Ask a Feminist: On Masculinity
April 25, 2018 7:55 PM   Subscribe

"I have found in forty years of activism that the toxic/healthy dichotomy doesn't resonate for many men. I feel that when we come to them and talk about toxic masculinity, they very often think that we're telling them they're doing it wrong, that they're bad, and they have to change and give up their ideas of masculinity, the toxic ones, and embrace the new one. Basically we’re asking them to renounce Vin Diesel and embrace Ryan Gosling. And men won't go for it. They're too afraid to let go of things because you think they're unhealthy...So my job then shifted, not from scolding them to saying, “How can I support you living up to, not my definition of a good man, but yours?" Ask a Feminist: Michael Kimmel and Lisa Wade Discuss Toxic Masculinity (Signs, Summer 2018).
posted by MonkeyToes (117 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
 
In the work that I do with corporations, for example, I work a lot trying to engage men to support gender equality in corporations. Because there’s a big initiative around diversity and inclusion, and white men often feel like “I need to sabotage this, I need to confront this; this is not about me—this is reverse discrimination against me.”
Why, why, why, why does it always have to be about them. Why do we have to let them make it be about them. This whole thing seems to imply that in general these dudes fail so hard at empathy and selflessness that they can only phrase sacrifice in terms of the things they do as designated world protagonists, and that the best we can get out of it is "stop raping drunk girls because it isn't heroic" not "stop doing it because other people aren't there for your use". There's still presumed to be a "little guy", lesser people than these men who they have to protect to be honorable by their existing standards, rather than other people of equal worth and capabilities who they have to support whether that adheres to their previous standards of honor or not.

I don't know, this whole read just made me feel so gross and disheartened, like this is probably the best I have to expect from men in my personal and professional lives, now. Yay. I'm so tired of only getting anywhere in life by convincing men that it'll get them something to let me do anything with myself.
posted by Sequence at 8:53 PM on April 25, 2018 [96 favorites]


Basically we’re asking them to renounce Vin Diesel and embrace Ryan Gosling.

This metaphor is confusing me, because I think of Vin Diesel as the burly guy who is actually shy and sensitive (maybe not actually true I dunno but I feel like that was a thing a few years ago) and Gosling as the protagonist of Nicolas Winding Refn movies.
posted by atoxyl at 9:01 PM on April 25, 2018 [71 favorites]


I quite liked this article. I agree this guy's teaching style may sound like remedial "how to be a human being" training to a typical MeFite, but we're not the target audience. This is about providing on-ramps for alienated/at-risk men, and that necessitates starting with the very basics.
posted by edlinfan at 9:14 PM on April 25, 2018 [43 favorites]


But this is a lot like something I tried to articulate on MeFi before:

Here's what they said (now this is West Point): “Honor, duty, integrity, sacrifice, do the right thing, stand up for the little guy, be a provider, be a protector.” Sacrifice, that was one of the first things that they said. Give to others, be generous, responsible; that's what they said it means to be a good man. Now, you and I would probably say, Well, actually, that's what it means to be a good person, and I completely agree with you. However, they, those guys, experienced it as gendered.

which is that I think a problem guys can have upon encountering the idea of "toxic masculinity" is that they feel like "well, if you just take all the positive parts and claim them as universal values, of course what's left is the bad stuff." And well, yeah, the real answer is we shouldn't be thinking in terms of masculine versus feminine values. But if you're used to identifying those positive values as being part of masculinity which is part of your sense of self you might not immediately get the big picture.
posted by atoxyl at 9:16 PM on April 25, 2018 [22 favorites]


The whole "Honor, duty, integrity, sacrifice, do the right thing, stand up for the little guy, be a provider, be a protector" thing still casts women as weaker, unable to protect or provide for ourselves. It's still patriarchy, which casts men as the heroes, and women as the reward for heroism. Not as equals to be respected, heroes of our own journeys, or full partners.

It's also still toxic to other men, because who wants to be "the little guy" in that model?
posted by dancing_angel at 9:25 PM on April 25, 2018 [58 favorites]


You are interpreting those concepts far more narrowly than I mean.

What I believe is this:

the real answer is we shouldn't be thinking in terms of masculine versus feminine values

my point is about a specific way in which men fail to grasp that this might be the point.
posted by atoxyl at 9:39 PM on April 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


> dancing_angel:
"The whole "Honor, duty, integrity, sacrifice, do the right thing, stand up for the little guy, be a provider, be a protector" thing still casts women as weaker, unable to protect or provide for ourselves. It's still patriarchy, which casts men as the heroes, and women as the reward for heroism. Not as equals to be respected, heroes of our own journeys, or full partners.

It's also still toxic to other men, because who wants to be "the little guy" in that model?"


I don't mind. I am a clumsy guy that skews pacifistic. If there's a fight, I don't want to be the one involved. And I don't see that as any sort of diminuation of my masculine identity. I live by the old Asimov/Salvor Hardin quote "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." If I lose it enough to get in a situation where I am aggressive, I have lost the game, so to speak. I SHOULD be able to talk/joke/think myself around a fight. And that strikes me as the smart thing to do. And I would much rather be smart than macho.
posted by Samizdata at 9:46 PM on April 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


Everyone is the little guy sometimes - I'm thinking more along the lines of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
posted by atoxyl at 9:50 PM on April 25, 2018 [13 favorites]


Kimmel's work is widely used in gender studies courses throughout academia. His top book and article have respectively 3500 and 2500 citations. As Kimmel says, it's a false choice to posit a zero-sum picture of men versus women issues. In this interview he is repeatedly alluding to well-known concepts in leftist (= Marxist) theory, and in my readings this is because so much of sociology is Marxian influenced. This theoretic approach is an important context to his work.

Now there's a another strand of thought that thinks this sort of academic feminist discourse may be problematic because it's not dealing with stuff on the ground, so to speak. But at some point that's something that can be examined and questioned, i.e. whether people think gender studies and related disciplines have something to contribute or not.
posted by polymodus at 9:51 PM on April 25, 2018 [7 favorites]


Not as [...] heroes of our own journeys,

Yeah. This is what has always bothered me about this kind of approach. Note how closely associated these "masculine" traits are to heroic traits. For men to believe that these are masculine traits is incredibly self-centered. It's also a very traditional view of masculinity - not something that's new and progressive.

Where are women in a world where honor, duty, integrity, sacrifice, and doing the right thing are masculine? On the sidelines, making dinner. Being provided for and protected but not taking meaningful action.

I don't question that a man who believes in this version of masculinity is a safer man than one who believes in a version of masculinity grounded in violence. But I need more than just safety from violence. I need respect as a full person - as someone who is just as much a protagonist in my own story as a man is in theirs.

If this is where we have to meet men in order to make any progress ... I'm just sad. Really, really fucking sad.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:52 PM on April 25, 2018 [68 favorites]


I don't mind.

I'm a woman in a male-dominated field who has been dealing with a lot of patronizing behavior lately and I mind. This isn't about how men just relate to other men, and especially cishet white men relating to other cishet white men, because you all don't live in a vacuum. You have to share the world with the rest of us, and the problem is that this is something that they're suggesting, for example, telling the men in my workplace that they're supposed to be the heroes of the story that I'm in.

Which is how I wind up spending my afternoon around a guy who thinks he's my benefactor even though he's eight years younger than me and never gives me any of the interesting work to do, because sometimes he shows me the interesting things that he's working on, and in his head this isn't toxic because he's being a gentleman. I don't think my company has worked with either of these people, but I can tell you that my corporate diversity training made it very clear that it was just as bad to mention that an older white guy is losing his hair as it is to redirect work away from someone for being gay, and... yeah.
posted by Sequence at 10:09 PM on April 25, 2018 [72 favorites]


I find that the grossly uncharitable readings of traditional masculinity values in this thread is at best unempathetic and at worst contributes to the problems themselves.

Did no one also rtfa? It's often more about the 'visceral experience' of camaderie and a sense of belonging in a fast-changing moral landscape rather than some kind of a committed ideology or an inherent malicious maleness.

I understand that there are lots of things that have to be done for the sake of making a future where heroic values are not only men's domain and so on, but that's not most men's fault in a way that is easy to ascribe. It's society---from parents, siblings, teachers and girlfriends (or boyfriends) that teach men how to be men, to inhabit certain values like being a provider (which, for example, is still being super expected by some subsets of women: paying for dates, supporting her financially, not be a househusband, etc) or being a protector.

And "failing at sympathy and selflessness"? Where did you even got that conclusion?
posted by tirta-yana at 10:17 PM on April 25, 2018 [22 favorites]


Well I wouldn't fault people for not reading the article in full, as it's a long piece. But we should be fair to Kimmel, because he did talk at length about the two issues of decentering (which is the "why should we make this about men yet again?" question) as well as the issue of degendering (shorthand for a deconstruction of gendered attitudes, which involves the question "why should we pander to male narrativities of chivalry and heroism?"). So the piece did talk about these concerns. Whether people think his answer/discussion was satisfactory is still a relevant question.
posted by polymodus at 10:30 PM on April 25, 2018 [12 favorites]


which is that I think a problem guys can have upon encountering the idea of "toxic masculinity" is that they feel like "well, if you just take all the positive parts and claim them as universal values, of course what's left is the bad stuff." And well, yeah, the real answer is we shouldn't be thinking in terms of masculine versus feminine values.

This is something of the innately tricky spot I've ran into without much luck myself, and seen many others run into. It goes through basically that exact progression, where a guy goes
"Oh hey, all of this toxic masculinity. That's terrible and I want to work against it. Let's try coming up with something more positive!
[time passes]
Wait, there's nothing innately "masculine" about any of this and portraying it as such is kinda counterproductive. ... So there's nothing left of worth in the categorization?

And then at that point people either turn back and try to double down on the idea of creating a 'nontoxic masculinity' or keep going.

Which, I've ended up on the "keep going, there really isn't any way to preserve an idea of 'non-toxic masculinity' since the division itself is toxic" side by now, but it's still to an extent frustrating because there's a *lot* of people for whom they effectively need the idea of the division, and lacking having something to go "Hey, there's a better way!" at them, they're left passively absorbing cultural misogyny at best and going actively MRA at worst.

And that leaves me with either trying to present the full unbridged gap of "Yeah, what you're taking in isn't great, and there isn't a great version, so come on over to the great non-essentialist side of this divide!" or being somewhat quiet about that transition and trying to lead people along the path I went until they notice it on their own. And as you might imagine, neither of those are terribly great options. And it's all well and good to look at the whole thing and step back and go "They shouldn't need the extra handholding to get them to be a decent person", but at the same time, I'm trying to take this on as I feel I should/need to. Someone needs to, after all, it needs to be me and people like me, and I can't shirk this because otherwise it keeps falling on the shoulders of the people who should least have to take this on. And so I don't get to give up.

