Friday, 11 January 2019

Toxic Masculinity

Toxic masculinity is a controversial idea, and it's all over the media these days. It's a common catch phrase in feminist parlance, and thus the mere appearance of the term tends to provoke defensive responses in the more reactionary parts of the internet. The American Psychological Association has even gotten in on the act, addressing the concept in its recently released Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.

The document defines "masculinity ideology" as the following:
... is a set of descriptive, prescriptive, and proscriptive of cognitions about boys and men (Levant & Richmond, 2007; Pleck, Sonenstein, & Ku, 1994). Although there are differences in masculinity ideologies, there is a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence. These have been collectively referred to as traditional masculinity ideology (Levant & Richmond, 2007). Additionally, acknowledging the plurality of and social constructionist perspective of masculinity, the term masculinities is being used with increasing frequency (Wong & Wester, 2016).
Such language does, not surprisingly, trigger defensiveness among nonfeminist readers. And if they liked that, they'll love this:
Psychologists understand the impact of power, privilege, and sexism on the development of boys and men and on their relationships with others.
Although privilege has not applied to all boys and men in equal measure, in the aggregate, males experience a greater degree of social and economic power than girls and women in a patriarchal society (Flood & Pease, 2005). However, men who benefit from their social power are also confined by system-level policies and practices as well as individual-level psychological resources necessary to maintain male privilege (Mankowski & Maton, 2010). Thus, male privilege often comes with a cost in the form of adherence to sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men’s ability to function adaptively (Liu, 2005).
The response to this from reactionaries, including many on the alt-left, is to see it as part of the ongoing attack on men and masculinity coming from a staunchly ideological academy. And this is not entirely inaccurate. But perhaps the idea does merit at least some consideration. Men's rights godfather Warren Farrell regarded many characteristics of traditional masculinity as the conditioning of men and boys for disposability. This observation largely underwrote his great deconstruction of patriarchy theory in his 1993 opus, The Myth of Male Power. Anti-feminists should stop and think here.

On the one hand, anti feminists like to defend men and masculinity against feminist criticism, making claims that echo those of Farrell: men are overwhelmingly the cannon fodder in every major war ever waged, they die in the most industrial accidents, they commit suicide far and away more often than women, and so on. On the other hand, though, anti-feminists also tend towards an economic and social conservatism that contributes to the evils highlighted in precisely those same claims - neoconservative warmongering contributing to male disposability in battle, neoliberal industrial policies such as deregulation and deunionization contributing to male disposability in the workplace, and so on.

He got away with being a macho man.
The rest of us might want to reconsider.
What's crucial to understand is that while the case could be made that there is such a thing as toxic masculinity, consisting of characteristics that have been historically defined as machismo, pointing this out and deconstructing it is not the same as claiming that masculinity or being male is itself intrinsically toxic. If we are to take men's psychological health and well being seriously, perhaps some kind of happy medium is the best thing to strive for here.

While machismo does underlie a lot of antisocial behaviors, there's something to be said for so called traditionally masculine virtues. Think resilience, stoicism (to a point), and qualities such as competitiveness and drive to succeed provided they do not get too extreme. We owe much that we have in our world to men who had these qualities. Additionally, we have good reason to fear the consequences of overprotecting and coddling men and women alike. The measures that tend to be advocated by feminists and progressives to curb excessive masculinity: speech codes, trigger warnings, safe spaces, bias response teams, political correctness, sensitivity and anti-bias training and so on are resulting in people being less rather than more tolerant, not to mention lacking in resiliency.

While the feminists are not wrong to attack macho masculinity, we'd do well to ask what they'd replace it with? The answer would appear to be no small amount of unearned guilt. White male privilege becomes the new original sin for those saddled with it. It becomes acceptable, if only tacitly, at least in activist circles, to ridicule if not outrightly abuse those with more privileged identities. Power plus privilege, punching up and all of that. And don't even get started on the sexual shaming, the constant equivocation between attraction and objectification, flirting and harassment, so long as it's a man or non-feminist woman that's doing it. If you liked religion's ceaseless diet of guilt based puritanical morality, just you wait until you see what woke social activists have in store. I can't see how life in any kind of association with avid feminists, at least as feminist ideology is currently structured and practiced, would be good for a male's mental health.

