I disagree with academic feminism a lot but it is right about the big thing.
For thousands of years, social thinking has been dominated by men who saw life as a place where warriors competed for power. These male writers were blind to the systems of care that undergirded everything else.
Everything that extolled competition and independence was celebrated, and everything that celebrated relation and intimacy was diminished. As Niobe Way, Alisha Ali, Carol Gilligan and Pedro Noguera argue in the introduction of “The Crisis of Connection,” a new anthology they edited, the stereotypical masculine culture values “self over relationships, individual success over the common good, the mind over the body, and thinking over feeling.”
When children are young, they grow up unaware of the tunnel. At age 9, girls are sophisticated about their own feelings. But then as they get into adolescence they become aware of the preferences around them. As Gilligan’s work demonstrates, they conclude that if they expressed their real emotions, nobody would want to be with them. “My house is wallpapered with lies,” a girl in a Harvard research group observed.
Similarly, boys, as Way shows in her book “Deep Secrets,” are born with a wgreat talent for emotional openness and a great capacity for deep and loving male friendships.
But then in adolescence they have to earn their manhood. They do that by differentiating themselves from girls. They often turn unemotional and tough. As the editors of the anthology put it, the culture teaches girls not to talk and boys not to feel. Girls begin to say, “I don’t know.” Boys say, “I don’t care.” And it’s getting worse.
A study at the University of Michigan in 2010 found that college students were 40 percent less empathetic than they were in the 1980s. This is caused by a culture that leads to self-isolation, conflict and a crisis of connection. What bothers me most on campus is not the assaults on free speech; it’s that some students are brutal with one another.
And if you think the crisis of connection is limited to campus, I invite you to the American political scene over the past two weeks, with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder lining up to present their pseudo-masculine, chest-thumping displays to show how much they hate the other side.
The good news is that, according to a study by More in Common, two-thirds of Americans are exhausted by the partisan charade. Furthermore, many people, including many feminists, are figuring out how to teach empathy.
One of the authors in “The Crisis of Connection” is Mary Gordon, who founded the Roots of Empathy project. Once a month, a parent and an infant visit a classroom of children and sit on a green blanket. The children gather around them to talk about what the infant is doing. They are learning to put themselves in the mind of the baby, learning emotional literacy and learning what deep attachment looks like.
David Brooks is a columnist for The New York Times