Obviously, given the article above (and the books mentioned which I'll have to pick up at some point) there's more thought out there than just myself. But at the same time, I'm not entirely sure how to square this particular circle, myself.
posted by CrystalDave at 10:39 PM on April 25, 2018 [11 favorites]


Your accusation that we're being uncharitable and unsympathetic is ironic.

Assuming that we need to be told that it's society that inculcates these values is uncharitable. Blasting us for blaming men, while we're explaining how this type of masculinity still harms us, is unsympathetic.

I think that you should consider why our comments made you so angry, and why you think it's appropriate to lash out at women who aren't satisfied by a kinder version of the same BS. My own comment wasn't even critical of Kimmel's work; it's just tired and despairing.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:42 PM on April 25, 2018 [30 favorites]


I think Kimmel's observations about personal vs structural power asymmetry for the Average Man is spot on, and I think his Good Man vs Real Man formulation is a stroke of genius; I can already think of three specific people I intend to expose to that.

And this
I've never written a more optimistic book than Healing from Hate, my new book. Because after all of the stuff that I said about these angry white men, and how they get into the movement, and how masculinity is kind of wrapped up, and how they get in and how they see themselves, these guys get themselves out, Lisa. They did it themselves. These were guys who were in the movement, neo-Nazi skinheads, and they said, “You know, this is not working. This is wrong. I've got to figure it out.” And they have gotten themselves out of the movement. They are now working to help other guys get out of the movement. They did this themselves with no support in the US.
puts me in mind of this lovely sketch from Mitchell and Webb.
posted by flabdablet at 10:54 PM on April 25, 2018 [13 favorites]


I've always said, feminism is the best thing that ever happened to men because it gives us a map of how to be a whole person, how to have the relationships we want with ourselves, with our bodies, with women, with other men, with children. It's always been, to me, the answer not the problem.

Either this is a white-centric cultural conversation, or I'm too obtuse to understand this statement. How does feminism give us a map to be a whole person????

I'm mixed-race mutt-brown, for whatever its worth, and a great part of my health and healing has come from non-feminist sources, in particular, from teachings of extremely marginalized non-white men. That this phenomenon can even exist on the spectrum of human relationships seems consistently beyond the lens of white-originated feminism. Maybe it's my life experience being mutt-brown in a small northern Canadian pond, but I don't feel I owe feminism what little I've built up in my life*. If I'm fortunate enough to have connection-based happiness in my life, it's not because white women feminists were my teachers.

I also don't feel like it's hard to hear what Michael Kimmel is asking for when it comes to partnership. Men need women, and women need men, as part of fulfilling their attachment needs throughout the lifespan. I agree that a major part of the problem is that some men hold power and control over many men, and that in turn entails those many disempowered men to have to forsake their own desires in how to manage their attachments needs. North America is not a place where men are allowed to be non-sexual about their connection needs, especially not in adulthood. All of a sudden all touch is about sex, because that's what yoga-pants-stretching North American cultural practice is. Men aren't seen as needing connection, not even by women; men are locked into being seen as sex-starving beasts, which eventually is what the self-fulfilling prophecy becomes. Ultimately a man's cry for love is re-interpreted as a cry for sex, no matter how badly they cry and rage out and use their words that its for connection. Especially marginalized men (at least, in Canada, where many whites simply flat-out own and possess them, and thus, retain absolute power and control over what forms of attachment are acceptable vs non-acceptable among the racialized low-caste). It's to ease the pain of the attachment angst, which grows continuously throughout the lifespan.

I'm guessing it's harder for [some?] women to understand because women typically get to mask those needs in their motherhood role. I don't have kids so I don't understand that part of the feminine (not the way feminists do, apparently). I do know attachment angst though, and as I get somewhat older, I think it's getting easier and easier to recognize in the sounds of men.

TL;DR, I think Michael makes a solid contribution to the societal dialogue here, and Lisa got vain about feminism at the end.

*My perspective on any of this conversation is definitely racialized from the fact that my life experience has been watching how white people (in Canada) exercise power over non-white peoples' attachment-relationships. What has feminism done for me? Create some generations of white women who outcompete me in my own mixed-race Indian-joke of a family unit. If feminism could teach white women in North America boundaries when it comes to their white privilege in North American racialized relationships... then I might be convinced. But by far and large, that has not been my observation and it has not been my experience. Gender equity at the expense of racial equity much?
posted by human ecologist at 11:03 PM on April 25, 2018 [20 favorites]


Good Man vs Real Man, in brief: "I don't want you to live up to my ideals. I want you to live up to yours."
posted by aniola at 11:07 PM on April 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


This is good too:
I can't help but think that populism is not a theory. It's an emotion. It's an emotion of aggrievement. It’s an emotion of injustice, of righteous anger at perceived injustice. And there’s a populism of the Left that works at the same time as the populism of the Right. Now at the moment we're in the middle of a populism of the Right, in Poland, in Hungary, in the United States, but I would just remind you, Woody Guthrie was a populist. Bruce Springsteen is a populist. He’s the poet laureate of the white working class, and he’s a progressive. Bernie Sanders, a little bit of a populist. Elizabeth Warren is, because she’s a consumer advocate. That’s where it comes from, it’s not from the old Marxian idea, it’s not production, it’s from consumption that we draw most of our politics these days. So I think that Left populism still has a chance. And the criterion by which you would see Right populism or Left populism is race. Right-wing populism sees a white-black divide as core and essential, and they are the ones that are keeping us from having what we want. Left-wing populism sees class, not race, and says race and ethnicity and sexuality should all unite, because the real dynamic are class dynamics. And that’s really where the division, I think, comes from.
It fits in quite tidily with the earlier observations on personal vs political gender- and race-mediated disempowerment is secondhand rather than direct, so a primarily class-based Left understanding of structural power is a very natural fit for me and to the very limited extent that I have any sympathy at all for populists it's Warren and Sanders who float my boat, not Trump or Farrakhan.
posted by flabdablet at 11:14 PM on April 25, 2018 [8 favorites]


Well, the idea is that feminism is fighting against things like this (for example):

"North America is not a place where men are allowed to be non-sexual about their connection needs, especially not in adulthood."
posted by Tiny Bungalow at 11:14 PM on April 25, 2018 [20 favorites]


Inasmuch as Kimmel is a White Dude telling other White Dudes how not to be over-entitled violent assholes, I am glad he's doing the work, and glad he's found a way to connect with them. But I can't use his methods to reach the guys I know, and I'm not sure I can even stand in favor of them other than by saying "well, it's better than not doing anything."

He talks about the difference between a "good man" - "Honor, duty, integrity, sacrifice, do the right thing, stand up for the little guy, be a provider, be a protector," and a "real man" - "Tough, strong, never show weakness, win at all costs, suck it up, play through pain, be competitive, get rich, get laid." And he points out that these values are going to conflict, and guys are going to have to choose whether to be a "good man" or a "real man" by these definitions. And yes. They are absolutely going to hit that conflict, and I am very glad that someone they'll listen to is telling them, "you damn well know that choosing the 'Real Man' attitude is the asshole choice, and it may not make you a 'bad person' but it definitely makes you something other than 'a good man'."

And while he does mention a need to degender these traits at some point, he doesn't mention that those traits are already widely used by women, and in reference to women, in a context that nobody says is "being a good man." That first list, the "good man" list - that's the traditional description of motherhood. Pretty much all of that is in the job description; women who fail at any of those are loudly declared to be "a bad mother."

And then he goes on to talk about lonely outcast teenage white boys and how they fall into Nazi groups because they're so desperate for companionship that they'll latch on to any group that tells them: you're cool; you're one of us; we respect you and want you to stick around.

(And now we're back to the emotional labor discussion: because apparently these boys failed to learn Social 101: How To Get Yourself Some Friends, which means they completely ignored even the possibility of Social 201: How To Stay Away From Friends Who Want You To Do Crazy Stupid Shit.)

Once again, we're back to "we as a society must spend an incredible amount of time and resources on gently persuading privileged white dudes to treat other people like human beings, and if we fail to do this, a rather large number of privileged white dudes will join plunder-rape-kill clubs."

I am so. damned. tired. of articles about what kind of coddling is most effective for preventing p-r-k clubs.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:16 PM on April 25, 2018 [59 favorites]


Yeah the Good Man vs Real Man bit is also a great example of how to intervene against false consciousness. What Kimmel did in that lecture is deconstruct a person's notion of Real and point out the internal conflict between the competing, received and internalized ideas about morality and identity. This cognizance of interiority is a key step in terms of a person moving from resentment to taking responsibility. I do think the use of this kind of psychology is a really interesting intervention in the context of progressive activism.
posted by polymodus at 11:18 PM on April 25, 2018 [11 favorites]


I am so. damned. tired. of articles about what kind of coddling is most effective for preventing p-r-k clubs.

I'm tired of the ongoing existence of p-r-k clubs. If coddling is an effective countermeasure, I say bring on the coddling.

Again, quoting Kimmel:
Now here's what I would say politically: that’s not your [women’s] job. You have enough on your plate. That's my job. Men have to do this work. We're the ones who have to talk to other men about sexual assault; we’re the ones who have to talk to men about sexual harassment in the workplace. You have enough on your plate. So I don't think we want to write men out; I don't think we want to write them off. But I don't think we want to completely reorient our political position to make it nice and easy for them.
posted by flabdablet at 11:26 PM on April 25, 2018 [41 favorites]


This guy sounds like the anti-Jordan Peterson. That's a good thing.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:33 PM on April 25, 2018 [9 favorites]


I'm tired of the ongoing existence of p-r-k clubs. If coddling is an effective countermeasure, I say bring on the coddling.

If coddling worked to stop male violence, we wouldn't have an epidemic of it. White, middle/upper-class cis het men are the most coddled group on the planet.

can't pout our way out of problems.

I'm not pouting; I'm sneering. I am done with pretending men, especially white men, are worth listening to just because of what they are.

It is, however, fascinating that you decided that women who are tired of putting up with men's bullshit, and have doubts about whatever new method some supposedly woke dude insists is going to get fewer of us killed, are "pouting."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:24 AM on April 26, 2018 [49 favorites]


Yeah. This is what has always bothered me about this kind of approach. Note how closely associated these "masculine" traits are to heroic traits. For men to believe that these are masculine traits is incredibly self-centered.

I think Kimmel makes it clear enough that he knows this is not the final destination

Well, actually, that's what it means to be a good person, and I completely agree with you. However, they, those guys, experienced it as gendered.

