Even though the anti-male factions within feminist movement were small in number it has been difficult to change the image of feminist women as man-hating in the public imagination. Of course by characterizing feminism as being man-hating males could deflect attention away from the accountability for male domination. If feminist theory had offered more liberatory visions of masculinity it would have been impossible for anyone to dismiss the movement as anti-male. To a grave extent feminist movement failed to attract a large body of females and males because our theory did not effectively address the issue of not just what males might do to be anti-sexist but also what an alternative masculinity might look like. Often the only alternative to patriarchal masculinity presented by feminist movement or the men’s movement was a vision of men becoming more ‘feminine’. The idea of the feminine that was evoked emerged from sexist thinking and did not represent an alternative to it.
What is and was needed is a vision of masculinity where self-esteem and self-love of one’s unique being forms the basis of identity. Cultures of domination attack self-esteem, replacing it with a notion that we derive our sense of being from dominion over another. Patriarchal masculinity teaches men that their sense of self and identity, their reason for being, resides in their capacity to dominate others. To change this males must critique and challenge male domination of the planet, of less powerful men, of women and children. But they must also have a clear vision of what feminist masculinity looks like. How can you become what you cannot imagine? And that vision has yet to be made fully clear by feminist thinkers male or female.
As is often the case in revolutionary movements for social justice we are better at naming the problem than we are at envisioning the solution. We do know that patriarchal masculinity encourages men to be pathologically narcissistic, infantile, and psychologically dependent on the privileges (however relative) that they receive simply for having been born male. Many men feel that their lives are being threatened if these privileges are taken away, as they have structured no meaningful core identity. That is why the men’s movement positively attempted to teach men how to reconnect with their feelings, to reclaim the lost boy within and nurture his soul, his spiritual growth.
No significant body of feminist literature has appeared that addresses the boys, that lets them know how they can construct an identity that is not rooted in sexism. Anti-sexist men have done little education for critical consciousness which includes a focus on boyhood, especially the development of adolescent males. As a consequence of this gap, now that discussions about the raising of boys are receiving national attention, feminist perspectives are rarely if ever part of the discussion. Tragically, we are witnessing a resurgence of harmful misogynist assumptions that mothers cannot raise healthy sons, that boys ‘benefit’ from patriarchal militaristic notions of masculinity which emphasize discipline and obedience to authority. Boys need healthy self-esteem. They need love. And a wise and loving feminist politics can provide the only foundation to save the lives of male children. Patriarchy will not heal them. If that were so they would all be well.