destroy traditional masculinity

The video “confession” of Elliot Rodger, the man responsible for last night’s attack on UC-Santa Barbara, is one of the more disturbing things I’ve ever seen. In particular, I am struck by what a performance it is. Even in his full-blown twisted revenge fantasy, this person is putting on an act. If I didn’t know how sickeningly real the video was, I would think it was some young actor making an audition tape. All of Rodger’s complaints are cliches: he wasn’t noticed, he wasn’t respected, and most of all, he didn’t get laid enough, and so everyone has to die. Women are sluts and men are undeserving. We’re all guilty because nobody recognized his straight white male greatness. It was the same way with Seung-Hui Cho: a stream of masculinist fantasies so exaggerated, it could only come from someone trying to embody a vision of manhood he didn’t actually feel.

There is, as I’m sure you’re aware, a revanchist masculinist movement that has flourished online. It’s associated with the “pickup artist” community, with men’s rights activists, with a general sense that times were better when men were men and gas cost a nickel a gallon, or whatever. You’re most likely to encounter this phenomenon in the form of someone talking about “beta males” online– the beta male, you see, being the emasculated nebbish which society says it wants, but who secretly wishes to be the “alpha male” who is traditionally masculine (and gets, like, crazy numbers of chicks). It’s all ported, stupidly, from alpha wolf theory, which, you know, is like saying that human societies should be matriarchal because bee hives have queens. Worse still for the self-identified alpha males: there’s no such thing as an alpha wolf. The theory is utterly discredited. The researcher who developed the initial theory himself has repudiated it. So it’s not just porting an idea of “natural” social structure from one arbitrary species to humanity, it’s porting a bogus idea of that social structure.

There’s an even deeper problem, though, for men who explicitly embrace traditional masculinity: there’s nothing traditional about knowing you’re embracing tradition. Whatever their virtues or vices, the manly men from long ago that these bros imagine they are emulating didn’t spend all their time thinking about what it meant to be manly men. Indeed: it’s precisely the unthinking acceptance of the gender hierarchy that gave these men the “confidence” (read: entitlement) that neo-masculinists want to emulate. But you can’t think your way to an unthinking prejudice. If you have to read a website to tell you to be traditionally masculine, you will never, ever be traditionally masculine. You can’t choose an unchosen attitude. John Wayne did not have a blog. And I truly believe that it’s the combination of this association between masculinity and the capacity for violence on one hand, and the ambient postmodernism we live in on the other, that creates these monsters. The knowledge that they are acting like manly men, rather than just being manly men, makes this self-conception a maze  they cannot get out of. They are told that they only have value if the embody an ideal they cannot think their way into.

And that’s why traditional masculinity has to die.

The association of male value with aggression, dominance, and power is one of the most destructive forces in the world, and so it has to be destroyed. Traditional masculinity has to die in just the same way that sexism and racism and homophobia have to die. It can’t be reformed, it can’t be rescued. It has to be replaced. It’s utterly infected, with the celebration of violence, sexual entitlement, throbbing misogyny, and a fake self-confidence that is almost always hiding total self-loathing. If the kind of sick masculinity that leads to these  crimes were a religion, people would call it incompatible with modernity. If it were a race, Fox News would talk about that race’s culture of violence. If it were a political ideology, it would be classified alongside white supremacy or anti-Semitism. How could it not be, given the spasms of horrific violence that we now expect to happen over and over again? I don’t excuse Rodger or anyone else for the terrible, unforgivable choices they make. The sickness within our culture is not an excuse. But it is part of the explanation, and it needs to be cut out like a cancer.

