World of Thought and Masculinity: 52 MEN 52 WEEKS /22 BARIŞ ÜNLÜ

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For a long time, I have been living in a world, which we may call the world of thought, that consists of academics and intellectuals. What I mean by the world of thought is that the thought is a value and even a goal in itself in this world.

A person who enters this world is expected to live a life of thought, placing the activity of thinking in the center of his or her life, and believe in the explanatory and transformative power of thought. It means that this person should deepen and expand his or her thought, try to overcome the obstacles before though and afford some risks if needed for the sake of defending his or her opinion.

As an objection to these, it might be said that such a world is not the true World, no one lives in such a naive world of thought, the activity of thought comes always after other activities and concerns and the people who take risks to develop their thoughts are always a small minority everywhere.

Furthermore, it might be thought that the activity of thinking itself takes place in inner walls that are most of the time invisible, so the thought of the person who thinks is involuntarily limited with emotional, religious, sexual and ethnic borders.

But an ideal world of thought takes such criticism seriously as well, examines and waits for the subject whose life of thought continues to objectify his or her world along with the other worlds.

This ideal has been continuing since Socrates and especially for the last two centuries in which the world of thought has gained some autonomy against the society and state.

We can deduce the unique power of the aforementioned prestige and reputation by looking from the opposite, for instance, by people and political movements who attack that ideal being viewed vulgar and noted in history in that way.

I personally entered this special world in 1999 when I became a research assistant at the Faculty of Political Sciences at Ankara University. In those times, the faculty was different than Tuğrul Eryılmaz mentioned in his piece. The number of women student and research members increased drastically and reached fifty percent in rate.

But more important than the change in quantity was that the significant part of the women academics were feminists. The first time I met feminism occurred in such an environment, a few months after I became a research assistant.

I was talking about something while drinking coffee and having a conversation after lunch but I don’t remember anything I said but one word. I remember that word because a feminist friend of mine, who was also a research assistant, scolded me “You won’t say lady, you will say woman!”.

The other thing that remained in my memory and was impossible for me to forget was the shame I felt. I’d gotten red to my ears. But other than that shame, it felt good.

Thanks to this scolding which I took it as an accelerated course, I started to realize that the choice of word is not a simple choice, there is a giant hierarchy of history and power behind it, therefore a decision was taken to abandon that world and become a part of a new world by choosing to use a word for that one.

I’m using first-person singular here but my experience is not a singular experience. I’ve observed like everybody else how the feminists educated and changed the male academics over the years.

I think the most important factor behind the change was the necessity for change.

Male academics had to change because feminism emerged in the Faculty of Political Sciences with a legitimate power that belongs to itself.

In such an environment, male academics’ thoughts and statements, panels they organize and books they edit man to man, the way they walk, their approach towards women students and their aggressions in romantic relations have started to be questioned and criticized.

Thus, men have started to behave by approval of an imaginary feminist in their minds before they were seen to feminists’ critical and seeing eyes in the real life.

In his book about possibility of change of men by refuting patriarchy, bell hooks says that men in fact want to change but they fear the change, and for this reason feminism needs to help men and introduce some maps of change to them. [1]

However, as I mentioned in this paragraph, fear itself (falling into contempt, being despised, being left behind) can be itself an instrument for change.

But the reason for the change is not only negative, that is to say the change doesn’t merely stem from fear or necessity. So as a more equal relation is formed with women, they started to get rid of the burdens that crash and simultaneously afflict and make them ordinary.

On the one hand, this enabled them to see the invisible obstacles, which led them to think more clearly, on the other, romantic and friendly relationships formed with feminist women let them learn a different sort of intimacy that they didn’t know before since this relationship includes a sort of equality.

Thanks to this form of intimacy, men could relate to their own feelings, meaning they could contemplate on what they feel and why they feel like that, and it was enabling them to empathize with other people’s feelings.

Especially since seeing and knowing yourself better lets one get rid of the banalization effect of history and society, the men who experienced this feeling felt they liberated.

Because of all these, in the left thought of world which I am a part of, socialist friends always wanted to be friends with feminist women. A man who was together with a woman who is not feminist, was actually taking a decision to go around in circles and this is how it was perceived by his circle.

But such men were in the minority in the world which I am a part of. Therefore, effect of feminism on socialism is not only political and intellectual but also personal. It is now not possible to think socialism and feminism separately, though they are not the same.

I am not trying to say that men from the world of leftist thought are totally ridden of their aggression, male bonding, misogyny and do not inflict physical or verbal violence against women.

