A common trope one hears in the midst of the “official” discussions on masculinity (ie: stuff that you’d never find within a mile radius of a website such as this one) is the idea that “toxic masculinity” can be solved by “reimagining masculinity.” To elaborate, this is the idea that the traditional “social construct” of masculinity is harmful to all: it forces men to live up to a thuggish, belligerent, stressful ideal of masculinity that deprives them of worthwhile emotional connections, it hurts women because this “false” ideal of masculinity is the wellspring of cat-calling, the pay-gap, and of course the dreaded bugbear of “rape culture,” and it hurts the assorted non-heteronormative because they will be demonized for not living up to the aforementioned traditional fake gender roles.
Thus, masculinity must be re-imagined, and that always seems to amount to “make men more like women”–“like women” meaning the traits stereotypically associated with femininity, because those stereotypes are somehow better than the men’s stereotypes, except when they’re not: gentleness, nurturing, aversion to risk and status squabbling, etc.
Of course, all who are reading this must understand that the vast majority of the above is a lie: the pay gap is a falsehood, as is rape culture. The “false Western social construct” of masculinity is, in fact, more or less the same idea of masculinity that exists throughout all cultures in the world (suggesting of course, that masculinity is biological in origin), just as it is commonly understood that women have their own pecking orders.
(Ironically, the idea that masculinity leads to traditional prejudices against flamboyant homosexuality and other aberrant sexualities is probably the closest this Narrative comes to being truthful—but don’t take my word for it, take an actual gay man’s!)
Seeing as my readers understand this is all false, I’m not going to go point by point as I normally do, disproving all of this. Instead, I’m going to dredge up slightly painful memories of my past to explain why I, personally, know that the idea of “reimagining masculinity” has always failed in the past, and will continue to fail in the future.
I know this because I once was the sort of soft, gentle, nebbishy nu-male that society wanted me to be. I was a neutered, de-sexualized consumer wuss: And it sucked!
As I’ve stated before, as a teenager I found myself drawn to social justice due to my resentments, the belief that since I wasn’t masculine, I just had to meet the “right” people to feel better about myself.
While I was going around with the high school social justice club, I saw other young men, more strapping and virile than I, getting all the girls and generally enjoying a much higher quality of life. But rather than, say, getting in shape or growing a pair and learning how to talk to women, I resigned myself to the much simpler task of rewriting society itself and forcing it to change, rather than changing myself.
This decision was supported by my social justice peers, of course, who repeatedly assured me that I was on the “right side of history” and that I shouldn’t worry about my lack of masculinity. Eventually, the girls would come around, or at the very least, the girls that were worth my association would come to realize my value. I was “more evolved” than those brawny troglodytes, and by forcing society to re-imagine its conception of male sexuality, I would eventually win their esteem.
It wasn’t very long until I realized that I completely hated myself. I was, of course, resentful of the school’s alpha males, but it was the first inkling I had of what I like to call “motivational resentment,” a concept I have alluded to previously. In a distinctly masculine train of thought, I saw men higher on the pecking order than me, and I wanted nothing more than to tear them down and take their place.
In other words: I wanted to embody those “stifling, artificial” ideals of masculinity! Nobody forced me into that line of thinking. It was something inherent and I hated myself for not living up to those ideals! And judging by the way the girls flocked to those atavistic throwbacks, they knew it was inherent as well.
So tenuously, I began lifting weights and working out, making the same mistakes that many novices do, but making enough progress (and showing enough post-workout soreness) for my spindly social justice compatriots to notice. Upon telling them that I was lifting weights and running in an effort to make myself more physically attractive, they were genuinely outraged, throwing feminist doggerel at me “proving” that I was seeking out artificial male archetypes (the term “toxic masculinity” hadn’t been spawned yet), and objectifying women…somehow.
When I told them that I was thinking that perhaps it was easier to change myself than change society, and posited the radical idea that the cause of social justice might be bettered if we trained our bodies as well as our minds, the leader of this motley crew grabbed the ear of a guidance counselor and reported that I was emotionally “troubled”, and perhaps she could better deal with me. Thus, I found myself in an unnamed conglomeration of all the twitchiest, spergiest students in the school twice a week and forced to hold hands and discuss feelings. I don’t think I need to tell you that this was humiliating to me, as it would be for any normal teenage boy.
Needless to say, I quickly removed myself from both the social justice club and the sperg club (after sufficiently proving that I didn’t need to be in the latter, of course). The conclusion I came to after a few days of thought (hey, I was a pretty dumb kid) was as follows: “If I had just realized what I wanted a long time ago, this mortifying experience would never have happened.” From that point on, I decided to embrace my masculinity and embrace those dimly remembered childhood dreams of strength and honor.
The transformation, of course, wasn’t immediate (for one thing, I didn’t lose my virginity until my sophomore year of college), but “a thousand mile journey begins with one step,” as they say. For me, that first step was to realize the inevitability of masculine behavior amongst most normally functioning males. Undoubtedly, I’m not the only one to embrace neo-masculinity on this exact same path. I am also not the only one who has first hand experience with why re-imagined masculinity is not masculine at all, and will always fail.