A week ago I read something from Joe Duncan that managed to articulate what I’ve been thinking about for a long time.
It’s about the current state of masculine culture and sexuality. I’ve been thinking about toxic masculinity, red pills, and phrases such as “man card,” or “man up,” for many years.
I found his post refreshing because it’s a step in the right direction to deconstructing and questioning what it means to be a Man.
…you can act like a man! — Godfather I
I don’t have all the answers on what it means to be a man, much less the right ones, but the search for its meaning is a noble pursuit for all of us to chase.
All of us. Men and Women.
If we don’t reflect on this, our socio-cultural pressures will define it for us, and that is what I believe is the root of the problem.
The men in our society are a product of our values and our norms. Society has created generations of men that are ill-equipped to handle emotions, relationships, and changing roles in society. They’ve been emotionally stunted at an early age and struggle to process emotional trauma healthily.
How did we, as men, get here?
There isn’t a man alive today who hasn’t heard the phrase “crying is for girls” or some derivation of it. It was imprinted on me, at an early age, by my friends, parents, and television that crying was a sign of weakness.
It was what girls do and therefore, girls were weak. Boys are not girls so we were supposed to be strong and not cry. That’s how the logic went in our underdeveloped brains.
Nowhere did we ever address the fact that crying, feeling, and processing pain (physical and emotional) is a human thing, not central to just females but to males as well.
We are taught that when your pet dies, don’t cry. When that fastball hits you in the gut, suck it up and don’t cry. Anything that’s makes you feel weak and vulnerable you push deep inside you and ’suck it up.’ It goes down deep inside us and where we hope it atrophies and dies.
In the end, we never learn the coping mechanisms to handle these types of emotions.
Man up and lay down the law.
Any show of vulnerability is quickly squashed by our peers. We look to our Fathers for guidance and they respond in the way they were taught to respond by telling us “boys don’t cry.”
We look to them and learn their behaviors, we learn from his friends that feminine men or ‘the gays’ are weak, and calling them a “sissy la la” is not just normal but acceptable. It is not.
We hear things like: Don’t be different. Toughen up! Don’t be a sissy! Don’t be weak!
It’s everywhere, around us, and it’s got to stop.
Man card. Grow a pair! Man up! Don’t be a pussy. These phrases are meant to motivate but they don’t. They hurt, they cut, they make you bleed, and they only serve to reinforce the negative emotional responses we’ve been conditioned to respond with when they’re hurtled at you.
Years ago I was involved with a woman in a non-traditional type of relationship. We had been together for more than half a year when I introduced her to my Mother. Unfortunately, the two got off on the wrong foot right away and there was much tension between them.
Minor fights broke out immediately. My Mother, who can be domineering at times, didn’t like my girlfriend one bit and she made it known in no uncertain terms.
At its core, masculinity is not toxic but it can easily be perverted.
One morning I got a call from my girlfriend at work. She was enraged. She and my mother had a major blowout. I tried to diffuse the situation but my questions to understand what happened only made her angrier. It was then she said something that cut me like a knife, she said: “You need to Man Up and lay down law with your Mother.”
Man up and lay down the law. Wow.
I was speechless when she uttered that and when I recomposed myself I said, “I have to go, we’ll talk about this later.” I needed to get off the phone, I couldn’t think. She cut me deep to my bone. She hit all my ‘be a man’ insecurities like a millstone dropped against an egg. I was crushed.
A day later I broke up with her.
I sometimes think back to that day and wonder if I could’ve handled things differently. I think about her frustration, anger, and her fights with my Mother and I wonder if she felt helpless in the situation. I think about my Mother too, how she felt in all this.
Granted, there were red flags raised in this relationship long before this incident but was her ‘man up’ comment a cry for help? Or was it pure manipulation?
I’ll never know but I still carry the scar she gave me to this day, 24 years later.
Years ago I listened to Neil Strauss’s book The Game. I found it to be an interesting story and a look into the lives of modern-day pick-up artists (PUA). I can see how the stories of guys picking up women, having sex with them, and living the rock star life as quite the seductive siren call for men.
It hits all the pleasure centers of what society tells us men should be. Be tough! Get laid — a lot! Be an asshole first! Show no emotions, or at least manipulate them! Say whatever is necessary to get a woman in bed and then move on. Be a modern-day Casanova. Yadda yadda yadda.
It never dug into the emotional cost of relationships these PUA’s incurred because they never had to pay them. And there always is a cost and price to pay. Of course, the cost was excused by some psychobabble that spawned the red pill wanker movement.
Upon reflection, that book merely reinforced what is now known as toxic masculinity. At its core, masculinity is not toxic but it can easily be perverted.
… we need to work toward liberation and the truth.
Remember that Gillette commercial from a few years ago? All my male friends were angry at it. They were all like “ not all men!” They felt attacked! How dare this company make them out to be creeps, bullies, and possible rapists!
Watch it again and really think about its message. All it’s saying to us men is this: don’t be jerks.
