Dainty little bros
Right wing hysteria and bro-hard culture has done more to emasculate men than feminists or PC culture ever did.
I’ve always been so curious why Real American Men™ are reduced to a weeping panic when criticized by the PC police. To the best of my knowledge, the gender studies department at Oberlin isn’t responsible for their lack of a date, or a job or sufficient self-respect. Nevertheless, Real American Men™ treat PC culture as if it’s Ebola, and being so incredibly virile, they’ve got no choice but to do what a man’s gotta do:
Whine. Bitch. Harass. All from the safe anonymity of the Internet. Sure, some of them are happy to do so out in the open, to get rich or earn followers by pretending that guys, specifically white guys, are some persecuted class on par with Native Americans circa 1830. The aspiration to be the strong, silent type has been replaced by the desperation of the long, loud gripe.
What baffles me is if Real American Men™are supposed to be so tough, why do they buckle at the slightest criticism? Why are they so willing resort to some primal yelp all because someone said something that hurt their feelings? Who’s the snowflake now, bro?
I’m not pretending that Social Justice Warriors and PC culture don’t have their excesses, especially when they treat microagressions and mansplaining as violations on par with the rollback of voting and reproductive rights.
Those excesses can be a troubling indication of illiberal tendencies in dark corners of the Left, and it can limit, or even jeopardize the arts and academia. But in terms of raw power to direct outcomes, the Republican controlled government and overwhelmingly white, mostly male, top 1% of earners might, just might have a slight edge.
In short, those PC storm troopers aren’t running multinational corporations, legislatures or even the local DMV. And it should be noted, every progressive candidate in the States runs to the right of whatever shrill SJW that Fox News has decided to quote as representative of most liberals.
Being vocal is not the equivalent of being powerful; that’s just a myth that convinces millennials they don’t need to vote.
That hasn’t stopped the daily onslaught of tales about how feminism and PC culture won’t let boys be boys and more to the point, how they’re emasculating millennial men, as they get lost to porn, video games and self-loathing. My favorite trope is the hot blonde telling me how necessary my appetites are to the world, no matter what those mean liberals say. Thanks, Tomi. I’m going to go slap the ass of my hot co-worker now.
My least favorite trope is the pudgy right wing shock jock deciding what a real man looks like. When Rush Limbaugh can’t face a flight of stairs, I’m not sure he gets to define who’s brave and who’s not.
Hannity might stare down the terrifying silhouette of a terrorist at the shooting range, but those targets never shoot back. And there’s this real sense that Tucker Carlson would shove aside women and children to climb in the life boat first.
But it’s not merely right wing culture. This involves the wider bro and fanboy culture, two sides of the same belief that adolescence is a permanent state of being. The only difference between the two is that bro culture’s main concern is getting laid and paid, while fanboys pretend sex is something best kept in their browser history. For fanboys, being a man is often getting lost in virtual worlds where playing hero requires a command of minutia and minimal sweat.
One thing bros, fanboys and the right wing do have in common is a lack of patience with criticism or rejection. They are quick to anger, when someone suggests the latest superhero movie is unwatchable, or even just merely competent. Go on and read the comments after a film critic dares critique a DC or MCU offering, or worse yet, argues that the multiplex should have less capes and more recognizable humans.
They are quick to shrug off that poor job review from a female superior and even quicker to insult that girl that decided not to sleep with them. Every time some girl puts them in the “friend zone,” it isn’t due to some specific romantic disconnect; it’s a sign that girls just want to be treated like shit, instead of succumbing to every Nice Guy Nearby.
And God forbid, someone suggest that they earned their loot by anything but the sweat of their incredibly manly brow. It’s not their family connections, or their great school district, or the fact that their skill in coding or finance fetches a pretty penny at this moment in history.
In short, they seem awfully fragile. Essentially, they’re glass dildos we must marvel for their sexual prowess while being careful to never, ever, drop.
My sense is that bro/fanboy/right wing axis of modern masculinity is what’s responsible for making these guys miserable. That axis inflates expectations and nurtures a sense of entitlement so that when life proves to be less rewarding, it can breed a sense of victimhood, one that courts rage and eventually lashing out. And then rewards that lashing out as if it’s an act of valor, when it’s closer to childish simpering.
