Structural Loneliness
January 29, 2018 10:20 AM   Subscribe

There are, broadly, two kinds of structural lonelinesses. One is the benign loneliness of the socially alienated, the other the malignant melancholy of the erstwhile master.

"Patriarchy teaches men to alleviate their emotional needs through unequal relationships, rewarding the construction of toxic hierarchies in families, workspaces, and social arenas. When we start dismantling the inequalities between spouses, employees, and fellow citizens, the diminishing powerful have no skills to build relationships of mutual care work with equals. Their loneliness is a way station: a place to take stock in their investment in decolonization and come to terms with their complicity in oppression. Learning how to socialize as a way to survive begins young for women, for religious, racial, and ethnic minorities, for queer and trans people. What lonely entitled men are really asking for is to be cocooned from the life experiences that give other people the skills to survive loneliness."

Amba Azaad writes about the burdens of loneliness for The New Inquiry.
posted by Kitty Stardust (99 comments total) 96 users marked this as a favorite
 
Great stuff, thank you for sharing. This all matches my observations, both about my fellow man in general and about the work that I personally do to avoid being alone and going crazy from it - the only way to get people to stick around is to be worth the trouble, and that might as well be a foreign language to many guys because it's *work*.
posted by mordax at 10:46 AM on January 29 [8 favorites]


Previously.
posted by libraryhead at 11:13 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


There were portions of this article that were so astutely stated, it caught my breath. There is so much in this article.

At the very end, there is a (quick) point about the happy endings of hags and witches. When a woman escapes a bad marriage, that is the happy ending we're often led to imagine for her: she gets to be alone now. Maybe she'll be literally alone--a hermit, happy without anyone else except maybe a dog. Or maybe she'll be alone, just in the sense that she excises men from her life--living in a woman-only commune, or forming a lesbian relationship. But the story almost never ends with, "And then later she met a different man who was mature, and caring, and they lived happily ever after." If a woman begins a story alone, her happily-ever-after is finding a man, any man. But if a woman begins a story with a man, her happily-ever-after is getting to (finally) be away from men.

Even in fairy tales about women, men are excused from the expectation of participating in emotionally mature, reciprocal companionship.
posted by meese at 11:52 AM on January 29 [41 favorites]


Because straight white men refuse to recognize their own unpalatability, they come up with solutions to loneliness that appropriate the rhetoric of justice- and freedom-based ideologies without actually engaging in any rigorous structural analyses of their culpability in oppression.

White men are not, as a class, unpalatable. 90.4% of all white men will be married at some time in their lives. 84.6% of Hispanic men will be married at some point in their lives. 68.3% of Black men will be married at some point in their lives. White men who are divorced also remarry at a higher rate than other groups.

Hence, white males complaining of loneliness have are not dealing with reality. Nor are writers of hot takes regarding such issues.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:52 AM on January 29 [7 favorites]


Patriarchy teaches men to alleviate their emotional needs through unequal relationships

I used to have a boss who would just talk at me for ... maybe not hours on end, but forty-five minutes at a go, definitely. I did not understand it! I was moderately sure that it was not any kind of a sexual harassment thing, since he seemed to do just about the same thing to all of my coworkers and it was all the most banal nonsense of everyday life.

But he was my boss and this was literally the only benefit he got out of being my boss (since the salary for supervising librarians was just barely higher than the salary for front-line librarians, and he had zero interest in supervising anyone or making the smallest strategic decisions about library programs or policies): he had the right to talk at people as much as he wanted.
posted by Jeanne at 11:58 AM on January 29 [20 favorites]


Palatability and marriageability do not entirely overlap in a world still dominated by patriarchy. You can say that many of these (heterosexual) men would not be chosen as life partners by women with free choice and still think they have a good chance of getting married, because female choice remains so constrained in so many ways. It's just that the past couple decades have exposed the edge of the phenomenon of unpalatability. Men now have the sense that there is some standard by which some women might refuse to take care of them without reward and thus they are exposed to the anxiety of "abandonment" by their servants.
posted by praemunire at 12:08 PM on January 29 [39 favorites]


The article talks about women's' loneliness within marriages, among others. I don't think the author of the linked piece is the one making hot takes.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:26 PM on January 29 [24 favorites]


Hence, white males complaining of loneliness have are not dealing with reality. Nor are writers of hot takes regarding such issues.

This shit is exactly why you guys are unpalatable. This shit right here.

The rest of us: 'man there's a significant problem going on with your demographic.'
White dudes: 'no there's not, look at [$bullshit evidence missing the point].'

If you actually point out #notallmen, two things are simultaneously true:

1) No, it isn't all men.
2) But yes, it's still you.

There is a significant fraction of unhappy men who hurt the people around all of us. This article accurately describes the fuckwits behind stuff like Gamergate, to the best of my personal experience with people on the fringes or observation at a distance.

Quibbling over how many guys there are like this is a pointless deflection because the real answer is 'there are enough of these guys to be a problem.' It's a way of trying to take over the conversation for the express purpose of absolving yourself instead of helping, and it's precisely the poor socialization that people are complaining about.

Also:
The article talks about women's' loneliness within marriages, among others. I don't think the author of the linked piece is the one making hot takes.

Yep. Marriage does not equal 'healthy companionship.' It can, it should, we want it to, but citing numbers like yours doesn't tell us much about how those are going.
posted by mordax at 12:31 PM on January 29 [65 favorites]


This was a dense piece that gave me a lot to think about--thanks, Kitty Stardust!
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:37 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


According to the U.K. Men’s Shed Association the rate of growth of Men’s Sheds is between six and nine new sheds a month.
I've never heard of a "Men's Shed" before. What a ridiculous name. Why, back in my day we caked ourselves with the blood of our kills and drummed naked in the woods and we liked it that way!
posted by octobersurprise at 12:44 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


This is great, thought-provoking stuff. Thanks for posting.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:19 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


This is excellent stuff, and gives a whole new dimension to the Marxist theory of alienation (more abridged version). Patriarchy and white supremacy are hyper-competitive environments that, unsurprisingly, tend to embrace capitalist hierarchical structures. It's refreshing that someone took a deep look inside how alienation applies to hierarchy outside of strictly class terms.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:23 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]


Hey wow, the powerless are as unlikely to understand power as the oppressor is to understand oppression. Neat.
posted by poe at 1:29 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


White men are not, as a class, unpalatable. 90.4% of all white men will be married at some time in their lives.

Baby boomers had a 90% marriage rate; the current numbers are crawling down toward 70%. And at the point of the 2010 census, only 51.5% of males (over 15) were married. 71% of men 55 and older were married - taken with the "90% married at some point," that means 19% of older men who used to be married and are not now.

However, I don't think there's a strong correlation between "has good enough social connections that he isn't lonely" and "once convinced a woman to marry him." I have met a great many white men who have been married at least once, whose loneliness I would not feel inspired to fix.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:55 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]


the powerless are as unlikely to understand power as the oppressor is to understand oppression

the powerless tend to be acutely aware of what power is and where it lies. it's the powerful who are privilege-blind and ignorantly abusive such that they are incapable of functioning when that power is taken away from them. a classic example of this is the narrative trope whereby such and such rich person loses all of their wealth at the beginning of the story and then are shown as incapable of surviving 'on the streets' or in prison or whatever

this is also the point made by the article:
Men, compounded by straightness and whiteness as applicable, are the worst theorists of loneliness. They operate from the mind-boggling assumption that there must be something structurally wrong with the world if they are faced with any indication that it does not wish to keep company with them.
posted by runt at 2:02 PM on January 29 [32 favorites]


TFA addresses that white men's loneliness is seen as an epidemic in need of serious social response, regardless of the reality of the situation, while the loneliness of others is marginalized, ignored, and unacknowledged. There is a definite inequality buried in how we talk about loneliness.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:19 PM on January 29 [25 favorites]


90.4% of all white men will be married at some time in their lives. 84.6% of Hispanic men will be married at some point in their lives. 68.3% of Black men will be married at some point in their lives. White men who are divorced also remarry at a higher rate than other groups.

white men are, as a class, powerful because of oppressive, institutionalized forces. people who are powerful tend to, as a class, have more access to resources like money, housing, mental healthcare, etc. additionally, white men also benefit from being the default class of people that are depicted as attractive in our media (see, for example, the Oscars or actors named Chris who star in genre films). this is one of many of the author's points - that stripped of this power, white men tend to, as a class, be worse off in their socialization and emotional regulation than a non-white male as these are skills you need to learn if your power isn't institutionalized into society

you are not, however, inherently attractive as a class, Ironmouth - an absurdly, obviously white supremacist statement that I'm sure none of the people here expected to need to have to debate today
posted by runt at 2:21 PM on January 29 [18 favorites]


Lonlieness isn't cured by marriage, needing to bloviate at staff, does not cure lonlieness in those who work for narcissists. I maintain that lonlieness is the steady state of the universe, which rushes to fill every vacuum, and socializing is how we assist the universe in this prime function.
posted by Oyéah at 2:33 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


In short, this responds to people saying "I am in pain, please help" with "others hurt worse than you, you're not asking for help right, and you probably deserve it."

