This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Rational Male" by Rollo Tomassi. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Does the feminist movement undermine masculinity? How is feminism reshaping the definition of masculinity?
According to Rollo Tomassi, feminism and masculinity aren’t on the same playing field. In his book The Rational Male, he argues that the aim of the feminine agenda is to keep women in a position of power so they can manipulate men into prioritizing women’s needs and sexual strategies over men’s.
Here’s how feminism undermines masculinity, according to Tomassi.
How the Feminine Agenda Operates
Women must constantly assess the qualifications of the men around them to ensure they’ve got the best protector and provider they can possibly attract. To guarantee they are positioned to constantly assess men, women promulgated a narrative—through the women’s rights movement—that women’s needs and wants take precedence over men’s. This is why, Tomassi argues, we take for granted that “women come first” and expect men to set aside or suppress their personal ambitions, needs, and desires.
Tomassi says that women label any action or belief that threatens women’s dominance as “male privilege.” The lie of male privilege, says Tomassi, is designed to guilt men into sacrificing their interests to the further advantage of women. Men are always encouraged to “check” or give up their alleged privilege and to empower women—sacrificing their interests in the process. However, he believes that women are in control. They shape the overarching narrative and social conventions in our culture, which all serve women’s interests. This is why, Tomassi says, it’s common practice to ridicule or attack anyone who makes a statement or action that challenges women’s priority—calling them sexist, juvenile, or out-of-touch.
Digging Deeper Into Privilege
Tomassi’s views on male privilege bring up a conversation about feminism and masculinity’s different powers. Although Tomassi argues that women, not men, enjoy privilege, it’s not clear what his definition of privilege is. A commonly accepted definition is an unearned special right or advantage available to people because of their membership in a particular social group. Using this definition, let’s examine Tomassi’s claim about female privilege on two levels: the institutional privilege that plays out in a broad cultural context and interpersonal romantic relationships.
First, in terms of institutional privilege, women earn 84% of what their male counterparts earn, with Black and Hispanic women earning less than White women. Among human trafficking victims, 71% are women and girls. Also, women make up only 27% of Congress even though they make up 51% of the population. Further, women are at greater risk for rape and domestic violence, pay more for clothes and personal care items, and face hiring barriers in multiple industries, including tech, business, and the media. So, arguably, women do not enjoy key advantages men enjoy, which limits their social mobility and influence.
On an interpersonal level, both men and women report power imbalances in their relationships. However, how these imbalances manifest show that the stakes are higher for women. Women who say they have less power in a relationship often report being subjected to coercion and abuse. In contrast, men who say they have less power often describe their partners as controlling but don’t report any physical or emotional abuse.
Conflicting Messages About Masculinity and Their Consequences for Men
How did the advent of feminism impact views of masculinity? Let’s explore the history behind this change.
As feminist principles gained a foothold, people started to challenge assumptions about male superiority and the value of traditional masculinity norms. Simultaneously, women gained access to a wider range of acceptable behaviors. Contrary to previous eras, women could be assertive, play aggressive sports, work in physically demanding jobs, and earn lots of money —and still be considered feminine. Feminism challenged the notion of traditional masculinity, which made it harder for men to distinguish themselves as uniquely masculine.
What behaviors and qualities can men use to prove they are manly enough? There is no clear answer, and many scholars, health professionals, and social researchers expand on Tomassi’s observation that shifting standards for masculinity are negatively affecting men and boys. Let’s look more closely at some of these consequences.
As men grapple with conflicting messages around masculinity (and try to heed these messages to gain sexual access to women), many attempt to embody traditional masculine norms, which include dominance, aggression, stoicism, and independence. But many men who try to adhere to those standards to an extreme degree suffer severe consequences: According to research, men who strongly adhere to rigid views of masculinity are more likely to be depressed, disdainful, or lonely—and are less likely to seek support because they see it as a sign of weakness. Further, when men feel trapped by unattainable expectations for masculinity, they’re more like to engage in violent behavior such as rape, emotional abuse, and physical violence toward women. This doesn’t mean feminism and masculinity are mortal enemies, however.
Many scholars and psychologists are now exploring how to help men and boys navigate all of this uncertainty and struggle. Some suggest inviting men and boys to think and write about the kind of men they want to be and what they want to be remembered for. This activity invites men to reflect on how their behavior affects others so they can replace harmful norms for masculinity with healthy expectations. Others say it’s important for people in positions of authority—parents, teachers, and health professionals—to highlight seeking help as a sign of courage and independence, which could dismantle the notion that “real men” don’t ask for help.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Rational Male summary :
- How women use a feminine agenda to manipulate men
- Why sex should never be a transactional arrangement
- Why men don't need long-term relationships