Cracked.com is a comedy website that specializes in writing up vaguely amusing lists about popular culture and society. Think “The five worst superhero movies” or similar. Good for a quick laugh but not terribly deep. Except on Tuesday they did something a little unusual, posting an article that looked alarmingly like feminist commentary, written by a male senior editor. And damn, if it hasn’t gone viral.
5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained To Hate Women has at time of writing had more than 1,769,000 views and it features 6500 comments. The link kept popping up on Twitter, tweeted by my feminist friends, which is how I came to read it. And it seems to be inspiring some polarized views and a lot of discussion.
I’m not going to analyze the piece in depth. It is by turns enlightened and just plain silly (but it IS a comedy website, so there you go). The author falls into the trap of making gross generalizations about men and sex, blaming a rampant libido for just about everything. Nonetheless, there are some piquant observations about how men negatively talk about women online and a genuine desire to look at the societal tropes that encourage bad behaviour in men. Example: Hollywood movies almost always end with the guy getting the girl. Never mind what the girl wants, all male heroes are rewarded with a sexy woman. The author then links this to the idea that men feel overly resentful and angry if women reject them.
I’m not sure if the article is seeking to make excuses for male bad behaviour or simply wants to look at the reasons behind it. For me, what’s interesting is that almost two million people are thinking about men and masculinity. That’s great.
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It’s well past time that we as a society really deconstructed our concept of maleness and what it means. Because feminism has been around since the 70s and since then we’ve made huge gains in addressing women’s inequality, including raising awareness about how femininity is constructed and how women are expected to behave.
Meanwhile, men remained locked in what Dr Charlie Glickman calls the Masculinity Box. Guys are expected to act and think in very rigid ways and conform to very distinct ideas of “manliness”. Step outside the box (be gay, sensitive, emotional, weak) and you will be punished by both men and women, considered a “sissy” or too feminine. Because the worst insult for a man is to be called a woman. And part of maintaining your Official Male status involves denigrating women, in the ways discussed in the Cracked article.
Another important rule of the masculinity box is to not talk about it. The first rule of Fight Club is not to talk about Fight Club. Real men don’t discuss their feelings or the way society expects them to behave. And this is why that Cracked article is a bit of a shock. Because Cracked is a very blokey kind of site; in theory, author David Wong has just been kicked out of Fight Club for daring to question what’s going on. Sure, he did it in a jokey, blokey way but he took a step outside the box. Hence, perhaps, the 6000 comments. I haven’t waded into that morass but I suspect a lot of them are abusing him for being “pussy whipped” or something.
I thought I’d write about it here because I feel like I’ve been seeing more and more of this kind of thing – guys talking about manhood and questioning it. It’s only a vague feeling and I don’t have any proof of a trend. Perhaps it’s just that I’m moving in more “sensitive” circles online. Nonetheless, I think it shows that the internet could well be the tool that helps men move beyond the rigid ideas of what masculinity is about.
An example: a few weeks ago someone recommended I read this post: Treating Men Like Four Year Olds. The male author talks about how men are allowed to get away with not expressing their feelings in a relationship, about how society makes excuses for them, saying “well, he’s a guy, of course he won’t say ‘I love you.'” This is only one man analyzing his experience and thinking critically about manhood but I don’t think he’s alone. Thanks to the way we can share ideas on the internet, I think more guys are getting the chance to read this kind of thing and to quietly think about how the Masculinity Box has shaped their life.
There are even hints of it in popular culture. I feel like the Old Spice Guy has done a good job of satirizing overblown masculinity, even as it celebrates manhood.
By the way, I’m not talking about the guys who have taken the “anti-feminist” route, the ones who bang on about how women have ruined it for men and how feminists are all evil and are Corrupting Our Boys or stuff like that. Because I think those guys aren’t questioning the masculinity trope at all; they’re re-enforcing it for themselves.
And I should also say, a true male “enlightenment” won’t come from women talking about it. I think it’s entirely up to men to have that conversation and to really think about how to improve their lives and improve society (in this I can’t recommend Charlie Glickman’s Performance of Masculinity post enough). But I do think women and feminism have much to gain from encouraging men to ask questions. Because if men move away from all the bullshit that encourages them to treat women badly, then women will naturally be better off. “Masculinism” is the natural follow-on from feminism.
In that light, well done Cracked.
PS. Just have to draw attention to this paragraph about how some men can’t write from a female point of view. In this, he uses a George R. R. Martin book as an example:
“When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest …”
That’s written from the woman’s point of view. Yes, when a male writes a female, he assumes that she spends every moment thinking about the size of her breasts and what they are doing. “Janet walked her boobs across the city square. ‘I can see them staring at my boobs,’ she thought, boobily.”
Perfect, (she wrote boobily). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received erotic fiction submissions with female pseudonyms that invariably say “She was an independent woman who was proud of her size D breasts…”