The masculinity that replaces it will not be “anti-male,” whatever that could possibly mean. It won’t be anti-strength. It won’t be anti-confidence or anti-leadership or anti-toughness. It won’t be anti-sex. (What could be more anti-sex, really, than this person’s determination to destroy other people for the explicit reason that they had consensual sex and he didn’t?) But it will reject utterly the strangled, stupid, pathetic association between male strength and the capacity for violence. It will stop associating a man’s value with the number of women he has sex with. It will recognize traditional masculinity for what it is: a broken, impossible fantasy that even its most enthusiastic proponents can’t achieve, a straightjacket that constrains men like Elliot Rodger, crushing them, and calls it empowerment. Time for it to die.

If this kind of aggrieved performance of masculinity was the sort of thing we called terrorism in our society, we’d have a whole new government agency to try and stop it. We’d throw millions of dollars at the problem. We’d stop at nothing. Instead, we must do the work ourselves, culturally and socially, until traditional masculinity is the peculiar, obsolete artifact it already should be. Think of the lives we might save.

69 Comments

  1. WTF? So if a feminist went around killing men because of her feminism, you’d write “destroy feminism! it can’t be reformed, it can only be killed!” Right??

    1. Please: name one case of a woman murdering people because of her feminist ideals. Show me where she invoked those ideals as the cause of her murder. Now look at this dude, and then look at Choi, and then look at all the other men who lose it and start shooting people up because nobody respected their “power” or because women wouldn’t talk to them.

      1. You could say Aileen Wuornos fits your bill, but what’s important here is that Choi and Rodger were lonely and disturbed people. Throughout history, lonely and disturbed people have killed for many ostensible reasons, including religion, but the real problem is never the excuse they give. It’s that they’re lonely and disturbed.

      2. I’d suggest that rather a lot of unborn babies have been butchered in the name of feminism.

        And I speak as a proud defender of traditional masculinity, traditional femininity, and traditional gender rollesin general.

        1. No. Do not draw the line that easily. “A lot of unborn babies” have been “butchered” because a lot of women decided to make a life choice of their own, not immediately connected to feminism. No. No. No.

          Embodiment and cultural movements are two totally different entities.

        2. No. No. No. Abortion does not equal feminism. Feminism does not equal abortion and “butchering babies” at the whims of feminists.

          Abortion equals a personal medical choice, unrelated to cultural or political movements. An important medical choice that needs to stay legal in order to save lives of women and their right to choose and, ya know, be human beings.

          Do not draw the line that easily. Educate yourself, regardless of political stance.

          New York Magazine, Abortion Stories

          1. I couldn’t care less about your ‘right to choose’ , ‘personal autonomy’ or any of that other bullshit, MsFem. Compared to the life of the embryo, they are utterly trivial and should hardly concern a nation of civilised men..

            That you think your personal freedom justifies murdering a child, is a good demonstration of why people like you need to be kept firmly in your place, and far away from things lie ballot boxes or organs of public opinion.

          2. Hector, everybody is aware of your crazy Catholicism, or whatever. Don’t get abusive, or I’m going to ban you.

    2. Yeah, man! Given the rampant global problem of women sexually assaulting men as a weapon of war; all the countries where men aren’t legally allowed to drive; all the places where women earn more than men for doing the same work; all the women who murder their male relatives to protect their honor; and the many other ways men are completely fucked: down with feminism! Or, you know, grow the fuck up already.

  2. I appreciate and deeply sympathize with the sentiment, but you’re unhelpfully oversimplifying here. “Traditional masculinity” isn’t some static, monolithic thing that can be killed, and it can’t be replaced by some static, monolithic thing. This isn’t a remove-and-replace kind of job.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think representing sexism, racism and homophobia in such terms is particularly helpful either.

    1. From my reading of this blog – there is a bit of “irony” in describing this man’s “traditional masculinity.” The author points out that what is being chosen is not behaving naturally as a male, but rather selecting a stereotyped perspective of traditional masculinity. It is this choosing of a stereotype that no one can live up to, or in some cases down to – – – that must go. That is the point of perspective in this blog that intrigues me by making me do some thinking.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post, however I agree with the comment above mine: it oversimplifies things.

