A Call to Arms


Photo via Chloe Simpson/Unsplash

This student’s article placed second in the 2020 Annual English Essay Contest at Arapahoe Community College. 

Bitterness.  Frustration.  Anger.  Despair.  Emotions are an intrinsic part of our human core; they fundamentally support our survival instinct. Learning to navigate emotions in a relationship can be like attempting to tiptoe safely through a minefield. Suppressing those emotions because of societal pressures based on gender roles can be devastating. Author Rebecca Onion visits these issues in her Slate article “Male Loneliness Starts in Boyhood.” She replies to an inflammatory piece by Melanie Hamlett in Harper’s Bazaar and the subsequent negative social media response by recruiting her readers to take a stand and eliminate society’s patriarchal views of the expression of male emotion for the better of both sexes.

Onion’s most effective response to Hamlett’s provocative feminist article appeals to her liberal audience’s emotion, relaying anecdotes of men negatively affected by patriarchy and cites offensive social media posts in support of Hamlett’s piece. She establishes her ethos by uniting the sexes rather than instigating a rivalry to galvanize her audience’s principles of gender equality by posting her article in a liberal publication whose educated audience encompasses both sexes, and by the inclusion of scientific evidence to back her claims that patriarchal suppression of male emotion is damaging.

Rebecca Onion is a historian with a background in American Studies who writes for several leftist publications such as the Boston Globe, Aeon Magazine, The Atlantic’s website and Slate amongst others. “Male Loneliness Starts in Boyhood” was published in 2019 by Slate, who claims their readers are liberal, influential, affluent and educated.  Most recent data lists that men comprise 67 percent of their audience. Slate covers topics of politics, news, and culture. Onion establishes credibility with Slate’s readers with her background as a well-known writer for many liberal publications.  

Onion addresses her article to a receptive liberal, educated audience composed of both males and females. According to a psychology study published in Science Daily, the way emotions motivate us “is not the same for those on different ends of the ideological spectrum.”  This study’s conclusion that “induced emotions have a greater influence on leftists’ positions than on rightists’ positions” would support the author’s reasoning behind publishing this article in a liberal magazine whose audience would be influenced by her statements.  An affluent, educated, liberal audience would support the idea that eliminating patriarchy in our society would be to the benefit of all.  Conversely, if the author had published her article in a right-wing, conservative magazine, it is most likely would not have been well received.  The conservative side stereotypically is known for being the “good ol’ boys” where patriarchy thrives. The author also came across to her audience as somewhat of a moderator between the sexes.  She takes the side of neither sex, indicating the difficulties in addressing patriarchy as an establishment that “victimizes both women and men.”

The Hamlett’s Harper’s Bazaar piece she responded to was targeted towards an affluent, educated, female audience.  Contrarily, Slate’s readers would be a mix of the sexes, with more male readers than female. Onion’s Slate audience would possibly be more receptive to her united stance than the more feminist audience of Harper’s Bazaar; both sexes would accept responsibility for creating patriarchy and commit to making changes together for the future.  

Onion’s timely article followed the whirlwind of women’s responses flooding social media in support of Harper’s Bazaar piece. Gender equality is still a hot issue today with movements such as the #MeToo campaign showcasing the detriment of patriarchy on female’s rights. In her article, Onion mentions anti-patriarchal groups such as The Good Men Project, and gatherings like Men Overcoming Sexism; men’s support groups sympathetic to feminism that encourage male relationships and emotion.  Men’s rights groups are far less mainstream than women’s and many, while encouraging men, still support patriarchy. Onion attempts to unite the sexes in combat against patriarchy by calling not only on women but men also “because, after all, they’re losing too”.

Rebecca Onion’s article is well shaped to foment a call-to-arms by appealing to her audience’s emotion.  She begins her article in a sort of violent, disturbing manner referencing the Harper’s Bazaar piece and the provocative responses the piece garnered on social media. She quotes one of Hamlett’s supporters by tweeting that she would pay someone to take a copy of Hamlett’s article to the men she’s dated and “smack them over the head with it”. These offensive posts induce feelings of shame, loneliness and frustration on the part of both sexes, unwittingly capturing her liberal reader’s attention. Onion then focuses on why men have such trouble dealing with emotion. She relates the story of Kevin Baker describing the year of bullying he experienced as a child for crying on the school bus after his sister passed away, and the claim by author Mark Greene that he was forced to give up a friendship in his tween years because his parents felt he was too emotionally connected to a male friend.  Stories such as these would elicit feelings of sympathy and outrage in Onion’s empathetic liberal audience. She molds her article using negative emotions to propel her audience towards the acceptance of male emotion and the elimination of patriarchy. 

While Onion’s background as a historian and her admission of a “conversion experience” after reading the volume “Why Does Patriarchy Persist” (Gilligan & Snider) – insinuating that she previously didn’t find patriarchy harmful – doesn’t raise much confidence in her credibility as a relationship and psychology expert, her use of scientific research does.  The author references research done by Dr. Judy Chu, a teacher at Stanford University and Harvard graduate whose study of male emotion concluded that her subject’s emotional relationships declined as the boys progressed through childhood into adulthood.  Another study performed by Dr. Niobe Way, professor of developmental psychology at New York University, found that adolescent males that expressed emotion early in their high school years had discontinued this practice by the end of their high school careers.  Both studies referenced in her article compel her readers to feel supported by psychological experts who reinforce their convictions that patriarchal suppression of male emotion is harmful.

Onion’s appeal to logos is more tenuous than her strong connections to ethos and pathos.  Her article may have been even more effective with the inclusion of statistics relating to how patriarchy has been detrimental to both sexes. Are there higher rates of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety in males due to early and sustained emotional suppression?  Is the younger male than the female mortality rate related to this suppression? While modern society does acknowledge the negative effects of patriarchy on females, the author does not acknowledge these statistics. The author’s audience is not only liberal, but they are also educated with over 60 percent being college graduates. Audiences such as these may respond well to empirical evidence which this author’s article lacks. 

Rebecca Onion successfully unites her male and female audience by addressing patriarchy as a problem for both sexes. Citing authors Carol Gilligan and Naomi Snider’s description of patriarchy as harmful to both sexes “by forcing men to act as if they don’t have or need relationships and women to act as if they don’t have or need a self.” Onion unifies her readers instead of pitting one side against the other, to dismantle patriarchy for good.  What the author lacked in her appeal to logos, she more than compensated for in her petitions to pathos and ethos. Eradicating centuries of ingrained emotional suppression in men can only help both sexes circumvent the relationship minefield and find a safe path towards health and happiness.