If I’m owed the world, when I don’t get it, don’t I deserve to fight back? Isn’t it time to stand up and take what’s rightfully ours? If only those nasty women and libtards would shut up, I’d get what I want.
Sadly, even if the east and west coasts fell in the sea, these men would have to face the fact that life never operates as it does in comics, video games or Entourage. Very few guys get limitless hook-ups with models under the age of 22, a mansion on the hill or even an instance where they’re forced to choose between saving the world and getting the girl. Newsflash: In real life, people lose both all the time.
While Hollywood and the video game industrial complex acknowledge their selling fantasies, the right-wing outrage machine argues the opposite. They argue that in real life, guys should get the spoils and if they don’t, it’s the government’s fault for confiscating one’s income and the culture’s fault for insufficient applause. As dark as that may be, it’s a feel-good narrative. It flatters men. It makes them feel wronged. It makes them feel like victims in a country where victimhood is its own currency.
Isn’t the Left responsible for that state of affairs? In some ways, yes. What the most crude form of political correctness does is shift the goal from justice to comfort. Unless marginalized groups feel comfortable 100% of the time, they’re oppressed. What always worried me about such ambitions is that in an open, relatively democratic society, whatever rhetorical weapon one wields, the opposition can wield too.
Hence, the rise of white Christians who don’t feel comfortable with birth control, homosexuality, or “Happy Holidays,” deciding that these things should be banned or marginalized. “Without ‘round the clock comfort, I’m oppressed,” is a pretty high bar for any society involving human beings.
I know that the PC movement has more nuanced goals and arguments, but it opened the door for right wingers to pretend their comfort trumps the freedom of others, full stop. Now the mainstream media is left to pretend that even while illegal immigrants are hardly threats to the republic, such misconceptions are valid because assholes “feel” like they’re true. In a post-truth era, feelings matter so much that facts are an afterthought.
And that makes it so much easier to craft narratives to rile up and flatter people, men in this case, which happens to be a great way to sell things to them. Gold bars. Survivalist gear. Supplements. Books. And what right wing media and bro culture has been selling to men for years is making them a whole lot less, well… manly.
They are being sold the idea that they under attack, and that they should resent the world, and shouldn’t have to apologize for their wants. And furthermore, those wants made them the hunters, gatherers and robber barons that built civilizations. This new axis encourages predatory capitalism since the Free Market is Good and Pure™ and the real way to measure your dick size is your bank account.
Think of all the times right wing media defends CEOs and financiers, or bro culture celebrates conspicuous consumption. Fanboys are devoting most of their GDP to their fandom, as video games, movies, Comic Con tix, action figures don’t come cheap. And I suppose I need to include the caveat that it’s a free country and people should be able to spend their money how they want.
But it also leaves guys with no way to earn and maintain their self-respect, outside of the money they make. When even 2 Broke Girls have a pretty nice pad, it’s easy to feel like one’s litter box sized studio apartment or one bedroom ranch in flyover country is some verdict on one’s value as a person. Nobody is visibly broke in our culture anymore, save for people in indie movies where their defining feature is that they’re poor.
And that’s taking place when we’ve rarely been as economically insecure, or rather as aware of how economically insecure we are. When most of us struggle for some semblance of financial security under the weight of student loans, healthcare and soaring real estate prices, it’s not so helpful to tell men either they’re rich, or they’re losers.
Way back when, it was different. And I’m not talking about single earner households, sexual harassment parties at the office and women who know they’re place (at home, in bed and silent). As late as the 90s, our culture had a certain respect for the working stiff and a certain disrespect for the rich and famous. How many action movies use to involve our hero cop slapping around some guy in a suit who thought they were above the law because of their money or power?
How often did we witness the workaday Joe knowing more than his superiors? There was the trope of the idiot boss, or the rich scumbag, but such things have given way to heroes who are all pioneering CEOs, ex-Navy SEALS, or one of a kind talents, in short, the only heroes left are superheroes. That’s not an indictment of comic books, but of a society that pretends only the elites are worth attention or accolades.
