Undead sexist cliches: Men are supposed to be heroes, women should just cringe and cry

Back after the gunman started shooting in Aurora Colorado and three men died shielding their girlfriends, right-winger William Bennett wrote a long paean to their heroism. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal tweeted that he hoped the women were worth dying for (charming fellow, isn’t he?).
Fast forward to Sandy Hook, where the principal died trying to stop the shooter, and other female teachers risked themselves getting kids to safety. Charlotte Allen’s response? The school was too feminized! Nothing but a bunch of wimpy clingy women with no big strong men around to save them okay the women did some neat stuff but seriously girls.
An NYT piece concludes that what drives men like Lanza to kill is that women no longer defer to them and look up at them as shining knights in armor, champions to admire.
All of which, as I noted at the first link, reminds me a lot of Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream. Enough that it’s worth re-discussing.
Faludi’s thesis is that after 9/11—an attack in which the majority of victims were men, and some responders were female—was overwhelmingly portrayed as a crisis in which heroic men save sobbing, terrified women. Faludi then looked at how the same images cropped up in the 19th century, when dealing with Indian wars and the abduction of white women: The facts some women fought off their captors while the men fled and that other women chose to stay with the tribe got airbrushed out in favor of women who suffer stoically until the men show up and save them (I think there’s a lot of this in the passive captive women of Burroughs’ Mars books).
Apparently the attitude that heroism is or should be a male province is still with us. Allen, for example, went on to claim “our culture that denies, dismisses, and denigrates the masculine traits—including size, strength, male aggression and a male facility for strategic thinking–that until recently have been viewed as essential for building a society and protecting its weaker members… Women are less aggressive by instinct, and they are typically trained to be nice.” (as noted at the link, Allen’s claim there were no men present that day was wrong, but her response was that No, That Proves I’m Right). No surprise that Allen doesn’t let the teachers’ heroism get in the way of her imagination; in a previous piece on how stupid women are, Allen dismissed all evidence that women are as intelligent as men as “outliers” so it didn’t count.
In a sense, the NYT piece goes a step further. It doesn’t dump on the women of Sandy Hook, but author Christy Wampole laments that Odysseus and the Round Table are no longer shining symbols of manhood, that while some men are heroes or “paragons of success,” men are falling behind. It’s mostly a Decline of Men piece about how men are traumatized by having to let women have equal rights, but the emphasis on heroism, on how men need to be women’s heroes (and how women should treat them more deferentially to snuff out the spark of rage that leads to killings) seems to fit with the other stuff above.
Frankly, I’m not sure there was ever a time when everyone looked up to men as heroes just by the accident of their gender. The 1950s images of masculinity included plenty of stuffed shirts and ineffective husbands. But the belief that the pre-feminist world presented the average man as a paragon is one that crops up a lot (as noted at the link).
The teachers of Newtown were heroes. Allen’s arrogant dismissal of their bravery is repulsive.

5 Comments

Filed under Undead sexist cliches

5 responses to “Undead sexist cliches: Men are supposed to be heroes, women should just cringe and cry

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