It may even be true. But I do not see how adding cruelty to pain makes the world better.

Rather than tear down the programs that try to address this problem, we should be demanding funding for more and better programs that include more people. Raise your sights.
posted by JDHarper at 3:00 PM on January 29 [11 favorites]


In short, this responds to people saying "I am in pain, please help" with "others hurt worse than you, you're not asking for help right, and you probably deserve it."

When your three -year-old falls and scrapes his knee on the sidewalk, you give him a hug and a kiss and wash the area gently and put a bandage on it.
    When your nine-year-old goes through the same thing, you still give him a hug, but you point him to the cabinet with the washcloths and bandages.
    When your fifteen-year-old also does this, you say, "wow that sucks," and you don't even point him to the cabinet because he's supposed to know where that is. This is not cruelty; it's a reaction adjusted to the maturity of the victim.

Grown men are saying, I am lonely; I am in pain; someone should provide me with social connections - only don't make me actually have to pay attention to the people around me, or be interested in what they're doing, or put any effort toward finding people who share my interests, or stop spewing sexist and racist garbage - please, fix my pain!

And for the first time, they're getting pushback: Guess what, dude - you're not at the top of the painfix priority list right now. You've been saying for centuries that you're the smartest and strongest, the best leaders, the problem-solvers who made all the important tech in the world... so, act like it.

Nobody is saying, "the pain of white men is totally irrelevant." We are saying, "there's a lot of people who are lonely and in pain, and we're more interested in finding solutions for their problems first." And maybe there's a hint of, "y'know, dudes, you could consider learning the social skills that many 8-year-old girls have mastered: 'my name is X and I like doing Y; do you want to be friends?'"
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:23 PM on January 29 [58 favorites]


It all comes down to entitlement and moral hazard. Do we reward the crying manbabies' tantrums by letting them jump the care queue ahead of women, POCs and LGBTQs whom they themselves are complicit in having wronged, or do we firmly tell them to go to the back, and then, after they have gone their own way, fallen into toxic alt-right ideologies and come back, massed and wielding banners with swastikas, Punisher skulls and shitty frog cartoons, spend far more effort repelling them and repairing the damage their raids have inflicted? Both possible answers to this question suck.
posted by acb at 3:34 PM on January 29 [12 favorites]


I was specifically responding to JDharper's comment about how articles like this often get interpreted as supporting shifting the balance of cruelty in the world, instead of dismantling it. You are not any more woke if you read something like the FPP and think, and possibly argue in the comments, "oh good, it's white male's fault". Articles like this often get used to support a hierarchy of pureness, where someone who's more strident and hectoring is seen as being more genuine. It's a corrosive dynamic, and it's a tool of control.

But that's hard to say, and being flippant and hoping it comes across anyway is easier.
posted by Merus at 3:37 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]


Grown men are saying, I am lonely; I am in pain; someone should provide me with social connections - only don't make me actually have to pay attention to the people around me, or be interested in what they're doing, or put any effort toward finding people who share my interests, or stop spewing sexist and racist garbage - please, fix my pain!

My suspicion is that there are also plenty of grown men who would have no fear of putting in the work needed to sustain connections with other humans but have no idea where to begin gaining the self awareness or skills necessary; society generally and families specifically often do not teach this stuff to boys. Telling a clueless and awkward fifty year old to sort themselves out is unlikely to be effective, even if they should be sorting themselves out.
posted by deadwax at 3:46 PM on January 29 [7 favorites]


> Grown men are saying, I am lonely; I am in pain; someone should provide me with social connections - only don't make me actually have to pay attention to the people around me, or be interested in what they're doing, or put any effort toward finding people who share my interests, or stop spewing sexist and racist garbage - please, fix my pain!

Hmm, this statement is where I was also lost by the article. Are men really saying this verbatim, or are they saying: "I am lonely and it hurts, and I don't understand why"? It seems clear to me that it is the latter, and (as the article rightly states) it is only by virtue of their privilege that their concerns are communicated while the pain of marginalized people are not. The response of "too bad for you, you should have been taught differently" is then baffling. I mean, the author specifically bashes walking football when this a great way to tackle this problem! It allows older men to recognize that vitality is not an essential element of masculinity and to engage in the companionship that sports provides. There seems to be an unwillingness to accept the small, gradual change that something like a Men's Shed represents and I really can't back that sentiment.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 3:52 PM on January 29 [7 favorites]


Guys who have managed to figure out how to code in C++, fix a broken car, grill a steak to perfection, or build a bookshelf out of a pile of boards and nails have the requisite "hey how do I do this thing that I was not born knowing how to do?" skills.

Guys who've managed to argue for promotions they knew they didn't really deserve, raises in the middle of a recession, or keeping their job when half the department is laid off, have the interpersonal skills necessary to start.

If that fails, they can watch Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and Sesame Street, both of which are excellent sources on "how to be friendly to other people so they will want to be friends with you."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:52 PM on January 29 [30 favorites]


More than that, cishet white men, as a class (described as such in the article), create systems of power that limit the ability of others to develop those relationships. To use one dimension, there's a conflict between complaining that one lacks meaningful relationships and using "nohomo" to limit the emotional intimacy one is willing to invest with peers.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 3:52 PM on January 29 [12 favorites]


There seems to be an unwillingness to accept the small, gradual change that something like a Men's Shed represents and I really can't back that sentiment.

The issue isn't the Men's Shed; it's that Men's Sheds are getting government funding, and centers for domestic violence are not - because fixing men's loneliness is higher priority than preventing physical abuse of women. Certainly, there are no "help women not be lonely" centers getting government funding.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:54 PM on January 29 [32 favorites]


Guys who have managed to figure out how to code in C++, fix a broken car, grill a steak to perfection, or build a bookshelf out of a pile of boards and nails have the requisite "hey how do I do this thing that I was not born knowing how to do?" skills.

As someone who's done a remedial socialisation class: when your C++ code is broken, it tells you there is something wrong and what it is. It might not be useful, but it's something. People just think you're an asshole.

(I can also confirm that Sesame Street is not sufficient.)
posted by Merus at 4:11 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


Guys who have managed to figure out how to code in C++, fix a broken car, grill a steak to perfection, or build a bookshelf out of a pile of boards and nails have the requisite "hey how do I do this thing that I was not born knowing how to do?" skills.

Yeah, no. These are not the automatic birth rights of men, plenty (most?) can't do any of them. If they know how do them it's because they've at least been given a start of some sort, if not outright instruction. This is why women are just as good at these things when they are given a start as well.

Without a start socialisation is just as baffling as anything else, if not more so.
posted by deadwax at 4:19 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


The issue isn't the Men's Shed; it's that ...

If the essay has any flaw, it's that there's no single issue. Because that's certainly one point. But there is also the underlying point that Men's Sheds are problematic because they spend so much energy avoiding the fact that men could learn a lot from trying to emulate women. By refusing to acknowledge the reason Traditional Masculinity worked for so long, they can only make so much progress.

Without a start socialisation is just as baffling as anything else, if not more so.

And? There are tons of professions that are devoted to giving you dedicated help if you find yourself behind the curve. Therapists. Life coaches. If you just need a bit of a tune up, there's advice columns. Gossip columns that spell out how people are violating social norms, which teach you what norms you should be following.

The point is that you can learn. And if you need someone's labor to do that learning, pay for it.
posted by politikitty at 4:25 PM on January 29 [13 favorites]


> The issue isn't the Men's Shed; it's that Men's Sheds are getting government funding, and centers for domestic violence are not - because fixing men's loneliness is higher priority than preventing physical abuse of women. Certainly, there are no "help women not be lonely" centers getting government funding.
Centers for domestic violence are certainly receiving government funding. The article mentions a particular cut in the UK (which is awful, of course), but I could find no mention of UK Men's Sheds receiving government support.

The author has a different issue, mainly:
> Looking at some of the funded programs tackling the “epidemic” it becomes clear that creating spaces where men can feel free to be misogynists is one of the effects of how men warp community responses to loneliness.
This is where the article really falls flat for me. Offering walking football instead of noncompetitive dancing is not necessarily misogyny! If you do not allow for spaces that offer gradual change, you will leave behind the people who require a gentler approach to become better people.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 4:25 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


deadwax: I think you're missing ErisLordFreedom's point: that the dudes who know how to do [skill associated with dudes] have demonstrated that they can acquire a skill. It's that they (insert #notallmen disclaimer here) refuse to perform that same education when it comes to social skills.

Like, social instruction exists. Reading the many many many comments here on the blue about emotional labor is a good start. Being willing to listen more than talk is a good start.