In House he wasn’t just a doctor, he was Einstein in scrubs, which excused his cruelty. I doubt we could remake Beverly Hills Cop now without giving Eddie Murphy Asperger’s to explain his rude behavior and give him some magical “Foley Sense.” And look, I enjoy comics, super hero flicks and the rest, but there’s something sad about seeing so few stories, true or otherwise, of ordinary people rising to the occasion.
And what that does is sell guys a shoddy view of life, where the only people who get to be heroes are these special few, and if one tries and fails to break into ranks of the elite, then one’s irrelevant, or worse, invisible. I was a rare fan of Friends From College, but did they really need to meet at Harvard? When was the last time did a lawyer, doctor or law enforcement officer on TV not come from the Ivy League or the Special Forces?
According to this axis of man, there are precious few ways to be relevant. One, be rich. Two, shoot things and maybe, people. I don’t think the rise in gun ownership and the decline in military service are disconnected. Guys want to feel like warriors without the commitment, sacrifice or genuine peril of battle. And actual military service has this way of ruining vapid assumptions about the glories of violence.
In Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe, based on his extensive experience with this generation of soldiers, he lays it out plainly. Today’s veterans struggle to reintegrate to society not just due to the trauma of war, but the trauma of losing what made their life meaningful. They don’t miss killing the enemy as much as the camaraderie and sense of purpose that comes with war.
When they come back home, it’s to a society that endlessly thanks them for their service, and then proceeds to reward and revere the most self-centered among us. That NFL defensive back may call that soldier the real hero in interviews, but the soldier takes note of where the real money is. And I defy anyone to argue that making real money isn’t the primary purpose of determining one’s value today.
The roots of our tolerance for income inequality is the belief that in a capitalist society, the rich are better. They deserve better schools, health insurance and a slap on the wrist when they get in trouble. The wealthier one is, the more value they bring to society. Certainly, Jared Kushner has done far more the world than a public-school teacher struggling to figure out if their oncologist is in network. Sucker. Maybe that teacher should have day traded during their summer break so they could pay $200K for chemo. And with health savings accounts they’d be able to protect their well-earned windfall, tax-free. Oh, let that day come soon.
And that leaves most men sensing that they aren’t much. And that shame, that insecurity makes them hungry for conspiracy theories that blame their lot on someone else. Ivy League Jews. Mexican gangs. Terrorists. That mythical black guy with a 2.9 GPA and a weed habit who took their spot at Stanford.
Every cable news anchor might stroke the idea of decent, every day Americans, but they spend most of their airtime defending the rich and powerful, and scapegoating other groups. But there are precious few human-interest stories of folks giving up paydays to serve the community. There isn’t even a celebration of soldiers that stay in uniform rather than leaving for private military contractors with their hefty paydays.
At no point does bro culture or right wing media ever applaud the choice to forego money for more important priorities. More time to be a husband and father. A discipline that makes the community safer or more rewarding. And yes, there are many jobs outside of the police department that do that. Yet somehow even the right-wing fetish for police doesn’t stop them from bitching about public sector unions ability to secure a living wage and a retirement for those same cops they’re busy cheering. Mostly for their mistakes.
When only the rich matter, greed isn’t just a “good,” it’s a necessity. Unless one gets the bigger house, the newer model (of shoes/car/wife), one isn’t “killing it.” Religion used to be a counterbalance to this secular pressure, but evangelicals are still gulping down the prosperity gospel, where money is how God shows his love. A decent man who lives his faith and loses his job must have done something to deserve that. But the rich man who swindles his way to a Denali SUV is the real saint.
No, men have picked up there’s only one path to salvation or at least redemption: money and fame. There’s no room for the idea that one can ever be rich and a wimp or rich and malevolent, (provided one’s politics are in the “Right”). No, riches are a testament to one’s value as a person, as a man.
Which is why fanboy culture is so seductive. Not everyone wants or is able to be some start-up monster or financial wizard. But in the narratives of fanboy flicks, and experiences of virtual worlds, they get to save the day. They get to have that rush either vicariously through caped crusaders, or more directly in the likes of Call of Duty.
They don’t have to risk bodily harm, or more importantly, the consequences of their decisions. And maybe, just maybe, some of those fanboys don’t want to buy into the right-wing bullshit that they have to be rich or shoot people to be happy. They feel better off lost in the worlds they discovered when they were 12.
