crying baby. I'm learning to prioritize just sitting, holding, and swaying as essential time to bond with Elin as she falls asleep. I'm even getting more in touch with my emotions to let myself feel what I want to feel without fear of judgement.
As a man, I'm not defining my life solely on my ability to breadwin, the power I wield at work, the influence I have over people, or my sexual virility, and it's incredibly empowering.
This is what I want disenfranchised young men to know: your happiness is yours, and yours alone. You cannot and should not rely on others—especially 'hot women'—to fill a void in your life. You do not need to have sex to be a man, nor do you need to make a ton of money or be powerful. Instead, focus on your health; focus on your own hobbies; become independently interesting and determined. Through this, you'll develop the confidence and mental fortitude to be a desirable mate. And most of all, do not cut yourself off from caring for others, especially your own family and children. You will find untold depths of happiness and emotion in these relationships that no job, sexual conquest, or amount of money can ever fulfill.
These are the definitions of masculinity we need to change. We need to stop the Dr. Peterson's of the world from blaming women and their pursuit of freedom as the source of our young male woes. Instead, we should be giving young men an alternative route, one that stops focusing so much on women, and instead focuses on creating better more functional and independent men, capable of and interested in exploring all life has to offer, regardless of preconceived notions of gender.
If we can do this, I believe we'll keep all our roads, sidewalks, back alleys, discos, and dark dorm rooms safe from the frustration and violence of disenfranchised young men. If we follow Dr. Peterson, I believe we're just making matters worse and increasing the blame on others while not taking a further look at our own definitions of masculinity.