And yet many dudes claim this is impossible, baffling behavior that they don't know how to start. I wonder why.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 4:26 PM on January 29 [14 favorites]


The point is that most people don't actually have the option of getting to adulthood without the social skills they need to stave off loneliness, because our society levies much harsher penalties on them if they do.

I'm saying this as someone who not neurotypical: I paid that penalty, and it took a lot of work and pain and awkwardness to learn the social skills that didn't come naturally to me. Especially since it's assumed that women *should* pick those skills up naturally, without overt effort, and when we don't we face much steeper consequences than non-neurotypical men.

We have a hard enough time dealing with this shit in our own lives. I just don't have the resources-- emotional or otherwise-- to drag someone else up the hill I already had to climb on my own.
posted by nonasuch at 4:29 PM on January 29 [28 favorites]


I have few male friends because I am afraid of men.
posted by poe at 4:31 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


Without a start socialisation is just as baffling as anything else, if not more so.

I was an aspie boy long before that was a diagnosis, (only got a label in my 30s), and I can tell you it wasn't baffling for me. I knew something was wrong. I knew everyone else was getting along and making friends and I was alone and didn't know why.

So I reached out. I worked on becoming a class clown in the 8th grade. I was willing to look stupid in front of my peers in order to figure out what would make them laugh. I talked to them. I tried to understand stuff from their point of view. I moved on to drama in high school and stuck with it until I wasn't stiff anymore. I talked to people.

tl;dr: I did this operating from a bigger disadvantage than Joe Normal.

With that in mind, I don't buy the whole 'how does human interaction even work?' argument. I understand it might feel that way, but it's my opinion that this is more about pride: there is no way to do this without showing weakness and vulnerability, and many men are holding out for a solution that does.

I really think a lot of guys are comfortable dying alone rather than just crying in front of someone else, and despite my harsh words about Ironmouth above, I do feel bad for them. But it's their choice.

Everything is always their choice, and sometimes that bites a person in the ass.
posted by mordax at 4:31 PM on January 29 [26 favorites]


Without a start socialisation is just as baffling as anything else, if not more so.

White cishet neurotypical men had the same opportunities to learn as the rest of us. They weren't punished as harshly if they didn't learn, so many of them didn't bother. Decades later, many of them are now realizing those skills had a purpose; they weren't just "those things girls have to do because they're not Born Leaders." (Or however it is that young boys justify not learning to navigate the social minefield that's inflicted on preteen girls and other marginalized groups.) And, since they weren't paying attention back then, now they don't know how to acquire them. I'm not unsympathetic, but I am short on time, energy, and other personal resources.

I don't buy the whole 'how does human interaction even work?' argument. I understand it might feel that way, but it's my opinion that this is more about pride: there is no way to do this without showing weakness and vulnerability, and many men are holding out for a solution that does.

This is perfect. You can't acquire these skills without giving people access that would let them hurt you, and you can't acquire them while believing you are the most important person in the room.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:50 PM on January 29 [21 favorites]


> White cishet neurotypical men had the same opportunities to learn as the rest of us.
Did they? It seems to me that, no, they weren't taught the same emotional skills as women because the patriarchy relegates that skill to women. I completely understand that it's hard to be sympathetic towards an oppressor but the patriarchy is all learned behaviors, they don't spring from white cishet neurotypical men fully formed.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 5:12 PM on January 29 [11 favorites]


"Do we reward the crying manbabies' tantrums by letting them jump the care queue ahead of women, POCs and LGBTQs whom they themselves are complicit in having wronged, or do we firmly tell them to go to the back, and then, after they have gone their own way, fallen into toxic alt-right ideologies and come back, massed and wielding banners with swastikas, Punisher skulls and shitty frog cartoons, spend far more effort repelling them and repairing the damage their raids have inflicted? Both possible answers to this question suck."

I'm starting to warm up to poffin boffin's wicker man proposal.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:49 PM on January 29 [10 favorites]


They didn't have the same training. They did have the same opportunities, unless they were brought up in weird strict gender-segregated military-esque settings.

They watched the same shows, the same movies. They went to the same schools. They saw ads for the same toys. Had access to the same libraries. Listened to the same music. Had the same incentives: If you learn to be a good friend, you'll have fun people to spend time with and help you out when things are rough.

They just weren't punished for not learning. And while that's not directly their fault, it's not ours either. Many of us, as adults, recognize that there were gaps in our childhood education, and go about fixing those. The point of childhood isn't, "teach you all the skills you need as an adult," but "teach you many of them, and how to acquire the ones you'll specifically need."

The solution to, "I'm lonely," is "go make friends." This is a simple concept. The skills involved aren't even difficult for most NT people. There are even simple tutorials available. (Seems inane? Too simple? Too light and fluffy? 90% of friendship is not deep, angsty, philosophically-meaningful discussions.)

I would be more sympathetic if I thought most lonely men really had no idea how social interaction worked, as opposed to thinking they do understand and just refuse to spend half of each social encounter focused on someone else's interests.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:49 PM on January 29 [19 favorites]


Geez, the main point is this: "Companionship for men, as patriarchy tells us, is the natural order of things, and there must be something terribly wrong if a Regular Nice Guy has to pay for it."

Treating white male loneliness like a crisis in which these men are entirely innocent victims upholds this system described in the sentence above. Because what these complaints about loneliness mean is that the world is neglecting to give men what they are entitled to. Lonely men are perfectly fine the way they are, it's us in the world who are wrong by failing to do all the emotional labor to fulfill men without asking for anything in return. Because if we demand equality, agency, our own happiness, or even money, well that's when the sad forgotten men stamp their feet in a rage and tell us how damn unfair it is for us to have any demands at all.

This is why the article talks about the Men's Shed: the solutions to loneliness they're willing to engage are the ones that reinforce an entitled point of view. Instead of learning how to meet the emotional needs of others, or engage with non-men as equals, they'd rather retreat to the safe, heternormative masculine spaces they complain about not fulfilling their every emotional need. The formulation of white cis hetero men dumping responsibility for their feelings on "subordinates" around them is so deeply ingrained in our culture, those of us who point out that other people don't exist to validate that privileged class are cast as either imagining things, mercenary predators, or emotional sadists. And because these men have never been willing to do the work to meet others as equals, they cement their loneliness. As the article says "They don’t want revolutionary change but merely a polite tolerance that would make them more bearable. And this selfishness renders them incompetent to address the structures of loneliness as a social ill."
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:21 PM on January 29 [16 favorites]


Ironically, the end of Fight Club points men in the right direction. Shame so many of them get caught up at the two rules and don’t finish the film.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:29 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


> This is why the article talks about the Men's Shed: the solutions to loneliness they're willing to engage are the ones that reinforce an entitled point of view. Instead of learning how to meet the emotional needs of others, or engage with non-men as equals, they'd rather retreat to the safe, heternormative masculine spaces they complain about not fulfilling their every emotional need.

I would like to quote from the Men's Shed website:
> Most men have learned from our culture that they don’t talk about feelings and emotions many do not take an interest in their own health and well-being. Unlike women, most men are reluctant to talk about their emotions and that means that they usually don’t ask for help. Probably because of this, many men are less healthy than women, drink more, take more risks and suffer more from isolation, loneliness and depression. Relationship breakdown, retrenchment or early retirement from a job, loss of children following divorce, physical or mental illness are just some of the problems that men may find difficult to deal with on their own.
> Members of Men’s Sheds come from all walks of life – the bond that unites them is that they are men with time on their hands and would like something meaningful to do with that time. A good Men’s Shed has a Management Committee that has developed a safe and happy environment where men are welcome to work on community projects, specific Men’s Shed projects or a project of their choice in their own time and where the only ‘must’ is to observe safe working practices….all in a spirit of mateship.
> AMSA will not admit to membership any organisation that has illegal aims, objectives or practices, is disrespectful/ harmful to other people or sections of the community, is aimed primarily at promoting particular political or religious views or practices, discriminates against membership on the basis of race, creed, sexual preference or age

Where is it you see white cis hetero men dumping responsibility for their feelings on "subordinates" here? Where do you find a treatment of people as un-equal?
posted by ReadEvalPost at 6:34 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


I have few male friends because I am afraid of men.

Yep. Men freak me out, mostly. My shoulders are around my ears around them. Any queer signalling helps a little, so I have worked up the nerve to live a little more out loud myself. It's a big reason why I decided to start painting my nails on the weekends again, keeping the nose ring, sticking with a haircut that codes queer. Men freak me out. No guarantees with queerness added but statistically....I feel a little better.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:46 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Eligibility for Men's Shed includes: any community-based, non-profit, non-commercial organization that is accessible to all men and whose primary activity is the provision of a safe and friendly environment where men are able to work on meaningful projects at their own pace in their own time in the company of other men. A major objective is to advance the well-being and health of their male members.

It's not about "men getting over loneliness by interacting with the rest of the community." It's about men not having to deal with women or women's interests, which apparently makes a "safe and friendly" environment. It supports patriarchy by giving it a safe space to thrive.

