Guest columnist Rob Okun: Putin, manhood and mad coward disease

  • People cross on an improvised path under a bridge that was destroyed by a Russian airstrike, while fleeing the town of Irpin, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5. AP

Published: 3/7/2022 5:00:45 PM
Modified: 3/7/2022 5:00:10 PM

It’s Women’s History Month and in an act of unthinkable atrocity, Mad Vlad Putin is indiscriminately killing women and children across Ukraine. Men, too, of course.

Some Kremlin watchers say he is “no longer in his right mind”— isolated, irrational, stubbornly fantasizing about a return to the gory days of the Soviet Union. That suggests there was a time when he wasn’t suffering from Mad Coward disease, a condition primarily found in men, characterized by acute insecurity, anger interfering with the ability to access vulnerability, and an aortic defect that presents as extreme cold-heartedness.

Putin has likely long suffered from the condition, probably from childhood, where he was the youngest of three boys (both older brothers died young), and including his days preening bare-chested on horseback. The condition is now acute: witness this “man’s man” sitting alone at one end of a 50-foot-long table.

For decades, Putin has been the world’s true poster boy for “toxic masculinity,” (a dismissive term that fails to adequately capture the complexity of male socialization.) Many pro-Putin U.S. acolytes are cheering him on now, from a retired golfer in Florida (who among other ailments suffers from logorrhea), to a dangerous cable news propagandist in New York. Both regularly broadcast dangerous lies to millions.

For his part, Putin applauds his U.S. puppets as they exploit white male grievance and continue to recruit a new generation of racist, misogynous, homophobic, and anti-Semitic young men.

“Challenging masculinity in Russia means to challenge society,” photographer-model Angel Ulyanov, told Vice. “And to succeed we, unfortunately, must be prepared for repercussions that are not always pleasant — and sometimes even dangerous.”

Today, nowhere is that danger more palpable than on streets across Russia where thousands continue to protest the war. Among them, no doubt, are Russian men who reject Putin’s murderous expression of manhood. Most of the world’s countries are united in unequivocal support for Ukraine. That’s critically important, as are strategies to end the invasion without risking World War III.

Still, it won’t be enough without a massive grassroots campaign by we, the people. Actually, we need “we, the men.” Women last century dramatically demonstrated how to advance social justice using their gendered perspective on a range of pressing social issues. Today, women are at the forefront of worldwide protests against Putin’s war. What’s needed now is for men to organize themselves — as men.

While Putin viciously clamps down on protests, imprisoned opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, is calling on his sisters and brothers to take to the streets in larger numbers — by the tens, the hundreds of thousands, to say no to war. It’s a perilous, Hail Mary strategy; if successful, though, it could mark the beginning of the dictator’s fall. On a screen divided in thirds, picture the throngs on those Russian streets; then the insurrectionists besieging the U.S. capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The first group, nonviolently risking their lives to end autocracy; the second, violently trying to bring autocracy to life.

The third image? The Ukrainians struggling to save their fragile democracy. Think what it could mean if men would rise up — as men — to denounce autocracies around the globe. Believe gendered organizing doesn’t work? Look at what One Billion Rising, a women-led campaign to end rape and sexual violence worldwide, has accomplished in a decade.

There is an untapped male force for good in the U.S.: millions of fathers, coaches, teachers and clergy. While there may be some fathers who would applaud their teenage sons slinging an AK-47 over their shoulders, prepared to shoot antiracist protestors in, say Kenosha, Wisconsin, most fathers are trying to raise empathetic, caring sons.

A new podcast, “In Search of the Compassionate Male,” highlights the voices of men whose hearts are open, and who reject Putin-style manhood. At this fraught moment, they represent “the great turning” — a movement away from the masculine, corporate-military industrial complex and toward a healthy life-sustaining new civilization.

Any global to-do list to end this war must include a commitment to emphatically reject coldhearted, violent, dominating, antidemocratic masculinity, relegating those descriptions to the dustbin of history. It’s a tall order, I know; but men like to solve problems. Are we ready to take on this one?

Rob Okun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor-publisher of Voice Male magazine. He lives in Amherst. Reach him at rob@voicemalemagazine.org.
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