The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Tag: misandry (page 1 of 1)

Toxic Hegemonic Masculinity Ideology

‘Toxic masculinity’ may not be terribly appetising, but it does seem to be on everyone’s lips these days.

The concept originally derives from the gender studies theory of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ – described on Wikipedia as the ‘stereotypic notion of masculinity that shapes the socialization and aspirations of young males’.

Although hegemonic masculinity is, as the name suggests, a bad thing in itself, toxic masculinity is, as the name tells you, really bad. It’s the aspects of hegemonic masculinity that ‘serve to maintain men’s dominance over women in Western societies’. Things like ‘the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence’.

Somewhat confusingly however, toxic masculinity theory has itself gone ‘hegemonic’.

Earlier this month the dominant US consumer goods multinational Procter & Gamble (annual revenue $65B) released a hard-hitting new ad for their ailing Gillette razor brand. After decades of gouging their customers and losing market position to new, cheaper ‘shave club’ competitors, they reasserted their supremacy – by ‘calling out’ men’s toxic behaviour.

Though in case you think they were tarring all men with the same stereotypical shaving brush, the ad did allow (at 1:06 mins in) that ‘some’ of them aren’t sexual predators and bullies, or arm-folded, burnt meat-eating enablers. And of course, associating Gillette with those few good guys battling male toxicity.

The ad was a great success – in the sense that it got people ‘talking about the brand’ and its new ‘purpose’. In an age when MSM ‘messaging’ can go entirely unnoticed, this one grabbed loads of editorial like a boss – and, much more importantly, owned people’s timelines.

And here I am, talking about it.

Actually, you’ll be relieved to hear, I don’t want to talk about it much. Everyone already has, at length – some even making good points. The only thing I want to say here about this ad is that regardless of what you think about it, whether you consider it ‘an important message’ or ‘an outrage’ – or refuse to have an opinion on it at all (though I’m not sure this is actually permitted) – it’s somewhat… paradoxical.

And I’m not talking about Gillette’s record of ‘objectification’ of women and exploitation of them with overpriced pink razors.

‘The Best That Man Can Be’ presents itself as an assault on the dominance of toxic masculinity in our culture and its terrible toll. But it is put out by one of the biggest, most powerful multinationals in the world that wants millions of men to buy its products.

If toxic masculinity is so dominant and dominating – along with the patriarchal culture that produces it and protects male power – how does this very expensive ad exist?

OK, I’m being slightly facetious. The reason it exists is because calling out toxic masculinity and ‘male privilege’ (sometimes qualified by ‘white’ but less often by class) has itself become more and more ‘dominant’ in much of the media over the last few years. A process that predated #MeToo but was turbo-charged by it. To the point where it now looks like liberal orthodoxy. Question it at your peril – unless you want to be labelled as ‘part of the problem’.

The week before Gillette went woke, researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Essex released a report that claimed to show that, contrary to previous studies, men are (slightly) more disadvantaged than women in most developed countries. Previous ways of measuring inequality (the Global Gender Gap Index) are ‘biased to highlight women’s issues’, they argued – and don’t distinguish between personal preferences and social inequalities.

‘We’re not saying that women in highly developed countries are not experiencing disadvantages in some aspects of their lives. What we are saying is that an ideal measure of gender equality is not biased to the disadvantages of either gender. Doing so, we find a different picture to the one commonly presented in the media’.

prof Gijsbert Stoet, University of Essex

Perhaps that picture ‘commonly presented in the media’ is why the newsworthy and controversial study was not widely reported in the UK, aside from conservative newspaper The Daily Mail and its sister paper Metro.

And in case you imagine the University of Essex a bastion of those dreaded Men’s Rights Activists, in 2016 it gave female staff a one-off pay rise in order to raise their average salaries to the same as their male counterparts.

The study’s Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI) measures educational opportunities, healthy life expectancy and overall life satisfaction. According to the rankings it produces, the UK, US and Australia all discriminate against men (slightly) more, whereas Italy, Israel and China are tougher on women. Men in developed countries receive harsher punishments for the same crime, compulsory military service, and (many) more occupational deaths than women.