(and then his later comments about degendering traits etc.) I think his mapping of this barrier is accurate. I don't know if his particular strategy to get past this barrier works. I think I mostly believe that it does for the initial part - it seems like it might take a little more to consistently get all the way to the "degendering" part (which might be what you're getting at).
posted by atoxyl at 12:28 AM on April 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


I still need to read the article, but the Vin Diesel/Ryan Gosling immediately made me laugh because they’re sort of two sides of the same coin. Vin Diesel in XXX is a convict-turned-spy who engages in constant “traditional” masculine activities. You can probably add the same for the Fast & Furious franchise (even though it is more diverse). Men only started liking Ryan Gosling when he got put into a movie where he didn’t speak and the most famous scene was where he stomped in a man’s brain in an elevator, in a scene probably more gruesome than anything in Vin Diesel’s movies. A lot of their movies reflect the same values of friendship and family, as well. The Place Beyond the Pines comes to my mind for Gosling.
posted by gucci mane at 12:43 AM on April 26, 2018


Someone once pointed out a scene from the quite interesting movie Pleasantville that taps into the discussion in this thread.

The bulk of the movie takes place in a stereotypical Golden Age sitcom, with the Father coming home, announcing, 'Honey, I'm home!', and then she says 'dinner's on the table, dear' and then he gets dinner. His home life revolves around him and his needs. As the sitcom starts to break down (the characters who experience inappropriately intense emotion start appearing in colour, and the movie pounces on the opportunity to get really on the nose about it), there's a scene where the Father comes home, announces 'Honey, I'm home!' to no response. Mother's left him, and taken up art. He walks around the house, repeating, 'Honey, I'm home!', until he gives up and says, bewildered, 'Where's my dinner?!'

The fact that he's a fictional character played by the excellent William H. Macy lets us sympathise, for just a moment, with the plight of a man whose world has been thrown out of kilter, who relied upon a world where dinner was delivered to him when he got home. Father is going hungry. He has suffered. That suffering is a byproduct of a more just world, as Mother finally gets to fulfil her own needs instead of having to constantly put Father's needs first; it's not nothing, but it pales in comparison to the suffering he benefited from. He bought into a world where fulfilling his need was not his responsibility, he's not ready for what comes next, and he has someone else to blame for it. He's ultimately not sympathetic, but I find it useful as a way of thinking about men affected by a more just world: sympathy, to a point, for what they're losing, but also a reminder that it never should have been as it was.
posted by Merus at 2:17 AM on April 26, 2018 [29 favorites]


White, middle/upper-class cis het men are the most coddled group on the planet.

This is perfectly true in the sense that coddled middle/upper-class cis het men easily outnumber the coddled members of any other group. But that doesn't alter the fact that coddling, in and of itself, is an experience reserved for a relatively small proportion of every group.

From such understanding of human brain function as I have, it strikes me as overwhelmingly probable that most (though clearly not all) violence is perpetrated by people whose life experience includes more trauma than coddling.

This is another example of the structural vs personal asymmetry observation that underlies much of Kimmel's thinking. There are many middle class cis het men who simply do not accept that middle class cis het men are the most coddled group on the planet, on the simple basis that their own personal history has featured so little of it, and these are the guys who are the most strongly motivated to shut down what they perceive as gone-too-far feminism.

The apposite quote from TFA:
I'm not suggesting that the white supremacists are right. I’m saying they’re right to be angry, but they’re wrong in their analysis of why they’re angry.
So a bit more coddling, if applied in the service of correcting that analysis, will do nobody any harm.
posted by flabdablet at 2:28 AM on April 26, 2018 [15 favorites]


In one short generation, they've gone from feeling like Don Draper to debating trans bathrooms;

For fuck's sake, Kimmel. Aside from the atrocious abuse of language, you are not fucking helping by using us as a goddamn punchline, an illustrative example of something that obviously, it wouldn't be reasonable to expect white men to understand if accept. Using trans people as a symbol of the changing cultural and socio-political landscape may be tempting, may be easy (I'd call it lazy) but it is incredibly hurtful and unhelpful. Being trans is not a radical political position. It's not a political position at all. Stop positioning it as such, or you're validating the TERFs and other transphobes who position both our very existence, and their bigotry and hatred as a (valid) political position.


There are many middle class cis het men who simply do not accept that middle class cis het men are the most coddled group on the planet, on the simple basis that their own personal history has featured so little of it,

I'm not sure their personal histories have featured so little of it, actually, more likely they didn't recognise when they were being coddled, when they were being spared the hardships reserved for members of marginalised groups. It's easy to feel like you weren't coddled because you didn't win the lottery, but you were still coddled if you weren't beaten up on the way home from school or bullied, or locked out of job opportunities like their black/queer/female counterparts were. They don't feel coddled doesn't mean they weren't.
posted by Dysk at 2:51 AM on April 26, 2018 [60 favorites]


i'm grateful for all the cis men who have played a part in trans visibility, in pushing forward our decades-long campaign for bathrooms. shout out to jeffrey tambour without whose work i wouldnt know where to piss. special thanks to eddie redmayne who i think about every time i take a dump etc am I doing this right?
posted by yaymukund at 3:46 AM on April 26, 2018 [11 favorites]


Some of Kimmel's language here is pretty unhelpful but I do think there's a useful concept at the core of this, one which others have alluded to: this is about meeting people where they are. I think that the progressive left could stand to take a page from the alt-right's book of frighteningly effective recruitment tactics. To be effective, we need to accept that there are a lot of white men out there who feel (unjustifiably, I completely agree) alienated and persecuted and lost. They have this view of what being a person is about that is wrapped up in some shitty ideas about gender and masculinity, and they genuinely don't know what they're supposed to do in order to feel happy and satisfied with their lives.

These men are open to persuasion. They're looking for a value system and a worldview that will allow them to feel empowered again, but since they're starting from a pretty crappy place (and since they mostly don't have very much cognizance of their interiority—thanks for that phrase, polymodus) they're only able to accept a fairly narrow suite of possible worldviews as valid, ones that are only a step or two removed from their current one. A world where gender is unimportant, being a good person is everything, and being a good man is meaningless, is alien and upsetting to them. I'm not trying to justify that, but that's where they're at and if we want to reach them or at least prevent them from being recruited and radicalized by the other side, it needs to be acknowledged.

To reach someone like this (or to reach anyone, really, with the goal of persuading them to shift their worldview) we need to offer them something that is compatible enough with their existing worldview that they won't reject it out of hand. One way of doing that is to offer them an alternative set of masculine values—positive ones. If they can be convinced that generosity, sacrifice, and "doing the right thing" is something that they should strive for in their lives, then that accomplishes two things: it inoculates them somewhat against the dangerous ideas of the nazi alt-right, and also gets them to start thinking about what it is to be a good person in the world. It brings them to a place where, once they've settled into the idea of being a good man and internalized some positive values, they might be open to listening to people who want to convince them that actually being a good man and being a good person and being a good woman are all the same thing, and that in fact gender isn't all that important to who you are, and hey by the way there's a lot more to gender than just men and women, etc.

It's a process of radicalization, at least if you look at the difference between where these men are right now and where we think they ought to be. I get that a lot of people—marginalized people especially—find doing the work of beginning that radicalization to be deeply distasteful, and I can absolutely understand why. But it's work that needs to be done because otherwise these guys are open to being radicalized in a different direction, and that's what's been happening in our society over the last twenty years or so. It's work that needs to be done, and it needs to be done by other white men because those are the only people that these at-risk men are likely to truly listen to. It's not an end point, but it's a start toward bringing these men more fully on-side in the long run and of at least making them safer people to be around in the short run. It shouldn't be seen as an end-point, and it shouldn't be on marginalized people to do this stage of the work, but it's work that needs to be done.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:16 AM on April 26, 2018 [34 favorites]


am I doing this right?

No, you're not. The anger is not helping at all. (Unless it's helping you feel better, of course.)

A while ago, we had a thread that involved a discussion of William H. Macy's role in Pleasantville, near the end of the movie, where he's asking "where's my dinner?"; it presented the awful situation of needing to have sympathy for a group of people who have lost some relative power - even when they still have an inordinate amount of it - in order to soften the backlash against the (correct, just, appropriate, overdue) movement that led to their loss of relative power.

This article is about the white cishet dudes and their reactions to, and interactions with, feminism. It is necessarily also therefore about power relationships, and it necessarily also therefore has to grapple with the idea that this is a yet another conversation that centers white cishet dudes. That's...a problem? but the problem stems from the power imbalance. On preview, Anticipation makes my points more elegantly than I do.
posted by Fraxas at 4:18 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


you were still coddled if you weren't beaten up on the way home from school or bullied, or locked out of job opportunities like their black/queer/female counterparts were. They don't feel coddled doesn't mean they weren't.

I'm not sure that turning this particular discussion into the Four Yorkshiremen is actually terribly constructive.

Suffering is not a competition, and there has always been plenty of it to go around. The thing is to help people find ways to respond to their own suffering in ways that don't just create more.

The culture of toxic masculinity quite clearly underlies a shitload of suffering creation, and we'd all be better off for getting rid of it. Kimmel's work is useful in that it provides methods for helping achieve that.

If coddling worked to stop male violence, we wouldn't have an epidemic of it.

The same unhelpful point could easily be made about treating unwoke men with contempt.

I can't help suspecting that the ruling classes thoroughly enjoy watching the rest of us fighting amongst ourselves over these issues.
posted by flabdablet at 4:27 AM on April 26, 2018 [14 favorites]


No, you're not. The anger is not helping at all. (Unless it's helping you feel better, of course.)

Speak for yourself. As a trans person, I find that kind of thing incredibly validating and helpful. Not all anger is performed for the benefit of the same group.
posted by Dysk at 4:45 AM on April 26, 2018 [20 favorites]


this is a yet another conversation that centers white cishet dudes

And like, it ought to be possible to do this in a way that doesn't involve throwing trans people under a bus in the process. Nodding along to complaints about "trans bathrooms" by validating them (or even bringing them up unprompted, as Kimmel does, as a universally understood challenge, positioning oyr mere existence as a radical political position) is not that.
posted by Dysk at 4:48 AM on April 26, 2018 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure that turning this particular discussion into the Four Yorkshiremen is actually terribly constructive.

That's a very uncharitable reading, to put it lightly. I'm saying that coddling can be the absence of punishment as much as it is reward. If anything, to me, that's much closer to what the word evokes. And white men are absolutely spared a lot of the punishment meted freely to others.
posted by Dysk at 4:51 AM on April 26, 2018 [14 favorites]


What has feminism done for me? Create some generations of white women who outcompete me in my own mixed-race Indian-joke of a family unit. If feminism could teach white women in North America boundaries when it comes to their white privilege in North American racialized relationships... then I might be convinced. But by far and large, that has not been my observation and it has not been my experience. Gender equity at the expense of racial equity much?

There’s a fantastic sleight of hand here — by equating feminism with “white woman feminism,” it’s easier for you to dismiss it out of hand. But if we eliminated feminism, how would that aid racial equality?

(I think most people who denounce feminism - white women or otherwise - don’t have any conception of what life was like prior to second wave feminism. But this is clearly not the place for that discussion.)