Think of the golden rule, treat people the way you want to be treated. We men have it in our power to break these cycles because our sons will be men one day, and what kind of men are we raising? That’s it. Nothing damning about you, just work toward a better you.
The very fact that this commercial hit so many men’s insecurities IS because of how they were brought up. The part in the commercial where the line of men grilling repeating “boys will be boys” like robots was a beautiful metaphor for the fucked up society we built. We’re churning out toxic men like an assembly line, and shoving them down our throats like mobile phones.
It’s getting so bad these days that women, transgender people, non-cis people routinely look over their shoulders when out in public because it’s so freaking dangerous. They’re scared of that one man that mistook a smile or a hello for an invitation.
Is this the world we wanted to build? I hope not, but it’s the one we have right now.
How many deaths have occurred because a man can’t figure out how to handle his emotions and then shoots up massage parlors in Atlanta or stabs a woman to death because she declined a date? How many deaths have happened because a man can’t reconcile romantic feelings for another man?
Life is not black and white, it’s shades of gray and it’s color.
The simple thing is that many men don’t know how to deal with this. We don’t know how to adapt to the changing roles in the world. We don’t know how to handle empowered women. We think feminism is an attack on our very core of being a man. We don’t know how to respond because every answer to any cognitive dissonance is ‘suck it up, sissy boy.’
What do we end up doing? Some of us search for answers, some of us look inward. Some of us look for codes of conduct, frames of reference to help guide us, and some us swallow red pills.
One derivation of toxic masculinity is the red pill wankers as I call them. These are the (mostly) men that claim to have figured out how relationships work. They believe it’s all driven by Nature and ‘bio-mechanics.’ They say that all the answers YOU seek are in Nature and that we can’t hide from it.
They believe that women select mates based on a man’s ability to provide them with resources and their status in the tribe. Women will attach themselves to a high-status man so their offspring have a better chance of survival.
Men on the other hand are expendable. They need to build up their status to be worth anything and when they do, they look for young pretty women to make babies with. Since men make like 300 million sperm a day, it’s ok for him to go and find many pretty young women to make babies with. It’s what Nature wants after all!
Of course some red pill wanker will comment on this post about how I got it all wrong but I find these ideas to be too simplistic and too business-like. It sure sounds like a corporation came up with this idea, doesn’t it? Take ’Woman’ with slot ‘A’ and features ‘XX’, and ‘Man’ with tab ‘B’ and features ‘XY’, put them together on Tinder, gather data, and breed a new consumer.
Nature is complex. It’s not so simple and it’s YOUR frame of reference and how YOU view the world. That’s your system, not mine. Consider what we are learning about gender constructs and intersex people. Things are not simple. Life is not black and white, it’s shades of gray and its color. It’s both a particle and wave. Life, sex, gender, and all that are beautifully complex.
As it should be.
Of course, these red pill wanker ideas align with a lot of what society taught us as teenagers. It fits with the Ayn Rand thinkers and the Rational Egoists. I grew up thinking that women don’t enjoy sex, it was something they did to keep a money-earning man around. Classic gender roles were to be enforced and the ‘no wife of mine is going to work’ 1950’s mentality was something to aspire to.
Wrong, we need to work toward liberation and the truth.
That’s a question for the ages and there is no right answer. The answer I like the most is ‘you need to figure it out for yourself.’
Since our birth, we’ve been constantly bombarded with how to be men from external forces that we’ve never considered the question of what does being a man mean to me?
We can’t hide from what are. A feeling, thinking, human that is a part of this world and each other.
The inward search for meaning is perhaps the hardest thing you can do because it’s damn scary. It forces you to unpack the buried emotions and trauma and exposes them for you. They’re laid bare right when you might not be emotionally able to process them correctly.
Years ago I was in a group that met with a Brazilian researcher. He studied how trauma is processed by men and women. A woman commented that ‘we men can compartmentalize trauma and move on from it a lot easier than women.’
He quickly said, no. We all feel trauma and we all suffer from its effects, it’s just women have better mechanisms to process it better than men. Society taught men to push it down inside. The strong silent type man is a time bomb waiting to blow.
So you push your emotions deep down inside, where no one can see. You keep it down there with all your might and it just sits there and festers, until one day it explodes. It explodes at the dinner table. It explodes when sexual advances are rebuffed. It explodes when a religious structure is at odds with who we love and have sex with. It can explode just about anywhere there is an emotional interaction where a man can’t process it healthily.
How do we stop this? How do we cope? How do we heal?
The journey for us men is to look inward first before we can effectuate any external changes. We can’t hide from what are. A feeling, thinking, human that is a part of this world and each other.
We owe it to our partners, our loved ones, and most importantly to ourselves to heal. We owe it to the world to cleave ourselves away from the cancer of toxic masculinity and raise our sons to be more than robots.
Yes, we can still like doing ‘man stuff’ but we have to hold each other to a higher standard. We can be there for one another and walk together onto the world stage as men.
“Truth is not what you want it to be; it is what it is, and you must bend to its power or live a lie.” — Miyamoto Musashi.