Man Down

What if to man up, us men actually had to man down? What if we had to step outside the heavily guarded and barbed wire bordered fortress of manness and take a look at the sites beyond the walls? So far, so vague? Well, let’s start with some definitions. Manness (which is actually a word!) means “the distinctive or differential characteristics of man.” Meanwhile, man has many definitions including a catchall for the entire human race (eye roll) and someone who expresses their brave, courageous manhood. But the one I’m interested in is “adult human male”, which brings me to the definition of male. This means both a male person: man or boy (seems the definitions are getting quite circular) and, crucially, “an individual of the sex that is typically capable of producing small, usually motile gametes (such as sperm or spermatozoa) which fertilize the eggs of a female.” OK! Being a man means being able to make sperm, got it!

It turns out the secret that us men are guarding at the heart of our manly fortresses is a splodge of small motile gametes. The definition doesn’t even have anything to say about willies and balls (but they’re implied), it’s just sperm. Naturally, it follows that a man, capable of issuing fertile ejaculate, should be virile, like his sperm, and strong, because I’m guessing those little gametes are tough? Given this, a man should not emote or display his feelings in public. He should appear tough at all times. He should play manly sports like rugby and football and get manly jobs like building and banking. He should be heterosexual, marry a woman, buy a house and have children, while being the breadwinner and letting his wife undertake the emotional labour for the entire family because folks with sperm don’t do emotions, am I right? He should put sentries at every corner of his castle and blast anyone who questions his manliness. That gay guy who’s just so darn camp: blast him. That woman who calls him weak: blast her. That trans man who calls into question his whole identity: blast ’em. That photograph of a hot male model on the tube: aahh, internal blast. Those feelings of sadness within: another internal blast. Those tears at night: internal blast! And so on and so on until this so-called man snaps.

An article in GQ written by Matt Haig states that 84 British men take their lives every week. It’s a shocking figure but it’s thanks to folks like Haig that male suicide is actually being talked about more. He goes on to say that “we need to change and broaden the idea of being a man.” He lists a few ideas including talking more about and not stigmatising mental health, and undoing the alpha male archetype of manliness. And what if he went further and questioned the very nature of man himself – this organism capable of producing motile spermatoza? What if we just knocked the walls down and let men be people, people capable of all sorts – compassion, strength, love, same-sex attraction, anger, football, creativity, kindness, ballet, sadness, loneliness, anxiety and beyond. What if being a man had nothing to do with sperm or gonads, something which trans men are reminding us of on a regular basis. What if to man up us men actually had to man down? Because a lot of cis men are going down and while there are so many factors to consider I think one of them is the fortress of manness – an empty, lonely sort of place that so often crushes the soul. To clarify, I’m not saying men need to stop being men if they don’t want to – it’s their identity after all – but I do think the man-conditioned is a being so often worth unconditioning.

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Trolls Just Wanna Have Friends

In response to my previous post on angry men a friend had this question: “I wonder what the best ways are to redirect mass anger towards positive change rather than destruction?” I kind of feel it’s the million dollar question and in the context of angry men, who have a habit of trolling online, I think it is about trying to redirect that anger away from women and feminism towards actually oppressive and dangerous political elites and economic systems. But the political is personal too and on an emotional level anger is often the flip side of sadness, loneliness and insecurity. So, like the rest of us I think trolls just wanna have friends.

This clip contains explicit and offensive content as it uses the language of trolling in order to parody it.

Imagine I’m an angry man troll: I’m sat in my room at my computer watching one of Anita Sarkeesian’s vlogs calling out sexism in the gaming industry. I am not OK with this – I enjoy video games just as they are and don’t want some random feminist dissing my favourite games and dissing my gender. I sign into my anonymous Youtube account and issue Sarkeesian a death threat, I describe in graphic detail the way in which I’ll kill her and then I go off to make baked beans on toast. Why am I doing this? Perhaps it’s because in a world where people like me are relatively powerless (I’m struggling to find a job, the rent’s too high, no one ever spoke to me about feminism when I was younger, James Bond and Iron Man are my role models, I may be suffering from mental health issues and unsure how to seek support) this is finally a chance to exert some power. Quite a lot of power actually: from my computer I can threaten to kill people and I’ll be able to get away with it.