    Not all violence to be utterly destructive and incompatible with society need to be physical or physically destructive (it just happens to be the most noticeable and associated with ahigh cost). The one commenter brought up feminism I think almost reflexively after reading this. But he/she does have a point in there. Think of “white” western feminism interacting with non-western cultures, for example.

  4. The irony of all of this is that in the “old days,” if someone said “You’re a man now,” what they meant was “You are now responsible for other people.” These guys who are “performing traditional masculinity” are narcissists who want no responsibility for anyone but themselves.

    1. Yes. Traditional masculinity is about being a good husband and father, not a violent loner.

      This young man who killed women in California is many things – evil, misogynist, murderer, etc – but he is not traditionally masculine.

  5. “Time to destroy…to die…to cut the cancer out.”
    Thanks so much for denouncing violence.

    1. If you don’t know the difference between rhetorical violence and sometime shooting young women to dear because they won’t fuck him, I can’t help you.

      1. I understand the difference between rhetorical violence and actual violence. I also understand their relationship.

  6. Great post. I especially liked the point about there being “nothing traditional about knowing you’re embracing tradition”. It reminds me of Rousseau’s thoughts on the impossibility of civilized man recapturing his more virtuous demeanor in the state of nature. Traditional masculinity is a kind of dark reflection of the state of nature fantasy, without the recognition of how impossible it is to return.

    Also it’s interesting how shrill and defensive people get when you criticize the Traditional Masculinity. Or at least it would be if it didn’t demonstrate that there are people suffering from that desperation. Which, incidentally, I blame on the mythology of masculinity this post advocates overthrowing. As a straight white dude, I have certainly felt its pressure–and the pain that results from feeling inadequate to its standards.

    Fellow Dudes: your inability to meet the impossible standards of this mythology of what a man should be is not the fault of feminism, its the fault of the mythology. Your anger is justified, but its directed towards the wrong target.

  7. “Whatever their virtues or vices, the manly men from long ago that these bros imagine they are emulating didn’t spend all their time thinking about what it meant to be manly men.”

    I know what you mean, but I’m not sure this is true, at any moment in human cultural history. I’m pretty sure it’s not true for the 19th century.

  8. Guys really don’t say this kind of thing enough. If you look at most of the pathologies of violence and exploitation and dominance that get us all worried, men are vastly overrepresented amonnt its practitioners. In an era where we still like to lecture women on how if they just avoid doing this, that or the other they can avoid being raped, killed, fired, or exploited, it might be nice if we asked some introspective questions as guys. Maybe if we policed a culture amongst ourselves where some of this shit got people who did it social pariah-hood among guys instead of being celebrated, excused, condoned, or winked at, the world might be a better place. Reforming guy-hood or at least asking some goddamn questions about it might be a start at that Holy Grail of “low hanging fruit” that would-be social scientists are always looking for in the cause of social reform.

  9. I dunno, Freddie. I don’t think 23 year old men trying to have more consensual sex and forming internet communities to discuss the best ways to do it is misogynistic. You’re taking one asshole’s views and conflating it with an entire group’s. 90% of the pick-up artistry is basic behavioral psychology and social dynamics. “Weak eye contact is a sign of insecurity,” “touching creates feelings of warmth and affinity,” etc. Is learning this stuff manipulative? Misogynistic? I don’t think so. How’s it any different than women wearing makeup and pushup bras?

    On the subject of gender equity and sexuality, worth reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/magazine/does-a-more-equal-marriage-mean-less-sex.html?_r=0

    1. It’s possible to agree with most the *politics* of 21st century feminism while also trying to maximize one’s sexual attractiveness.

      1. Of course it is. But the pickup artist community is filled with misogyny, with bullshit like “negging,” and with a lot of men who have very unhealthy attitudes towards women. Like this guy. There are entirely healthy ways to have and express the desire to have sexual relationships with women. But as long as you see having sex with women as some sort of contest, and as long as you getting women to have sex with you as overcoming some kind of obstacle they have put in your path, you’re setting yourself up to develop troubling attitudes. Sometimes, it goes full-blown pathological.

