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mad-men-jon-hamm-jessica-pare_612x400In popular culture men are consistently portrayed as monsters—pestilent patriarchs intent on dominating women, abusing children, corrupting the innocent and messing up everything they touch with their grubby, power hungry plans and aggressive macho manipulation. The sixties men of the television show Mad Men are typical—part of an suited insider’s club, they smoke and drink and make money in crooked deals. They bed women whenever they wish, cheat on their wives and keep their women and children in a state of fearful dependence. All of them are monsters, gangsters, beasts and brutes.

Is reality like that? I’m a parish priest. I work with people with problems all the time and yep, I have to admit that I’ve come across some men whose behavior is astonishing in its imbecilic immaturity, vile violence and brutal abuse of the people they are supposed to love. I’m thinking of a man who regularly rapes his wife, beats up his kids and keeps a mistress while all the time pretending to be a good church goer.

I’m thinking of another fellow who has a wife and three beautiful children, but has a secret life with hookers. He keeps a diary of his encounters that feed his dark sex addiction. I can recall another man—a respectable professional who suddenly announced to his wife of twenty some years that he was done with her. Kicked her out. Got a lawyer and had his trophy wife in place in no time. Furthermore, he’d been planning it very carefully so he would end up paying his wife the absolute minimum in alimony and child support. There are deadbeat dads, drunks, cheats and sleazy low life characters that drip with charm and ooze money and greasy contacts.

Men are monsters? I can’t deny it.

However, as soon as I get around to putting all men into the monster category I will be presented with a belle who is also a beast. The women are as bad as the men, but different. A man might use physical violence against his wife and kids. The women use verbal violence. They scream, yell, curse and call their kids “useless little s**ts.”They gossip and scheme, backbite and complain and use emotional blackmail to manipulate and maneuver. Do men divorce their wives in a bitter battle? As soon as I’m done listening to the weeping and wailing of the wounded wife, the next one waiting at the door is the man who has been rejected. The wife wants “to find herself”and for five years has been planning how to not only get rid of her husband, but keep the house, the kids, the cars and get more than half of his business, assets and wealth. The women sneak around with boyfriends, sulk, neglect their kids and kick their husband out with no provocation. There are drunk and addicted housewives who behave like cheap whores and intentionally destroy their marriages, their kids’lives and their home and reputation.

Anybody who works with people will agree that the myth that men are all monsters is a make believe. If I were keeping score, women and men would be just about tie in the “World’s Biggest Monster”competition.

So why are men portrayed as the horrors and not the heroes? Because many in our society are fixated in a kind of perpetual rebellious phase. Adolescence is typically the time when the individual tries to establish independence from the parents and develop his individual personality. To do this, the adolescent needs to make a break with the father. He or she does this through competition, challenging or questioning the father’s authority or open rebellion.

It is a phase that one goes through on the way to adulthood, when the person’s individuality and independence is established and the child takes responsibility for his or her own choices. It should be a stage one goes through in order to accept the burdens and privileges of being an adult. The problem with our society is that a large proportion of the population are stuck in a spoiled adolescence. They have had everything provided for them. They have not learned how to take responsibility for themselves. They have become dependent and feel entitled, and are stuck in a perpetual cycle of adolescent rebellion and rage toward the father. Not content with focussing on the father, they extend their adolescent rage to all authority figures and all men.

How does one counter the make believe of all men being monsters? First by admitting that some men are monstrous—just like some women. Second, by realizing that the problem is often one of perception. The person fixated in adolescence perceives the male authority figure as a rock to kick against. The man might be the kindest, sweetest, most gentlemanly figure, but he will still be perceived as the enemy. The person with the perception problem needs to grow up and realize that both men and women can be monsters, and that it is all much simpler and much more complicated than they thought.

The mature person comes around to regarding every person with equal respect and wonder. If both men and women are monsters, then it is also true that many women and men are radiant examples of goodness, patience and compassion for others. They also come to learn that even the monsters are not all monstrous. Each person is a unique and complex matrix of influences, ambitions, actions, failures, triumphs, decisions, thoughts and desires. Even the beast longs for what is beautiful, good and true, and because every man and woman is created in the image of God, each one is both a monster and a marvel.

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2 replies to this post
  1. Well, is atonement always absolution? Apparently the bad actors receive earthly rewards, from counterparts who like being part of their games, and these satisfactions exceed any desire to cleave to God. And perhaps they want to believe, that every Sunday they can clean the slate and start over again?

  2. In fairness to “Mad Men” the women, though I’ll grant often to usually better than the men, are sometimes also pretty terrible in many ways. Don’s stepmother was horrifically abusive and he was, quite possibly going by what Weiner even said, molested by that hooker lady when in his early-to-mid teens. Betty went out with dignity, but she certainly wasn’t an ideal mother or neighbor for much of the series. Megan’s mother was portrayed as a heavy drinker trapped, until the final episodes, in an almost “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” marriage of mutual acrimony.

    And there are series like “Justified” that managed to show both men and women be selfish, violent, and ruthless. Plus “The Good Wife”, a series largely about women, the title character has many many flaws and moral failings even going by her own (atheistic) sense of morality. It might be “easier” to do this when the title character is a woman. In real life, at least, I often find women quite willing to talk about harmful/hurtful women amongst themselves. But when an exercise “pits” women against men women are, usually, more willing to complain about the other sex and not complain as much of their own.

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