Professor Barry Golding, a Men’s Shed researcher from Federation University Ballarat, stated in his key note address that “Men don’t talk face to face they talk shoulder to shoulder”. This drew unanimous mutterings of approval from all 350 delegates and the quote became the Australian Men’s Shed Associations motto.

So, "let's give men a place where they can continue to avoid direct acknowledgement of other people when they're communicating."

I am twitchy about tax dollars being spent on such projects, but otherwise - if it works, fine. Men kicking around workshops with each other are fewer men I have to deal with. I am fast coming up on crone years, and perfectly willing to accept, "eh, I might want access to men for sex, but there's damn few of them I want to talk with." If they can find space to hang out with other men instead of pestering me, great.

I suspect, however, that if this attitude gets widespread acceptance across women over the age of 40, we're going to have even more articles about the "epidemic" of lonely men, because one afternoon a week of group projects is not going to be enough social activity for most men.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:03 PM on January 29 [7 favorites]


They watched the same shows, the same movies. They went to the same schools. They saw ads for the same toys. Had access to the same libraries. Listened to the same music.

Yes, but that's the point: these institutions and the media teach and reinforce patriarchical values, and it's these very values that hinder men's ability to socialize. Contrary to your "LOL do u even Sesame Street", the values taught to men by these institutions and the media are that emotions and intimacy are weaknesses, and actively punishes men for displaying them. That is, in fact, the very point of the article, that these abilities are gendered female by society. The very fact that you point to children's media reinforces this: the patriarchy marks "friendship is magic" type lessons as childish nonsense that Real Men must discard when they grow up.

There were not the same opportunities to learn these lessons because from a very young age men are taught not to learn them.

It thus seems pointlessly cruel to mock and attack men for being lonely in later years because of this social conditioning. You can't argue both that the patriarchy and toxic masculinity permeates every aspect of society and uses every aspect of society to reinforce itself but also that men shouldn't have been affected by that.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:17 PM on January 29 [13 favorites]


society generally and families specifically often do not teach this stuff to boys. Telling a clueless and awkward fifty year old to sort themselves out is unlikely to be effective, even if they should be sorting themselves out. [...]

If they know how do them it's because they've at least been given a start of some sort, if not outright instruction. This is why women are just as good at these things when they are given a start as well.


been given, been given, been given. is it really, truly, only women who have the capacity to earn or manufacture anything they want that has not already been given to them?

is it really, truly, some people's belief that women only have whatever skills we do have because they were given to us? are there no words that can penetrate deeply enough into the ears of those who cannot hear that we learn to do things that are hard because they are not given to us?

Nobody gave it to me = I give up is a man's equation. like everything else belonging to men, women can also use it. but not so many of us do. thank fucking god.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:18 PM on January 29 [23 favorites]


> It's not about "men getting over loneliness by interacting with the rest of the community." It's about men not having to deal with women or women's interests, which apparently makes a "safe and friendly" environment. It supports patriarchy by giving it a safe space to thrive.
Nothing in that quote says that interests traditionally associated with women are not allowed. Nothing in that quote suggests that is specifically the absence of women which creates a safe and friendly environment. It is completely and totally fine to have a space for men to share their feelings with other men in exactly the same way that it is completely and totally fine to have a space for women to share their feelings with other women. It is truly absurd to suggest that any gathering of men must necessarily advance the patriarchy.

> So, "let's give men a place where they can continue to avoid direct acknowledgement of other people when they're communicating."
Two men working shoulder to shoulder in shared labor are, in fact, directly acknowledging each other. It's impossible not to.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 8:36 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


Sounds like a good use of tax money. Not only does it keep the frightening men who don't code queer from pestering you (one afternoon a week), it also might stop some of them from killing themselves.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 8:40 PM on January 29


White men are not, as a class, unpalatable. 90.4% of all white men will be married at some time in their lives.

You clearly have no idea of the bullshit many women have to choke down in their marriages because their husbands are completely and fundamentally incapable of providing the mutual aid marriage is “supposed” to come with, but usually only flows in one direction.

Because women, many of whom want children, are willing to tolerate heartbreaking circumstances does not make these men any more attractive on a fundamental level.
posted by corb at 8:48 PM on January 29 [18 favorites]


This is why the article talks about the Men's Shed: the solutions to loneliness they're willing to engage are the ones that reinforce an entitled point of view. Instead of learning how to meet the emotional needs of others, or engage with non-men as equals, they'd rather retreat to the safe, heternormative masculine spaces they complain about not fulfilling their every emotional need.

That's a pretty unfair assessment. In the article and in many of the comments above attitudes towards men range from disdain to disgust to fear. Of *course* men are going to seek out spaces where they're actually wanted.

I'm not saying that you personally have to be the one to teach these men social skills, but I am saying that you should not sabotage the places where they're trying to build those skills. To build on Sangermaine's point, if you want to get rid of toxic masculinity, you need to leave room for non-toxic masculinity.

And the patterns learned over the course of forty or fifty years are going to be difficult to retrain. Sneering at men for communicating better while working on a project than they do face-to-face over dinner (for example) isn't helpful.
posted by JDHarper at 8:58 PM on January 29 [7 favorites]


You can't argue both that the patriarchy and toxic masculinity permeates every aspect of society and uses every aspect of society to reinforce itself but also that men shouldn't have been affected by that.

Not that they shouldn't have been affected, but that it's their own responsibility to fix their problems. Or at least, it is not other people's job to fix their problems. If those men aren't going to commit to mutual effort towards the dismantling of toxic patriarchial social mores, there's a strong sense of, "what's in it for me?"

My time and energy are limited; I'm not wasting them on people who want to reinforce the patriarchy. I can be sympathetic about their suffering and still say, "not my problem." Not my daughters' problem, either.

If men are feeling lonely and neglected, the solution is go make friends. That's it. There is no need for endless discussion or hand-wringing "what shall we do" considerations; no need for government funding for men's clubs (!!! What, men aren't capable of making clubs for activities they like without getting paid for it?); no need for special outreach programs.

It really is fascinating how many articles about "the epidemic of male loneliness" just skip over the notion that guys need to decide they don't want to be lonely, and do something about that. If they want to stave off loneliness with guy activities, form a club, join a sport, or so on. (I don't know what guys get from guy-together time. I don't need to; I won't be participating in it. Either it works for them, in which case, they should do that, or it doesn't, in which case, they should change something. I've been told that womens' communications methods won't work, so they'll have to sort it out for themselves.) If they want a woman's companionship, learn to treat women as partners in a relationship.

They aren't the only ones who find themselves lonely as they're growing older - they're just the only ones who get serious media attention for it.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:01 PM on January 29 [19 favorites]


Social skills are not mystical rites practiced only in secret by women deep in the forest by the light of the full moon, jealously guarded lest the destructive gender steal the teachings. Men are--and expect to be--on the receiving end of those skills every day. Their lives are smoothed hour by hour by people practicing those skills around them. At a certain point, a person who takes responsibility for his own soul ought to be able to say, "Hmm, it feels nice when my girlfriend remembers that I like [x dish] and makes it to cheer me up, or when my female roommate asks me how my day went whenever she comes home, or my mom just sits and listens when I'm upset about something and don't know what to do. How can I do the same for them? What would make them feel cared for?" And, yes, he's not going to get it right every time, but the more he does it, the easier it gets, the more natural he feels doing it, the better he is at it.

It's not that the kind of men talked about here have had no opportunity to learn. It's that they have never felt the necessity of reciprocity, or else they would have learned like everybody else. I know Mefi is full of female nerds: how many of us are just as horribly socially awkward in our 40s as in our 20s? Practically none, right? Because we tried.

Loneliness is tough, but this article is right: it's not seen as a problem until it's seen as a male problem, and then it's a structural failing of the world that these men aren't constantly being tended to by dependents and so must struggle to cope.
posted by praemunire at 9:09 PM on January 29 [25 favorites]


In the article and in many of the comments above attitudes towards men range from disdain to disgust to fear. Of *course* men are going to seek out spaces where they're actually wanted.

The fact that you think the problem is that these men are too sensitive or tactful to go somewhere they might not be welcomed--the same men who have invaded every space on the planet they've ever found desirable--rather than that they scorn and disdain those places as inferior because not masculine, really says it all.
posted by praemunire at 9:14 PM on January 29 [14 favorites]


Social skills are not mystical rites practiced only in secret by women deep in the forest by the light of the full moon, jealously guarded lest the destructive gender steal the teachings.