        1. Figured that would come up. Negging isn’t about destroying a woman’s self-esteem, contrary to the Jezebel crowd’s interpretation of it. My college buddies and I bust each others’ balls all the time. You wouldn’t call that a form of ‘bullying,’ or ‘pathological behavior.’ Nothing wrong with playful banter.

          Showering a woman with compliments to try to get her to sleep with you is just as disingenuous. The only difference is that it’s trite and generally less effective.

          1. This is the fucking problem. An entire community that thinks there are a series of psychological tools to “win a woman over.” That is the fucking patriarchy at work.

            I’ll take my Jezebel crowd any day.

  10. I might be more sanguine about your little essay here if you could be more specific about what behaviors need to be changed and how you would go about changing them. You seem to suggest that men can continue being manly men but want that decoupled from violence. Well, yeah. I’ll tend to file that one with reparations; great idea, but this is America, so good luck with that. This is the country, remember, that was founded on the greatest genocide in world history and chattel slavery persisting, incredibly, until only 150 years ago.

  11. UPDATE 1:56 pm: Elliot Rodger’s family has confirmed his identity and said that he was receiving psychiatric treatment. From the BBC:

    The lawyer for the alleged gunman’s father, Peter Rodger, said his son was diagnosed with “highly functional Asperger’s syndrome” as a child.
    http://gawker.com/heres-disturbing-video-of-the-alleged-ucsb-shooters-con-1581050371

    Lawyer Alan Shifman: “The world has got to spend more on its mental health system”
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-27561127

      1. But ignoring mental health problems leads only to extreme cases like this…

        “Destroy media image of masculinity” would be much better title, traditional masculinity is long gone…

      2. That’s a problem for the Mental Illness Help Center’s marketing team. There are all sorts of uncomfortable political realities that can lead to stigmatization if read the wrong way. Doesn’t mean policy makers should pretend these ugly truths don’t exist.

        Blaming Rodgers’ violence on ‘misogyny’ and those evil ‘men’s rights groups’ is just an opportunistic attempt to pin the anti-social behavior of a troubled, mentally ill young man on a popular liberal bogeyman.

        Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold didn’t kill 13 kids because they played Doom. And Eliott Rodgers didn’t shoot up UCSB because he read The Game.

        1. I think that you think I’m arguing something I’m not. I don’t think the pickup artist thing is solely or even mostly responsible for this. But I do think it is the extreme expression of a set of expectations and norms that are destructive. I’m indicting very broad and common aspects of our culture, of which the PUA thing is just one extreme. And I frankly don’t think that talking about our cultural system for deciding who is and is not worthy of value s the same as blaming murders on video games.

          1. 1. I’m enjoying this discussion and hope you’re not interpreting my criticism as a personal attack on your intelligence. I don’t always agree with your writing, but it’s always interesting. Wanted to get that out there.

            2. You’re interpreting Rodgers’ actions as an extreme expression of an ugly, prejudiced element of American male culture. I view these attempts to create neo-masculinity as a healthy, necessary development, and a solution to the sort of sexual frustration Rodgers expressed.

          2. 3. (That being said, I really hesitate to draw any conclusions about our cultural system from the deranged rantings of a sick young man. Agree with one of the above comments that Rodgers killed people because he was very ill and very lonely.)

  12. “I’m indicting very broad and common aspects of our culture, of which the PUA thing is just one extreme.”

    Of course, unlike obscure PUA sites, hip hop has created a swaggering model of masculinity (“aggression, dominance, and power”) that suffuses popular culture around the world.

  13. “In particular, I am struck by what a performance it is. Even in his full-blown twisted revenge fantasy, this person is putting on an act. If I didn’t know how sickeningly real the video was, I would think it was some young actor making an audition tape. All of Rodger’s complaints are cliches…a stream of masculinist fantasies”

    Partly because he was clinically autistic.

