‘Opinion: If you let boys be boys, they will murder their fathers and sleep with their mothers,” ran a tweet from the New York Times the other day. Will they, though? As far as I know, the only man who ever did this did it 2,400 years ago, did it accidentally, and also was a fictional character. I realize the Times specializes in dubious trend stories, usually involving people who live someplace called “Bushwick” riding unicycles to work or raising children with names like “Meridian” while they perfect their formulas for artisanal mustache wax. But even for the Times, supposing that Dad-killing and Mom-marrying is going to catch on seems a bit of a stretch.
Another trend alluded to in Stephen Marche’s op-ed piece sounds intriguing, though: Marche continues, “In the third century a.d., it is widely believed, the great Catholic theologian Origen . . . castrated himself.” Now we’re more up to date, with an event that occurred a mere 1,800 years ago, and Marche thinks other men should follow Origen’s noble example. Surely Marche should do us all the courtesy of leading by example? He’d certainly get a column out of it. He quotes with solemn approbation the view of that great avatar of level-headedness Andrea Dworkin, who averred that “the only sex between a man and a woman that could be undertaken without violence was sex with a flaccid penis” and called on men to “give up their precious erections.” Mandatory castration would certainly help with that project. Humanity might die in the process, but at least we’d be rid of the problematics of erections.
Why do Marche’s thoughts turn to such severe penalties? Because all men are Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Al Franken, Louis C.K., etc. They lied, hence men are liars: “Men have become, quite literally, unbelievable.” Never mind that tossing all of these men into the same sexual-deviancy file is as awkward as categorizing both mosquitoes and Godzilla as “things that bite.” Marche is one of those writers who, in the space of a single paragraph, slip from snoozy banalities to burn-it-down lunacy: “Let’s start with a basic understanding that masculinity is a subject worth thinking about.” That is indeed a fairly basic notion. So basic that there is no one who doesn’t already understand it. But what thoughts are worth thinking on this matter? “Accepting our monstrosity, reckoning with it.” Hold on there, Chester. As with the cutting-off-your-own-man-parts idea, speak for yourself. If there’s something you’re thinking about confessing to the missus, maybe have a quiet word with her instead of declaring 50 percent of humanity monstrous. Try this with any other group and see how badly it turns out for you: “The following black people/immigrants/Muslims committed murders. Black people/immigrants/Muslims, accept your monstrosity!”
What is going on here is not honest reflection or analytical rigor. It’s more like intellectual narcissism. A parade is going by without Stephen Marche, and he is aching to get out in front of it. Harvey Weinstein has never invited Marche to watch him shower, nor has Kevin Spacey carried him across the room like a bride, nor has Louis C.K. ever interrupted a meeting with him to say, “Say hello to my little friend.” Marche doesn’t have any useful testimony to offer, so he interjects shouting and hyperbole.
Woody Allen openly wondered whether the Weinstein Moment is, or is becoming, a “witch hunt.” The term is inapt: Witches don’t exist. Sexual predators do. What is incipient is sexual McCarthyism, which isn’t the same thing at all (pace The Crucible and much other lefty propaganda) because Communists did exist in American life and did pose a danger to it, though Joe McCarthy exaggerated the extent of the Red Menace for his own purposes. Now we’re onto the Bed Menace. McCarthy’s heirs are people like Marche and tech writer Farhad Manjoo of the Times (“I seriously, sincerely wonder how all women don’t regard all men as monsters to be constantly feared”) and Slate writer Rebecca Onion (“‘Boy, all men really are pigs!’ isn’t close to radical enough”).
Are you now, or have you ever been, inclined to kiss a girl with whom you were having drinks? This is the question that has been put to a Times employee, Glenn Thrush. Thrush, a prominent White House reporter, found himself one of the top trending topics in the English language on Twitter, and the subject of dozens of shocked headlines, because Vox reported that he got liquored up and made passes at four women not his wife. No suggestion was made that he had threatened anyone with repercussions. No suggestion was made that he had forced himself on women after they made it clear they weren’t interested. But the Times, having broken the Harvey Weinstein story, can’t afford to look hypocritical. So the paper suspended Thrush and is reportedly weighing whether to fire him.
A few days before Marche’s piece ran, a tweet from Teen Vogue writer Emily Lindin noted, “If some innocent men’s reputations have to take a hit in the process of undoing the patriarchy, that is a price I am absolutely willing to pay.” Lindin’s position is actually more moderate than Marche’s, which is that there are no innocent men. Righteous hysteria is a drug: It’s intoxicating, and it’s addictive. But as you develop a tolerance, you need to keep raising the dose. If Andrea Dworkin’s sex-is-violence spiel is being taken seriously again, the McCarthy era might soon look like an age of innocence.