I actually finished reading Jack Donovan’s “Androphilia” a couple of months ago now, and ever since I put it down, I have wanted to write about it. I actually bought the book a a while ago now, after hearing part of an interview that Jack gave on a Sunday night radio show that I regualrly tune into. I heard the part of the interview where he spoke about an alternative to same sex marriage for gay men, that was still meaningful, but not trapped with all the social baggage that comes with the lable of being married. Given my ambivalent stance on marriage on a whole, and in my quest to finding a life full of meaning as a gay man beyond the sex, dance parties, and unattainable (but appealing and beautiful) male physiques that gay culture/community is ladened with; I thought this guy’s writings could be refreshing and exactly what I was looking for.
Boy was I wrong….So utterly wrong.
I should first start out by declaring that I identify as a feminist. I don’t think (as the author does) that feminism is trying or has tried to steal men’s power and identity. I don’t think that feminists are all man hating, bra burning, arm-pit haired, lesbian women, though I acknowledge that some may fall in one or more of those categories. I firmly believe that feminism provides for a space for the voices that usually go unheard and the experiences in society that go unnoticed to be heard, noticed and valued. For those men especially who do not live up to the patriarchy’s construction of what it is to be a man in modern society; feminist discourse provides an outlet to be whatever type of man those men are – as counter intuitive as that may sound. If anything, feminism sheds light on the fallacy that the patriarchy attempts to uphold about our gender roles and our place in society, and colours it with the real, lived experiences of human beings. Ultimately being a positive things for all genders identities.
On that note, I really should have realised that the author and I were not going to see eye to eye, particularly when I came across this in the first few pages:
“As culture becomes increasingly female- and family friendly, as men-only institutions continue to fall from favor or become integrated, as masculinity is controlled, compromised and redefined according to the preferences and aesthetics of women- as straight men lose touch with their own masculine heritage – I see a role for androphiles as masculine purists, unlikely carriers of Mars’ ancient torch. Masculinity is a religion, and I see potential for androphiles to become its priests – to devote themselves to it and to the gods of men as clergymen devote their lives to the supernatural.”
The final nail hit the coffin when I found out that Jack (obviously) was writing from a (politically) right wing perspective.
Now that could have been enough for me to put the book down and never think about it again. But then, I hadn’t had such a (negative) visceral reaction to something I read in such a long time, I thought I owed it to myself not to shy away from opinions that I find challenging to my own, and to finish reading the book.
So I did.
For the most part I agreed with his views on same sex marriage, and I did sympathise with some of his criticisms of modern gay culture as well as the caricature of masculinity prevalent in society, given that I too find both these quite constricting and at odds with how I live my life as a man.
Otherwise the rest of the book comes across as one angry man’s diatribe.
As I have already alluded to, the guy really doesn’t like feminist and from what I glean women generally (obvious given that he calls himself an androphile). However I found his overall discussion on historical masculinity and modern masculinity lacklustre and poorly developed. His arguments would potentially have greater strength if he was able to demonstrate a more nuanced understanding of the ancient cultures he draws from. This particularly bugged me given my academic background in ancient cultures, and how gender was constructed (particularly in the ancient Greek context). However in answer to this, his argues that this book is his “manifesto” and his opinion, as if this relieves him from doing a little more research than just skewing the (little) evidence he uses, for his own purposes.
One of main issues with this book, is despite his continual harping on about masculinity and what it means to be a “man,” Donovan never actually DEFINES what he consider to be this wondrous “masculinity” which in his view needs reviving. Instead he rather vaguely relies on the the fact that “masculinity is universally understood.” To me this clearly adds weight to the fact that masculinity is not this static defined condition or thing. Rather it is ever evolving, changing, and being created by societies and the men (and women) living it.
I found his argument flawed and inconsistent. For example on one hand he posits that masculinity is essential to the male experience, differentiating men and women to the core. Then he goes on to say how masculinity needs to be earned and demonstrated. Surely if masculinity is essential to the male lived experience, it need not be demonstrated on a constant basis, but simple just IS in whatever shape or form man chooses to live his life.
What is more infuriating is the manner in which he criticises the stereotypical “sissy” gay, yet then encourages gays to be the manly men (that is universally understood of course), by using other stereotypes as examples! This is a crock of shit. This is where the book is at its most disappointing, because it doesn’t add anything new to a conversation about how today’s man that happens to be gay should live. The hypothetical life he sketches is just as bad an offering as that offered by gay culture, which he so vehemently criticises in the book. Further the values he promotes towards the end of the book as being “masculine ideals” are universal human traits (such as accountability, integrity, honesty and honour. Last time I checked these virtues weren’t the monopoly of half the population), that everyone and anyone can display regardless of sexuality or gender.
Ultimately Donovan comes across as a complete douche bag, that is anti-feminist, and anti-intellectual. However I am thankful for his book because it made me angry and made me think, fortifying my ideas of what being a “man” actually is. Thankfully it has nothing to do with the dribble that this guy writes about.
The book did however, leave me wanting to explore my masculinity and spirituality a little more, and I guess that is the link for me writing about it here on this blog. I am still yearning for and seeking the types of experiences that I had at last year’s Beltane with other men. I can see that Donovan’s manifesto is an attempt to find meaning in this life, as a man who loves men. To this extent I think we are similar. However it is our approaches that differ, and differ greatly. I truly believe that there is space for men to be ‘men’ with other men, in whatever way that ‘being’ is expressed. It need not be in any of the stereotypical examples that Donovan offers (though they too have a place). It is about recognising that as complete human beings, men should be able to live the whole gamut of human emotions and experiences, and not be limited to a particular subset of these, for fear of being caste as something less than a man.
I am all for finding meaning in life….just don’t be such a douche about it.