  14. This is quite simple really. Men’s rights types, macho men, and the rest all need to be pitied. They have incredibly small dicks. That’s it. Wildly tiny. Shrimp sized and colored the same. Shriveled and folded so far into themselves that their entire philosophy is based on gaining recognition from the outside world for their accomplishment of being born with a y chromosome because that’s how, you know, real men act.

  15. If this kind of aggrieved performance of masculinity was the sort of thing we called terrorism in our society, we’d have a whole new government agency to try and stop it.

    Ugh. You sorts and your ‘we’s, as if government policy really does express some collective will.

    This kind of thing would only be called terrorism if doing so somehow advanced imperialism and kept people in a state of fearful compliance on the home front.

    As it happens the ‘performance of masculinity’ is integral to both imperialism and keeping people in a state of fearful compliance, so no terrorist labels need apply.

    Toxic masculinity makes this shitty world go round.

  16. This is the polar opposite of traditional masculinity. Traditional masculinity is chivalry. Traditional masculinity is not only never striking a woman, but censoring your language around her, laying your coat down for her, pulling out her chair and open doors for her, and taking care of her whenever possible regardless of whether or not there was anything in it for you because that’s just what an moral, upstanding man does.

    Traditional masculinity is working your butt off for your friends, family, and community and never breathing a word of spite or regret about it because you’re Atlas. You hold up the sky so the children can grow up under a warm roof with full bellies. “Women and Children First.” That’s what a man was prior to the industrial revolution. That’s arguably what traditional masculinity still is if you look up workplace injuries and deaths by sex.

    This kid’s actions are antithetical to the very definition of traditional masculinity.

    1. Yes.

      We need far more traditional masculinity (and traditional femininity), not less.

  17. ” But you can’t think your way to an unthinking prejudice.”

    That statement is idiotically false. Happens all the time. Repetition creates automation. Every little Marxist bigot who unthinkingly hates bosses and rich people thought themselves into their stupid, unthinking prejudice.

    It’s also irrelevant, because traditional masculinity is not an “unthinking prejudice”, though hatred of it usually is. Masculinity, traditional or otherwise, is about who you are, not who you hate.

    A spoiled, and probably medicated, brat, who’s never approached a girl in his life but whines that he can’t get a girl isn’t any kind of masculine. I don’t know if his Hollywood upbringing or psychiatric maltreatment robbed him off his making, or if he never developed any, but he certainly never actually took the advice of the pick-up artist crowd, or he would have actually approached girls and talked to them once in a while. He let his imaginary fears of social (not just sexual) rejection build up into a paranoid fantasy. Facing your fears is a cite element of any kind of masculinity, and he failed.

    Traditional masculinity isn’t responsible for this coward. It’s not responsible for his hate of the women he was to afraid to talk to. Claiming that it is is just an idiotic lie.

    And while John Wayne wouldn’t have had a blog, could you imagine Hemingway born in 1989 rather than 1899 not having a blog?

  18. There was definitely something that felt staged about his confession video. But if what you’re saying is true, then traditional masculinity is already dead. So how do we kill it? Elliot Roger wanted to go down as an alpha male, hoping that his violent spectacle would cover up the impossibility of truly being a real man. I worry that we’ve granted this to him.

    1. Traditional masculinity does not support attacking women, children, and unarmed people. Google Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code if you’re curious about the American concept of traditional masculinity in the early 20th century.

  19. At the first glance a machismo-eradication government agency sounds like an interesting idea for a dystopian novel. But then, I imagine this ground has already been sufficiently covered by H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, and others.

