THE MASCULINITY CONSPIRACY

05: Fatherhood cont’d

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The Solution

Clearly, the solutions to fathering in ways that counter the conspiracy are extraordinarily complex. The above sections barely expose the tip of the iceberg in terms of the issues involved. However, I want to identify two paths of exploration that I think are the most important, both within themselves, and also in an attempt to indicate the breadth of the solution. The first path frames fatherhood as being focused on the child and how we might resist conditioning the child into the conspiracy. The second path frames fatherhood as being focused on the father and how we might resist further conditioning the man into the conspiracy.

In his recent book Ethics in Light of Childhood, ethicist John Wall proposes the concept of “childism,” which prioritizes the experiences of the child. In just the same way that other isms such as feminism acknowledge the unique ways in which women have power asserted over them, so too childism acknowledges that children form a distinct (although not homogenous) social group that is subject to certain power plays. Wall notes that, “Children are a third of all humanity. Yet all too often children are considered merely undeveloped adults, passive recipients of care, occupying a separate innocence, or, perhaps, in need of being civilized.” I want to co-opt Wall’s argument as the basis for a counter-conspiratorial strategy (although not necessarily one that his sophisticated ethical framework would want to accommodate!).

The conspiracy views children, as Wall suggests, as undeveloped adults in need of civilization. Specifically, via a particular form of fatherhood, the conspiracy mobilizes men to condition children into the values of the conspiracy. Conspiratorial fatherhood uses aspirations to initiation, or activities and movies “appropriate” to a boy’s stage of development as a way of making children conform. Viewed via the lens of the conspiracy, a father unwittingly asks the question, “What do I need to do in order to serve the needs of the conspiracy?” Viewed via the lens of childism, a father proactively asks the question, “What do I need to do in order to serve the needs of the child?” The conspiracy would suggest these two questions are largely the same, but this is most certainly not the case; indeed, the two are largely at odds.

The real challenge of counter-conspiratorial fathering is that it cannot be successfully done without first owning how the conspiracy has already shaped fathers who seek to be counter-conspiratorial (through the kind of themes addressed in the History, Sexuality and Relationships chapters). This is a particularly daunting fact if you are only just waking up to your own conditioning by the conspiracy and also happen to be a father, as you are faced with the double challenge of unpicking both your own and your child’s conditioning (for which, unfortunately, you are largely responsible). The good news is that there is a mutually beneficial process at work here: a father initially identifies that he has been duped by the conspiracy and that in turn he has passed the conspiracy on to his child; however, by actively undoing the child’s conditioning, new layers of his own conditioning become apparent to him, which he can then reflect back to the child. Think of fatherhood as an accelerant: it speeds up and intensifies the potency of the conspiracy when it goes unchecked, but also has the potential to speed up and intensify its rejection.

CONTINUES >>>

Written by Joseph Gelfer

June 14, 2011 at 1:44 pm

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