The above might be what goes through the head of an angry guy and it might not. But the point I want to make is that in the mind of the angry guy his response is perfectly normal – given the world he lives in his reaction makes sense (to him). To change this we’ve got to be able to show him why this response might not actually make sense. Firstly, his anonymous death threats have real world consequences – the psychological suffering caused is immense (Mary Beard, a professor at Cambridge University, befriended one of her trolls, told him about the effects of his trolling and even wrote him a job reference!). Secondly, living as we do in a consumer, capitalist society why does the troll waste so much energy attacking those calling for greater justice rather than those who cynically profit from consumerist capitalism – the loaded elites who are quite happy for the ‘masses’ to squabble amongst themselves as it lets them off the hook? Perhaps it’s easier to attack closer-at-hand feminists rather than distant, exceptionally powerful elites who have a knack for staying in power. But surely one things gamers know is that it’s way more fun to take on the big bad guy rather than the scapegoat – Luke Skywalker didn’t diss Princess Leia for having opinions, no, he teamed up with her and took on the entire Empire!

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the ‘angry man troll’ doesn’t actually exist because it’s a trope and a stereotype commonly used to essentialise people and explain them away. People are far more complex than any box we might wish to put them in. It’s important to remember this as we seek to get to know people beyond our usual social circles and before we go off on one complaining about angry men trolls…woops!

They say it takes a whole village to raise a child and I guess it takes a whole society to create an angry man troll. There’s no one person to blame, not the individual himself, because there are just so many factors that contribute to how someone grows up and lives – media, education, entertainment, economics, politics, etc. Our challenge is to make sure all these pillars of our society act in a way that promotes equality and well-being (not exactly a small challenge). And guys, even if they do get angry, are an exceptionally important part of this movement. Indeed, there’s a lot in it for them too – more friends, a greater diversity of video games to choose from, free lessons in emotional intelligence and how to relate to people, more confidence, self-esteem, job opportunities, and even more chances to have great, consenting sex with other adults (because they’ll have the guts to ask for it (in a mature, respectful way) and the decency to not ask again when someone says no). But this equal and just utopia, surely it’s just a pipe dream, a waste of time, why bother? Well, before I get onto that here’s Lily Allen poking a little fun at trolls aka URL Badmen. To be continued…

The Song Of Angry Men

There’s quite a lot of anger on the internet these days. It’s often perpetuated by men and anonymous trolls. I’m guilty too as some of my blog posts veer from ‘witty social commentary’ into ‘angry rant’. Thinking of anger and men reminds me of the song Do you hear the people sing? from the hit West End show Les Miserables. It’s sung by a bunch of young, male students in 1830s revolutionary France who want to overthrow the corrupt political regime and make a better world. “Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men?” they ask and, yeah, they’re all pretty angry. Unfortunately, things don’t go to plan and all the revolutionaries are killed whilst the regime stays in power. But the question remains: what’s the deal with all these angry men?

A contemporary (non-musical) example would be the many responses to Anita Sarkeesian’s vlogs on sexism in the gaming industry and online. So many guys are furious that Sarkeesian would call out the sexism so rampant in the industry. They’re so angry they even issue death threats. Now, I could write an angry blog post about these guys’ angry blog posts but I’m more interested in exploring the anger itself.

Anger is a strong emotion that tends to be used as a defence mechanism to very aggressively maintain one’s security and comfort zone. If you’re a male gamer who likes the gaming world and its portrayal of women it’s understandable that you’d feel threatened when someone criticises it. Furthermore, given that guys are often not well educated in emotional intelligence and expression then it’s not surprising that their upset manifests as anger. Contextualising this further we can note other issues men face in the 21st century. For starters the gold standard of masculinity is still the James Bond style, breadwinning, tough guy. Most guys won’t achieve this and will be belittled by the ones that think they do. And of that latter group they’ll spend most of their time competing with one another to be alpha male and will hardly get a chance to just chill out and be nice. Of course, this gold standard is really just an outdated, redundant stereotype that only ever makes sense in shoddy Hollywood films and abysmal advertising campaigns – it’s a fiction but many guys labour under the belief that it’s an ascertainable and desirable goal. Add to this the problems of economic recession and dwindling job markets that many countries face and it’s even harder for men to find meaning ‘being men’.

