What exactly does it mean for a 'man to be safe'? Is that really something a man ought to be?

Cf. this old post on the virtue of at least older men being dangerous.

The author never defines her terms, although in the last usage she specifies that she doesn't feel "emotionally safe" with sons who take offense at the way she talks and writes about them. I presume she does feel physically safe with her children, even though she has offended them. If you can offend someone and embarrass them publicly and still be physically safe with them, that's pretty safe. I'm not sure it's plausible to suggest that even a son, let alone a "man" of any other sort, has a duty to protect your emotions -- especially not while they feel like you are mistreating them. That quality is known as "standing up for one's self," and it used to be thought a quality worthy of a man.

Indeed many years ago, I read a book called Iron John that interpreted an old Germanic myth as a set of lessons on how to become a man. One part of that book that struck me as funny was a part where Iron John has to steal a key from his mother in order to attain manhood. I thought it was odd because stealing is wrong, and how could it be a necessary part of attaining manhood to engage in something like theft? But over time I came to see what the author meant: to become a man and not a boy, it is necessary to take back something that your mother has long regarded as properly her own, an authority she has laid claim to and exercised for a long time for what she believes is your own good. The boy, as a youth becoming a man, has to lay claim to that whether she likes it or not. He has to take the key, and if she will not give it, then he must steal it or rob her of it. But it turns out that this is not wrong, because the key is his by right. She has held it in trust, and sometimes some mothers will try to hold it too long.

To claim the young men are not safe because they stole the key is to fail to understand. It is to fail to understand that they had the right, and it is to fail to understand that 'safe' is not what men are meant to be. Men, like ships, are meant for something else.

UPDATE: Valerie's comment reminded me of a thing I'd seen recently. To ask if men should be safe implies asking if women should be. I doubt that anyone has ever suggested it, not in the same sense of "safe." Indeed, there are many who value women in part because they are dangerous.


Krag said...

Read the article, and was glad to see roughly 95% of the comments agreed the writer was insane. Gives me hope.

Grim said...

I'm not generally a fan of the resort to psychology (although of course Iron John was a psychology book too, of the Jungian strain I think of as the healthiest one). I think people often come to bad, damaging behaviors that might look as if they were functionally mental disorders just because they've adopted bad philosophy.

Of course, it's always possible that it's both: that she has some mental disorder that inclines her to bad philosophy. But I'd try to treat the philosophy first.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The Iron John movement with Robert Bly got completely out of hand pretty quickly, but it was founded on some good realisations. The ancient tales captured symbolically some of the lessons that needed to be learned. Reading the actual tales is never as clean as Bly (or even Jung) pretended. Even more than reading the parables of Jesus, reading folktales means to have a symbol suddenly disappear or even switch directions on you. Only the most general pronouncements can be made.

Yet there are usually many, interwoven pronouncements that can be made.

As for the linked essay, it is terrible. It may be an eventual blessing for her sons, though. She has likely acted like this and spoken to them like this for years, and being young and not-fully abstract, they have been unable to know quite what they are fighting back against and why it hurts. Putting this out in the open, while it must be humiliating to them in some ways, allows them to finally let others iknow what they have been going through.

Most commenters were offering a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. that's likely a good approximation, but I'm not entirely satisfied with it. I think there is some sociopathy and narcissism as well.

Tom said...

I have a copy of Iron John sitting on the shelf, but I've never read it. What do you guys think? Is it worth reading?

Valerie said...

I have learned from experience that a lot of people are confused about the objective of parenting. Some people think they are supposed to have "good" children, however they conceive that ideal. Fortunately for me, I had a grandmother who said that each child was different, and should be allowed to learn how to figure out their own solutions. My parents decided that their objective was to raise up adults.

I believe that all adults, not just the men, should have the dangerousness born of discipline, knowledge, and confidence. They are going to be dangerous anyway, so they might as well be capable of being protective.

The woman that wrote that article has the dangerousness born of stupidity. She has taken the silliness du jour and turned it like a cannon on her sons, and when they point out the injustice she has visited on them, she has the nerve to blame them for her hurt feelings.

She fails to appreciate that she's the grownup, here. It is her responsibility to take care of her children's feelings, not vice versa. She hurt their feelings by failing to observe them, by grossly mischaracterizing them in print, and then, instead of listening to them and learning something important from them, she compounds the offense by lashing out at them in print for the sake of securing her online political virtues. I find it interesting that she is guilty of exactly the crime she puts onto her children: failing to even be willing to acknowledge that their experience is different from hers.