Plus I think we have grounds to be skeptical how sincere feminists really are in their anti machismo. Try actually arguing with one and you'll fast see what I mean. Their go-to responses sound more like school yard taunts than cohesive defenses of a world view that has whole academic departments devoted to its study and propagation. It's almost a law of the internet that pro vs anti feminist arguments will eventually default to accusations of not being able to get laid. One wonders if this is a sound rhetorical strategy for a movement claiming to be so concerned about the sexual objectification of women?

As a bit of an aside, hasn't current year feminism also enabled the rise of a kind of female equivalent to machismo? Scratch the woke, social justice veneer and how much of what so often passes for "independence" and "liberation" these days really just boils down to an oversized pickup truck with a "Silly boys, pickup trucks are for girls" bumper sticker in place of a set of brass balls hanging from the trailer hitch. While expressed somewhat differently: female sexual power is expressed by rejecting men whereas male sexual power is expressed by conquering women, do both feminism and machismo not thrive via the cultivation of a dismissive attitude towards love, honor and respect for the opposite sex? Do both not foster hyper competitiveness, a he or she who dies with the most toys wins kind of mindset and perhaps above all, very large and very fragile egos? Looks that way to me.

Then again, maybe feminists have since figured out that men being awash in machismo might be a good thing for them. Irony of ironies, yes, but it does stand to reason. What they like to call toxic masculinity prevents many men from admitting when women have pulled one over on them. I can't count the number of times I've seen women appeal to macho masculinity to shut down even sound intellectual critiques of feminist theory, "you just can't get laid" being the stereotypical example. Machismo's go-it-alone individualism mitigates against men organizing for their mutual protection and benefit in the face of an increasingly feminized legal and education system. If personal confrontation, preferably a punch-up is the best way to solve problems, and as a corollary to this if book-learning is sneered at as wimpy and unmanly, then men will be a lot less likely to study the institutional structures - think education and mass media primarily - that feminism has relied on for its successes.

And organized feminism isn't the only institution that benefits from what can be called toxic masculinity. They're hardly the tip of the iceberg:

  • If I were a statesman, and I wanted an endless supply of cannon fodder eager to go overseas to fight and kill for the business interests of my campaign financers,
  • If I were a conservative politician, and I wanted an electorate who was actually willing to vote into power someone who would give away the store to big business and sell away consumer's and worker's rights and abolish the social safety net,
  • If I were an authoritarian politician, and wanted a military and a police force that had no qualms about busting skulls in order to keep me in power and keep my financial backers rich, 
  • If I were a contractor for a private corrections firm, and wanted a steady supply of convict labor,
  • If I were an industrialist and I wanted a work force willing to work their hands to the bone in exchange for minimal compensation,
  • If I were a marketing executive and I wanted to an eager market to sell wasteful status symbols to on high interest credit,
  • If I was a woman and I wanted to rinse men, either in the dating game or in family court, 
then how would I want a substantial portion of the male population to think? Seems like machismo, toxic masculinity so called, fits the bill quite adequately. Don't whine or complain even if you are getting screwed over. Just be willing to work, work, work and pay, pay, pay and maybe drink excessive amounts of alcohol, drive a car stupidly fast or punch someone or something when the pain gets to be too much. Just don't think too long about what you're doing and why. Don't peer under the hood of the political, economic and sexual systems and ideologies that have been structured so as to structure your life, and not in your benefit. Doing that is wimpy, egg-headed and worst of all, potentially feminine. And above all, don't find common cause with other men like yourselves whose lives and whose blood keeps the whole facade going. Organizing is for pansies. Be tough, go-it-alone and maybe you'll be rich and powerful one day yourself. 

One wonders how many epitaphs that last sentence would make?

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Who's Really to Blame for Male Decline?

A recent Huffington Post article blasts conservative pundit Tucker Carlson for blaming male decline on women earning higher wages. Read the article and view Carlson's video clip here.