I am sorry that you blame one gender for your problems.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 4:55 AM on April 26, 2018 [23 favorites]


For a variety of reasons I'm not sure how many spoons I have to contribute here. So I'll just have a couple of observations.

First, there's likely a reason why the pop-culture ambassadors for non-toxic masculinity are men like Terry Crews, Dwayne Johnson, and Nick Offerman.

Second, that reason is likely linked to the culture of pervasive anti-LGBTQ abuse and violence that American culture tolerates as a part of adolescence.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 5:31 AM on April 26, 2018 [14 favorites]


There’s this thing I’ve noticed, where people can find ways to be happy in just about any circumstance, especially if they perceive that things are gradually improving or that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. BUT if people feel that something is being taken away from them (i.e. their situation is somehow subjectively worse or less convenient than it used to be) then they will be quite upset with their new situation, even if it’s a situation they would have been happy with in other circumstances. It’s all about trajectory relative to how it used to be. I’m not talking here about comparison with anyone else, just an individual’s satisfaction with the way their own life is going, relative to how it used be. I think this is human nature, true for men, women, adults, children. Think salaries, toy box size, etc.

So now when we get to this issue of ending historical injustices against certain groups, those who feel they are losing out cannot help but be bothered by it. Again, this seems to be human nature, so I don’t think it’s productive to fault people for feeling that way. It’s not necessarily the only feeling they have, but it may be there. The main question is what kinds of action or inaction the feeling prompts. Can they override/learn to ignore their selfishness and care about the greater good? Can they admit when they slip up, and try to right wrongs? I ask myself the same questions, because although a woman, I too am privileged.
posted by mantecol at 5:49 AM on April 26, 2018 [10 favorites]


Many good points worth thinking about for a long time brought up in this thread. I believe that the past present struggles that we continue to do through will culminate in something like the quote by Rilke.

“Someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only life and reality: the female human being.” ~ Rainier Maria Rilke
posted by DJZouke at 5:56 AM on April 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


I was wincing my way thru this article, though I get that Kimmel is making compromises in his activism to try to get things done.

I was imagining the reactions here to this at every turn of phrase Kimmel used that reinforced the problem of exclusion rather than addressed it. I know he's looking to meet people where they are and find connections, but alot of the problem of white male leadership on these topics is our blindness.

As a white guy myself I expected this to be an opportunity for our favorite passtime, explaining shit to people we've decided just don't get it. I myself was looking forward to explaining to the explainers how they don't get it. Instead I'll just leave it to people who have used their own voices above to say what they thought.

The thing Kimmel said about a purity test reminded me of that point in these types of threads where the person with the privilege decides to disengage because people aren't being "constructive" (ie. They are getting some push back about something they said) Kimmel said something like people should agree on one thing and "then we can talk about the areas we disagree on" I think that second part was a little hand wave-y considering how quickly the group that feels it doesn't have to put up with bullshit will leave once it decides people "don't want their help"
posted by ServSci at 6:06 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


All of a sudden all touch is about sex, because that's what yoga-pants-stretching North American cultural practice is.

Wow. No.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:54 AM on April 26, 2018 [17 favorites]


Imagining the intended audience for this article makes me feel like when John Snow went north of the wall and encountered wildlings for the first time.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:22 AM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


As I've aged, I've seen more and more examples of men that are epically fucked up by the bullshit they are taught about how to be a man. I've seen just as many women in hellish lives because of the nonsense they are taught makes them a "woman" and honestly, I think the entire idea of using culture to teach gendered behaviors is straight up bullshit and damaging beyond what we can really understand.

How about, going forward, we teach our children what you have to do to be a good person? We pull the gendered elements out of the equation and focus on being decent human beings. It won't help those of us twisted by generations of boys are strong and girls are sweet bullshit, but damn, it might help us slightly.

Watching my father suffer in silence through his pain was devastating because he'd been taught that men don't cry or articulate insecurities or pain, but watching my mother giggle and deflect her way through the pain of losing her husband was just as bad. But unfortunately, because I've been tainted by the inherent misogyny of our culture, I'm more tolerant of his quiet suffering than I am of her silliness and deflection. Because even in their destructive pain, men are more admirable than anything women can be.

God, we suck.
posted by teleri025 at 7:35 AM on April 26, 2018 [26 favorites]


"When you apply that same syllogism to men, men are in power, everyone agrees”.

Well, everyone who can’t recognise an Affirmation of the Consequent fallacy (If A then B. B. Therefore A) when they see one, that is:

A: If you are in power, then you are a man
B: I am a man
C: Therefore I am in power

His persuasiveness problem has nothing to do with any refusal to be educated by him, as appealing as the self-serving claim might be.
posted by falcon at 7:36 AM on April 26, 2018


All of a sudden all touch is about sex, because that's what yoga-pants-stretching North American cultural practice is.

It's possible to criticize some feminists* support of white supremacy without resorting to misogyny like you do here.

(*I asterisk this because there have always been feminists of color.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:59 AM on April 26, 2018 [7 favorites]


“Now, you and I would probably say, Well, actually, that's what it means to be a good person, and I completely agree with you. However, they, those guys, experienced it as gendered.”

I don’t get this part. He’s talking to a roomful of men, and he asks a leading question. How can he be sure they didn’t reinterpret the question as what it means to be a good person? What did he want them to say to show that they didn’t experience it as gendered?
posted by mantecol at 7:59 AM on April 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Mod note: A couple comments removed; this is obviously a charged topic (we've been here a bunch of times before), and the way in which different social issues intersect in it is definitely part of why these discussions are extra difficult to sort through, but let's please (a) try to keep things more at the level of thoughtful discussion rather than raising the heat level or getting our grar/sarcasm/etc on, and (b) let the discussion focus more on the context and content of the linked article than on a more wide-ranging Everything That Is Within Throwing Distance Of The General Topic sort of scope. This isn't the first and won't be the last discussion of these sorts of issues on the site, so it'd be best if this could be a discussion about this specific bit of writing rather than generalizing into the same nucleus of arguments we've had dozens of times previously. I appreciate the effort.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:01 AM on April 26, 2018 [13 favorites]


it strikes me as overwhelmingly probable that most (though clearly not all) violence is perpetrated by people whose life experience includes more trauma than coddling.

Probably - but the most horrific violence aimed at strangers comes from men who believe the whole world owes them something and are going to "teach people a lesson" for not providing it.

Guys who hit their wives, guys who get into fights at bars, guys who shoot their ex's new boyfriend: may well have trauma in their backgrounds. Guys who shoot entire churches and schools, white cops who shoot black citizens: these aren't manifestations of the trauma they've endured.

To reach someone like this (or to reach anyone, really, with the goal of persuading them to shift their worldview) we need to offer them something that is compatible enough with their existing worldview that they won't reject it out of hand.

There's no "we" here - his message is from a white guy, aimed at other, mostly white, guys. His message cannot be carried by a woman - men who buy into the "real man" paradigm he describes are not going to have a conversation with me about "what masculinity is, and what it should be." They're certainly not going to accept that I am a "good man" when I match their list of "good man" traits. Nor should they; I am not a man.

(At one point, a boyfriend told me that "everyone is a mix of masculine and feminine," and that my masculine traits included a love of logic and arguments.) (He didn't last long.)

If Kimmel can get through to some guys and persuade them that they don't have an inborn right to abuse the people around them, that's great. But if he's doing something other than attempting to establish 50's sitcom "family values," I can't see it.

He's pushing "men can be protectors, guardians, providers;" he's not pushing "men can be partners."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:08 AM on April 26, 2018 [13 favorites]


With less sarcasm this time, I guess.

I feel that when we come to them and talk about toxic masculinity, they very often think that we're telling them they're doing it wrong, that they're bad

I don't have any hope or faith that people (men) who cannot take the time to understand the dichotomy of toxic masculinity vs. healthy masculinity and will not accept that toxic masculinity does not indict all masculinity will be able to understand accept or understand other conceptual distinctions such as good man vs. real man.

It might help them to understand their own concepts of being a good man/good person, but I think it lets them off the hook for examining their own ingrained ideas of masculinity that are damaging. It basically hand-waves away all the "real man" behaviors that harm the individual man and all the people in the path of his anger and toxcicity.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:19 AM on April 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


I did try to acknowledge that the work of helping at-risk men take their first few steps back from the brink is work that must (I said "should," but I'll buy "must" as well) be done by other white men. And I agree that this "good man vs. real man" stuff is still very rooted in Traditional Masculine Values and as such should not be thought of as "good enough" but only as a step in the right direction, which might over time lead to more steps. But frankly, a 1950s version of masculinity would be a significant improvement over the toxic brew of violence and entitlement that passes for masculinity these days. In a lot of ways, it feels like we've moved in the wrong direction over time.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:42 AM on April 26, 2018 [8 favorites]


I'm delighted to hear the burly construction workers next door singing along to Boy George today - baby steps...
posted by PhineasGage at 9:04 AM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


All of a sudden all touch is about sex, because that's what yoga-pants-stretching North American cultural practice is.

Wow. No.

Uhhh got to agree. Scads of articles written for a cis-het male audience about how to revive floundering marriages explicitly have to say that their female partners want more non-sexual physical affection from them. The whole trope of the manly dude who's too manly to cuddle after sex exists to feminize, and therefore degrade in the toxic masculinity paradigm, affectionate physical contact that is not a direct act of intercourse. In my experience, and that of men who've confided in me that friendly physical affection from female friends is their only source of non-romantic touch, it's largely not women who have constructed a world in which men are afraid to touch one another. I mean, unless I read this wrong and human ecologist wasn't trying to lay the blame for this state of affairs on women.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:05 AM on April 26, 2018 [12 favorites]


But frankly, a 1950s version of masculinity would be a significant improvement over the toxic brew of violence and entitlement that passes for masculinity these days. In a lot of ways, it feels like we've moved in the wrong direction over time.

I mean, here's the thing. Looking at it this way, I sort of agree with you, in that I am more at risk of sexual assault in my male-dominated work spaces. But on the other hand, I am allowed to exist and have a career in my male-dominated work spaces, if not as advantaged a career as the men have at this point. The 1950s version of masculinity, the idea of protecting fragile women instead of regarding them as autonomous people whose bodies they don't have a right to, could be incredibly damaging to my future livelihood, and it's being proposed as a better way of doing corporate diversity training. I'm not sure I'd trade "less internet harassment of women" for "fewer women with viable careers", and it's not like the 1950s traditional family unit didn't conceal an awful lot of violence.

I do get the sentiment, but I think it's dangerous even if it's appealing, and the problem is that this is specifically being proposed for use in organizational kind of environments. In fraternities and other such environments, for example, I can see the argument that preventing sexual assaults is enough of a goal. But... in corporate diversity work it seems super dangerous that they're talking about teaching men that it's okay to see others as lesser as long as they're chivalrous about it and that their career advancement is a reason to care about diversity, but the career advancement of unrelated women isn't something they should be deeply concerned with.
posted by Sequence at 9:09 AM on April 26, 2018 [25 favorites]


> From such understanding of human brain function as I have, it strikes me as overwhelmingly probable that most (though clearly not all) violence is perpetrated by people whose life experience includes more trauma than coddling.

