Timeline Of Desperate Masculinity
(That is, both men and people who are forced, or feel forced, to try to be men. Written as a trans woman who went though a lot of these, desperately trying to be a man, out of fear.)
I want to preface this by saying; none of this should give anyone any more patience for desperate, anti-feminist men. Sometimes the most respectful way to treat someone is to not have patience for them, not welcome them, not for a second condone their views or imply you do.
1. Probably between birth and ages 4 or 5 or 6
One of the very first things that seeps into us is the awareness of the expectations placed on men, even if we can’t vocalise it. To varying degrees, through TV, parents, school, friends, and anything else, we learn that men and boys are supposed to be tough, supposed to be fighters, saviours, heroes.
From many places we’ll learn that emotions are the domain of women and girls, even if we ourselves have emotions and can’t help it. Colours are policed, or become policed, i.e., no pink. Hell, we don’t want pink, that’s the girl colour. Adverts on TV will sell being social to girls and being fighters to boys. Girls smile because they like each other and have fun together, or because they get to be mothers, or wives, someday. Boys smile because they’re tough and cool. That’s what it looks like, that’s what we’re shown. And we’ll be told that girls’ interests are not for us, and are embarrassing for us. Toys are policed, stories/TV shows are policed, and we should be ashamed if we show any interest in things “meant for girls”.
2. Maybe ages 4 to 10
Some boys (and presumably AMAB trans people) at school will be able to talk to girls without feeling ashamed, but a lot of us won’t. We’ll only make friends with boys, because it feels like they’re much more likely to like what we like, and there’s no stigma around them, so there’s much less risk of shame being thrown at us. We grow up “not being able to talk to girls”, or “not knowing how to” etc., just being very awkward around them.
Many of those boys who can talk to girls will be more popular. Over time there might be a growing sense that they’re sexist and mainly talk to girls to serve their sexuality, or talk to girls in misogynist ways (this might even actually be true with some of them, and not just be the perception of desperate boys who don’t feel good enough for girls). We’ll start to feel like we’re not good enough for girls, or like girls generally just don’t like us or don’t care about us much, despite that we ourselves don’t talk to girls in the first place. This feeling is probably also related to our developing sexuality, caring about what girls think of us but also still seeing girls’ opinions/thoughts as unimportant, because that’s what we learned, and we were made to feel ashamed if we didn’t agree, if we didn’t agree that the things we were told girls like and are interested in are unimportant, frivolous.
(That, by the way, is a very important distinction to make. We do not talk to girls so we don’t actually learn what any individual girl likes or dislikes, or is interested in, we just see what we’re told girls like, from adverts and stories, and pretty much take that for truth.)
3. Maybe ages 11 to 15
The rift between the boys (and presumably some AMAB trans people) who talk to girls and the boys (ditto) who don’t grows more, seemingly invisible to those who do. We see them having a nice time, and that feeling that we’re seen as not good enough, invalid, grows from frustration to resentment. In a way we become “feminists” (I myself at age 16, when I still thought I was a boy, identified as a feminist, despite all of this). Those other boys hate us, bully us, and have girlfriends, who they treat like objects, they talk about their girlfriends like they own them.
So we see these expectations placed on men, and these boys absolutely encapsulate them. “Alpha”, to put it one way. In light of that, we become “rebels”, we cannot play that game of masculinity, so our goal becomes proving them wrong, proving that we’re just as good, just as valid. Or actually, even more valid because we “don’t play along with society’s expectations”.
This is where things probably branch most often. I’m not the only trans woman I know who got as far as this in this sequence before turning out to be a girl and going down a different path, learning stuff and figuring stuff out. Statistically, there have to be cis men who also got to this point and went no further, and became better people. But for many men (and possibly AMAB trans people), it doesn’t end there.
4. Late teens and onwards
When we get to that point, we want to prove we’re just as valid, or more. But we’re not. At that point, we are still not interested in talking to girls, we still believe girls’ interests and thoughts are unimportant. It’s girls we want to prove wrong, just as much as it is “successful” boys. We resent girls, just as much as we resent boys. We resent them for not seeing how much better we are than the misogynist boys they give more time to. But we’re not better. We’re also misogynist. We’re not interested in knowing girls, we don’t care about girls as people, we hardly even believe they have variety.
We hope to find “cool” girls, who agree with us. But even then, they’d still be girls, who we resent. If we were to ever meet a “cool” girl, she’d have to walk on eggshells, we’d police her, any single slip and she’d be just as invalid to us as all the other girls.
This is the point where lonely message boards and radical anti-feminist groups come in. Friendships born not of mutual interests but of mutual resentment and hatred, exploiting these boys’ and men’s now-desperate want to belong. There is no examination of the lessons they were taught when they were younger, no examination of the origins of their resentment, the blame just goes to women for not seeing how much better they are. They reassure each other that they’re perfectly okay people, because their whole thing is and always has been wanting to prove that they’re valid. Feminism, and generally being respectful, become understood as part of “society’s expectations”, things to fight against, to prove wrong. And the rest is very recent history.
There is no way to prevent any of this without removing the stigma and shame around girls that boys are taught from the start. This whole sequence will continue to exist until young boys are no longer taught that “girl things” are shameful and embarrassing, that girls’ interests and thoughts are less important or meaningful than theirs, that girls matter less. It’s not easy, obviously, but that is the one and only thing that will break the chain.
(And, boys and men, achieving that is a big goal of feminism.)