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Hillary Clinton Urges Us to Stand Up to Extremists in the U.S.

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) March 15, 2012: Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke on March 10, 2012, at Lincoln Center in New York City at the third Women in the World Summit, organized by Tina Brown and Diane von Furstenberg.


Among other things, Secretary of State Clinton makes the following observations: "Now, we know that young woman in Tunisia [mentioned previously] and her peers across the region already are facing extremists who will try to strip their rights, curb their participation, limit their ability to make choices for themselves. Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn't matter what country they're in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies. (Applause.) Yes, it is hard to believe that even here at home, we have to stand up for women's rights and reject efforts to marginalize any one of us, because America needs to set an example for the entire world. (Applause.) And it seems to me that to do that, we have to live our own values and we have to defend our own values. We need to respect each other, empower all our citizens, and find common ground."


The full text of Secretary Clinton's presentation is posted at the U.S. Department of State website, along with the text of Meryl Streep's introduction of her, here.

I want to comment on Secretary Clinton's statement that it is a mystery to her why extremists always focus on women. As men, extremists suffer from male insecurity. To be sure, boys and men who are not extremists also suffer from male insecurity. However, in the psyches of extremists such as the Catholic bishops, male insecurity poses a much more imposing threat to their admittedly fragile ego-consciousness. No doubt it takes enormous work for extremist males to learn how to ratchet down their male insecurity enough that they stop being extremists. In the meantime, it is important not only for girls and women, but also for boys and men who are not themselves extremists to stand up to the extremist males -- and to the female collaborators of the extremist males. The extremist Catholic bishops, for example, have numerous female as well as male collaborators in maintaining and advancing their extremist views regarding artificial contraception and legalized abortion in the first trimester.


Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003), called attention to male insecurity in his short book FIGHTING FOR LIFE: CONTEST, SEXUALITY, AND CONSCIOUSNESS (1981; paperback 2011), the published version of Ong's 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University. Granted, Ong does not explicitly discuss extremist males of the sort that Secretary Clinton discusses. Besides that, this book by Ong has not received the kind of attention that it deserves. To paraphrase Secretary Clinton, it remains a mystery to me why it has not received the kind of attention it deserves.


I know, I know, women could easily find something to criticize in Ong's discussion of women. However, to spell out the obvious, Ong's discussion of women is not the central focus of his book.


The central focus of Ong's book is male agonistic behavior. The Greek root-word "agon" means contest, struggle. So male agonistic behavior is contesting behavior -- in a word, male competitiveness with other males. Ong sees male agonistic behavior with other males as the way in which boys and men work out a specifically masculine sense of personal identity. For the sake of discussion, let's just say that Ong is probably right in claiming that boys and men work out a specifically masculine sense of identity mostly, but not usually exclusively, in relationship to other boys and men. To spell out the obvious, a specifically masculine sense of identity is also culture-bound, as it were. In other words, cultural contexts undoubtedly influence how boys and men think of a specifically masculine identity. For example, in his book MANLINESS (2006), Harvey C. Mansfield makes the following observation about the enormous historical shift from pre-modern to modern cultures: "The entire enterprise of modernity . . . could be understood as a project to keep manliness unemployed" (page 230). By manliness here, Mansfield means courage, especially martially ordered courage such as the courage or manliness of the trained warrior Othello. As Mansfield know, the ancient Greek word "andreia" means both courage and manliness. To be sure, in modernity, men and women will still need the warrior's energy for discipline and dedicated effort. But in modernity, Othello will be unemployed. In modernity, Othello is an outdated cultural hero. Modernity gives rise to the antihero such as Falstaff. Nevertheless, thanks in large measure to portrayals of Jesus as a non-violent hero, non-violent heroic expressions of warrior courage have remained as a cultural hero ideal in Western culture to this day.


Incidentally, because Hillary Rodham Clinton was trained as a lawyer at Yale, she is formally trained in pro-and-con legal debate, and as a U.S. Senator, she has practiced pro-and-con debate in the legislative assembly. These and other forms of pro-and-con debate are examples of what Ong means by agonistic structures, structures built around contesting behavior. Even though males may have pioneered these and other forms of pro-and-con debate, women can obviously learn the forms of pro-and-con debate, which they will need to learn in order to stand up to and debate extremist men such as the Catholic bishops.


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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