Menifesto: Laura Kipnis’s study of the un-fair sex

Kerry Howley in Book Forum:

ManThe twenty-first-century critic asked to opine on masculinity finds available to her a limited number of explanatory templates, socially acceptable ways of speaking that dominate our collective thinking about the male psyche. Most clearly, there is that of disapproval, talk of privilege and patriarchy and, of late, the much-deployed “rape culture.” There is also the moralizing template, preferred by presidential candidates and megachurch pastors, which merely ascribes desirable qualities to the state of being a man, generally preceded by the descriptor “real”: Real men raise their children, real men don’t cheat, real men, I don’t know, exercise portion control. For those with a lighter touch, there is the template of amused condescension: One might, for instance, elucidate the various phenomena of American male sentimentality—depressive alcoholism, distant fathers, baseball.

Locating a tone that neither scolds nor belittles the subject is only part of the challenge, because, having found an approach, one comes up immediately against a conceptual and moral problem: how to write about masculinity in a way that is neither essentializing nor prescriptive. If we assume that the differences between individual men are far greater than anything that might bind them together, and that a better world would consist of a wider rather than narrower definition of what it properly means to be a man, it becomes rather difficult to say anything at all.

More here.