These and more than these exist in the world of thought as in any field but in this article, I want to focus on a specific masculinity specific to the world of thought. The male intellectual authority.

The scientific authority established by be it books and articles, the spiritual leadership set by be it columns and Tweets, this state of being the seeing/knowing/understanding subject mostly is confirmed and approved to an extend followed and approved by younger men.

In other words, this performance of masculinity specific to the field of thought, turns into an authority with admiring looks of male audience. Even though this spell has been partially broken by objections of the women, men manage to sustain their intellectual authorities that involve these objections as well.

For instance, according to J.M. Coetzee, the “rational and secular intellectuals” do not get hurt easily, they know that being hurt stems from a weak intellectual position and think that the winner of the free intellectual discussion is determined by the rules of the mind. If these intellectuals get hurt and angry by a statement or a criticism, they also deliberate about why they have got hurt, namely about their own feelings, and analyze their own feelings, thereby objectifying themselves.

According to the “know yourself” principle which has retained its prestige since the time of Socrates, intellectuals can face the criticisms about themselves with a smile and encourage them, even the ones that can be regarded as insulting. [2]

Even though Coetzee is a new/soft man/writer in every aspect and undermines his own authority by constantly relativizing himself, I am of the opinion that this definition of intellectual can only be made by a man: A type of person who does not get hurt, disregards this feeling even if he or she gets hurt, appreciates the criticisms directed against his or her own opinions and benefits from these criticisms.

However, it is not just a definition. The men intellectuals of this stripe, at least the ones who want to be like that, are really abound and this type of intellectuality is perhaps the biggest personal ideal for them.

When the discipline of sociology is considered in the same context, Pierre Bourdieu, who is perhaps the most important authority of the last fifty years, emerges as an interesting example. As somebody who studied the ways in which authority is constructed, Bourdieu himself created his own authority, which is constantly reproduced by his admirers/followers.

He created his own authority with his self-confident and imperious tone, with the rich conceptual set that he developed, with his field research, with his effort of reflexivity and with his being engaged in almost every subject. He carried it so far to write on male domination, perhaps with the belief that he could do it better than women in a sense and by risking the criticisms that could come from women at the beginning. [3]

Again, in this context, it can also be interesting to look at the example of Immanuel Wallerstein, who is one of the biggest and most influential figures of the historical sociology. With the “world-systems analysis”, conceptual tools and academic institutions that he constructed, Wallerstein did not only analyze the history of the world(s), but also constantly made projections for the future of the world.

I think that this assertion and desire to know, see and foresee everything, which is peculiar to the men intellectuals, is accompanied by the feeling that they have the right to do so. Therefore, for instance, I have difficulty in imagining that a woman historical sociologist could have the desire to express opinions as to such wide-scale times and spaces and to talk about the future by not contenting herself with the past.

A numerous other examples could have also be found instead of these men intellectuals; however, I have deliberately chosen the names, whom I like the most and almost all of whose works I have tried to read, namely Coetzee, Bourdieu and Wallerstein. In other words, I have no prejudices or antipathy against these figures. On the contrary, I admire their tones, concepts, their ways of looking and seeing as well as their authorities.

However, I still cannot be sure whether this writing and thinking style has anything to do with a certain type of manhood and whether my admiration has anything to do with manhood. Is writing and thinking in that way what is supposed to be, I mean, are women also supposed to be able to write and think like that, or, is that really a reflection of the male domination and male ego/narcissism peculiar to the world of thought?

Hannah Arendt, who was one of the rare women thinkers who could compete with the wideness of men intellectuals’ areas of interests and their authority-spreading tones in the 20th century, answered her male colleague, who asked, “Do you want to achieve a widespread impact?”, as follows: “I might be ironic but it is a masculine question. Men always want to be influential to an enormous extent…” [4]

However, this observation causes a strong anxiety inside me. Do I have to give up on what I have written and what I want to write? Cannot I write on the subject that I want in the way that I want? Will I lessen myself with my own hands? If I give up on that, too, what will be left behind from Me?

I instantly remind myself that these are not “rational thoughts”, but “unstable feelings” and that, as a man changed by feminism, I do not have to take my Self seriously -at least, in its way on the level of consciousness-; however, from time to time, I cannot help entering into a wave of anxiety which materializes in this type of questions.

Moreover, I am also aware that such anxieties are not peculiar to me, quite a high number of men around me feel like “It is too much now, cannot we do that, either?” in different contexts and at different moments. Still, in any case, the men in the world of thought have the cultural capital to overcome the crisis of manhood -to put it differently, the fact that their manhood which takes different shapes is seen, questioned and scrutinized-, by subliming and changing themselves.