Right. Every day, in every way, these men are fucking shown social skills. The fact that they think they aren’t - that they think people just magically always want to talk about what they want to talk about, eat what they like, go where they like, stroke their ego when they like- is indicative of a truly astonishing amount of privilege. What these men want is to still continue to reap the reward of these social skills - other people making them feel welcome everywhere - without having to expend any effort on making /others/ feel welcome.
posted by corb at 9:19 PM on January 29 [17 favorites]


If men are feeling lonely and neglected, the solution is go make friends. That's it. There is no need for endless discussion or hand-wringing "what shall we do" considerations; no need for government funding for men's clubs (!!! What, men aren't capable of making clubs for activities they like without getting paid for it?); no need for special outreach programs.

It really is fascinating how many articles about "the epidemic of male loneliness" just skip over the notion that guys need to decide they don't want to be lonely, and do something about that.

ErisLordFreedom

But the underlying problem is that toxic masculinity has taught men that seeking out friendship, being vulnerable, or even showing any emotion like loneliness at all is weak and wrong, and reinforces that through, again, all of society.

Someone who has been taught their entire lives that reaching out and opening up is bad and weak may, in fact, have different difficulties with learning to socialize. This is not a demand that others must cater to their needs, just that the utter disdain on display for the very idea that men, especially older men, may have difficulty socializing and may need to approach learning to do so in different ways on display here and in the article is baffling, given that these problems stem directly from exactly the toxic masculinity the article and comments decry.

It's not that the kind of men talked about here have had no opportunity to learn. It's that they have never felt the necessity of reciprocity, or else they would have learned like everybody else. I know Mefi is full of female nerds: how many of us are just as horribly socially awkward in our 40s as in our 20s? Practically none, right? Because we tried.
praemunire

But, again, that's the point, and the point of the article: patriarchical society socializes men not only to not try, but that trying is to be disdained and even shunned. Men should mock and attach other men who try.

Again, these comments display the contradictory positions that socialization and dealing with emotions are gendered by society and that this is reinforced in every aspect of society, which is the root of women's superior ability to socialize, but also that men should have known better.

Or to put it another way: men don't learn these skills like everybody else because structural issues mean that they haven't had to, which is precisely the point of this discussion, and why men may have more difficulties than other groups doing so.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:24 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]


“All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people.” —Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind, 2004
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 9:37 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]


men don't learn these skills like everybody else because structural issues mean that they haven't had to, which is precisely the point of this discussion, and why men may have more difficulties than other groups doing so.

What are you proposing be done about that, and by whom?

Because what the argument looks like to me, is a bunch of women saying, "social skills can be learned; you see them in use every day; just copy the ones you like," and men saying, "but we were taught feelings were bad and would make us weak! And now we're lonely because of it!"

... So?
Yes, men are often taught that emotions other than anger and disdain are signs of weakness. And without getting into the myriad warped messages that women receive - what are we expected to do about it?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:43 PM on January 29 [13 favorites]


personifying "toxic masculinity" to blame it for bad teachings is a really extreme way to go out of one's way to avoid assigning men agency. I think the ongoing popularity of calling human beings "toxic" is really despicable so I am not going to try to persuade everyone to talk about toxic men instead. and anyway, the two are not interchangeable even if you believe in both. but when you talk about what toxic masculinity teaches, the fiction really becomes apparent. Men teach themselves, and each other.

every man who chooses to model himself and his social behavior exclusively on other men and on no women is making a choice. toxic masculinity is not a force imposing that choice upon him; toxic masculinity is perhaps best described as the sum total of all of those choices.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:52 PM on January 29 [11 favorites]


I have been beaten for trying to make the choices you are talking about.
posted by poe at 10:00 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]


Men teach themselves, and each other.

Thank you - that was the point I kept trying to reach and it just wasn't clicking.

Men "are taught" that emotions and openness are weaknesses - by other men. Women teach that communication and sharing are essential parts of a relationship. Men have decided it's more important that other men don't think they're "weak and wrong," than developing the skills it takes to maintain mutually satisfying relationships.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:00 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]


It is OK to be prejudiced about white men. Particularly the prejudice that they will become violent.

As has been established, this is the reason for a lot of the problem interactions between men and women.

Is it possible that this prejudice would also impact the relationships between men and men?
posted by poe at 10:18 PM on January 29 [7 favorites]


But, again, that's the point, and the point of the article: patriarchical society socializes men not only to not try, but that trying is to be disdained and even shunned.

Patriarchal society teaches us a lot of crap. It teaches heterosexuals to scorn and reject everyone who is not; it teaches whites a complex system of domination over everyone who is not; it teaches the able-bodied to find the disabled weak, contemptible, short of full humanity; it teaches the rich to disdain the poor as lazy and stupid. I could go on and on. All of us, having come up in such a society, have been immersed in these harmful and dangerous ideas; short of sainthood, few of us will fully escape them. But a worthwhile human being tries to figure out how to live in this flawed world and make a contribution while doing no unnecessary harm. That includes accepting a responsibility to at least try to see past all the nonsense.

Also, to rip off Mos Def: toxic masculinity is not some giant living on the hillside coming down to visit the villagers. It's built and maintained by men, including these very men, perhaps especially these very men, who are unlikely to be more welcoming of the discussion of emotions and showing of vulnerability by the men around them than they are in themselves. They are not its helpless victims and puppets. Remember, many of these men were married. They even had their own private little arena, away from the scary surveillance of their peers, to try to figure out how to build a loving, caring relationship with someone who presumably wanted it with them. Apparently it was not a lesson they opted to learn.
posted by praemunire at 10:42 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]


And if it is a lesson they are now learning in some form? They're to be told to wait, there are others in line? I'd much rather encourage and celebrate the gains we do have, the benefits accrue to society at large at least as much as to the individual men concerned.
posted by deadwax at 10:59 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I don't really understand the hate on Mens Sheds. They are run by men for men in order to solve a problem that men have. Which seems like what feminists are asking lonely men to do. The Australia government gives grants for all sorts of things. The fact that we're appalling to refugees is because a large percentage of australians are racist arseholes, not because Mens Sheds are overfunded.

Also, Mrs Bennet wanted her daughters married off so that they wouldn't die in poverty. And so that she could go and live with one of them if Mr Bennet died, so she wouldn't die in poverty. She couldn't give a rats about their loneliness. Hers maybe.
posted by kjs4 at 11:43 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


They are run by men - with government funding.

"We have funding for men's emotional dissatisfaction" but "we treat refugees physical trauma as irrelevant" is exactly the problem: The discomforts of men are considered more important than anyone else's physical health.

Placing men's interests ahead of everyone else's is exactly what the patriarchy does. The Men's Sheds aren't fixing the problem; they're exacerbating it through special handouts and guided walkthroughs that are carefully designed to allow the men involved to not think about the fact that the foundations of their emotional support are being provided by someone else, whom they don't have to face, and they are not obligated to reciprocate.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:55 PM on January 29 [12 favorites]


And if it is a lesson they are now learning in some form? They're to be told to wait, there are others in line? I'd much rather encourage and celebrate the gains we do have, the benefits accrue to society at large at least as much as to the individual men concerned.

Please feel free to go forth and approve of men who are being vulnerable, and talking about their feelings, and reading self-help books about relationships and socializing (there's a whole section dedicated to them!). You can also teach men who need to be taught how to read self-help books about relationships! Maybe you can start a book club. Have fun.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:37 AM on January 30 [7 favorites]


I feel like the author has a pretty insightful thesis about the very different ways power isolates both those who wield it and those who are subjected to it, smooshed together with a rather haphazard report on the state of the world which is responsible for most of the conflict in this thread. Personally, I don't appreciate her impressionistic use of facts (comparing the introduction of government funding of Men's Sheds in Australia 12 years after their inception to recent cuts to domestic violence shelters by the UK's notoriously vicious government? without any context of what else is being funded and defunded in either of those countries?), her drive-by swipes at things like visiting a psychologist to address one's loneliness, or the implication that underpins this whole piece that loneliness is probably due to some individual failing. I think that last bit is especially toxic and ugly.

As for the Men's Sheds, I don't get it. They seem like exactly what I would want out of a solution to men's loneliness, that is, a way for men to help each other without requiring anything of women (except, obviously, some of their tax dollars). To me, a healthy society would fund as many community organisations like that as it could afford, as well as funding refugee centres. It's not like Australia spent all the money for refugee centres on men (or any of the other things they fund), it's just that a lot of voters are quite racist and don't want refugees helped apart from any other considerations.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 12:40 AM on January 30 [8 favorites]


The Men's Sheds aren't fixing the problem; they're exacerbating it through special handouts and guided walkthroughs that are carefully designed to allow the men involved to not think about the fact that the foundations of their emotional support are being provided by someone else, whom they don't have to face, and they are not obligated to reciprocate.

I'd like to see something to back that assertion up, without that this reads more of a rant than a criticism. I've known some men involved in men's sheds or similar support structures and I'd put money on the bet that you get more connected, better communicating and better functioning men out of it. That's to your benefit as well as theirs.
posted by deadwax at 1:15 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


"Their loneliness is a way station: a place to take stock in their investment in decolonization and come to terms with their complicity in oppression."