In a recent video segment on Fox News, pundit Tucker Carlson discusses the declining marriage prospects for an underclass of blue collar men who've been dislocated by the evaporation of blue collar jobs in America over the last generation or so. Women have less interest in marrying men without financial prospects, and this in turn exacerbates single motherhood which conservatives, according to Carlson, claim is a significant factor in pathologies such as alcoholism, drug abuse and crime that plague young men in affected communities. Behind this ominous rise in single parenthood and its associated pathologies is big government and the high taxes it levies to enact the social programs that incentivize fatherlessness and create reliable voting blocs for liberal democratic politicians. Or so we are told.

It would well behoove conservative Republicans to take the plight of displaced young white men in rust belt and heartland communities seriously, Carlson urges, since this is the G.O.P voter base.

While Carlson's take on all of this isn't entirely false, it's far from the whole story and while he does allude to the nature of the core problem, he's reluctant to come right out and say it. This is because conservatives Republicans are just as guilty, and benefited from this just as much as liberal democrats did, if not moreso. It's a little late now for conservatives to lament the decline in male wages and the impact this has had on their marriage prospects, when lower wages, not just for male workers but for everyone who isn't a majority shareholder or c-suite executive, are exactly what the conservatives want and have been pushing for for decades now. Don't expect Fox News to host a pundit who will admit this.

One would think, therefore, that progressive newsblogs would be shouting this fact from the rooftops. One would think. But not quite. The mainstream leftist Huffington Post lambasted Carlson for "blaming higher earning women for men in decline."

The narrative that the Huffpost and Media Matters seem to be pushing is that of Carlson being an old, sexually insecure curmudgeon incapable of reconciling himself with rising female empowerment.

The Huffpost then goes on to quote numerous tweets from empowered women and their new age sensitive male supporters who are simply outraged that Carlson would dare suggest such a thing!

@jbinnie7 tweets:
@JennyCraig Please cease advertising on the Tucker Carlson show. He continues to advocate for outmoded ideas that are used to repress women. Throughout history, women have fought and struggled for the right to vote, to be paid equal wages and not be victimized.
Sigh. This is always the go-to response among feminists, isn't it? Somebody said something they don't like. Therefore deplatform them. Women are apparently so empowered and strong that they're leaving men in the dust in the job market, but still need mountains of ideological protectionism and moral dependency when faced with even the slightest lack of support and encouragement from those same men. Doesn't sound too empowered and independent to me.

@kelownascott tweets:
Tucker Carlson is a misogynist afraid of economically secure women who can't be dominated by cash
The comments section in the Huffpost article is loaded with similar sentiments:
So.... my high achieving daughters are to blame because BillyBob can't find a date?  I think Darwin had an explanation for the 'problem' and the likely outcome.  Meanwhile, I don't think I am going to worry about it.
So progressives are social Darwinists now? When the losers are lower class white males - "Billy Bob" - I guess they are. It all just depends on who your untermensch are, I suppose.
If higher earning women have led to the decline of men then Carlson recognizes and acknowledges the power and superiority of women over the weakness, decline and subordination of men. Hear them roar down there Carlson!
Men are losing! Women are winning! Hooray! This can only be for everyone's greater good. Right?

This is the whole problem with the Huffington Post's take on this. Feminists, not surprisingly, are making this all about themselves and the only thing that really matters to them at the end of the day: their egos. Some whiny conservative MRA is snivelling because women are succeeding financially and socially without men, and he needs to get with the times or get the hell off the media.

I wouldn't disagree with this take if that's all there was to it. But while Carlson's off the mark in his interpretation of what's going on here, due mainly to his own ideological limitations, he is highlighting a legitimate problem. Men and women really are in this boat together. If either gender loses, neither gender wins. An injury to one is an injury to all, after all.

And finally:
Carlson has become a bad parody of a political commentator.   
Women have greater pay equity in places like Finland Sweden Denmark and Norway, where incarceration rates  (along with suicide, infant mortality, medical bankruptcy) are much, much lower than in the US.
Now that's interesting. Gender equity in pay alongside much lower rates of incarceration among men in the Scandinavian countries. Why might that be, I wonder?  Something to do with stronger unions and a social democratic political tradition perhaps?