Since they are expected to have this cultural capital, the men who are petrified in the face of this crisis are not very well received in the world of thought and are belittled, which makes their crisis of manhood all the more deeper.

However, the crisis of manhood is not limited to the men who have the cultural, social and economic capital to overcome this crisis by subliming. The majority of men do not have a line of change, they do not have the road map to acquire material or immaterial profit/satisfaction from change.

As women become stronger, freer and more autonomous, as their self-confidence which spreads form their ways of carrying their bodies to their ways of verbally expressing themselves increases, as they enter the labor market and compete with men more and as they change a vast number of men and make “new men” out of them; men become weaker, they lose some of their privileges, they get scared and furious, they try to cling to their power over women, which is the only power left to them.

Moreover, when it concurs with the crisis of the nation-states and increasing economic inequalities/uncertainties, the crisis of manhood becomes deeper. The hate felt for feminism with the thought that it feminizes men and nations as well as the enmity and violence directed against women and LGBTI individuals increase.

Leaders such as Erdoğan, Trump, Putin, Modi and Orbán, who represent masculinity, assertiveness, aggressiveness and fearlessness, emerge as masculine and nationalist heroes who can compensate the crisis of men and nation-states and win.

They try to strengthen manhood with nationalism and strengthen nation-state and their own power with manhood. For instance, that Trump won the Presidential election was probably about the crisis of manhood as it was about the crisis of Whiteness (White and “old man” Trump against Black and “new man” Obama).

Even the “Unstoppable rise of veganism” can be perceived as an attack on the power of manhood and nation-state. Even though it can be alleged that the rise of feminism is not directly linked to the rise of feminism (which probably is), it can be better understood why patriarchy is afraid of veganism considering that the vast majority of vegans, especially in the West, are women and youngsters.

Feminism and veganism probably represent the strongest tendencies against aggressiveness and violence today. Several observers, the vast majority of whom are men, and especially Wallerstein say that the world is in a multi-dimensional crisis -including the structural crisis of capitalism-, this crisis will continue for decades and its final outcome will be determined by the struggle between the global left and global right.

Indeed, everyone sees that we are going through an extraordinary period, the center and mainstream have collapsed and the extreme right and extreme left have become stronger. When the emerging camps of this struggle, which will continue for a long time, are considered, the following generalization can be drawn though the real picture is a lot more complicated and irreducible: On the one side, there are states, rightists, nationalists, anti-feminists and “old men”; on the other side, there are grassroots movements, leftists, internationalists, feminists and “new men”.

Then, in such a struggle, do the ones like Jeremy Corbyn, who is a typical “new man” and has been a vegetarian for more than fifty years, have a chance to win against those like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who once said, “No one has the right to turn Turkey into a country of lions condemned to a vegetarian diet”?

Can the supporters of equality struggle with anti-violence and ethical methods against the powers supporting inequality and using all kinds of war weapons and physical aggressiveness.

Can feminists win the struggle with their “men comrades”, whom they have softened and out of whom they have created a new type of man? Or, in more general terms, can a power which gradually softens win a struggle against a power which gradually hardens.

Though I tend to answer such questions in the affirmative, they are not rhetorical questions. In other words, they are questions, about whose answers I am not entirely sure. But, I cannot be sure about the rationality contained in these questions, either, because I cannot help thinking that only a man asks such big questions. (BÜ/ŞA/APA/TK/SD)


Introduction – Haluk Kalafat

#1 I Must Have Gone Crazy – Murat Çelikkan

#2 Woman – Mehmet Eroğlu

#3 Sur-Karşıyaka-Cebeci-Sublime Porte – Tuğrul Eryılmaz

#4 Middle East – Ümit Ünal

#5 Yes Pain, Rocky – Hakan Bıçakçı

#6 I’m Afraid of Confrontation! – Yekta Kopan

#7 An Evening in the Country

#8 3 States of Male Violence

#9 We Men Are Very Insincere About Women

#10 Magnificient Manhood

#11 My Son Should Know His Father

#12 Situation of Women Reporters Not Different Than That Report

#13 My Name is Hatun

#14 ‘We’ Weren’t There But ‘We’ Were More

#15 Curse of Being Man…

#16 State Mindset is Against Women

#17 It’s Really not an Accident, Men Kill Women

#18 Men are Etc.

#19 Find My Defense Attached

#20 Spiral of Violence

#21 False Paradise

“This campaign has been produced as part of Sivil Düşün EU Programme, with the support of European Union. The contents of this campaign are the sole responsibility of IPS Communication Foundation/ bianet and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.