Members of Congress, governors, other elected officials? Elected officials tend to be well-educated people of means, yet they are directly responsible for perpetuating a ton of violence against minorities, women, and poor people. Enacting draconian restrictions for eligibility for food stamps is violence. Granting parental rights to men who father a child through rape is violence. Requiring pregnant incarcerated women to give birth in shackles is violence. Gutting the ADA is violence. Raiding a workplace and detaining all perceived immigrants to check their papers is violence.

And then there's law enforcement officials. Police officers typically come from more modest means than Senators, but I don't think that a life of trauma is what drives cops to reflexively beat down and shoot black people on the slightest suspicion of "wrongdoing."
posted by desuetude at 9:17 AM on April 26, 2018 [20 favorites]


Ryan Gosling as the voice of the Iron Giant? Oh come on.
posted by bradth27 at 9:27 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


As a lot of other women have been saying here, this really doesn't seem like it can fill holes in basic empathy and respect necessary for white men to treat us as equals. For example, a lot of this: "Honor, duty, integrity, sacrifice, do the right thing, stand up for the little guy, be a provider, be a protector" can still be practiced in a hellaciously toxic way. How many times has agency been taken away from women and girls under the guise of "protection"? How many people have you encountered who were truly okay with "sacrificing" with absolutely no expectation of praise or reward, and no resultant sense of grievance if the cause of their sacrifice displays insufficient gratitude? Seeing yourself as a provider/protector/guardian still puts you above people. It prevents you from showing vulnerability, and therefore forging deeper emotional bonds. It locks you into a hierarchical mode of relating where you're bestowing your largesse like a king, but undoubtedly not having to reckon with people in your life as equals, and still insulated from the way others around you fulfill your needs (for esteem, self-image, reassurance), manage your emotions, and generally subsume themselves to your interests (unwillingly playing the sheep in your protection fantasies so that you can tell yourself you're the Good Guy Sheepdog). Trying to reform toxic masculinity by channeling some of its features into benevolent sexism isn't going to solve the problem.

But, we're living in a time of weaponized toxic masculinity that is literally killing people, so I recognize that any form of harm reduction here is a net positive. Maybe you can't take someone from the clutches of toxic masculinity to full wokeness, and getting them to "good guy" who doesn't murder or rape anyone is the best we can hope for right now.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:29 AM on April 26, 2018 [17 favorites]


it strikes me as overwhelmingly probable that most (though clearly not all) violence is perpetrated by people whose life experience includes more trauma than coddling.

Probably - but the most horrific violence aimed at strangers comes from men who believe the whole world owes them something and are going to "teach people a lesson" for not providing it.

Guys who hit their wives, guys who get into fights at bars, guys who shoot their ex's new boyfriend: may well have trauma in their backgrounds. Guys who shoot entire churches and schools, white cops who shoot black citizens: these aren't manifestations of the trauma they've endured.


Isn't the vast majority of violence in the former category? Don't get me wrong, both are horrifying and awful, but I'd hate to see the more mundane forms of violent behavior go inadequately-addressed.

Reducing trauma and increasing healthy social supports shouldn't be a controversial goal and I fail to see how it would encourage violent behavior of any stripe.
posted by mosst at 9:36 AM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't have any hope or faith that people (men) who cannot take the time to understand the dichotomy of toxic masculinity vs. healthy masculinity and will not accept that toxic masculinity does not indict all masculinity will be able to understand accept or understand other conceptual distinctions such as good man vs. real man.

Kimmel:
So I found it better—this is my own activist work, and I'm perfectly happy to hear from Signs readers and from you about what you what you would think of this—but I have found it better to ask men what it means to be a good man and then contrast that with what it means to be a real man.
This is a teacher with actual experience in using that actual distinction in a teaching context. He says it works. And speaking as one of the lifelong targets of both the Good Man and Real Man branches of cultural propaganda, the distinction makes perfect sense to me, the contrast between the two could not possibly be more stark, and I am personally acquainted with at least a dozen people I strongly believe will be better for thinking about it in those terms.

Also speaking as a man, I do think that eliminating toxic masculinity will inevitably render the whole notion of masculinity obsolete. Difference between me and those who reject the whole idea of toxic masculinity outright is that I see this as a good thing.

I would far rather live in a world where the overwhelming majority of the people I encounter identify primarily as decent human beings, rather than picking an exclusive gender tribe and co-opting what ought to be universal human values as the exclusive property of those tribes. This is all of a piece with the nausea I experience every time somebody who purports to be one of my elected representatives starts banging on about Australian Values as if the values they're spruiking were in fact distinguishable from those of every other group of decent human beings the world over.

in corporate diversity work it seems super dangerous that they're talking about teaching men that it's okay to see others as lesser as long as they're chivalrous about it

If the Good Men vs Real Men distinction were some kind of endpoint, I'd agree with you. But it's not an endpoint, it's the thin end of a really useful conceptual wedge. Once that distinction has been introduced into somebody's thinking, the next part of the wedge involves pointing out the then obvious but previously obscured truth that the conventional attributes of motherhood are pretty much identical to the conventional attributes of heroic masculinity; from there we proceed to the gut epiphany that holy shit, mothers are people Just Like I Am, and from there it's a fairly short road to gender egalitarianism.

I would expect it to be instantly obvious to most women that women are fully human, but this point is decidedly not obvious to far too many of the men I know; from the Real Man point of view, women (in fact all persons who fail to perform Real Man adequately) are different and lesser beings, and it seems to me that it is this toxic perspective that perverts the conventional Good Man requirement to nurture and protect one's partner into an assumed justification for continuing to treat women as lesser.

I would also expect anybody who has not been a lifelong target of the Real Man expectation machine to have a great deal of difficulty believing that a person could actually acquire enough skills to wipe his own arse while operating inside a worldview this delusional. Even so, far too many have done and still do.
posted by flabdablet at 9:39 AM on April 26, 2018 [27 favorites]


Sequence, you make good points. I didn't mean to imply that I think we should literally be pushing for a return to 1950s maleness, as once you scratch the surface of that you find plenty of toxicity there too. I just meant that it would be a step in the right direction if our society's default view of masculinity didn't revolve so much around violence. It would be even better if we could just dismantle the idea that certain virtues and values are inherently male to begin with and that's work that should be (and is!) happening right now, but there are a lot of men out there who are nowhere near ready to accept the idea that being male has no inherent value, and they need to be brought round one step at a time. Both projects can proceed in parallel, they're not mutually exclusive.

You have another good point about the appropriateness of these tactics in a corporate setting, though. I was thinking more in terms of broader society, but in the workplace it's really not acceptable to be merely patronizing instead of actually dangerous. Professionalism means interacting with colleagues on the basis of the work that they do, not the type of person you perceive them to be. It's nice to also be friendly with one's colleagues, but it's essential to be professional. If you can't behave professionally, you are not a good worker—end of story. In that context, it would be better to think less about being a "good man" and more about being a "good worker."
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:45 AM on April 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


All of a sudden all touch is about sex ...

I'm a bit sympathetic. I've had the not-so-bad luck to experience anti-bi relationship abuse that was driven by sexualization and gaslighting of emotional needs, boundaries, and consent. Is that everyone? Obviously not. But those experiences have left me profoundly cynical and untrusting when romance, attachment, and mutual care is discussed. The Orenstein article in this post highlights that the myth that AMAB people are driven by sex is alive and well.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:47 AM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


If the Good Men vs Real Men distinction were some kind of endpoint, I'd agree with you. But it's not an endpoint, it's the thin end of a really useful conceptual wedge.

Except in corporate training, that's not how these things work. They talk up the idea about how the company is going to have an ongoing discussion about diversity, but how often is that actually the reality? Where I work, we had a series of videos, the aforementioned ones where they put exactly the same weight on "don't mention your coworker's hair loss" as on LGBT or ethnic diversity, and then... that was it. That was all.

So yeah. I think I can agree that this isn't a terrible starting point if you're talking to someone who you have an ongoing relationship with, or if someone's at really serious risk of actual violence against women. The part that's really stuck with me about TFA is just that it was proposed to be used in this very specific environment where it seems to have some really awful potential to make things worse by enabling men to feel better about doing harmful things, and that I don't see any evidence there that they have a map for where to take this into "and the thing you are going to have to sacrifice here is your privilege, and it is often going to suck, but it wasn't justly yours in the first place".
posted by Sequence at 9:59 AM on April 26, 2018 [13 favorites]


In that context, it would be better to think less about being a "good man" and more about being a "good worker."

Ugh. "Good colleague" perhaps, "a good worker" doesn't have social interactions after all, except for purely servile ones with customers, and only where they benefit the business.
posted by Dysk at 10:02 AM on April 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


The idea he raises of the "real man" code as "performative" is interesting to me. Success in modern society is so much about code switching and playing different roles in different situations, and it feels like a lot of especially white men genuinely struggle to play more than one role.

Think of all the guys who respond to workplace "Me Too" stories by asking how they will ever again know what's appropriate to say to a woman in the office. Like, human interaction is actually hard, a big part of it is observing what's contextually appropriate and how that changes in different times and places, and working together to preserve everyone's dignity when someone makes a bona fide mistake, but that seems genuinely alien to some guys.

Maybe gently showing guys who've only been exposed to one, ultra-stereotypical "real man" code that it's not the best way to handle all situations, even judging just by their own moral codes, is a good first step?
posted by smelendez at 10:08 AM on April 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


The part that's really stuck with me about TFA is just that it was proposed to be used in this very specific environment where it seems to have some really awful potential to make things worse by enabling men to feel better about doing harmful things, and that I don't see any evidence there that they have a map for where to take this into "and the thing you are going to have to sacrifice here is your privilege, and it is often going to suck, but it wasn't justly yours in the first place".

Absolutely. Trying to eliminate toxic masculinity while sidestepping the issue of privilege is not going to work. I know it's hard to talk about, and painful, and difficult to contextualize for people who aren't the "paters" of The Patriarchy, and people fight against admitting it, and basically the whole system is designed to throw a world-ending tantrum if you even bring it up, but as long as we refuse to recognize and acknowledge it, nothing's going to change. Plenty of men will be able to take these suggestions and shift into some old-fashioned Victorian paternalism and still convince themselves they're "good men." There's no avoiding drawing men's attention to the ways they benefit from patriarchy if what this approach is meant to foster is something better than creating a bunch of Hank Hills who've read one bell hooks essay.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:19 AM on April 26, 2018 [9 favorites]


it feels like a lot of especially white men genuinely struggle to play more than one role

The difficulty white men have in switching roles seems to depend a lot on who they're interacting with. They seem to have a lot less difficulty understanding what is appropriate and how to regulate their behavior when they're interacting with someone they perceive to be of equal or greater status - e.g. there is not an epidemic of white men harassing their white male bosses.