In the UK men fall somewhat behind women in years of secondary education, and more than 3.3% behind in healthy life-expectancy. Globally, men are, allegedly, disadvantaged in 91 countries compared to 43 for women.

These results suggest that the structures and culture that protects ‘male power’ are perhaps somewhat less dominant – or effective – than we have been led to believe. At least when compared to say, oh I don’t know… capitalism.

The same week massive multinational Procter & Gamble unleashed its crusading new brand purpose on the world, assimilating hegemonic masculinity theory for its campaign for market hegemony, the venerable American Psychological Association published its “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men”.

This is the first time the APA have published guidelines for boys and men. According to them, boys and men who are socialised to conform to ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ often suffer in terms of mental and physical health. Although acknowledging that concepts of masculinity vary across cultures, ages and ethnicities ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ is characterised by achievement, risk, violence, dominance, anti-femininity, stigmatisation of the appearance of weakness and homophobia.

In other words, it’s much the same concept as hegemonic masculinity and its evil bro, toxic masculinity.

I think it’s good that the APA have finally released guidelines for boys and men, and of course agree that ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ is related to anti-femininity, and homophobia which does indeed have a cost for men as well as women- after all, my first book Male Impersonators, published a quarter of a century ago, made similar points about the relationship of homophobia to misogyny.

Though I feel rather more ambivalent about that once radical or at least marginal critique now that it has become official doctrine. I have also documented extensively in my work how many traditional ideas about masculinity have already been largely rejected or considerably modified by young men. And were probably always much less monolithic than we imagine – or ‘hegemonic’ theories allow.

Otherwise, impossibly pretty metrosexuality and its shockingly slutty successor, spornosexuality, could never have become the mass-market global phenomenon they are.

I’m ready for you, big boy!’

Some of the media coverage of the new guidelines unwittingly illustrated this. NBC headlineed their article ‘American Psychological Association links “masculinity ideology” to homophobia, misogyny’ – and chose a suggestive photo of male bodybuilders working out at 1940s Muscle Beach, Santa Monica.

Muscle Beach was a popular pick-up area with men who wanted to meet men – including Tennessee Williams and Christopher Isherwood. Perhaps NBC’s picture editor was trying to tell us that traditional masculinity ideology has more holes in it than a Santa Monica rest-room partition? Or maybe NBC just wanted to get clicks, as you do these spornographic days, by using a hunk of male eye candy – in this case, vintage eye-candy because ‘traditional’.

Actual traditional masculinity ideology isn’t very sexy. It’s not interested in inviting our 21st Century non-binary gaze nearly enough.

The APA report itself repeatedly reminds us that gender is ‘socially-constructed’ and that men have ‘greater socioeconomic advantages’ than women – but when it talks about the problems men face it sometimes seems to imply that they themselves are to blame:

‘Despite having greater socioeconomic advantages than women, men’s life expectancy is almost 5 years shorter than women; in every ethnic group the age-adjusted death rate is higher for men than women. A sex difference in risk-taking is largely responsible for this discrepancy. For example, accidents are the leading killer among all males aged 1 to 44 in the United States (CDC 2010).

‘Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men’ – American psychological association

Men and boys’ disadvantage in life-expectancy is immediately explained by ‘a sex difference in risk-taking’ rather than, say, referring to structural problems in society – which would likely be used to explain inequalities that disadvantage women and girls.

When you look at the CDC figures for leading causes of deaths in the US for 2010 you find that ‘unintentional injuries’ are also the leading killer amongst females, ages 1-34 (falling to second place in the 35-44 category). Likewise for the most recent figures available, 2015.

So it is only in the 35-44 category that there is a ‘sex difference’ in the sense that accidental deaths are the main cause of male deaths and not for females. The total number of deaths by accident for each sex will likely be different.

But probably not as different as the figures for occupational injury deaths. In 2016, there were 4,803 male and 387 female occupational injury deaths in the United States.

