FOR SOME TIME, the concept of an International Men’s Day, which, at time of writing, it still is, was a bit of a joke used only to shut down the cretins who would respond to the much more fondly regarded and widely recognised International Women’s Day (8 March, in case you missed it) with the predictable “so when’s International Men’s Day?”
However, lately, thanks to some dedicated campaigners, International Men’ Day has been the beneficiary of some boosted credit and credibility. This year’s observance has been the most successful yet, seeing a debate in Westminster and increased coverage, from the serious in the Independent and Telegraph to the… less serious but still well-meaning in The Sun… Regardless, it’s clear that International Men’s Day is now very much a thing and that is, largely, positive.
It’s positive because there are some issues in our society that, while by no means exclusively, do impact men in either a disproportionate way or do so in a specific way that requires a man-focused solution. Among these are the educational drag impacting men and boys, the horrific male suicide epidemic, men’s mental health, and the sad fact that murder, assault, and workplace fatalities are much more likely to happen to men. This year, the theme of international men’s day is promoting good health among men and boys which, I’m quite sure we’d all agree, is a positive, uplifting, and, thankfully, practical issue with which we can deal.
Therefore, with the day, at time of writing, nearing an end, I felt it would be opportune to take a few words to opine on what I see as the core problem that modern masculinity has.
However, my aim is to avoid the usual wasted ink on this subject. As with most things in the modern era, there is a strict dichotomy that looms large over the discussion of masculinity. On one side, we have a point made by the Cro-Magnon individuals who think that all men need to do is ‘man up’ and stop being pussies, start throwing fists, drink beer, and basically act like Stone Cold Steve Austin at the height of the Attitude Era (ask your uncle). Alternatively, we also hear a lot about how masculinity and male-ness is, in and of itself, a bad thing, ‘toxic’, and something that we need to get over and past if we’re eventually to get into the Star Trek future of transporters and unisex jumpsuits.
It will surprise nobody with their brains located between their ears rather than their buttocks that neither ‘team’ has it right on this. Quelle surprise, right? Shocking!
The truth is, as usual, more complicated.
Traditionally, masculinity and being a man in our society was characterised as the balancing act between privilege and obligation. As men, our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers lived in a world in which they made the majority of the decisions and therefore guided society but were also the ones left to shoulder the burden of responsibility for when it went wrong. It was a man’s world and therefore men had to come up with the answers when it all went to shit. That was the deal! “Sure,” we collectively said to blokes, “you are deferred to first and foremost and that means you have to lift, carry, fight, defend, pay for, and take responsibility for the consequences. Clear?”
That is how it was… but very few, with the usual caveats for those who choose not to see it that way deliberately, can argue that it still is with any degree of legitimacy.
Much of this is to be celebrated. That men no longer take all the decisions and have the immense privilege that we once did is unequivocally a good thing. The more equality, shared responsibility, collaboration, and parity between the sexes that exists benefits us all. This author applauds all the hard-work, dedication, and bravery that has been put into each and every effort to make things more equitable. Bravo, good luck, and all that!
But, there is some clean-up to be done and done so urgently. As the bargain that traditionally defined masculinity, the balancing act between privilege and obligation, has been slowly, painstakingly, and, to most extents, justly removed from solely male hands, a vacuum has been left and requires filling because what has thus far filled it is unacceptable.
In the areas in which it has been most dramatically removed, two kinds of new, and worse, male have arisen.
On one hand, those who see their lives as men as coming with all the privileges of manhood but none of the responsibilities have regressed into a kind of sinister, perpetual, adolescence. These teenagers, traceable from the football casuals of the 80s and 90s to the incels and MRAs of today, want everything that masculinity used to confer on them without having to be the one to stay on the sinking ship as the women and children drift away to safety or venture downstairs in the dead of night to find out what just made that sinister noise. These men want, to quote the Dire Straits (and dire ‘straights’ is what they tend to be), “money for nothing and chicks for free”. They are, sadly, dangerous and prone to the kind of laddish, thuggish behaviour that, in any well-behaved man, is kept in check by the restraint, self-respect, responsibility, and straight-backed-ness that is so prevalent in leading men of the golden age of Hollywood.
Their tag partners in this Legion of Doom and Gloom aren’t quite as dangerous but more than make up for it in their ability to induce nausea. Where the other kind of new male has abandoned the obligation side of the matrix of man, these guys eschew the privilege side of it and therefore lose any respect for what it means to be a man. You can find these unlikable wimps in the pages of journals and magazines, constantly whipping themselves, a la the Opus Dei, for having the temerity to be men in the first place. Their shame and embarrassment, as well as unearned shared culpability for every bad thing ever done by a man, leads to a peculiar kind of self-hate and paralysis in their lives. Perhaps poetically, these ‘nu males’ create their own punishment as nobody who is into men will give them the time of day and that sad handjob from the angry girl in their feminist reading circle will never, ever materialise… this is, of course, with the exception of those who affect this kind of ‘right-on’ mentality with the specific goal of getting laid. As Douglas Murray points out, those who are skilled at this tactic, which he calls “cuttlefishing”, are very good at it indeed and therefore really belong in the other category.
So, how, on this International Men’s Day, do we take out the trash and restore harmony and productivity to Manland?
Well, a good place to start would be to say explicitly that most men, the large majority of men, are doing just fine. The overwhelming majority of men are great friends, brothers, sons, grandsons, nephews, employees, bosses, teachers, husbands, boyfriends, civil partners, and the rest of it. They’re smart, funny, generous, resilient, charming, sexy, protective, kind, caring, and loveable and are doing perfectly well as they are. Sure, they need support, of the kind highlighted by the good folks behind International Men’s Day and to be reined in every once in a while, but, in the round, they’re doing okay and need to hear it.
No, we’re talking about how to fix the bit that’s broken.
Sadly, there is no quick fix but another good starting point would be to focus on the values and traits that make for a good man and to get them into men as early and as often as possible. This is where much of the discussion about masculinity often falls down. Much of the modern conversation forgets that there are certain values and traits that just seem to chime with men in a particular way, like responsibility, honesty, discretion, acting rather than talking, restraint, objectivity, detached fairness, and many others, and that men at large respond when being appealed to in those terms. It’s about knowing who your customer and selling to them accordingly.
Finally, just as important as what is being sold and how, is who the salesmen are and in this case it has to be ‘salesmen’. If the kinks in modern masculinity are to be ironed-out, like a good quality dress shirt, then it has to be men who do it. We men have to see negative, hurtful, damaging behaviour and attitudes and call them out, police them, and stop them among ourselves first and foremost. If we are to carve out and solidify our new position on the world, and if it is to look anything like a more modern version of what we once had, then it is up to us to do it properly. Men make masculinity, it ought not to be the other way around.
Happy International Men’s Day to all men and those who care about us.
N.B. The good folks behind International Men’s Day in the UK can be found here.