What Do Men Want? by Nina Power review – a misguided defence of the male

A philosopher’s ostensibly reasonable call for compassion veers towards the reactionary

The philosopher Nina Power believes men are under attack. Western society has done away with “the positive dimensions of patriarchy”, that is, “the protective father, the responsible man, the paternalistic attitude that exhibits care and compassion.” In her new book, What Do Men Want?, she expresses the hope that, “following a great deal of bitterness in recent years, men and women can reconcile on the basis of a renewed and greater understanding of one another” and advocates a return to “old values and virtues — honour, loyalty, courage”; rather than being made to feel guilty for their gender privilege, “Boys and men must be allowed to be good, to become better.”

These are worthy sentiments, but the underlying premise is doing a lot of heavy lifting. Just how prevalent is “the current demonisation of men”? Have compassion and virtue really been abolished? Are boys not presently allowed to be good? The sweeping, simplistic and vaguely sour tone recalls the handwringing “culture wars” opinion pieces that have proliferated in recent years. They invariably follow a template: an obscure incidence of arguably overzealous identity politicking – usually involving a university campus – is held up as evidence of a deep civilisational malaise. The alarmist register can make for compelling clickbait, but whether it can sustain a serious, book-length work is another matter.

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