Note how the total numbers fall around 2008, when the financial collapse occurred and the property/construction bubble burst. Men are of course hideously ‘dominant’ in the construction industry – and also in pretty much all the other most dangerous and often poorly-paid low-status professions, such as fishers, loggers, roofers, farm workers and refuse collectors.

Maybe this is down to the ‘sex difference in risk-taking’ of this ‘socioeconomically privileged’ category called men. Or perhaps it has something to do with structural inequalities in society, a lack of provision for (non-rich) boys’ educational needs – and the ruthless, ‘toxic’ way capitalism screws labour, whatever its gender.

But let’s not dwell on such quibbles, or question too closely the newly dominant stereotypical notions about men and masculinity. They are the correct stereotypes, after all. Gender studies has shown us this. And today’s corporate capitalism has taken these lessons on board and selflessly liberated us from boring old class conflict, replacing it with uplifting messaging around gender politics.

Besides this month, in addition to chastising men as a ‘class’, we should be celebrating the fact that extremely well-paid women are now in charge of the behemoth US war industry, by far the largest in the world.

And it would be the worst kind of whataboutery to mention that despite this blow to the patriarchy, men are still much more likely to pay the ultimate price for war.

Muller Light: The Money Shot

Muller Light’s latest ad continues its heavy-handed theme of debasing the objectified men it uses to sell its aerated dairy products – perhaps finally reaching a kind of climax.

The new ad (for fat and added sugar-free ‘Greek style’ yogurt) deploys the usual buff and topless ‘fat free’ young male as eye-candy, this time handling his ‘pot’ – but he loses control at the signature ‘FAT FREE!!’ shrieks and ends up glazing himself. Hee-hee!

All things considered, it’s just as well that the ASA have effectively ruled that men can’t be objectified.

h/t PW

Sassy Misandry: Abusing Men isn’t ‘Bloomin’ Awesome!’

Mark Simpson on how beating up on men has become a painful corporate cliche

(Originally appeared in The Daily Telegraph, 01/11/2016)

Does the empowerment of women need to take the form beating up on men? And isn’t it anyway something of self-defeating strategy?

These are the questions often lurking in the back of my mind when I read one of those sassy columns that seem to be a list of insults hurled at men – or MEN! – as a sex. But I usually think twice about voicing them.

Apart from anything else, even though it’s almost never stated, it’s straight men as a sex that are in the crosshairs. Since I’m not terribly straight, and thus not exactly a fully paid up member of the patriarchy, it’s generally wise for me to keep my head, er, down in the (hetero)sex war.

But then I saw this ‘Own the Day’ TV ad for women’s clothing chain Bonmarché, currently airing on UK prime time, which seems to go one sassy step further – suggesting that casual assault on men by women is “bloomin’ awesome!”. And funny.

That couldn’t be the case, could it? I re-watched it a couple of times, hoping to have my humourless, censorious first impressions dashed. I really don’t want to be an advertising traffic warden.

But the more times you watch the ad, the clearer the implication is. Female ’empowerment’ is about giving men a good, slapstick pasting. In addition, of course, to buying clothes from Bonmarché.

Although the pasting is presented as ‘accidental’ – it’s obviously not meant to be taken that way. It all happens to men. As a result of women’s ‘empowered’ behaviour.

In the space of just 30 seconds, three ‘ladies’ (the form of address the ad itself adopts) trip a male jogger, slam a café door into a man holding a smoothie, knock a phone out of a man’s hand into his coffee, cause a male waiter carrying a tray to slip and fall, thump a male diner in the head with a large handbag, and slap the hand of another (apparently) male diner trying to attract the attention of the already downed male waiter.

Without breaking a sweat. Or even noticing.

Of course, the ostensible message is that women should pay no heed to men or anxieties about body image when they buy clothes, and in effect just dress for themselves – ‘this is me and I feel bloomin’ awesome’. Or as the blurb on the Bonmarché website puts it:

“’Own the Day’ is all about empowering women and inspiring confidence.”

Which is great. Or it would be if it weren’t for the way that men have to pay for this sentiment.

The feel-good message of confidence is completely undermined by the hypocritical execution – in effect, the ad is all about men. About beating them up.

