Men Suffer More Attractively

I liked this paragraph from James Wolcott’s recent review essay, of books about "The Mommy Wars," in The New Republic:

Whatever choice a woman makes, or has foisted upon her by necessity and circumstance, ambivalence digs in its spikes. Women–to generalize madly–internalize a far thornier thicket of conflicts and tensions than most men do. Their worries, duties, doubts, regrets, and unfulfilled yearnings can jab at them from different directions at varying intensities, their unresolved feelings never quite coming to rest, whereas men tend to load all their grief, worry, and regret into one large duffel bag that weighs them down like Willy Loman’s suitcase, bearing their woe with slumped shoulders and weary sighs–making a stoic show of pretending to accept their fate, while trying to weasel out of it. Men are competitive with other men, but less comparison-oriented. When men take inventory of their lives, we are the only ones standing on the scale; we don’t weigh ourselves against a brother-in-law or against Murray down the street. We tend to practice a laissez-faire policy toward other men and their (mis)deeds, an indifference born out of a deeper apathy. That’s what mystifies so many married men about the Mommy Wars. We don’t understand why so many women are so avid to sit in moral judgment of other women’s difficult choices, why they care so much about what other women do (often women they barely know), and why so many of those women are writers.

I don’t think it’s true, as Wolcott writes, that men don’t "weigh ourselves against a brother-in-law or against Murray down the street." I compare myself to certain other men all the time, almost always having to do with career stuff. One of my best friends, for instance, just got rave reviews for his first book; I’m happy for him, but his success had made me feel inadequate sometimes. My older brother just landed two jobs that pay pretty well and have set him up nicely to balance his writing career and his incipient family. I’m doing okay for myself, but I’m nowhere near that point. I wish I was (I wish I were?).

I do think it’s true, however, that men are less "comparison-oriented" than women. I have these moments of comparison, and jealousy, but it’s not a big part of my mental life in the way that it seems to be for many women. It doesn’t infect my concrete interactions with my friends and family, it just creeps in during moments of minor despair.

Author: Masculinity and Its Discontents

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