Note also that these complaints that it's too hard are usually just complaints rather than requests for guidance. They're not being made in good faith. They're a way to paint women as having unrealistic expectations for their behavior.

It's like men who pretend not to be able to keep track of household tasks. They weren't raised to think that way (likely true), which means it's hard (maybe), and that means they can't learn (a self-serving lie). What? You have practical suggestions about how they can keep track? No, that will never work, you nag.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:23 AM on April 26, 2018 [30 favorites]


I found the article fascinating and the good man / real man distinction is one which I can imagine being a lot easier to use. I especally appreciated his recognising of "real man" as perfomative, and it's interesting that the way he describes it anyhow, more externally generated than the good man. Obviously "good person" would be a better place to be and here is hoping we can get there with more and more people.

I had a thing with my business partner complaining about what he can and cannot say a few weeks ago like: "Jesus Joe, how hard is it not to say that?" and I wish I had used some different language informed by Kimmel's approach. I am not sure I can actually get away with saying "What would the person you want to be do, Joe?" but I might have been more effective.
posted by shothotbot at 10:24 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


flabdablet, here's where I lost faith in Kimmel's narrative about his experience and his good man/real man dichotomy:

And I said, “Maybe not. Here’s a little good man / real man thing for you. Okay, bring me your charter, bring me the charter of your fraternity.” So they bring me the charter. And I said, “Now show me the part in your charter where it says ‘And we will have parties where we get girls so drunk that they can't stand up and they pass out so we can fuck them.’” And you know what? It doesn't say that in their charter. Nowhere. But here’s what it does say: “You’re men of honor, you’re men of integrity, you are about service, you’re about citizenship. I don't want you to live up to my ideals. I want you to live up to yours. If you can live up to your own ideals, you’ll have a reason to exist. Otherwise, no. I’m not okay with it.

And I say, show me the part of their code where it says, "WE WILL NOT have parties where we get girls so drunk that they can't stand up and they pass out so we can fuck them."

Because they don't have that part.

And he sounds remarkably naive trying to point out to these men that getting girls drunk and raping them isn't perhaps, maybe, what men of honor would do. Because they've always claimed to be men of honor and integrity, and they've always managed to feel that way about themselves while also degrading women. Both those things fit into their idea of masculinity.

Why? Because their ideals of honor, integrity, service and citizenship don't extend to anyone they think of as LESSER. And just saying, "Oh wow, I thought you were honorable, try to be honorable," is no kind of examination of redefining your entire world view on who is LESSER than you.

The conversation he recounts here with the frat guys is worthless.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:28 AM on April 26, 2018 [17 favorites]


"Every man I've ever met knows what it feels like to love a woman and want her to thrive because we're also in relationships as fathers and sons, as friends, as partners, colleagues, lovers, husbands. We all have relationships with women that we love and we want to support them and we don't want bad things to happen to them."

Same as every frat-boy rapist, every abortion-banning politician, every domestic abuser, every workplace sexual harasser, every older man who preys upon young women, every alt-right pig who laughs about genocide on Twitter. . . I mean. Haven't we learned by now that proximity to men, even "good" "protector" men doesn't guarantee girls and women a shred of safety? Geez. Even Trump performs something like love & support for his daughter and that hasn't moved him a micron away from the "Tough Guy" side of the spectrum.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:40 AM on April 26, 2018 [12 favorites]


Both those things fit into their idea of masculinity.

Yes they do, but Kimmel's key insight here is that this is largely because the whole idea of masculinity is vague for most men. The beauty of the Good Man vs Real Man distinction is that it's both elegantly clear and incapable of being unseen once seen.

There will be substantial numbers of men - especially young men - who, after exposure to the distinction, do begin to push back against Real Man because Good Man is actually how they've always managed to think of themselves. And whether that's coddling or not, that's a net benefit.

Even Trump performs something like love & support for his daughter and that hasn't moved him a micron away from the "Tough Guy" side of the spectrum.

Trump is too old, stupid and delusionally narcissistic to teach. Most young men are not.
posted by flabdablet at 10:47 AM on April 26, 2018 [7 favorites]


I'm still working my way through the tail end of the article, but will chime in anyhow. My PhD dissertation actually covered very similar ground on models of masculinity (and femininity) in a working class Bolivian setting. In that work I pushed to move the analysis of masculinity beyond unnuanced labels like "patriarchy" or "machismo," and I identified two very different and conflicting masculine ideals at work in my setting: the "macho" vs. the "family man" that overlap a good deal with Kimmel's good man/real man dichotomy. (I came across Kimmel's earlier work during the time I was writing my dissertation and found it useful in ways I don't exactly remember, but I don't recall that he'd written about this dichotomy in those terms at that point.) One of my observations was that certainly in a settling like a working class, semi-indigenous neighborhood in an economically depressed third world country, the "patriarchs" hardly feel empowered, and furthermore when the less-toxic version of masculinity--the good man/family man--seems unattainable due to economic forces--well, at least one can put on a show of being macho. Except playing the macho (and this was long before the phrase "toxic masculinity" had entered our vocabularies) could be literally fatal--it was definitely a life that could be nasty, brutish, and short.
The other thing I would propose from an ethnographic perspective is that gender and gender roles are a category like kinship or religion or language, whose content may vary tremendously from culture to culture but that are always present. So to envision a post-gender world where we solve the problems of gender inequality by chucking out the idea that "masculinity" has any specific content at all and we all just strive to be "good people" or whatever...well, I think that runs very strongly against human history.
posted by drlith at 10:48 AM on April 26, 2018 [20 favorites]


There will be substantial numbers of men - especially young men - who, after exposure to the distinction, do begin to push back against Real Man because Good Man is actually how they've always managed to think of themselves.

Don't Nice Guys™ do this too, though? Like, identifying and throwing the "real man" pressures out doesn't actually address the underlying misogyny at all.
posted by Dysk at 11:05 AM on April 26, 2018 [9 favorites]


It seems like the experiences of trans folks would be helpful with some of these questions. I don't think trans men are people who look at toxic masculinity and say "It's me!" There's something positive and specifically masculine that they identify with.

I used to shake my head at men who seemed hung up on figuring out "What it means to be a man." Why can't they just want to be a good person? But becoming more aware of trans people has made me reconsider that maybe there is something real and worthwhile in the masculine "water" that I'm too used to swimming in to notice that it's there.

Personally I have a very hard time pointing to anything that I would consider specifically masculine rather than just human, but I think there are people who see/feel/experience stuff that I am missing.
posted by straight at 11:14 AM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


I used to shake my head at men who seemed hung up on figuring out "What it means to be a man." Why can't they just want to be a good person? But becoming more aware of trans people has made me reconsider that maybe there is something real and worthwhile in the masculine "water" that I'm too used to swimming in to notice that it's there.

Going back to something I wrote in response to a related question:
To answer this question, I keep finding myself returning to The Way Of Men, the popular book written a few years ago. The virtues suggested by the author, Jack Donovan, are: Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honor.

To which you could well say, well, so what? Women can be strong, courageous, masterful, and honorable. Which is of course true. But Donovan makes the good point that these are the primary things that a small band (or 'gang' or 'brotherhood') of men will demand of each other. In a life-or-death situation, in which men need to band together for survival against enemies or a hostile environment, men will demand these these virtues for their team and cut loose those who lack them.

How does this connect to toxic masculinity? Well, in a sense it is orthogonal. Donovan's book discusses this point with a memorable contrast between "being a good man" versus "being good at being a man".

In other words, just because you're a good man doesn't mean you're masculine, and just because you're masculine doesn't make you good. They are independent axes.
My sense is that your "average guy" would find Donovan a lot more interesting and inspiring than Kimmel in regard to masculinity, and in a completely non-toxic way.
posted by theorique at 11:49 AM on April 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honor

I'm assuming that "don't rape women" and "don't murder people of color" fall under the "honor" category, since the other three don't have anything about "being a decent person to other human beings."

In that case, what we need is a stronger message to men that if they're not acting honorably, they're only, at most, 3/4 of a man.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:56 AM on April 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


The thing is, what being honourable means will vary dramatically to different individuals. With the very rich history of honour being used as a justification for violence (both against other men, and against women) it's possibly not a very useful concept or value to invoke without examining what it contains or means to the individual, or what it means to certain groups.
posted by Dysk at 11:59 AM on April 26, 2018 [21 favorites]


But Donovan makes the good point that these are the primary things that a small band (or 'gang' or 'brotherhood') of men will demand of each other. In a life-or-death situation, in which men need to band together for survival against enemies or a hostile environment, men will demand these these virtues for their team and cut loose those who lack them.

Like, can we really not just deal with being members of a post-industrial society in the 21st century and stop having to frame masculinity as some sort of uniquely primal, survivalist, violent, brute condition? I'm pretty sure women in some sort of besieged survival situation would value courage, strength, etc, but then again femininity doesn't seem to depend upon these sorts of weird, imaginary, post-facto caveman fantasies. The number of men I see who insist on linking masculinity to violence through some entirely fictional justification about brutal survival situations that will never arrive on their suburban doorsteps is just way too much for me.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:12 PM on April 26, 2018 [22 favorites]


My experience has been that the concept, "being a [real] man means acting with honor," is that it's more often stated as a tautology than a goal. I am not at all sure how it could be used to dissuade men from committing atrocities, much less convince them to actually treat other people decently.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:12 PM on April 26, 2018 [7 favorites]


List of asshole traits: How you be a "real man" instead of a woman.

List of positive traits: How you be a man instead of a boy. It's also how you be a woman instead of girl. It's how you be a good, grown-up person.
posted by clawsoon at 12:17 PM on April 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


There’s this thing I’ve noticed, where people can find ways to be happy in just about any circumstance, especially if they perceive that things are gradually improving or that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. BUT if people feel that something is being taken away from them (i.e. their situation is somehow subjectively worse or less convenient than it used to be) then they will be quite upset with their new situation, even if it’s a situation they would have been happy with in other circumstances. It’s all about trajectory relative to how it used to be. I’m not talking here about comparison with anyone else, just an individual’s satisfaction with the way their own life is going, relative to how it used be. I think this is human nature, true for men, women, adults, children. Think salaries, toy box size, etc.

I am reminded of the startup lesson, the Parable of the free Sodas.
posted by theorique at 12:38 PM on April 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


but then again femininity doesn't seem to depend upon these sorts of weird, imaginary, post-facto caveman fantasies.