Unfortunately, these larger economic and political issues tend to get ignored as guys look elsewhere to vent their anger – usually at women and feminism who they perceive to be threats. Case in point with Anita Sarkeesian – rather than guys acknowledging that greater equality for the sexes is a good thing and greater diversity in video games is also good (think about it, there will beĀ moreĀ games to choose from) they think it’s the feminists who are the problem rather than the cynical gaming companies who want to make money peddling damaging, uninspired stereotypes.

But what should angry men do with all this anger? Should they just ignore it, bottle it up and hope it goes away…until the next blog rant. Well, this is a big question and one for another blog post. In the meantime here’s some Les Miserables awesomeness…

The But Men

They live amongst us. They are people we know. They are our friends. They are the But Men. Like the rest of us they live in a heteronormative, misogynistic patriarchy. They are witness to daily acts of sexism against woman. They listen to these women talk about their experiences of oppression. They read women’s blogs and facebook posts about the violence society perpetrates against woman. And once they’ve finished listening and reading the first thing they say is “But men…”

“But men are objectified too, but men get called out for having too much sex, but men experience domestic violence, but men are stereotyped, but men…”

Whilst all of these things are true it’s pretty obvious that the But Men are missing the point. Simply put, when we are talking about women’s experience of the patriarchy we are talking about women’s experience of the patriarchy – not men’s. In this situation the best thing many men can do is shut up and listen. I did a But Men the other day and swiftly learnt my lesson. A friend had posted about the objectification of women in mainstream media – the way women’s bodies are so frequently sexualised and scrutinised. I ‘liked’ the post and then innocently/ignorantly commented, ‘Yes, and this happens to men too.’ It didn’t take long for someone else to comment on my comment accusing me of missing the point and trivialising the issue. “Missing the point, trivialising the issue,” I said to myself indignantly, that’s certainly not what I intended. Fortunately, rather than commenting on the comment on my comment I stepped away from the laptop.

I say I commented innocently/ignorantly for a reason: with regards the innocence I was genuinely trying to reach out to a virtual community discussing objectification and share my own experience of objectification – I get bored with the status quo of male beauty and body type and my self-esteem is regularly diminished by it and I really wanted to share my views on this. With regards the ignorance I should have known better than to butt into a conversation about the oppression of women with a comment about the oppression of men. I would not have interrupted a friend’s discussion about their experience of racism as a black person with my comments on the experiences of racism that white people encounter, or a discussion on homophobia with instances of heterophobia, or instances of Islamaphobia with cases of discrimination against atheists etc. Yet for some reason I thought it was OK to completely divert a conversation about women to be about men. There’s a word for this and it’s sexism. It turns out my ignorance perpetuates oppression and that makes me guilty.

For too long conversations have been led by men, for men and about men. And now people are talking about other things men are suddenly finding their male privilege threatened. It was never a good privilege in the first place because it depended on oppression and violence but it sure is uncomfortable to discover a taken-for-granted power being dispersed, even though it’s for the best.

So, But Men, what can we do? We can acknowledge that there are ways in which we all suffer in society and that we all need to be able to talk about this suffering. If we want to discuss the ways in which we suffer as men we can find appropriate groups to do it with. However, it’s important we don’t hijack other groups to talk about ourselves – this is disrespectful and oppressive. We must learn to listen and not to speak over people (aka when to shut up). We must also acknowledge that there are spaces to which we are not invited (e.g. a woman’s circle). In essence, we need to use our imagination. We need to try to empathise with groups we are not part of in order to understand what it’s like to experience the world as they do – a world that has a knack for treating men unfairly well. Then we can set about changing this by redistributing power equally in order to ensure that this world isn’t all a-but men!