The year of floppy men + pissed off women
are we allowed to say this out loud? Americans do.
“Try to name even one good man. You can’t.”
This is how New York magazine’s The Cut opened their Year in Review wrap and it left me with many thoughts. The title of the article was The Year Men Flopped (I’m not sure there is a more eviscerating word for it) and it went on to describe all the ways rich, powerful (and otherwise) men behaved obnoxiously (or is it flaccidly) over the past 12 months:
There were the men who cried “cancel culture” …to audiences of millions and missed the limp irony. (Elon, both Donald Trumps, Will Smith, Piers Morgan and Kanye West are the ones that immediately come to my mind.)
There was Jeff Bezos who tried to disassemble and reassemble a bridge in the Netherlands so his big stupid boat could pass through.
There was Elon (think: that bedside table; the “extremely hardcore” inspo-emails; the firings…and rehirings; the blue tick fiasco; the “should I step down/do you really love me?” poll…need we go on?)
There was Drake, Adam Levine, the “Whiny Little Baby-Men” (referring to Kings who chuck spats over pens) and Alex Jones.
I’d add to the journalist’s list:
There were also the countless bullshitters, most notably Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison. (I dissect lying v bullshitting here and UK journalist Mary Anne Sieghart covers it on our chat on The Authority Gap here.)
Actually, Australia’s former Prime Minister Scott Morrison deserves his own dotpoint. I mean, appointing himself to his colleagues’ jobs and not telling anyone and then blaming us for not asking him about it…
There was Andrew Tate:
There was the resurrection of Jordan Peterson from the depths of Russian rehab and the gifting of a podcast.
There was Sam Bankman-Freid, who ruined effective altruism and crypto for the rest of us/the bros.
And there were the bros: the crypto bros, the podcast guru bros, the anti-vax conspiracy bros, the albeit well-intentioned “I’m going to save everyone” bros. Exhibit A:
A picture formed. I think we can all acknowledge this.
But, as I say, I have several thoughts.
Americans say this sort of thing; Australians can’t
I’m not sure anyone in Australia could/would run that headline and that first line. I’m aware that in my reproducing it here, I will be slammed for even putting it up for discussion. It’s off limits. It’s just not cricket.
In the US, and to a slightly lesser extent in the UK, these kinds of
Big Meaty Matters are frequently debated and in these kind of bold terms, across all public forums. Class, race, cancel culture, wokeism, hyper-wokeism, misogyny, polarisation, capitalism…it’s discussed on the regular and from many angles, although - and this should be said - not always in balanced or non-bifurcating ways.
In Australia it’s not. At least not as frequently, deeply nor as robustly.
Also, significantly, in the US and UK both men and women engage in these issues. Here, it’s predominantly men who are “allowed to” (this point might need expanding, which I’ll do in the comments if required, or in a follow-up post).
I struggle to name more than 2-3 journalists, commentators or outlets that delve into these topics in a meaningful way. Sure, there are some commentators, mostly right-wing ones, who piggy-back on the “cancel culture” and “anti-woke” bandwagons, but mostly only to co-opt the terms as slogans that they slap about as convenient comebacks and lazy shutdowns. There is little real debate from the Right nor, disappointingly, from the Left (who should also be critiquing ultra-wokism). We have festivals of dangerous ideas where overseas guests with *actual* challenging ideas are banned. We have TV panel shows where the producers struggle to find guests with fresh views.
What do we think this is about?
It’s not about Australians (women in particular) being cancelled more than Americans or Brits. I’d probably argue cancelling happens a lot less often in this country. But perhaps we’re seeing a greater fear of it?
Is it due to the United States’ legal and political system (and individualistic heritage), which demands or at least encourages a certain rights-based combatant approach?
Or is it another reflection of the “take it easy” quasi-egalitarian mythology of Australia that dictates we are all homogenous easygoing larrikins who don’t rock boats or get ahead of ourselves (and you will be torn down or gaslit if you say otherwise)?
I’d love your thoughts. Me, I veer to the first and third suggestions.
And no apologetics either!
I also note that the author of the article does not soften blows with #notallmen caveats and apologetic explainers. There’s an almost tacit acknowledgment that it’s gone beyond that. We know all the disclaimers and “yeah, buts”s by now, people, let’s just get on with saying it straight.
Which reminds me of Teja Cole’s pronouncement that he no longer explains the basics of racial bias to white people. “Catch up,” he says. Black people don’t have time for 101s.
Likewise, do women no longer have time for the cushioning arguments?
In The Cut article, the only indication of an extension of the hand backwards is in the final line:
“Men, I’m rooting for you! Here’s hoping you can pull it together in 2023.”
