A couple of years ago I encountered a totally bullshit argument for the preservation and even expansion of practices that maintained the patriarchal status quo and buttressed the power of men at the expense of the rights and full citizenship of women. As is standard for an argument so thoroughly by, for and to the patriarchs of the world, it not only advocated for greater rights for men, it absolutely ignored the cost of the whole thing to women--because after all, the general concerns of women are completely secondary in a major social question like whether or not uncloseted gay men should claim what they feel has traditionally been “the exclusive territory of straight men” and marry women in order to knock them up and just be regular dudes who gets to go to Mormon heaven. No, the issue of marriage between men and women isn’t a topic where a gay man needs to think about the general concerns of women in heteronormative relationships (despite the fact that he has a mom, a wife, five sisters and a daughter) while defending his right to claim the same privileges a straight dude gets; it’s a topic where what comes first are his rights as a MAN.
I think most people conversant in gender politics will agree that an argument like that isn’t just patriarchal, it’s misogynist. Which is what I called it, along with the guy who produced it. But turns out this guy didn’t like being called misogynist--with all those sisters and that young daughter, he knew it was BAD to admit to misogyny (though he still hasn’t figured out that it’s also uncool to enact misogyny). For the past year, I learned recently, he has been fretting over the topic, trying to figure out a way to clear himself of the charge. And finally, through intense intellectual struggle and self-reflection, he came up with one! Turns out he’s not a misogynist; he’s just a narcissist! That’s right! As he himself writes, “to be honest, I do all too often think of my needs before I think of [my wife’s]; but it has nothing to do with the fact that she's a woman and everything to do with the fact that she's not me.”
Once again, the guy’s inability to imagine just what his arguments reveal about him is breathtaking. What do you do with a statement that can be paraphrased, “I’m often really selfish and insensitive in my relationship with my wife, but it’s not because she’s a woman; it’s because I’m really just a jerk in general”? It’s not as if misogyny and narcissism are mutually exclusive, after all; the profound selfishness and self-importance involved in narcissism might make it much easier for a man to be indifferent to the well-being of women in general, to think that it’s OK to oppress women--or at least wait to empower them--if doing so makes things easier and more convenient for HIM, the one who’s REALLY IMPORTANT.
Now, I’m not going to argue that ALL men are narcissists, because I don’t think they are. I feel I know men who exhibit remarkable compassion and generosity. But I am going to argue that for men who don’t want to do the work of thinking about someone else’s needs simply because those needs are someone else’s and not their own, there are plenty of ways in which they’re allowed to think it’s their god-given right to be narcissists if they want to.