I speculate that this happens specifically because femininity and masculinity are labels for two intrinsically different ways of being in the world, different mindsets, different outlooks.
posted by theorique at 12:42 PM on April 26, 2018


People in less-privileged groups almost always manage some level of social neutrality without much complaint--you don't give up anything of your gender identity (or any other identity) by treating others in a more neutral way and letting them occupy as much space in the world as you do. You can keep doing all kinds of things in your own space with other people who consent to that. I don't think it's inherent to masculinity to take up space you aren't entitled to any more than it's necessary for European culture or Christianity or whatever; it's a thing people start conflating with that identity after a long period of unchecked abuse of power.

If some dudes want to LARP being actual cavemen, that's still totally on the table, they just need to stop doing it at work and whatnot.
posted by Sequence at 12:56 PM on April 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


It seems like the experiences of trans folks would be helpful with some of these questions.

Can't help you. In spite of looking for substance in everything from Radical Faerie to Bly, I just don't see an essence beyond the arbitrary costumes, masks, and rituals I use in order to avoid potentially dangerous cultural freakouts. Unfortunately I'm getting increasingly pissed off and tired playing the passing game.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:04 PM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm assuming that "don't rape women" and "don't murder people of color" fall under the "honor" category, since the other three don't have anything about "being a decent person to other human beings."

Donovan goes into more detail in his writings, but briefly, these "tactical virtues" are orthogonal to being good. Honor specifically refers to loyalty to the brotherhood, and not, for example, adherence to any Golden Rule or showing kindness to others.

For example, the Zeta cartel in Mexico exhibits the four virtues, as a brotherhood of sorts, but they also do bad things like torture informers and behead enemies with chainsaws on video. They are extremely masculine, but also dangerous, unkind people.

You can think of it like a 2x2 matrix - one can be good or evil, masculine or unmasculine. The quadrant that is both evil and masculine, is what is typically labeled as "toxic masculinity".
posted by theorique at 1:08 PM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


It seems like the experiences of trans folks would be helpful with some of these questions. I don't think trans men are people who look at toxic masculinity and say "It's me!" There's something positive and specifically masculine that they identify with.

How a person has a gender (or not) at a very nascent level is poorly understood and argued about to no end but I think that gender is one of those "always becoming" kinds of things where you stochastically just kind of end up somewhere via a really complicated and poorly understood method of construction.

I see three main factors that go into the construction of gender:

1. The external gender programming signals you receive and internalize as "meant for you"
2. The external gender programming signals that other people think should be "meant for you"
3. The reward/punishment cycle that teaches you how to express the gender people expect you to be

Most people are talking about factors 2 and 3 when they talk about gender toxicity and completely ignore or debate the existence of factor 1.

So based on how I see it, I don't think the initial question really would give anyone any additional insight into why a gender sucks in a particular way because trans people aren't doing anything different than cis people when it comes to the most fundamental aspect of "being a gender (AKA factor 1)", we're just being the gender we know ourselves to be. And much like cis people, we also struggle with factors 2 and 3, yet in very different and specific ways from cis people. So I just don't really think you can use trans people as a filter to help you isolate out the toxic particulates of gender.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:26 PM on April 26, 2018 [18 favorites]


It seems like the experiences of trans folks would be helpful with some of these questions. I don't think trans men are people who look at toxic masculinity and say "It's me!" There's something positive and specifically masculine that they identify with.

No, not really. I don't "identify" with masculinity because it's not something that can be pinned down; it's something that just feels right. Being female felt like a costume and it was such a relief when I could finally take it off. You presumably did not actively choose to be male. Or heterosexual. I'm sure you can make a list of things you like about being male, or being partnered to women, but it really comes down to something innate and indescribable.
posted by AFABulous at 2:46 PM on April 26, 2018 [11 favorites]


I will say that I do feel pressure to be masculine in certain ways, and sometimes I act more masculine than I otherwise would, for my own safety. Also, testosterone has changed the way I think and react in certain situations. If there's one thing trans people* can add to these discussions, it's the effect of hormones on moods and thoughts. They can't be discounted and they do change brain structures.

*not all trans people can or want to take hormones
posted by AFABulous at 2:53 PM on April 26, 2018 [8 favorites]


But Donovan makes the good point that these are the primary things that a small band (or 'gang' or 'brotherhood') of men will demand of each other. In a life-or-death situation, in which men need to band together for survival against enemies or a hostile environment, men will demand these these virtues for their team and cut loose those who lack them.

This, however, bears no resemblance to the experience of the vast majority of American men.

And the one life situation in which one might expect to have such an experience--service in the armed forces, in an actual war zone--frequently sends home men whose exposure to the playground of Strength Mastery etc. leaves them with a Three-Mile-Island level of entitlement and completely unwilling to function in an ordinary society.
posted by praemunire at 3:32 PM on April 26, 2018 [7 favorites]


praemunire: This, however, bears no resemblance to the experience of the vast majority of American men.

We try to recreate a reflection of the "band of brothers" situation in sports teams and fraternities. Unfortunately, they're used to promote toxic masculinity as often as they're used to promote positive values.
posted by clawsoon at 5:03 PM on April 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


...sometimes I act more masculine than I otherwise would, for my own safety

Safety and, in my case, staying under the radar. It's hard to tell what the penalties for unmasculine (not interchangeable with feminine) behaviours are amongst a given cohort. After the second or so momentary look of raw disgust aimed your way by women you believed would know different, you learn quite young that there is no truly safe harbour. The mask can get loose, when strategic, but never quite comes off.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 5:52 PM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


Donovan goes into more detail in his writings, but briefly, these "tactical virtues" are orthogonal to being good. Honor specifically refers to loyalty to the brotherhood, and not, for example, adherence to any Golden Rule or showing kindness to others.

In that case, there is no reason at all to support the concept of "masculinity;" it's just a package of behaviors that serve as a core identity of a particular privileged class. By that description, there is "toxic masculinity," which includes the expressions that are actually harmful, especially to people outside the group, and there is "segregational masculinity," which serves to define the boundaries between the group and everyone else, with no value other than creating an identity marker.

That's not without value at all, but that would mean there's damn little reason for anyone else to tolerate any expression of masculinity - it's either harmful to us, or used to shut us out. Might as well skip the issue of "how do we convince men to be less toxic in their masculinity" and move on to "how can we eliminate the concept of masculinity entirely?"

Or does he posit there's a value to it besides "it makes men feel connected," with the understanding that if they feel connected, they're less likely to kill other people? There are other ways people can feel connected, and this one seems to come with an awful lot of poisonous baggage.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 6:22 PM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


"how can we eliminate the concept of masculinity entirely?"

This kind of thinking is frighteningly dogmatic to me because in the revolution which is required to pull this off, people like myself and my trans cousin will be the first against the wall and hung by our necks.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:35 AM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


the revolution which is required to pull this off

Whadda we want?
GRADUAL CHANGE
Whenna we wannit?
IN DUE COURSE
posted by flabdablet at 5:38 AM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm not convinced that is a necessary consequence of such a revolution. Masculinity isn't maleness, and femininity isn't femaleness.
posted by Dysk at 6:11 AM on April 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


I’m not convinced cis people eliminating gender will take into account trans people.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:19 AM on April 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I don't think the people pushing for this are the people we need to worry about, generally.
posted by Dysk at 6:24 AM on April 27, 2018


isn't this what radfems want?
posted by AFABulous at 6:24 AM on April 27, 2018


No, that's the destruction of gender itself, not of gendered values or behaviours.
posted by Dysk at 6:27 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


(And not all radfems are TERFs, hence the need for the term TERF.)
posted by Dysk at 6:27 AM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


I’m totally onboard and advocate for breaking down the gender binary and I also have severe criticism for how gender programming signals and gender reward and punishment systems are enacted and those two systems of gender construction need to be completely shut down.

If that is what is meant by eliminating masculinity then I’m down. If the thought here is that the entirety of gender is just this made up thing that solely exists to give men power and subjugate women and that the whole notion of gender itself is bad and needs to die in a fire then no, I’m not on board, because the notion of a person “being a man” saved my cousin’s life and seeing him transition and become the person he is today versus where he was 12 years ago has convinced me that there is something more happening with gender than it being just a thing men made up to keep themselves in power.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:52 AM on April 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


That's what I mean, and given the context, I'm fairly certain what ErisLordFreedom meant also.

I am a trans woman. I am also practically entirely unfeminine. I can both be and feel female without identifying at all with our displaying femininity, or the norms or behaviours coded feminine.

Femininity is not femaleness, masculinity is not maleness.
posted by Dysk at 7:00 AM on April 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Femininity is not femaleness, masculinity is not maleness.

I take that one step further and wonder if the categories of maleness and femaleness themselves are more fiction than science.

And gender expression should absolutely be decoupled from the (IMO) rudimentary notion of a sex binary.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:08 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


How can I be male if maleness doesn’t exist? I agree with the last paragraph.
posted by AFABulous at 7:13 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I take that one step further and wonder if the categories of maleness and femaleness themselves are more fiction than science.

So you're objecting to the elimination of gendered behaviours or values, but you don't think gender itself is anything but fiction? How does that even work?
posted by Dysk at 7:20 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


In that case, there is no reason at all to support the concept of "masculinity;" it's just a package of behaviors that serve as a core identity of a particular privileged class. By that description, there is "toxic masculinity," which includes the expressions that are actually harmful, especially to people outside the group, and there is "segregational masculinity," which serves to define the boundaries between the group and everyone else, with no value other than creating an identity marker.

If we're going to be eliminating anything to solve the problems associated with masculinity I think a better route would be attacking the roots of the issues you mention which, as I see it are 1. the patriarchy, which you frame as the existence of "a particular privileged class" on the axis of gender and 2. the gender binary, which can be understood as the view that masculinity and femininity are polarized, oppositional forces "which serves to define the boundaries" between men and women, and by extension create other boundaries that shut out nonbinary folks as a side-effect. I don't see how you can "eliminate the concept of masculinity entirely" while these are still the underlying concepts people are using and the reality of how power is held because I think this toxic mess is an emergent property of a gender system that establishes hierarchy and uses an essentialist framework. I don't think you're wrong in your assessment of the issues we face but it sounds like you're proposing we attack the symptom, not the causes.

...or what Annika Cicada said.
posted by metaphorever at 7:20 AM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


I should have worded that better...There's more than a sex binary, but at each end of the binary is male and female with a whole lot of other in the middle that doesn't quite slot in to either one cleanly.

Like, I don't feel like I'm 100% a woman or 100% female, yet I know that I absolutely needed GRS to help complete my sense of self. My vag has fuck all to do with any notion of gender or sex, it's just something my body needed and that I had to go through a multi-year dog and pony show to convince a lot of doctors that I was something I'm not just in order to get the medical care I need really irritates me.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:21 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't think you're wrong in your assessment of the issues we face but it sounds like you're proposing we attack the symptom, not the causes.