One of the men in the ad, with the possible exception of the male jogger gawping at lady #1 declaiming to camera, did anything to warrant being slapped, tripped or thumped on the head. Except perhaps the crime of possessing a penis. They were all happily minding their own business. Or waiting tables.

In fact, it begins to look like the men are being punished for not paying attention to the women. So maybe I would have got a handbag in the back of the head, too.

Yes, it’s ‘just a silly ad’, frantically trying to draw attention to itself. And yes, the ad also seems to be making fun slightly of its own language of empowerment – perhaps because in the end it’s a commercial, not a political statement.

But the bottom line appears to be that a spot of misandry – contempt for men as a sex – is good for business.

I’m not suggesting the ad should be protested or banned – though there would be with enormous kerfuffle if the genders were reversed. But I would suggest that the ad is an indication that sassy misandry, once justified as a ‘necessary corrective’ to the patriarchy and women’s subjugation, is so common these days it has become a corporate cliché.

Which in turn would suggest that it’s no longer quite so necessary – that instead it’s shaded into abuse. And that’s not very empowering. Or ‘bloomin’ awesome’. Whatever that is.

Misandry: The Acceptable Prejudice

Feminism may have triumphed, but Mark Simpson finds the denigration of men has as much to do with money as ideology

(Independent on Sunday, 2002)

When I was a little nipper, which was quite a while ago – as you can estimate by the fact that at that time nursery rhymes had not yet been replaced by rap music – there was one particular piece of doggerel which was very popular with my sister. ‘What are little girls made of?’ she would recite demurely. ‘Sugar and spice, and everything nice!’ Then her voice would drop into a sneer: ‘What are little boys made of? Slugs and snails and puppy dog tails!!

My sister, as you can probably guess, grew up to be a feminist. But not before she had given me several pastings – Sugar and Spice was three years older than me and, until my ‘poisonous’ testosterone came to the rescue, much bigger. I mention this story not to avenge myself on my sister or claim victim status – we get on famously now, I’m sure I deserved what I got, and besides, apparently I used to actually eat slugs and snails. I mention it because it does cast some doubt on the idea that the female of the species is, as one of the media women quoted in this book gushes: ‘More sensitive. More emotional. More caring. More dependable than males.’

Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture by Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young doesn’t mention that nursery rhyme about slugs and snails, but it does make a convincing argument that since the Nineties, much of mainstream popular culture has effectively taken up this childish paradigm as the only explanation of good and evil in the world. Men, say the authors, have become society’s official scapegoats and held responsible for all wickedness, including that done by women they have deluded or intimidated. Women are society’s official victims and held responsible for all good, including that done by men they have influenced or converted.

To prove their point the authors subject innumerable TV shows such as ‘Oprah’, ‘Home Improvements’ and ‘The Golden Girls’, and films such as ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’, ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’, ‘Cape Fear’ and ‘The Color Purple’ to rather lengthy, painstaking and frankly frequently somewhat tedious analysis to demonstrate that misandry is actually much more visible these days than misogyny – that in fact it has become the dominant discourse in popular culture. Males and male values and qualities are regularly disparaged, ridiculed or shamed in direct proportion to the way that females and female values and qualities are validated, endorsed and held up for approval.

Hence the importance they attach to the word ‘misandry’, which they describe as ‘culturally propagated hatred for men’. Like misogyny it is often expressed as negative stereotypes of the opposite sex. But unlike misogyny, misandry is not monitored because it is considered morally and legally acceptable: ‘The face of man, as it were, has been so distorted by public expressions of misandry that it has become unrecognisable even to men themselves.’

But is it really worth monitoring? Monitoring moreover in a lengthy, very earnest, very American academic tome freighted with large, indigestible chunks of political philosophy? Is it worth the risk of ‘misandry’ becoming a word that is bandied about ad nauseam by a legion of male Joan Smiths and Germaine Greers?

