Sometimes I think men just aren’t working out for the species, you know?
I’ve spent a fair amount of pixels, ink and the Houston Press’s money discussing the big problems with patriarchy in the world. How we fail pregnant female veterans, how men use geek spaces to perpetuate rape culture, how we applaud women seeking power in theory but not in practice…all worthy discussions.
Today, though, I want to talk to the guys not about what a sexist world does negatively to women, but to ourselves. Toxic and fragile masculinity is a real problem, and as women continue to gain more and more equality, it is only going to get worse if we don’t start addressing it. It’s that same toxic and fragile idea of masculinity that drives the incel community, which birthed the spree killer Elliot Rodgers. It’s what drives the Pick-Up Artist community to turn sex into a game of dominance rather than something people consensually share for mutual benefit.
Here are five of the most embarrassing examples of men’s weakness in affirming their masculinity I’ve run across. Guys, stop doing these. It is having the opposite effect that you think it is.
5. Dude Wipes
The first time I saw dude wipes in the grocery store, I thought someone had left a huge box of condoms in the toilet paper aisle for some reason, to judge by the black package and neon lettering. Nope, these are flushable wipes, but not those girly ones that the fairer sex or children use. These are the only wipes capable of handling the poops of a man that hunts his own meat with his bare hands and eats it raw. Or, you know, they’re the same thing in reassuring packaging to help you avoid the eyes of the checkout clerk who might think you have a dainty butthole.
Look, setting aside the fact that flushable wipes are really bad for the sewer system, having the ability to wipe with anything gentler than leaves or a pinecone is one of the main benefits of human planetary domination. Your anus doesn’t care if that comfort comes in a pastel box. Wiping has no gender.
4. Hypermasculine Hair Salons
This is the main page of an actual barber shop near my favorite video game store. This is Tune-Up: The Manly Salon. I would like to direct your attention to the logo in the top left corner. That is, ostensibly, a wrench jutting out of the T, but the similarity to a rock-hard erection is unmistakable. The message is clear: Getting your hair cut here will not make you a girl. Here are tools to prove it, as well as a reminder that your cock will still work after you enter a salon voluntarily.
Is it not enough that men have been getting a discount on their haircuts for essentially no reason for years? Do we really have to call a barber shop The Boardroom and LARP as Don Draper to feel secure in our manhood? I really don’t understand why men turn things like basic hygiene into a safe space. It’s a trim, not a castration.
I swear to Rassilon I thought this was a joke when I heard about it. It isn’t.
An FM radio DJ (ask your parents, kids) in San Antonio decided to rent out the Alamo Drafthouse for an all-dude screening of Metallica Through the Never. It was a rather patently obvious response to the women-only screenings of Wonder Woman that led to one of the most massive mantrums I have ever seen in my life. I would guess that the DJ expected one of those “if the tables were turned, the feminists would riot” reactions men loudly predict but that never actually happen because male-only spaces are not an uncommon or shocking thing.
The event promised dude-seating, meaning that there would be empty seats between all the audience members, and no man would have to sit directly next to another. I’d laugh, but that is the saddest thing I have seen from my gender in a while. Women went to see Wonder Woman so they could all sit and celebrate the film together. Men, apparently, need a couple of feet on either side lest someone think they’re gay. Or worse, they sit next to an actual gay Metallica fan and get hit on. Pretty much nothing proves why women wanted their own exclusive screening of a movie better than this poisonous bit of masculine cultural conditioning.
2. Man Caves
It’s a den, guys. Or it’s a sitting room. Or it’s a home theater. Or it’s a game room. Or it’s a library. Or it’s a rec room. It’s not a cave, and it doesn’t have a gender context. Women like pinball, action figures, Scotch and professional hockey games too.
I think the man cave really sums up the problem with modern masculinity. These rooms are marketed as some sort of safe place where men can “just be men,” which in this context probably means “do and say things the women in their lives don’t like.” I have no problem with men creating spaces to enjoy pastimes that maybe others in the house aren’t interested in, but this idea of a clubhouse with No Girls Allowed self-perpetuates into the real world. It’s very easy to go from thinking that you need a space in your house because of your gender into subconsciously re-creating those spaces in the workplace or other areas. How many times have we heard stories of hiring managers choosing men over women even though both were equally qualified because the managers were worried it would “change” the atmosphere or cause trouble?
Enjoy your den, but knock off the man cave stuff.
1. Man Cards
That is an actual gun ad that never fails to give me an impending sense of dread. The concept of the man card is probably the most accurate avatar of teetering masculinity alive right now.
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This idea that certain activities, behaviors or ideologies will require you to “turn in your man card” is incredibly cancerous. It gives men the impression that a sense of identity as a man is entirely determined by what other men think. It makes us beholden to, say, gun culture, to maintain an acceptable level of manliness so as not to appear weak to other men. Failure to do so results in a gender identity crisis, inferiority complexes and reactionary, hypermasculine bullshit to regain a sense of self.
It’s why guys respond to threats with chest-beating, cartoonish, tough-guy nonsense. It’s why we won’t buy freakin’ buttwipes unless we can prove it’s not taking points off our man score. This status is marketed to us for the same reason and in largely the same manner that the beauty industry markets to women. Fear of rejection by the group, of a perceived gendered humiliation by straying from artificial norms, is an effective way to separate people from their money.
And, my fellow men, it has got to stop. It just has to. You’re not less of a man for being a stay-at-home dad, or for using luxury bath products, or for crying over a movie, or even for just sitting next to another man comfortably in a movie theater. This toxic masculinity culture and the fragility that results are robbing us of so much. We can’t even touch each other anymore. It’s keeping us out of growth industries as our traditional occupations wither and die. It’s preventing working dads from being with their newborn children.
I often get asked why I’m a feminist, with the follow-up usually being an accusation that I’m in it for pussy because, again, toxic goddamn masculinity. I’m in that scene because I honestly care about equality, but I’m also in it because feminists are the ones trying to purge harmful gender stereotypes that affect everyone. They want to tear up the man card and all the weight it carries with it. Being beholden to it is making us weak and sad and scared and ridiculous. We have got to change.