Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on The Northman

I read the following in one of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's substack, where he talks about his reaction to the film The Northman. The whole post is worth reading, but this bit stood out to me:  

Many years ago, I read an article about a poll taken among high school students. They asked what the boys would they do if they were on a date and another guy verbally insulted the girl they were with. Most guys said they would fight to defend the girl’s honor. The pollsters then asked the girls separately what they wanted the boys to do in that situation. Almost none said they wanted the boy to fight. Instead, they wanted him to walk away. When the boys were informed of the girls’ preference, and were asked again what they would do, the vast majority said they would fight anyway, despite what the girls wanted. The conclusion: their response was not based on defending the girls’ honor, but defending their own male ego. My guess is that most wouldn’t actually have fought, but the fact that they said they would indicates what they think is expected of them as males. That is a small and lonely prison.

I like how Abdul-Jabbar succinctly points out how men's stated desire to do something "honorable" can be about men protecting their tenuous identification with an imagined ideal male figure.

This insight also points to another important truth that our society would do well to recognize. Those who are the most worried about being perceived as weak are also the most vulnerable to being manipulated by nefarious ideologies that reinforce the idea that one can prove they are strong (i.e., not weak and therefore valuable) by being violent.  

Looking at this psychoanalytical, this fear of being seen as weak could be called "castration anxiety," which I think is often misunderstood by people outside of the psychoanalytic community. One way to describe castration anxiety in more commonplace parlance would be to say it is the fear of not having what you'd need to have to keep yourself and those you care about safe. It could also be described as being scared to consciously realize, or have others consciously realize, that we lack the power we want to have.

I like Abdul-Jabbbar's post because it gets at something important. If we shame (i.e., cancel, call out, etc.) people for their castration anxiety, we probably make them more vulnerable to the seductive embrace of toxic ideologies that encourage them to prove how strong, powerful, and non-castrated they are by threatening to engage in violence.

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