And they’re willing to pay plenty for that faux heroism. There are ways the rich can even buy their own machismo. They can pay $2,000 a weekend to shoot guns and roll around in the dirt like a Green Beret. They can blow money pretending to be race car drivers or cowboys. They can purchase peril for their own kicks, without the burden of real risk or purpose. Beefed up bros have their own brand of fantasies, just as immersive and momentarily rewarding as any video game.
Most of these guys know it’s bullshit. And few fanboys believe their high scores in first person shooter games would translate to success in an actual battle. Down deep, they know it’s all a game, and that can be profoundly unsatisfying. Even as guys put in the time and effort doing all the right things to get rich and important, it still doesn’t do the trick.
Somehow that brutal Crossfit routine and that fifth Tinder hook up this week only makes this dissatisfaction worse. So does screaming into the void or bullying critics. Right wingers like to pretend that yelling at liberals is an act of courage, a sign of manhood, that patented, “I don’t take shit from no one,” nonsense. But what they’re really doing with their tantrums is feeling sorry for themselves.
It’s hard to take Alex Jones bemoaning the feminization of men when he constantly screeches like a schoolgirl who just saw a mouse. How far have we fallen when his red-faced verbal seizures are seen as anything but the behavior of a sad, scared little man desperate for attention? But he’s a celebrity because right wingers groomed a generation of men to believe that it’s manly to feel sorry for themselves. In their world, self-pity is a virtue.
But self-pity was never how anyone gained self-respect. And self-respect, not pride or vanity or bluster, is what right wingers, bro culture and fanboy land undermine. Self-respect grows in a mix of service, competence, and authenticity… in that order.
And right now, our society scoffs at all three. Americans may say they don’t, but anyone with their eyes open knows the score. And those three constitute a model for guys to flourish at a time when women, people of color and various sexual orientations are battling to share the world equitably alongside them. Sorry dudes, I’m not buying the paranoia of being subjugated into slavery by some PC dictatorship next year.
But taking a closer look at those elements, it’s easy to see why they may seem out of reach for most of the guys caught up in the axis of male grievance.
Service, the idea of working for the sake of someone else, might get acknowledged momentarily. But watch as that devoted father becomes a “taker” as soon as he needs help from the government to provide for his family. Or how people sneered at the idea that President Obama worked as a community organizer, instead of cashing out at a white shoe law firm. And that was a choice he made well before it was a sure thing that Americans would elect a black guy with the middle name Hussein.
Notice how rarely we respect people who choose careers like teaching, nursing and social work. Instead, we save our applause for billionaires who give away fortunes after their own comfort has been secured.
Service isn’t limited to certain vocations. A decent middle manager is almost non-existent because it’s a position that serves the employees above and below them, when most middle managers are busying reading books on how to become CEO. Service includes all the tiny acts that involve putting someone else first for the greater good.
And given the unceasing narcissism of our culture, it can feel foreign and foolish for a guy to start thinking that way. But service is also how we’re valuable to our families, our jobs, and our world without having to earn six figures. It’s how we get to sleep at night knowing that we matter. We matter because we give more than we take.
What I found so profoundly shitty about the “Makers vs Takers” argument was that so many “Takers” spent more time contributing to the people around them than the “Makers” ever did. But in this moment of history, we accepted that the only way to legitimate way to “make” anything is to line our own pockets.
And it doesn’t matter how we line those pockets, not really. Competence used to be a core virtue of the American ethos. But right wingers shifted to believe we don’t have to win wars, we need only keep fighting them. It doesn’t matter if a product, movie or service is lousy; so long as it turns a profit, it’s a success. So long as the shareholders are rewarded, that corporation is to be revered, no matter the cost to employees or consumers.
But competence puts the craft first, even if it costs short term profits or convenience. Competence also admits mistakes, the kind that show up when there’s a fixed standard that needs to be reached. Competence eschews “life hacks” for the slow and steady approach. Hollywood promised us all we need was a quick montage and we’d be ready for the big fight or the big meeting. The rest of us know that losing weight or getting better takes longer, with false starts, setbacks and plateaus.