Which then leads us to…
Is it all men? Is it fair?
Of course it’s not all men. Come on! To bog discussion down in this kind of tedious and distracting countering is, well, counterproductive. Straw man shit. The point, as always in these debates, is that the perpetrators of this particular and timely offence are (almost all) men. (Did I need to actually type that out?)
Is it fair? To name a worrying trend? Yes. To say things as they are? Yes. Are there women who have done bad faith flops this year? Yes, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. We are grown-ups and the agenda of Big Meaty Matters is bulging. Let’s move on.
But is it constructive?
OK. So now we get to the juicy point, which I am hoping you have swiftly navigated to while acknowledging - but not getting bogged down in - the tedious, distracting straw man arguments that I allude to above.
I had a similar discussion to this one over the weekend with my friend Danny, a great human who works tirelessly on community issues and improving dialogue. He argued that these kind of “pointing the finger at men” arguments might be entirely accurate, but they “put men off”. They antagonise at a time in history when we need smooth and efficient cooperation and men’s onboarding. He then suggested a few rather convoluted ways to couch debates to avoid this issue.
Danny made fair points. However I would suggest that:
a) We, the collective, don’t have time or energy to constantly couch and buttress with caveats and explainers, not when we out to know it’s #notallmen and #notallmasculinities, and that - absolutely - men are injured by toxic masculinity, too.
b) We should work to the assumption that men are adults and can feel a bit uncomfortable or put off and get on board.
c) Perhaps the current era is one in which men would do well to simply listen (and cop a bit of pendulum re-balancing), rather than put their energy to defending and honing in on details (some of my male friends are very alive to this and I applaud them for it).
That said, I personally don’t think it’s enough to dump and run. In fact, it’s a bad faith stunt to flag an issue, point the finger and to not stick around and discuss why it’s happening and what needs to be done in a “we’re all in it together” tone. There are some caveats that probably do need to be added to arguments, to ensure good faith and kindness in the world.
So why is it happening, and why now?
I take a bunch of steps back and see an old world order that has been questioned and tested for a number of decades and is now being declared redundant and dangerous to a large enough extent. And the rich and powerful who once ruled and reaped and raped the planet don’t like it. So they are gripping tighter, usurping their control and generally escalating the situation. Rome is burning and the emperors aren’t fiddling, they’re going extra.
And I get it.
There is fear at play here. Because a lot of men face a vacuum of leadership and possibility. Young men are crying out for leaders that can show them the new way. When they don’t see it, they revert to the most extreme and steadfast leaders of yore. We see this in the way young men explain their attraction to Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate. I glimpsed an interview with an Australian psychologist specialising in men’s issues Dr Zac Seidler who points to research showing men often have their own (progressive) values about masculinity but their perception of society’s values are far more misogynist and they veer toward the latter in their behaviour because they feel they have no choice but to. The intent is there, the path is not. Dr Seidler calls it The Perception Gap.
And so a lot of men, particularly young men, are really suffering (I touch on this in previous posts and will be covering the topic more in the new year).
Which brings me to the point of my raising all this. And I’m going to say it boldly and straight (and brace myself for troll sledge). Men need to step up and own the issue. Men, not women, need to call out the floppage. Men need to write articles like this one. Men need to dissect what is going on for them and other men. They need to pull apart how it feels for them to have the morays and privileges of yore yanked from them.
They need to wrestle with how they need to adjust to the new regime and put forward and support new leaders - authors, broadcasters, commentators, teachers etc. And, thusly, change the perception of society’s values.
Women did this for decades for other women and for future generations of women. We helped each other, we debated, we fought and we helped each other evolve forward. And now we reap many rewards from this. But men don’t (caveat: tend to) listen to women. They need role-modelling from other (evolved, skin in the game, revolutionary) men. (And please don’t shoot me down or distract the argument because I’m not adding a bunch of caveats about where gender and sex intersect.)
Finally, this is the year women got *really* pissed off
I add this as a relevant aside. Blokes, women are rooting for you! And we truly are hoping you can pull it together in 2023. Because we are over it.
According to a BBC analysis of 10 years of data from the Gallup World Poll published earlier this month, women are getting angrier and there is a widening gender rage gap. I’m not going to rattle off all the reasons why because we all endured 2022, but essentially women globally feel we’ve gone backwards and that men are pulling us backward (see my Rome burning argument, above). This Guardian report fleshes things out a bit. This BBC2 skit (from a while back) brings colour to things.
Many, many other trends transpired this year. But I think this is a hearty one to play with. Love your (good faith) thoughts.