We in the United States do not live in a rape culture. Rape is a felony, here. There is nothing culturally acceptable about it. No means no. Her boys know this, and apparently she does not.

What she fails to appreciate is that, in our culture, it is also incumbent on a woman to learn how to say "no" like she means it.

I never had any problem with the men I dated. Of course they were interested in sex, and so was I, but on more limited terms. I made sure first that I was clear in my own mind what my limits were, and also that I did not give mixed signals. I did not have a problem with men taking no for an answer.


Grim said...

You raise a good point, AVI. It may be a great blessing for her sons to have her treatment of them exposed to public view. They'll learn a lot from the way the rest of America reacts to what she has to say.

Tom, I can't tell you if it's a good book or not at this remove. I remember being interested in the model, but finding only some of the treatment plausible. It's probably 'worth reading' in the sense that it'll provoke interesting thoughts. That's more than can be said for many books.

Valerie, I rarely opine on the raising of girls. I wonder if anyone has ever proposed that "women should be safe" in the same sense that she means for men to be safe?

Probably not! In fact, I rather often read women being praised for the opposite quality.

Cass said...

This kind of idiocy absolutely infuriates me. Insane is a good description, though.

Cass said...

What she fails to appreciate is that, in our culture, it is also incumbent on a woman to learn how to say "no" like she means it.

Kind of a prerequisite if they want to be considered as capable as men are. Or just as smart. Or realistic. Or tough. Or principled. Or....

I could go on all day.

Anonymous said...


I can't think of a single attractive American female icon that is safe. Gone With the Wind was about Scarlet O'Hara, not Melanie.

Right now, the only male I can think of as "safe" was the lawyer in "The Man that shot Liberty Valance." The whole story of that movie was that he was not the hero. He was a good man, and an aspect of what the territory needed, but the situation called for a certain kind of skill, a kind of dangerousness, and he did not have it.

Perhaps that is the key. Life has its dangers. Safety is at best a temporary state. Adults exist for the purpose of dealing with dangers, protecting those who need it, and providing for themselves and their families. Any person who can do all of those things is going to by nature be dangerous. A man may be strong and fit, and take over most of the protective duties toward his household, but if he has a family, he will want his wife to be the kind of person who will make sure the house and kids are still there and in one piece when he returns.


Grim said...

True enough. Not much more to be said after that.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Tom, it's not a long read, so I would recommend it on just about the same terms. It has general concepts that are worth pondering. Bly does try to push it too far, but no big deal.

Ymar Sakar said...

The Norse and Germanic Dan tribes will have to decide which side they will be with in the Last Battle. If they refuse to decide and attempt to sit on the neutral middle, a side will be chosen for them. Leviathan and Cerberus, including the gods, as well as the resurrected dead, both righteous and unrighteous, will be at the Last Battle they have been looking forward to for quite some time.

douglas said...

I think many would say women should be safe and have an obligation to teach the 'safety gospel'. Now, I disagree, but there is an aspect of woman (in the general) that values the safe- the home should be safe in some senses, especially early on, and I would agree with that as a worthwhile endeavor. Often a wife is also an important balance to the husband's desire to see his children brave risks- moderation is often the preferred course. That said, a woman needs to be ready to stand up for her family, especially her children, and being 'dangerous' may be one of the most important traits to have to that end.

I don't think the question is should men or women be safe, but rather, what is safe? From what? In many ways, I'd argue that woman has made her boys less safe and possibly the world as a result of her crazed view of things, and her desire for 'safety'.

Grim said...

I'm not sure that is 'safe' in the same sense. She seems to mean 'safe' in the sense that her feelings are safe (she speaks of being 'emotionally safe'). That seems to mean a lot of implausible things in her case, like that they should never question the existence of 'rape culture,' but even on the best reading I'm not sure it's a reasonable thing to ask. You wouldn't raise a daughter on the line, "You should never hurt a man's feelings," especially in terms of feelings about sexual matters, as taken literally that would seem to urge her to exercise no discretion in accepting or rejecting sexual proposals. After all, rejection hurts a lot! So, if you're meant to be 'safe' in this sense, wouldn't you need to be 'accepting' when someone declares that they feel the need to be intimate with you?

The only way a woman could be safe in that sense is if you didn't care about her, and she was a complete doormat for any man who imposed emotional demands on her. That's no way to raise a daughter. Nor, with the sexes reversed, is it any way to raise a son. "You must never argue with your mother about things she cares about because she needs to feel that you accept her judgment or else her feelings will be hurt" is just out of order.