I can't speak for anyone else, but it struck me as an "of course" that masculinity be deconstructed and discarded by the means you mention. I personally think that concepts like masculinity and femininity are inseparable from a binary patriarchy - you can't address one without addressing the other.
posted by Dysk at 7:25 AM on April 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


If I spend a few days (even hours) alone, I pretty quickly forget about gender. It’s not something that factors into my self-perception or self-expression. This may be why I find it difficult to feel comfortable around other people, because they’re reflecting something back to me that is foreign to my own experience. #hermitprobablyforlifeatthispoint

I think it’s going to be pretty difficult to change the perception of adults who were taught to see gender as binary, but hopefully with each new generation, the prevailing thinking will get more flexible.
posted by mantecol at 7:39 AM on April 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


I can't speak for anyone else, but it struck me as an "of course" that masculinity be deconstructed and discarded

I think it's the 'discarded' part that I have an issue with. Masculinity should be deconstructed, freed from the limitations of binary thinking and the power differentials that it currently manifest should be eliminated. But as long as there are cis men, trans men, nonbinary men, and cis/trans/nonbinary people who feel masculine in some way I think that trying to 'discard' masculinity is going to be harmful to those people. We, as a society, can't 'discard' how people feel about their own internal experience of gender and identity and to act like we can or should is going to end up hurting people. When I bristle at ErisLordFreedom saying "how can we eliminate the concept of masculinity entirely?" that implication is what I find troubling. Sure, if we mean a slow fading away as it becomes irrelevant in the new gender anarchy we have built then that's fine but to me it seems like that needs to be explicitly stated, not assumed as an unstated 'of course'. Again, I think we're all mostly on the same page but coming at this from different perspectives—I'm mostly just focused on making sure that the 'of course' parts are being explicitly stated because while it may be obvious to you and me I think we need to be careful in the words we choose and the way that we frame things to make it as unambiguous as possible.
posted by metaphorever at 8:33 AM on April 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Sure, if we mean a slow fading away as it becomes irrelevant in the new gender anarchy we have built then that's fine but to me it seems like that needs to be explicitly stated

I'm happy to state that explicitly.

It seems to me that as a society we have spent the last five decades moving away from a Bible-influenced conception of gender as this hard-edged Man or Woman binary toward a more nuanced understanding where gender is thought of more as a spectrum, upon which people are inherently capable of recognizing their own (possibly moving) position and using which we assume a gender identity similar to that of others we recognize as similarly positioned.

But I'm not at all sure that a spectrum is the right metaphor. The thing about spectra is that they cannot represent all the colours, only the single-wavelength ones, and those single wavelengths are strictly ordered along a simple number line with infrared past one end and ultraviolet past the other. The stark opposition between infrared and ultraviolet remains, regardless of the existence of all the intermediate wavelengths; the spectrum metaphor doesn't get rid of the assumption of an underlying gender binary, it merely smudges it.

If we're going to stick with colour-based metaphors, I'm happier with the idea of a palette or gamut than that of a spectrum: palettes allow for the existence of colours like pink and magenta and fuchsia - composites of red and blue wavelengths - that simply don't exist on the spectrum, as well as taking the strengths of the underlying primaries for any given colour into account.

But when it comes right down to it, even a palette has only three primary colours, and I think there are probably many more than three attributes that mix in various proportions to make a gender. This would make any given gender something like a point or region or trajectory in a multidimensional abstract space.

And I think the further we go down our current path of weakening the prescribed forms of advertising that society still expects of us to announce our nearer Biblical binary pole, the more apparent it will become that there really isn't all that much unforced clustering in that abstract space, and terms like masculinity and femininity that serve to label a conventional pair of hitherto-assumed-universal clusters and form the basis of the ensuing and hitherto-claimed-natural power relations will become correspondingly less useful and therefore less used.

At any rate, a man can hope.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 AM on April 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I don't see how you can "eliminate the concept of masculinity entirely" while these are still the underlying concepts people are using

Neither do I. I'm just noting that the goal should not be "remove the patriarchy and its oppressions, and rewrite the concept of masculinity" (and almost certainly, the concept of femininity as well; they're not quite opposites, but they're definitely related); the goal should encompass a much broader "remove patriarchy, and its foundation - the notion that men are supposed to band together in groups who value each others' esteem more than the wellbeing of society around them."

While the "core traits of masculinity" -- stated above as Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honor -- are useful traits for a society, they become substantially less useful if they're only used to promote a subgroup, and that's what we're seeing. If that is "true masculinity," then there is indeed no non-toxic version of it.

I don't know if that's "true masculinity." I'm cis female; have never remotely had an interest in being masculine; have had only vague ideas how men define themselves as masculine or true men or whatever. I've only started looking at these things because there are apparently tons of assholes who want to "protect" me from my trans sisters and I have come to realize that it's not about my protection (because they have never cared about protecting me before) than because they reject trans women as women, and from that point, are fucking jealous that those people get to follow me into a bathroom while cis men don't.

Masculinity is a men's game. I am not a man; I am not even a sometimes-kinda-maybe-leaning-toward man; I should have no stake in the "what is masculinity" debate. However, inasmuch as "masculinity" is the buzzword being used to restrict my actions and those of my friends, being used to deny me agency and opportunities, being used to excuse those who have harmed me - I have a stake in saying this concept is garbage that doesn't belong in a free society.

If masculinity has value that outweighs the problems it causes, value to people who aren't the ones actively promoting it, then that's an inaccurate conclusion. Even if it's correct, I don't assume we could start with "get rid of masculinity" as a goal; it's tangled into a lot of other things, and many of those are easier to unravel. Maybe doing so would remove the toxicity.

But many of the discussions on masculinity begin with the assumption that "this is one of the two major category-labels for human people - now, how do we make it safer and more useful" rather than, "should we put masculinity in the same bin we use for astrology - some people claim it's a useful way to understand people, but anyone who used it as an excuse for criminal actions would be mocked, and then thrown in jail."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:21 AM on April 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


We're always going to have some form of the binary as long as 1. PIV sex is desirable to most people; and 2. babbies are primarily formed through PIV sex. I don't anticipate those changing anytime soon. This doesn't need to map to behavior or expression, of course, but if most people seek relationships with people with genitalia different from them, and those genitalia almost always come in two forms, there's going to be a binary.

Trans adults are estimated to be 0.6% of the US population (PDF). That's probably underreported, so let's say double that and go with 1.2%. Intersex is complicated and can take many forms, so here's the estimated prevalence of intersex conditions, none of which are close to approaching 1% of the population (and I'm certain there is significant overlap with the transgender numbers.) Of course, low numbers don't discount people's validity or right to equality, but it's just a fact that the vast majority of people are clearly sexually dimorphic and cis. It's disingenuous to pretend male and female don't exist or are a social construct.

I was going to comment about sex differences in the brain but this scientific article has convinced me I don't know what I'm talking about, so hopefully someone who knows more about neurology can summarize this.
posted by AFABulous at 10:44 AM on April 27, 2018 [9 favorites]


It's disingenuous to pretend male and female don't exist or are a social construct.

AFABulous I agree that there is an undeniable reality of a general pattern of sexual dimorphism in humans but I also think that a binary is an inaccurate way to conceptualize it. I prefer the model outlined by Contrapoints in her Radical Trans Biology lecture where she talks about sex, gender, phenotype, endocrinology, etc. as a set of overlapping bi-modal distributions of characteristics. A binary, by definition, is exclusionary to things that are not contained within the two options it presents. Framing these traits as being bi-modally distributed acknowledges that yes, most people are dyadic (not intersex), most people have a gender identity that is male or female, and that for most people those things line up in a way that makes them cis, while also acknowledging the existence and validity of the folks who are not in those clusters and that those sets of bi-modally distributed characteristics don't always line up in the ways that we might expect them to even if they do most of the time.

To me it seems like conceptualizing of sex and gender using a binary framework is the disingenuous route because to do so we have to pretend that we don't know about the outliers in our data in order to not disprove that simpler framework. We can acknowledge that the reality of people's bodies and experiences are complicated and don't always fit the simple model while also acknowledging that for most people it does. When I say that a binary is an inaccurate way to talk about sex and gender it's not a denial of reality, it's a claim that is built on the stats you just cited. Maybe folks think that distinguishing between a 'gender binary' and a 'gender bi-modal distribution' is just quibbling over semantics or a distinction without difference but to me it seems like an more accurate way to talk about these things—one that doesn't throw out anyone who doesn't fit in the model and instead describes both the common and the uncommon.

I know these are new ideas and I should probably be more explicit in outlining what I mean when I talk about the specific idea that I am referencing when I talk about the gender binary and explain what I think should replace that way of thinking. Once again, I think we are mostly agreeing on the substance of what we are talking about but that because we're so deep in the weeds it can be easy to get our wires crossed over words and ideas that haven't been fully unpacked.
posted by metaphorever at 11:53 AM on April 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


Holy CRAP is there load of toxic sludge amongst the suggested videos YouTube puts up for that ContraPoints piece.

Amongst our attributes are such diverse elements as Strength, Courage, Mastery, Honor and a fanatical devotion to hair-trigger reactionary fragility...

I'll come in again.
posted by flabdablet at 12:25 PM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Kimmel's Good Man/Real Man approach is something I've seen for years among black american friends, especially in the context of mentoring young men, and it's something that has even become something of a trope in media narratives about black men, and I'm curious to hear from black women who have seen the effects of this approach, because while Kimmel is kind of tailoring his thing to white men and the extra privilege wrapped up in the white american concept of masculinity, he's late to the game on the Good Man/Real Man stuff and there is a lot of lived experience with the approach that can be talked about in more than hypotheticals.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:54 PM on April 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


I've been living vicariously through LGBTQ SFF for a while now. Part of it is escapism because it's nice to imagine a world where I can be without anxiety about economic, physical, or verbal violence. But also I think part of those thought experiments involve consideration of what forms of gender might exist if it was completely uncoupled from reproductive imperatives.

In Leckie's universe, technology has enabled multiple reproductive strategies and parentage is primarily defined by duties of care and economic/political inheritance. So you have the Radch where caste and clientage trump any form of gender expression on the one hand, and Hwae where choosing one of three cultural genders is a rite of passage coerced by economics. (Provenance implies that even with a neutral gender, some people may be uncomfortable with that coerced choice.)

In JY Yang's Tensorate gender is chosen by the person and magically confirmed in puberty through a process that transforms the body for primary and secondary sexual characteristics. There also, the magic of the setting provides alternative methods of conception. Even that tradition doesn't cover everyone. Foz Meadows had a story last year regarding the potential for life via virtual bodies, and how that opens the door for utopian fluidity.

What interests me here is not those settings as a model for some form of gender activism in the modern United States. My personal white whale, or white wail is to make things a little bit less sucky for my nephew's generation than the 80s and 90s were for me. (Also, quit getting irrationally jealous and taking it out on your bi/pan/multisexual partners you insecure fucks, *ahem*.) Rather, it's nice to imagine a world where everyone has to go through the same process of figuring out one's gender identity.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 7:31 PM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


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