I love this metaphor. It makes clear that being lonely is only part of a journey, or at least potentially part of a journey. There are a lot of trains leaving the way station of loneliness. Some of them go towards increasing pain and isolation. Some of them go towards neo-nazi gangs. But some of them go towards meaningful connections with allies in the fight against systems of oppression.

What I don't understand is the scorn for people saying, "Hey, maybe somebody should meet them at the way station and help them find the right train."

What lonely entitled men are really asking for is to be cocooned from the life experiences that give other people the skills to survive loneliness.

Is that really what they're asking for, though? All of them? Isn't it possible that many of them would in fact be willing to do hard emotional and social work if they knew how? Maybe learn to face their own complicity, with the right support? If so, what do we benefit from treating them all as "crying manbabies"?
posted by galaxy rise at 6:05 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


Maybe learn to face their own complicity, with the right support? If so, what do we benefit from treating them all as "crying manbabies"?

This kind of sounds like “maybe they would learn to not be racist if we stop calling them racist”, honestly.

Men are killing us right now. Their unwillingness to handle their fair emotional load and take responsibility for their actions and look their lives and loneliness in the face is killing us. And if the biggest problem you have is “women are sometimes snarky about the oppression they face and are uninterested in supporting men while they slowly learn to treat other people like equals”...I don’t know what to say to you.
posted by corb at 6:11 AM on January 30 [13 favorites]


What I don't understand is the scorn for people saying, "Hey, maybe somebody should meet them at the way station and help them find the right train."

Our entire society prioritizes and caters to these men on the backs of the rest of us. Continuing that dynamic hurts us and, in the long run, hurts them too, because it still doesn't ask them to do the hard work of learning how to approach us as equals. Again, having us "guide" them is us doing the work for them. Until these men can learn to respect us as full human beings, they'll never have the truly fulfilling connections they seek.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:52 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


This kind of sounds like “maybe they would learn to not be racist if we stop calling them racist”, honestly.

Can you please elaborate on that? I'd like to respond to your point but I genuinely don't see the connection. How are the two statements similar?

Men are killing us right now. Their unwillingness to handle their fair emotional load and take responsibility for their actions and look their lives and loneliness in the face is killing us.

I know. I agree. I've been aware of this since I first started volunteering at the women's shelter where my mom worked when I was fourteen years old. I'm reminded of it regularly as I curate my tumblr about the way men resort to anger and violence when rejected by women. I hate having to prove my bona fides here but given how uncharitably you're taking my words I don't know how else to show you that I'm not arguing in bad faith.

And if the biggest problem you have is “women are sometimes snarky about the oppression they face and are uninterested in supporting men while they slowly learn to treat other people like equals”...I don’t know what to say to you.

That's not my biggest problem. I am frequently snarky about the oppression I face and I certainly have no problem with people saying "this work is not for me", so it'd be super hypocritical if it was a problem for me at all.

I'm not sure it's worth restating what my problem is if y'all are just going to hear what you want to hear.

Edited to remove a response to a comment that got deleted.
posted by galaxy rise at 6:56 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


This entire article reminds me of the discussion around The Last Jedi.
**SPOILERS**


It's not surprising that Kylo doesn't turn back to the light as Rey (and perhaps, us as the audience) expected. In this movie, we get to see his loneliness, his fear, his longing for connection entwined with his confusion about this immense power he has which promises to bring him self-actualization, yet only plunges him deeper into misery every time he wields it. The fandom has bloomed with empathy for this character because his struggle seems so relatable. I've seen so many interpretations casting about for excuses: he was abused, abandoned, he feared for his life, he was manipulated. We want him to have a good reason for bringing so much misery upon the galaxy, and himself, because we want to believe he's redeemable.

BUT the cause of his pain is also the way he tries to avoid his pain. Luke can't save him. Leia can't save him. Rey can't save him. No one can save him but himself. When offered a path to redemption, he's unwilling to give up an ounce of his power over others to achieve it. His offer to Rey is not to give up his position and face her as an equal, it's to absorb her under his power. He offers her a patriarchal bargain, one that, of course, requires her emotional sacrifice (letting her friends in the Resistance die), yet demands no equivalent from him. The film makes it clear that there won't be any redemption unless he finds the way back himself. Rey may be able to inspire him, or serve as a reminder, but the pain of taking those steps have to be his choice. As much as she may want to help him, the ordeal he has to face is his alone. He has to realize that the power he uses to protect and shield himself is what is keeping him from being who he wants to be.

So, the parallels are that the men who suffer from this loneliness are a lot like Kylo Ren: they wield their power over us in a way that they believe will fulfill them, yet because these actions are selfish and domineering, they actually isolate and warp them. Learning how to yield that power is the pathway to fulfillment, yet most men are unable/unwilling to see that solution. And we can't save them. No amount of begging or persuasion is going to turn them away from the comforts of their power until they can understand how such unequal relations stunt their emotional growth.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:27 AM on January 30 [14 favorites]


I wonder at times if the Metafilter bubble makes some of these things out of context. There's a long-running backlash against feminism which sees masculine cultural isolation as an issue of feminism "leaving men behind," and not trends in capitalism which have destroyed many workplace cultures. The most toxic expressions of this theme are MGOTW and incel culture. I saw the context of this piece as about that backlash and not about men who examine their own privilege and learn how to engage in positive social justice. The backlash isn't going halfway or even a quarter of the way, they're resisting change, demanding other groups accomodate them, and putting the blame on those groups for why they're isolated.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:09 AM on January 30 [7 favorites]


While there are undoubtedly some set of men who can't even Sesame Street, brah, in general, men who are lonely should go out and make some fucking friends. Do something! Get out of the house! Stop being a terrible burden on your mother! Join a bike club or a running club or a local pick-up-the-trash club. Go all CrossFit if you must. <Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist> Remember! You aren't responsible for how you feel, but you are responsible for what you do.</Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist>

"You think you're lonely? Well, let me tell you, buddy ..." may not even be wrong and serves a higher purpose as outrage-bait. Rather crafty that.

As fine as the idea may be on a fundamental level, "Men's Shed" is still an astonishingly silly name. It's like "adult day care." The lads need some naked drumming and a mythopoetic quest, I still say. But I'm content to accept that maybe it's an Australian thing I just don't get.

Have I managed to annoy practically everyone here? I'm sorry. Let's be friends.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:17 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]


How can I get funding for fiddling around in my shed? (Well garage workshop I don't have a shed but I've got a nice double garage with a workbench along with a good bunch of tools)

I don't want any other people around so I'm not going to be fixing loneliness at all, but I've got some interesting projects that I would like to build, just don't have the £££ to spend on starting materials. It wouldn't take much I'm more interested in forging and casting and can't really justify spending £100 on things but would like to fiddle around with things.

When I'm old I can justify the expense probably but not when I'm not quite old yet.
posted by koolkat at 8:31 AM on January 30


Thank you for making that clarification, GenderNullPointerException. The article is not trying to say that every lonely white man is a problem, just the lonely white men who react to their condition with "thwarted entitlement" and demands that society restructure itself around them without asking them to change their ways at all. But, that level of critique that you get for even pointing out how society prioritizes white men just proves that we're still centralizing white men's feelings over basic safety and support for others.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:33 AM on January 30 [6 favorites]


What I don't understand is the scorn for people saying, "Hey, maybe somebody should meet them at the way station and help them find the right train."

The snark is over that undefined "somebody" who is apparently, again, expected to help these men avoid the work that the rest of us were forced into from infancy.

I've seen plenty of articles about men's loneliness that point out "women talk on the phone for hours; men talk for three minutes and then there's an awkward silence and they say 'bye' and hang up." And guys don't want to be lonely, but they also don't want to change that. Well... how to not-be-lonely is connecting with other people. They want to change their emotional state without changing any of their life habits, which means they want someone else to feed their emotional needs.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:43 AM on January 30 [9 favorites]


Men are killing us right now. Their unwillingness to handle their fair emotional load and take responsibility for their actions and look their lives and loneliness in the face is killing us.

That is exactly what these Men's Sheds and similar programs are trying to encourage! But because (surprise!) these groups are full of men who are insufficiently woke for you to consider them as people, it gets blasted for not being inclusive enough or for costing some trivial amount of taxpayer money.

These programs are like a leg brace or a crutch. You can argue all day long that these men should have picked up social skills earlier in life or that it's really easy if you just try it, but that doesn't actually solve any problems.

The snark is over that undefined "somebody" who is apparently, again, expected to help these men avoid the work that the rest of us were forced into from infancy.

These programs are men, helping other men! All anyone is asking of you is to not kick the crutch out from under them.
posted by JDHarper at 8:46 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


costing some trivial amount of taxpayer money

When people are dying because we told we aren't a social priority, that our health care, housing, and basic physical protection from violence "cost too much" for society to bear, the amount is not trivial.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:53 AM on January 30 [9 favorites]


<Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist>

Ironically, I spent the last weekend watching Dr. Katz alone. It was great. Oh, and Ben Katz is totally an example of one of these lonely men today.
posted by FJT at 8:55 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]


These programs are men, helping other men! All anyone is asking of you is to not kick the crutch out from under them.