Even on a site like Medium, there’s a priority on success over competence. It’s how to get those followers, by promising to unlock the secrets of how to write like Shakespeare, or the top ten ways to make movies like Chris Nolan. Hell, there was one that tried to use Charles Bukowski as some model for succeeding in publishing. Competence is about the work, not about how to procure the rewards for that work.
But competence, actual competence at something, generates a pride that doesn’t require applause. Today’s workplace is far too often a place where people go through the motions on their way up the ladder, rather than a place where they get to learn and demonstrate their competence. Part of that is yes, the nature of a modern economy driven by solving technological and intellectual quagmires over physical labor and crafts, but competence is all too often sacrificed at the altar of this quarter’s numbers.
Why do you think hipsters are making their own hats and pickles? It’s just to have a taste of being competent. A place where corners aren’t cut. It’s about doing something right, not just doing something that gets one paid or laid. Competence is its own reward, which feels downright subversive when rewards are the only thing that matters.
But competence can also feel like luxury. It’s easy for that Yale grad to make moonshine in Williamsburg; he’s got options if that gig fails. It’s quite another for that guy working the grill at a local diner to waste two eggs that didn’t come out quite right. That devotion to competence can be hard path to follow, no matter how good it may end up feeling.
One of the reasons so many of us loathe our jobs no matter how well they pay, is that we’re not actually paid for our competence, but rather our ability to play by arbitrary rules that have little to do with improving a product or serving anyone better.
The last element is perhaps the most elusive and misunderstood. Nowadays, authenticity is usually employed as an excuse to be an asshole. Right now, every child in America can “speak their mind,” so I’m not so quick to respect that. But authenticity coupled with a sense of service and competence is something completely different than celebrating one’s idiocy and bigotry as a virtue.
Authenticity isn’t just proclaiming one’s strengths, but owning one’s faults and limitations as well. It’s the guy who admits he’s lousy at fixing that sink or has no clue why Pakistan and India have been feuding. It’s the stand-up comic who admits he shouldn’t run the country, and the politician admitting his jokes are pretty lame. It’s someone who is comfortable in their own skin, even when it starts to sag or wrinkle. Authenticity isn’t a form of vanity.
At its best, authenticity is a form of honesty, with oneself and others. Someone who can’t judge themselves, can’t be authentic. They’re only selling their self-delusions. Being authentic means not just trusting what one’s mind says, but heeding what the mirror and the world says as well.
I’d love to be a cowboy, but beyond riding horses on occasion and my boots, nobody’s hiring me to rustle cattle. I’m just a guy who really loves Westerns. And I’m cool with that. I might have boxed for 12 years, but that doesn’t make me professional fighter or someone eager to brawl. It was a discipline I savored getting better at, and it wasn’t part of any grand plan other than earning some self-respect.
And even having earned some, I still struggle. I’d like to be richer, farther along in my career and more financially stable, even acknowledging how well off I am already. I’d like a profession that contributes more to the world around me, and I’m working on that. But it’s difficult not to get swept away with what’s on my feed, or what short cut is right there for me to take.
I don’t write this suggesting it’s easy for any guy to keep their perspective. The whole point is that there are powerful forces out there getting rich by feeding our self-pity. And PC culture does us no favors by suggesting a long list of things that makes us problematic and precious few things that make us valid as human beings and allies. But in the end, those critiques aren’t what’s making us miserable.
It’s that the world gives us few things to take pride in beyond their net worth, sexual conquests or unceasing public adoration. It’s a world that rewards us for our tantrums, online and elsewhere. The world tells us our fantasies are important, even noble, because they’re trying to sell us those very fantasies.
And that’s the real battle. To carve out a place to take pride in what we do for others, to trust that we might not be a world class performer, but today we got better than yesterday, and to have the courage to own our flaws as flaws, instead of pretending that they too, deserve a standing ovation.
But a great place to start is to acknowledge that our self-pity is a fault. That our world improves by finding solutions, not scapegoats. That we can choose not to engage with every critique we find unfair or misplaced. And that our behavior, rather our bitching, may prove the most powerful response. Because long ago, a man was judged by the value of his actions, not the length or volume of his complaints.
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