Stand By Your Woman

Stand By Your Woman

AGAINST THE TIDE: PRO-FEMINIST MEN IN THE UNITED STATES 1776-1990: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY, edited by Michael S. Kimmel and Thomas E. Mosmiller. Beacon, 1992. 552 pp. $40.

After Frederick Douglass gave a rousing speech at the First Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls in 1848, the press pilloried him as an “Aunt Nancy Man,” the nineteenth-century version of a “Mama’s boy.” When men joined women in suffrage parades, hostile crowds jeered and called them “henpecked” husbands. These men did not need to go to the woods to recover their manhood; they braved the treacherous arena of American politics.

But not so their contemporary counterparts. Men associated with the “masculinist” wing of the men’s movement seek their manhood in a mythopoetic past. The search for a usable past is nothing new. In the age of identity politics, every victimized group seems to require a golden age that was destroyed by—take your pick—hordes of male barbarians or Eurocentric plunderers. Shelves of books on mythical matriarchies “prove” the existence of female dominated societies whose peaceful, nurturing, egalitarian cultures were overrun by the shock troops of patriarchy. Still more shelves groan under the weight of Afrocentric fantasies that “document” the glories of Egypt and idealize Africa as the cradle of all that was great and good—before, that is, white European men destroyed the truly founding fathers.