This conversation, if it can be called that, highlights everything wrong with American political discourse. So let me make this very easy for people.

  • American conservatives, of whom I trust we can consider Tucker Carlson, Fox News and much of its viewership as being examples of, caused this. Men weren't brought low by feminism. Feminists celebrate the defeat of the white male, quite naturally, but they didn't cause it. Neoliberalism caused it Let me repeat that. Neoliberalism caused it. Outsourcing and free trade caused it. Blue collar male wages were decimated when the unions were decimated. And that's precisely what conservatives wanted and why they went ahead with it. They have no business now portraying themselves as the champions of blue collar men.
  • American liberals are not without blame here. The democrats of the Clinton and Obama eras largely acceded to the macroeconomic realities created by Reagan and Bush. Their politics is simply about putting a woman's or a person of color's face on the same neocon foreign policies and neoliberal economic policies. The conservative criticism of the democrats is not without some validity here. Creating whole blocs of demographics dependent on a threadbare welfare state in order to farm votes is no solution here. But we're not exactly seeing the G.O.P push for an industrial strategy that prioritizes full employment and living wages themselves. 
  • White males abandoned in group preference and thus made themselves vulnerable to this. When I say in group preference, I don't mean it in the half way and degenerate sense that reactionaries mean it, which is the construction of an identity politics around a narrative of white male victimhood and resentment against a risen middle class of women and people of color. We don't need a white male version of feminism. I mean the only form of in group preference that really matters: class consciousness. White males were the demographic that most reliably supported Reagan in America, Thatcher in the UK, Mulroney and later Manning in Canada and others world wide who pushed for neoliberal policy. As such, white men should resist the allure of anti-feminist conservatives, libertarians and reactionaries. While feminism certainly isn't the friend of the white male, the right wing is his true enemy - all the more sinister an enemy for how it masquerades as his friend.
  • Anyone celebrating the immiseration of the blue collar white male as a victory for women and people of color has no business calling herself a progressive or a leftist. To be on the left is to side with the poor and marginalized against corporate and state power. Full stop. Race and gender do not matter beyond that. The Huffpost's brand if "leftism" isn't at all leftist. It's conservatism for women and people of color. If the impoverishment and stagnation of the white male worker is to be considered a victory for feminism, then feminism is little better than fascism. And women would do well to take heed here, and not get too smug. Their newly arisen status has nothing to do with their inherent greatness that has been so long and unjustly suppressed by white males. It has everything to do with their being a relatively new market, and more easily used as workers and consumers. Once some other demographic, or maybe robots, can do their jobs for cheaper, they'll be cast aside just as quickly.
  • Yeah, women aren't interested in marrying men with dismal economic prospects. Why should they, and why should we be surprised to discover that economic relations so consistently underlie social relations?  Why should women not seek greater independence and earning power? In their shoes, I'd do the same. It should go without saying at this point that women's increased earning power isn't why men are in decline. While stable marriages would certainly be a benefit for the reasons conservatives outline, a stable economy is a necessary prerequisite for this. Financial matters stress even secure marriages. A financialized banana republic of a nation firmly dedicated to trickle down economics, with minimal checks on wild speculation and zero protection for workers is no place to raise a family. So libertarian MRAs need to STFU and eat this one, because they brought it on themselves. So long as the men's rights movement tends towards libertarian capitalism, they will be their own worst enemies.
  • As something of an aside, these same MRA types who lament women's declining interest in marrying men are themselves avid critics of marriage in other contexts, citing marriage as a trap best avoided by men. Who wants eighteen years (at least) of child support and alimony payments, they ask. Not the kinds of financially unstable men we're discussing here. And no, abolishing child support and alimony won't really help, since that merely shifts the risk from men to women, and further disincentivizing their marrying. No one commits to a disadvantage, as MRA godfather Warren Farrell once put it. This is a complex problem with no easy answers.
  • The feminist IdPol left and the free market libertarian right need to step aside and let the Bernie Bros, the brocialists and the "dirtbag left" types step in and straighten this whole mess out, because we're the only ones who seem to know what the problem really is and what needs to be done about it.

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