Oddly, alarmingly, the answer to this question might just be a qualified ‘yes’. They may overstate and restate their case, but that’s what books are for – and as the authors point out, misandry is an ideology whose assimilation has been so successful that most don’t even recognise it as an ideology. This is why sexism is regarded as a one-way street and any men who complain otherwise are mocked for being stupid or wet or both. Worse, it’s become the law, at least in regard to political correctness: our cultural guardians are completely blind to misandry, which literally doesn’t exist: there is only righteous ‘anger’ or a necessary and healthy ‘corrective’ to the crimes of men and patriarchy over the millennia etc. etc.

Hence even a pointedly, dramatically misandric film such as ‘The Company of Men’ is attacked as being misogynistic. A film which features two men, one utterly evil, the other hopelessly inadequate; and a main female character who is a virtuous victim. Even the evil guy isn’t misogynistic so much as misanthropic – he destroys the woman only as a way of destroying his ‘buddy’.

What makes ‘Spreading Misandry’ a useful book is not that it attempts to set up a whole new school of whingeing victimology but rather it puts a small spoke in the works of the large and noisy machinery of moral indignation, by turns spiteful and sanctimonious, that feminism has succeeded in constructing in academe and the media over the last twenty years. Moreover, it does this not to assert that men are the new oppressed and women the new oppressors, but to try and do away with the very dualism in Western culture on which crude – i.e. successful feminism – has been based.

But then, even all those years ago, I didn’t quite understand what was so awful about being made of slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails nor for that matter just what was so great about being made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Being bad can be very powerful – and not a little sexy. Hence of course the massive popularity since the Nineties of rap music with boys keen to piss off their feminist mums by apparently becoming all the things that men, according to the new official discourse, are: violent, abusive, dangerous and criminal.

Lad culture has also exploited this, with men’s magazines revelling in portraying men as the ‘filthy beasts’ and ‘souped-up monkeys’ that much of feminism has routinely described them as being. Although they don’t analyse rap and other youth movements, Nathanson and Young do observe: ‘Better a negative identity perhaps, than no identity at all. If women say that they are evil, some boys and men think, then so be it.’

Of course, many if not most of the writers and producers of so much of the ‘misandric’ material analysed in ‘Spreading Misandry’ are men. The authors are not claiming that the media is dominated by women now, or that misogyny has been abolished, just that much of the media is paying lip-service to the new feminist-inspired orthodoxies. They don’t state it themselves, but most of the material they analyse is aimed at women or has at least one (materially) rapacious eye on women (missing, for example, is any analysis of action movies, which are aimed squarely at teen boys, and which still usually feature heroic males, albeit frequently flawed ones). The ‘misandry’ of the female-oriented works they do analyse is at least as much economic and cynical as it is ideological.

Though not discussed here, so is the phenomenon of so-called Lad-Lit. Real Lad-Lit is FHM or Maxim. Since most books that aren’t about car engines or Hitler are bought by women (though it may be verging on the ‘misandric’ to say it), Lad-Lit is by definition a bit of dissimulation written largely for women who want to get inside a ‘lad’s’ head. Hence novels by Nick Hornby have the same nauseously ingratiating premise (echoed in Tony Parson’s ‘Man And…’ books), often literally and baldly stated: ‘Women are better than men’. Which means: ‘O.K. I’m crap – but it’s only because I’m a man, and I can’t help that. And, moreover, doesn’t that self-knowledge/abasement make me a teensy bit more lovable and readable and buy-able?’

As is often the case, ‘Spreading Misandry’ critiques an ideology that has already reached its high-tide mark. A new generation of ‘spice’ girls seem to be tiring of being ‘better than men’ – after all, so many are choosing to dress like street hookers these days. But then, the gendered Manichean universe, and the essentially traditional, shrewish view of men as bestial creatures that need to be tamed – or, more latterly, spurned – by women that it is based on is rather claustrophobic and airless. Especially that chintzy part of it marked out as ‘Heaven’.

Mr Spielberg’s Nineties schmaltz-fest ‘The Color Purple’, for example, in which every male character is an abuser and/or loser and every female character is an unblemished angel, may or may not be a misandric movie, as Nathanson and Young maintain. But there’s no doubt in my mind that it looks like a working definition of Hell.