Opinion What if every man in your life had to go to war?

2 min

There are layers of suffering in Ukraine right now. Millions of refugees. Thousands of deaths. Widespread destruction. Fear, loss, desperation and hunger. One more layer is that most Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 are banned from leaving the country, in case they are needed to fight Russia.

If I were Ukrainian, this would mean that I and pretty much every man I know — my brothers, most of the men I work with, every close friend I have — might have to go to war.

Imagine that most men you know were required to grab a weapon, perhaps one as rudimentary as a molotov cocktail, and fight for their lives.

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Imagine your father, sons and brothers. Your uncles, friends and colleagues. Imagine the pain, the death and the trauma. Imagine the void they’d leave behind. The shame if they refused.

I don’t blame Ukraine for doing everything it can to defend itself. And of course, Ukrainian women, too, are fighting and enduring extreme hardship because of the war. I know that. I also know that this is not the time for Ukrainians to reconsider gender roles in their society.

But war reveals things. After all the effort many of us have made to separate masculinity from brutality, to teach boys to be gentler and kinder, to teach men to be respectful to women, human masculinity remains linked to violence.

Just as having a penis doesn’t make you superior, it doesn’t make you a warrior.

Throughout history, men have imposed their will on women. Even men who haven’t acted violently were conveniently oblivious to women’s burdens and aspirations and enjoyed the privileges boys inherited at birth.

Finally, in recent decades, some men have tried to do better. But the progression of this awful war shows how dangerous sexist patterns and attitudes remain.

Vladimir Putin is a caricature of the old mentality. Everything about his approach to masculinity should be obsolete by now, as his pathetic shirtless propaganda makes evident.

But his approach is not rare. The kind of masculinity and brute leadership that Putin represents still appeals to millions of people — including here in the United States.

And so men must be made into killers.

This war is an abomination. But it is also a warning — of how easily a few retrograde men, if we give them the power, can drag us all back into savagery.