I’d like to push a bit further on the theme of the previous post, because I think it points to some important objections people have to Buddhism – and related philosophies.
A long time ago, I was talking to my friend Nic Thorne, a classicist, about Buddhism and virtue. I was explaining the characteristically Buddhist virtue of k??nti or patient endurance – taking unpleasant events with peace and equanimity. He said: “stoicism.”
The word just floored me. At that point I’d never studied the Stoics, and never imagined that there could be a connection between Buddhism and stoicism – whether with a small or big S. I associated the term “stoicism” with icons of old-fashioned masculinity, which seemed at the time almost comical: the British stiff upper lip, John Wayne. Men who refused to display emotion. I assumed such a posture was repression, leading to passive aggression – or perhaps to self-destruction. (Slash‘s autobiography is an interesting case study of a man who, unwilling to talk about or express his worries, instead turns to heroin for a release.)
But through my appreciation for Buddhism, I came to a new appreciation of that traditional masculinity as well. There’s something to the idea that one should control one’s emotions – though, again, this is very different from repressing them. It’s good to be the kind of person who doesn’t get angry – even though it’s terrible to be the kind of person who gets angry inside and represses it outside.
I do think, though, that the association of small-s stoicism with masculinity is misguided. Harvey Mansfield tried to defend it in his book on manliness, and in a talk he gave on the subject at Harvard; but I couldn’t discern a single reason in his talk why this manliness should be a virtue limited to biological males. I asked him why it wouldn’t be a virtue for women too, and he said “well, that’s the gender-neutral society I’m attacking,” but nothing in his reply seemed at all persuasive in claiming there was anything wrong with such a society. I appreciated his attempt to revive the virtues associated with masculinity, but his attempt to maintain a gender link did those virtues no favours.
If anything, it seems to me that the opposite of Mansfield’s position is true. Men should be the ones trying to express their repressed emotions, since they’re so conditioned to repress them – that’s how we avoid ending up in Slash’s position. It’s women, conditioned to be emotional, who most need a healthy dose of Buddhist patient endurance.
michael reidy said:
” Patience is all the strength a man needs” (Hindu Teacher) Getting through, sticking it out, is vital. The Stoic cosmos is a cool one , not chilly but lacking the presence of the Divine Mother. Friends that one can talk to are good but if you need friends that very neediness and focus on oneself drives people away. There’s a double bind there.
Slash lived to tell his tale and I think that if you can live past the age of 27 (for a man) without major damage or addiction you’ll be alright.
Is Harvey Mansfield pushing back against the sisterhood. Women are very patient. Have you noticed how they will go all over the parking lot ignoring vacancies to find the perfect spot?
Amod Lele said:
I guess I’m a little reluctant to talk about the Divine Mother in this sense because I don’t want to essentialize gender roles as something natural to the cosmos. I wanted to point out both the role of socialization in gender roles, and the importance of achieving both male and female virtues. Though I suppose the Divine Mother might be helpful for some people in achieving exactly that balance within themselves.
Apologies for the late response. I’m a bit behind on my blogroll reading.
It’s women, conditioned to be emotional, who most need a healthy dose of Buddhist patient endurance.
I’m very, very uneasy with this wording. Women have been socialized for centuries to be silent about rape and abuse; to not make a fuss or rock the boat; to “lie back and think of England”; to let the men lead with their strong hands and to “patiently endure” the consequences of masculine decisions; to do whatever they can to avoid being perceived as “shrill” or “bitchy.”
I do understand that neither the Buddhist ideal nor [S|s]toicism are the same as bland passivity. But given that too many women are already taught that silence is a virtue, I am uncomfortable with anything that looks like it condones yet more situations that we are expected to “patiently endure.” I am much more interested in urging women to speak up and to fight injustice.
Amod Lele said:
Hey Ayse – welcome to the blog! No problem on the lateness, it’s great to have you around.
So… hmmmm. That is a very good point. Especially in light of what I said before about passive aggression… people like Slash notwithstanding, passive aggression is also something more commonly associated with women, for all the reasons you mention. Women are supposed to shut up and not voice their anger, which leads to it coming out in worse ways.
So I think you’re probably right overall and I should retract my last statement – it’s not that the reverse of Mansfield’s claim is true, just that his original claim is false. Dammit, it’s so hard to make a good shrewd generalization. :)
I will still defend the value of patient endurance for both women and men, though; in many respects I think it is more important than fighting for justice, and I suspect we differ greatly on this point. That’s a bit of a tangent from this particular post, but I’m sure it will come up again a number of times on this blog.
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