This will not be remembered as a year of good men. Then again, you couldn’t really award that title to any year in the entirety of history, at least not when it comes to treating women as, you know, people. Nevertheless, last year was particularly notable as the Weinstein scandal prompted what is, ideally, the beginning of a purge of all abhorrent men in positions of power; abhorrent men everywhere, in fact. It was a year in which the spotlight was shone on the destructive power of male privilege, a light which will hopefully endure. Of course, women are very aware of the destructive power of male privilege, having been faced with the brunt of it for their entire lives. Men are aware of it too, it’s just that now they’re being held accountable.
a year in which the spotlight was shone on the destructive power of male privilege
The crimes of men that were made public last year – and those that remain unreported – are saddening and infuriating, but there is a glimmer of hope in the possibility that we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of this culture of toxic masculinity. With any luck, last year’s events signal to us that the media industry is changing, society is changing, and perhaps most crucially, masculinity is changing.
I want to make it clear that this article is not going to be me claiming the title of The One Good Man and lecturing fellow blokes on how to achieve my superhuman levels of sensitivity and understanding, because I, like all other men, can do better. I can call out any sexist jokes I hear rather than awkwardly laughing them off, I can take ownership of – and responsibility for – my emotional shortcomings, I can start aiming more accurately when I go to the toilet. Equally, I’m not going to speak for women’s experience, because a straight white male explaining how women feel is not exactly what feminism needs. What I am going to do is try and examine what the future holds for masculinity, and how, if it goes in the right direction, we can all lead happier lives.
the Weinstein scandal made us confront the predatory capabilities of men
We’ve already seen how the Weinstein scandal made us confront the predatory capabilities of men, particularly men in power, but the focus on toxic power has also brought male vulnerability to the public eye. Particularly notable was Terry Crews’ sharing of his experience of sexual assault. “This whole thing with Harvey Weinstein is giving me PTSD. Why? Because this kind of thing happened to ME,” tweeted Crews, detailing how in 2016 a male executive groped his genitals in front of his wife. Crews spoke about how he considered retaliating, but decided against it because “240 lbs. Black Man stomps out Hollywood Honcho” would be the headline the next day. And he’s right: if powerful organisations have been covering up sexual assault against women for years, then they’d think nothing more of doing the same and discrediting a black man in the process. Terry Crews is, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying this, massive. He could accidentally crush me underneath his shoe and he wouldn’t even notice, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be vulnerable, or a victim.
Equating physical attributes with emotional sensibilities is part of what needs to be left behind as we move forward with our ideas about gender
Equating physical attributes with emotional sensibilities is part of what needs to be left behind as we move forward with our ideas about gender. Gender roles have thus far given us the ridiculous conclusion that the people with vaginas have all of the feelings, and the people with penises have all the jobs in construction. There are those willing to defend these sorts of binaries until their dying day, and if it’s a man rather than a woman doing all this defending then that death is three times more likely to be a suicide. It would be greatly beneficial if men were comfortable expressing their feelings, their doubts, their loves, their anxieties, their passions, their favourite Chris in the MCU, their fears, their aspirations – anything that they have been told from birth they should keep bottled up. Men are fed all sorts of damaging rubbish throughout their lives: boys don’t cry, ‘don’t be a pussy’, ‘man up’. This is, of course, all incredibly stupid. I’m not the first person to say this and I won’t be the last. But the fact that I’m not breaking any new ground in saying that is exactly why I’m optimistic about the future of men. We are now quite used to being told that it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to express yourself, it’s okay to not be a stoic lumberjack with rippling muscles and a really good fantasy football team. It’s encouraging to see generations of boys being shown that they’re allowed to be emotionally expressive, and that they should see every other person as an emotionally expressive individual, not as a commodity or a competitor.
Another example of this positive change is the backlash Lewis Hamilton received at the end of last year for telling his nephew that boys don’t wear dresses. Hamilton posted a video on Instagram saying “I’m so sad right now. Look at my nephew,” as he filmed said nephew wearing a pink dress and happily waving a wand. “Boys don’t wear princess dresses,” Hamilton sagely concluded. His comments were met with much criticism, forcing him to delete the post and issue a half-hearted apology. The sheer number of people willing to defend a boy’s choice to wear a dress is uplifting and probably wouldn’t have been seen in previous years. Of course, in an ideal world, Hamilton would never have said those things, but sadly he did and members of the LGBTQ+ community expressed how damaging and long-lasting remarks like Hamilton’s can be. Despite this, it is positive that the video was so heavily condemned. These examples from 2017 of prominent public figures like Crews being praised for encouraging expression and Lewis Hamilton being condemned for restricting expression is what’s needed to help shift masculinity away from being the dangerous tool it has been for so long.
Honestly, I see little use for the words “masculinity” and “femininity” in the near future anyway
Honestly, I see little use for the words “masculinity” and “femininity” in the near future anyway. They suggest a certain set of characteristics for the gender they correspond to which is, as with much of gendered language, limiting. Especially considering the fact that male and female are not the only genders. In describing a non-binary person as masculine or feminine, surely we’re holding them to the same damaging duality that they are avoiding by identifying as non-binary? But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the people who make jokes about identifying as helicopters are right, despite the fact that refusing to partake in the fabricated construction of gender is very different to claiming to be a Transformer. As for those who say that transgender people are unnatural, it seems that for a person to live a completely “natural” life, by their standards, they would have to either be Amish or abandoned in the forest at birth – and even Amish people have hats! Show me a tree that grows hats. They aren’t “natural”. But those that say these things aren’t right. The proliferation of people with openly non-heteronormative identities and/or sexualities is only going to increase, so if we have to keep the word ‘masculinity’ around a little longer, let’s at least embrace the change its currently undergoing.
However, where there’s social change, there’s resistance to social change. Much of the resistance against shifting ideals of masculinity comes from the alt-right. Here’s a crash course for those of you who aren’t familiar with the alt-right, consisting of things they love and hate. Love: white people, bad haircuts. Hate: minorities, gay people, transgender people, women. Much of their ethos is concerned with being anti-political correctness and promoting traditional gender roles under the guise of intellectualism, meaning they’ve adopted an arsenal of terms such as “beta” (an inferior male), “cuck” (an insult deriving from the word cuckold), and “snowflake” (an easily offended, whiny person). All of which are words designed to emasculate. The alt-right and movements like it are becoming worryingly prevalent around Europe and America. Their relentless attacks on “PC culture” seem to stem in part from their inability to cope with changing ideals of the male, and this insecurity manifests itself in hatred and sometimes violence. In order to be successful in rethinking masculinity, we need to ensure that the repressive, hateful voices are silenced, and the sympathetic, loving voices are amplified.
where there’s social change, there’s resistance to social change
I know I said this isn’t a lecture, but I am going to give some advice to my fellow men out there who made it all the way to the bottom of this article: express yourself; tell your friends you love them; cry at a movie; cry at a song; cry at a dog; ask your friends if they’re okay; tell your friends you’re not okay; wear makeup; don’t wear makeup; wear a dress; don’t wear a dress; wear TWO dresses; eat a load of chips; wear two dresses whilst crying about finishing your chips; respect women (not in a meme way, do it properly); respect men; respect non-binary people; do ballet; play football; eat some more chips; have a laugh; give up on ballet; have a bath; cry because you’re bad at ballet; buy things for people; buy things for yourself; buy things for your dog; but most importantly, be nice. 2017 taught us that we desperately need to get rid of toxic masculinity, and now is the time. We have to be better because humanity deserves it, because we deserve it ourselves. We can be better. So let’s toss out the old masculinity and bring in a shiny new one characterised by sensitivity, empathy, and love.