An interesting thread broke out in one of my entries the other day, as they are wont to do, and this one was about the problems that these Men’s Rights Activists are actually attempting to solve. And the listed problems were:
- Boys are doing worse at school than women in almost all subjects.
- Men are attending college at lower rates than women, and graduating even less.
- Men commit suicide at a much greater rate than women. In the UK at least, men’s suicide rates have remained steady from 1981 to 2012, while women’s suicide has dropped significantly.
- Men are more likely to be the victims of street crime, and specifically are more likely to be murdered.
- Men receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as women, being more likely to be imprisoned and for longer.
Now, obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list of all Men’s Rights problems, nor was it intended to be; this is the Whitman’s Sampler, as it were. But those last three items on suicide, street crime, and punishment, in particular, struck me as being pretty serious goddamned problems.
They also struck me as being a direct problem with traditional masculinity.
Are guys more likely to kill themselves? Yes, absolutely. But I see that because men are traditionally expected to not discuss emotions, keeping all that pent up, lest they be perceived as “weak” and perhaps even incompetent. Their friendships tend to be shallower, as they share activities but not necessarily problems, and even if they did feel comfortable sharing problems safely, they may be emotionally incoherent because they haven’t been trained to investigate their own feelings.
So a lot of them, feeling like failures for even having emotions and no friends they feel comfortable talking to, eat their guns.
Likewise, I think men are more likely to be murdered because traditionally-masculinized men are generally trained to be confrontational. If someone disrespects you, you can’t just let it slide or you’re a wimp; you have to call the other person out, just to let them know that you’re not that kind of man. There’s status on the line, the danger that someone might perceive you as someone to be taken advantage of. So they’re far more likely to put themselves in danger needlessly.
Likewise, men receive harsher sentences partially because men are perceived as being more dangerous, but also because – and again, there’s that “traditional” masculinity thing popping up – I think those kinds of guys are way less likely to show remorse, because in the competitive world of dudes, apologizing is seen as a status demotion.
And you know what I don’t see the solution to that as?
A movement where guys get together and divide themselves thoroughly into “alpha” and “beta” males, structuring themselves into hierarchies where by acting up in increasingly bold ways they get status, and are encouraged to think about all the things that they’re owed due to their machismo ideas but not getting.
Shit, it’s tough to be a guy in this society. There’s a lot of pressures placed on you to succeed, to be seen as succeeding, to win the prizes that society has said that you should have: the girl, the good career, the house, all that. And that shit warps you severely, should you buy into it. It makes you act in ways that actually kinda harm you.
Society does not train men to actually listen to the feedback that would make them better. To me, that’s a serious problem. And if you want to fix that, I’ll applaud.
But fixing that by focusing more on the dysfunctional elements that got you into this mess is just… suboptimal, to be kind. Very kind. Acting as though the solution to fix all of these woes is to double down on the stratification, to double down on the expectation that if you do all these things in the right order then a beautiful girl will magically drop out of the skies as your reward?
What I’m seeing in the Men’s Rights Activists movement is actually an intensification of all the terrible shit that’s gotten guys into trouble in the first place. The biggest problem with traditional masculinity is that it’s decoupled from feedback – think about all those movies where the hero, ignoring the female’s wailing, mutters, “A guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do” and goes and does the manly thing even if nobody in the world wants him to do it.
In fact, the hero gets brownie points because nobody else in the world wants him to do it.
And what that masculinity does, is it alienates. You wind up with some doofy dude following a script, hauling “helpless” women across the street whether they want to be helped or not, whether he actually wants to do it or not, because This Is What Men Do. And he’s taught by movies that if he does this in the proper way, then John McClane (who has alienated his wife by being emotionally distant and unsupportive) will win his beautiful bride back.
That doesn’t really work. What usually happens is that you have a guy eating all his emotions, not getting closer to his wife but in fact pushing her away (unless she’s eaten the same dosage of traditional masculinity and expects her husband to act this way), slowly finding that this script actually does not provide him with magical results. But he looks around with envy, because other people seem to have all the shit that he doesn’t have (even if it’s because everyone else is putting on appearances because they’re following the script), and he feels this deep envy and despair because he’s doing what he’s supposed to and why aren’t the magical rewards raining from the heavens?
And what I see in the Men’s Rights Activists are guys who are doubling down on the script.
The script is the problem.
I don’t see any good solution to this knot of defensive expectations that involves telling guys, “Hey, if you’re just better than the other guys then life will be awesome.” What I see a solution is as saying, “There is no script. There is no guarantee in life. But if you want X thing, then you must be prepared to honestly ask, ‘So why am I not getting it?’ and interrogate yourself boldly to see what you’d need to do to get it – whether that’s money, companionship, love, beauty, fresh pancakes – and then do that.”
Instead, what I see is a script: “Just become the alpha male, and had rock-chiseled abs and a white smile, and you will have the world of your dreams.” No. No. Some of those women don’t want rock-chiseled abs. Some of those women don’t want irritating douches who override all their needs with theirs. Some of those women may want irritating douches who override all their needs with theirs, but something else about you isn’t compatible with them.
You are not guaranteed success. At anything.
Anything that implies that there’s a script to be followed that invariably leads to success is always, always toxic.
So yeah. Why are boys doing worse in school? I don’t know. I’ve been told that it’s because boys are more prone to acting out, and we’re no longer shrugging that off with “Boys will be boys.” Maybe that’s a sign that boys are trained to not respect the rules, maybe it’s a sign that boys are more naturally boisterous and we need to adapt to them. I don’t know.
But to me, the solution the Men’s Rights Activists are proposing seems mighty similar to “Because women want to weaken us.” And in that, I disagree. I think what weakens us is this ludicrous broken Script of Manliness that sort-of limped along back when everyone in society agreed that yeah, this is the way men are supposed to act, so we’ll all squint very hard to overlook the problems and pretend this is awesome.
But society’s too diverse for that to work. Some philosophies are like Tinkerbell: they only work if everyone in the audience claps their goddamned hands. And I think traditional masculinity falls apart when you don’t have all your neighbors going, “Yes, your husband’s a solitary misanthrope who dismisses your very existence and emotional needs, but you totally need to stay there for Reasons.”
That broke. The next script, whatever it is, will also break. What we need is not a script, but a training of flexibility so we can say to men, “Hey, you know how to get what you want? It varies. You’re not guaranteed to get it, and that kinda sucks. But here’s your best chance.”
Really, everyone should be taught that. Men or women. Or whatever gender you wanna call yourself.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.