I'm not kicking out anyone's support structures. I'm not lobbying for removal of funding; I'm not making snarky meme-pictures to post on Tumblr; I'm not calling my congressfolk and telling them they'd better not support funding for any similar programs in the US. I'm not dropping anon messages on Men's Shed forums or contact emails, telling them how they're wasting time and money that could be better spent helping people with needs like "will die if they don't get medical care" or "has been tortured and suffers from PTSD" instead of mostly middle-aged guys who've failed to persuade anyone to spend time watching movies with them.

However, I'm also not handing out cookies for men doing social outreach that's limited to the most privileged group on the planet. I'm not offering pats on the back and "wow that's awesome!" feedback for a program that seems focused on helping men be happy by being exactly the kind of people who have cause the rest of us so many problems.

Maybe this is Step One to Wokitude. Maybe men need time with other men to sort out some of their problems. But what we've learned from the various feminist movements is, if you don't start with an intersectional approach, it's damned hard to fold it in later. Instead, you wind up with a whole bunch of white people (or upper-class people, or straight people, or cis people) oblivious to how their normal habits serve to reify the oppressions they claim to hate.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:35 AM on January 30 [14 favorites]


I've enjoyed this discussion. I also enjoyed Azaad's writing. Lots of biting humor in it.

I was inspired to look up quotes on misanthropy. Great humor there too, but none that seem to apply to this problem set.
posted by surplus at 10:11 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


These programs are men, helping other men! All anyone is asking of you is to not kick the crutch out from under them.

So one of my first jobs after college was working for a law office. The one lawyer was an older white guy who might be considered rather woke. He worked pro bono cases in juvenile law, or behaving as the guardian ad litem as abusive parents tried to work the steps and get clean enough to get their kids back. It was subsidized by the divorces of wealthy white couples.

He was part of a Men's Group that was explicitly very "feelings"-y. Most of the members were privileged white men trying to get sober. He had an extensive network of men he met through this group who either helped him pull his life together, or who he helped when they hit rock bottom. One of the guys was a successful sculptor who hired ex-felons because he thought the intersection of welding and art was a great stepping stone for redirecting anger in a healthy way.

I'm not sure that most of the members saw the similarities. That both were a certain rehabilitation. I do know that most of the men who felt comfortable talking about, talked about it because it saved lives. Their addictions brought out violence. Either against themselves or others. And they were specifically part of this social network because they realized getting in touch with those feelings was necessary to stop self-medicating.

My dad is part of a Men's Group that is ... not that. It's for cowboys. Or more accurately, rich dudes who can afford a ranch of at least 500 acres. The people who work the ranches don't qualify. They go on trail rides and network and come back convinced that they will Make America Great Again.

It's not enough to work to cure loneliness and hope it trickles down. We must understand that society has an interest in curing white male loneliness to rehabilitate them, not to ease their suffering. It will have the extra benefit of easing their suffering. But if we only focus on their suffering, we can't guarantee that policy will actually reduce the damage they are unleashing on marginalized communities.

Let me be clear that I say that as a privileged white woman. I've seen women in my family behave horribly to their children or even domestic workers. Because privilege. But that privilege prevented them from seeing that violence as a maladaptive result of their trauma. I'm paying through the nose to get my anxiety under control so that I don't do that. It's what they should have done. And while I have some compassion that they didn't have the tools to do that, I have more compassion for the people they've hurt because they continue to dismiss those tools for broken people.
posted by politikitty at 10:27 AM on January 30 [17 favorites]


These programs are men, helping other men!

Are they? Or are they a way for men to try to get their needs met without actually changing, and particularly without having to deal with the possibility of having to do emotional work with women? It seems to me they can easily go either way. If I was trying to get someone to learn social skills, the last thing I would do is try to do it in a purely gender-segregated environment. What is it about the presence of women that supposedly prevents men from learning how to make friends? If you're unable to let go of your misogyny even to that extent, what learning are you actually doing? Or are you merely trying to re-find your place in the same oppressive structure that has stopped serving you? (Or, what politikitty said above.)

All anyone is asking of you is to not kick the crutch out from under them.

Well, you want our tax dollars to go towards rescuing them from themselves. Apparently we haven't the tax dollars to meet basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and medical care for a lot of people, but we do for this. Support is redefined away, to become invisible as an entitlement, as so often when it comes to aid to white men. (But see below.)

You are so moved, so passionate, about these poor desperate victim men, the failures (by masculinity standards) who can't unilaterally command the attention and support of inferiors anymore. You see their suffering so clearly, you want to to defend them from the mean ladies (and others) of the New Inquiry and Mefi who are so unfairly expecting them to have developed their own humanity in some capacity. And you know what? You're not wrong that these men are suffering. You're not wrong that, regardless of how they put themselves in the situation, regardless of how they benefited from the situation all their lives til now, they could use help. You're not wrong to look to society to help them. You're really not. I am being perfectly sincere.

But note how easy it is to get you all passionate and protective about these white men. How ready you are to write checks, indeed to make the checks the default assumption rather than something chosen to be given. That's the problem here, that's what the article is talking about. How white men's problems become the priority problems, white men the only acceptable blameless victims, white men's solutions the matters that command respect. Even when white men built and perpetuate the problem themselves, for their own benefit.
posted by praemunire at 11:56 AM on January 30 [15 favorites]


It's not enough to work to cure loneliness and hope it trickles down. We must understand that society has an interest in curing white male loneliness to rehabilitate them, not to ease their suffering.

I'm not certain that this isn't true to some degree—it's likely that a society less plagued by loneliness and emotional instability would be a more productive, more secure, possibly less violent one. But I would be pretty skeptical of any claim that loneliness—in anyone—could be significantly eliminated or alleviated through collectively political or legislative efforts. I mean, obviously, in some ideal sense, people can be protected (from others and themselves) in a variety of ways, opportunities can be made available to them, and economic resources can be provided to them, but loneliness, like love, and meaning are existential states and existential states are highly resistant to being engineered. Louis Menand (probably relying on Niebuhr somewhere) once characterized liberal societies as societies where everything is done that can be done to help you get where you want to be, with the exception of telling you what to do when you get there. I think about that characterization a lot these days because every day it seems more apparent to me that too many people have no fucking clue what to do when they get there. And yet nothing short of Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism seems adequate to solving that problem.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:20 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]


But I would be pretty skeptical of any claim that loneliness—in anyone—could be significantly eliminated or alleviated through collectively political or legislative efforts.

Why? Both Economics and Western Political Thought stem from the idea to create institutions where human needs can be met in a way that reduces conflict. Locke, Mills, Adam Smith were all trying to maximize happiness and minimize violence. Economics sprang from the collective agreement to use money as a proxy for Resources available to Spend towards Happiness.

Smith gets a bad rap for pushing against regulation. But in historical context, he was pushing against the arbitrary whims of aristocracy inserting itself into the lives of people actually in the business of [whatever]. My professor used the example of regulations about how to bury people were so onerous they led to people not being buried, causing a public health crisis. (I've studied Economic History, but not History, so I'm unclear if Smith was railing against an actual problem, or just one based on Fake News given to Smith)

But regulation, when done in lockstep with mutual social values, is fantastic. It closes market failures where individual action and collective values are out of sync. That means that for regulation to work, we would need to have a majority of society on board with those goals. A society where a large majority of 49% of the population are big believers in toxic masculinity and find their loneliness to be the fault of their ungrateful spouse and kids is going to fail.
posted by politikitty at 2:03 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


I'm going to step into this with my experience as a middle-aged white guy who's working really hard at learning how to do better with emotions and communication. I'm speaking to some of the comments here. I'm not going to engage with the aspect of the article that discusses resource allocation because that's more complicated that I can wrap my head around other than to say yes, things are skewed because society is skewed.

Emotional communication is not easy and I really think it's underestimated by many in these discussions (and I read pretty much every emotional labor related post that comes through MeFi because they're graduate seminars in the material) just how much is absorbed and cultivated and developed at a young age by girls that really isn't by boys. Not only isn't it developed by boys, the entire culture imparts opposite messages that you are not a man if you engage in that kind of development or that emotions are for women. And you can't really expect boys to take this on themselves because they're children - they need guidance that they're not getting from a culture that's actively working against it. I work hard in so many ways (meditation, reading, therapy, developing platonic friendships with women, listening and paying attention) and it's still not easy (nor do I expect it to be).

So, there's a need for men to be able to develop these skills in a sandbox as it were, among their fellow emotionally-challenged men before they go bringing their inadequate stills to the greater world. It's like in meditation practice, sitting on the cushion is the ideal conditions for facing your mind, and even there it's extremely difficult at times to stay concentrated and open to what's happening; taking practice off the cushion into the world can't work without that foundation being developed in easier conditions.

There's a call for men to do something about their own behavior to stop endangering women and do more emotional labor themselves. Maybe some of these programs are doing that. Maybe some are not and those should be looked at (just like any social program - is it doing what we want it do?). And maybe there are programs that can open men up to the world around them so that, yes, we do take responsibility for making it better for more than just men.
posted by kokaku at 2:09 PM on January 30 [6 favorites]


Developing skills in a sandbox is a good idea; however, it doesn't work well if nobody in the sandbox has any idea how the skill works.

It's nearly impossible to develop good emotional labor and communication skills by hanging out with people who don't have them, just like it's hard to learn cooking from an empty kitchen, a large budget, and a pack of people who barely know how to boil water. Most likely result: they buy microwave pizza and just agree to only eat that, since they all suck at cooking.

Fortunately, learning social skills is something they've all seen done; they've absorbed at least the basics. But for the sandbox approach to work, they have to be dedicated to the idea that they are developing social skills - not, "this is our refuge from the rest of the world that expects us to do The Social. We can be here and not be lonely and never have to deal with all that talky-feelingsy-stuff that women want."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:01 PM on January 30 [7 favorites]


This entire paragraph:

The first Men’s Shed—a community space where mostly older men could get together to work with their hands and socialize—was set up in Australia in 1998 and by 2010 was receiving funding from the Australian government under its National Male Health Policy. (There are no Men’s Sheds for any of the men trapped in Australia’s detention centers for the crime of being refugees on a boat.) According to the U.K. Men’s Shed Association the rate of growth of Men’s Sheds is between six and nine new sheds a month. (The U.K. government is planning to remove domestic-abuse shelters from housing benefits. On average in England men kill two women a week.) Public policy approves of self-segregating spaces with “old-fashioned mateship and . . . no pressure” (a liability-free way to say “No Homo No Feminist Cooties”) where men can be cajoled and lured into being cared for. Meanwhile sex workers, drug users, and transgender people are more likely to be harassed and jailed by police than be provided with spaces where they can be gently encouraged to talk about their loneliness.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:50 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


I also want to shout from the rooftops that this is hard for women too!! Even though we have either been trained for it our whole lives or just have innate womanly skills, depending on who you ask. It is hard and scary and awkward to join a new thing or talk to a stranger. It may be hard for weeks or months. You will probably feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. You may have to put aside your own thoughts and opinions as you learn how to fit into a group. It's hard and there are no shortcuts and no guarantee that any one person or group will be the right one for you.

So I guess what I'm getting to is that when I hear "I'm lonely and it's hard to make friends" I say ".....and?" It's hard for all of us. There's no magic wand. Women don't have secret powers. Some of us may have been better prepared to keep trying and coping with the inevitable failures, but that's really what it is. Showing up and trying and accepting that it's hard to put yourself out there and doing it anyway.


All of them turn for advice to psychologists and sociologist experts, none suggest taking relationship advice from the demographic they keep citing as doing it better—women.


THIS TOO. Hey, it could be a win-win if we Gave Money To Women to teach these skills.
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:17 PM on January 30 [12 favorites]


Any government program that shows compassion for people who are in a difficult situation should get all the funding it needs. Period. In addition, I personally will give programs of that nature all the cookies they need.

This piece makes social justice look really ugly.
posted by poe at 9:10 PM on January 30 [4 favorites]


But note how easy it is to get you all passionate and protective about these white men. How ready you are to write checks, indeed to make the checks the default assumption rather than something chosen to be given. That's the problem here, that's what the article is talking about.

What I have been trying to say is that we, as a society, should be ready to write the checks for people who need help. I agree 100% that helping men overcome loneliness is a lower priority than making sure everyone is fed and has a safe place to sleep at night. But what that means is that we should be increasing our social spending to cover more needs, not that we should be fighting over scraps.

The Men's Shed program in Australia was given $3 million taxpayer dollars over the course of 4 years, so call it $750K a year (according to this PDF.) Domestic violence shelters, to use an example from the article, were allocated about $100 million dollars over the course of 3 years, so like $33M a year. That seems like a reasonable ratio to me.
posted by JDHarper at 9:31 PM on January 30


What I don't understand is the scorn for people saying, "Hey, maybe somebody should meet them at the way station and help them find the right train."

Because they're complaining to the people who are at a similar way station but it's pouring rain, and our luggage has gone missing, and the train was supposed to come an hour ago but has inexplicably not shown up. It's frustrating and upsetting when, in the middle of trying to find a warm, dry place to wait and locating our suitcases and figuring out why the train is so late, someone else wanders in from a sunny station, suitcase in hand, and asks where THEIR train is when it's already in the station on a clearly-marked platform, because they never learned to see it.
posted by Ragini at 7:29 AM on January 31 [7 favorites]


THIS TOO. Hey, it could be a win-win if we Gave Money To Women to teach these skills.

It does bring up a question on my mind, of why there aren't any materials on this. I mean, we have things that indirectly have to do with making friends and developing social skills: Dale Carnegie Training, improv groups, dating advice, Miss Manners, and even things like psychological first aid. But there isn't an exact class or training on making friends, maintaining friendships, etc.

Truthfully, the only real resource for it is the internet and places like AskMe.
posted by FJT at 9:45 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of materials on this.

Book - Book - Book for teen boys - Book - Book (I even skipped all the self-pub ebooks)
Website - Article - Website - Article - Website - Article ("Hint: it's a lot like dating")
Movies - Movies - Movies (some overlap; apparently it's not possible to make a "movies about friendship" list without including Stand By Me.)

That last article may be the key. Making friends is indeed a lot like dating - you pay attention to the other person's interests; you clear time in your schedule to spend time with them; you negotiate mutually-agreeable boundaries like "no jalapeños" or "no horror movies" but "I don't care for pepperoni but since it's your favorite, we'll get that." And a whole lot of men believe it's "not worth it" to spend that kind of energy on someone else that they're not going to have sex with - nor even someone that they expect to have sex with regularly.

The basics are really, really simple; more advanced parts are highly specialized by regional resources, culture, social background and individual personality. Local resources exist - fewer than there used to be, but nothing prevents people from making more.

But what we're seeing, over and over, in all these articles about "the epidemic of male loneliness," is guys saying, "I don't want to learn something new. I don't want to change. This is how I was in my teens, in my 20's, and I had friends then; they're all gone now. I want friends now just like I had then; I don't want to read some books and do some self-help meditation and go on some not-dating site to find friends. I don't want to have to start a meetup group or a club. I didn't do that before; why should I have to do it now?"

It comes across as a lot of whining about I don't like how things are and someone else should fix it for me.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:31 AM on January 31 [13 favorites]


There's lots of stuff out there on developing social skills, for management, sales, leadership, and business networking. I think the issue is not that the cishet white men in question lack the skills, the ability to learn the skills, or the resources, it's that relationships that don't provide some sort of material benefit are not seen as intrinsically valuable. (That said American culture does fail at teaching this.)
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:31 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


I have just been hmming-mming along to this but the last couple of comments - seriously. I call this "Executive Summary Syndrome". Men who don't want to actually read and understand the material, they just want the hard work of research done and the choices brought to them so they can make the final decisions and be in control. They get to float through an illusory-soft life.

There's no material out there, hell no. There are entire genres of materials in multiple formats. There are people trained and paid to teach this stuff called therapists, life coaches, relationship therapists, peer leaders. There have been historically social groups designed to foster this that exist in every community from sports to religious to work to community groups. There are books (entire genres! bibliotherapy, self-help, psychology, philosophy, sociology...), podcasts, TED talks, even you could argue MMPORGs.

But now we have to chew it up into tinier more appetising little pieces for them to coax them into being interested in having friends. And Australians get to pay for it.

There's similar crud happening in Singapore and it's just tiresome. Men get treated like such delicate social children because we are (historically accurately) afraid of their anger and they escape the consequences of not having to do the damn homework.

Flunk them out of the exams. The ones who pass get to stay.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:40 PM on January 31 [10 favorites]


I keep seeing this: White men are not, as a class, unpalatable. 90.4% of all white men will be married at some time in their lives. And now I'm thinking, well, if that's the case, what's the problem? Why are they lonely, if they've got such a terrific rate of finding partners?

It really doesn't matter what the percentage is. The claim that white men are palatable, desirable, good partners, sought after, respected, whatever - is solidly denied by the growing number of articles about how lonely they are. If they're so awesome, why are so many of them noticing that nobody wants to spend time with them?

Men were never the pillars of their communities. They were never, as a category, willing to put substantial amounts of their energy into support other people's efforts. As a category, this isn't likely to change anytime soon; individuals who'd like to not be lonely will need to figure out how to make themselves into someone that other people want to be around.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:09 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


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