  20. Interesting post, Freddie, but I think you get it wrong in a number of ways.

    There is, as I’m sure you’re aware, a revanchist masculinist movement that has flourished online. It’s associated with the “pickup artist” community, with men’s rights activists, with a general sense that times were better when men were men and gas cost a nickel a gallon, or whatever. You’re most likely to encounter this phenomenon in the form of someone talking about “beta males” online– the beta male, you see, being the emasculated nebbish which society says it wants, but who secretly wishes to be the “alpha male” who is traditionally masculine (and gets, like, crazy numbers of chicks). It’s all ported, stupidly, from alpha wolf theory, which, you know, is like saying that human societies should be matriarchal because bee hives have queens. Worse still for the self-identified alpha males: there’s no such thing as an alpha wolf. The theory is utterly discredited. The researcher who developed the initial theory himself has repudiated it. So it’s not just porting an idea of “natural” social structure from one arbitrary species to humanity, it’s porting a bogus idea of that social structure.

    1. Pickup artists =/= MRAs. They are, in general, much more likely to be in opposition to each other than in each other’s camps.

    2. MRAs are not “revanchist” as a general rule. The men’s rights movement — like the feminist movement — is not a monolith, so there do seem to be exceptions, but it would not be accurate to equate the anti-feminism embraced by many MRAs with a desire to restore traditionalist gender roles. Many MRAs oppose traditionalism.

    3. The question of whether or not wolves display ‘alpha’ behavior isn’t relevant to whether the term has meaning in a human context. The question more properly revolves around whether women are — for want of a better word — hypergamous, a notion for which there is some evidence.

    I agree with your underlying point, in that — like you — I oppose traditional masculinity. However, the linchpin of traditional masculinity is the male dominance hierarchy, and, in particular, a male dominance hierarchy enforced by violence. I think we’ve made some progress with this, but compared to the enormous strides we’ve made with women’s gender roles, the progress here has been rather meager.

    Problematically, men’s ability to relinquish prototypically masculine approaches is related to women’s expectations and desires for men to continue to embrace those approaches. Men seeking fulfilling relationships can’t be passive if women as a group strongly prefer men who take the initiative in dating and sex. Men seeking fulfilling relationships can’t be easygoing and indifferent to their place in the social hierarchy if women strongly prefer socially dominant men. Only a small subset of men will be able to be authentic if male emotional vulnerability is excoriated or shunned socially, particularly by women.

    I want to be clear here that I’m not saying that women are the only enforcers of certain kinds of pernicious male gender roles … it’s arguable to what extent they could even be considered the primary enforcers. However, it would be false to assume that women are simply bystanders in the enforcement of constrictive male gender roles, or that this is something that men do ‘to themselves.’

    Sadly, feminism’s contribution to our understanding of male oppression has been, at best, mixed, and at worst, has actively worked to conceal that oppression. Feminists have been great at recognizing how women have been shamed for having ‘too many’ sex partners, for example, but they’ve been dismal at recognizing how men are shamed for having ‘too few’ sex partners.

    Finally, your whole notion that only reflexive masculinity is somehow ‘authentic’ masculinity is extremely problematic. John Wayne may not have had a blog, but there was in fact a great deal more conscious thought in his performance of masculinity than is commonly understood, if my memory of an essay about precisely this point is accurate. (The essay was in a dead tree version of The New Yorker from a long time ago, IIRC.)

    1. Problematically, men’s ability to relinquish prototypically masculine approaches is related to women’s expectations and desires for men to continue to embrace those approaches.

      Hear, hear.

      If it works, no matter how strongly you protest you’ll see more of it, not less.

      So, Fredrik, go police the women who encourage this sort of behavior. Explain to them why they shouldn’t fall in love with assholes. Good luck.

      1. Yeah, when a man goes on a shooting rampage for the explicit reason, stated over and over again in his videos and manifesto, that he hates women, the first thing to do is to blame women. Fucking christ.

        1. Who said anything about any shooting rampage? How is it not clear that I was talking about the macho behavior? And I quoted ‘ballgame’ talking about it.

          Besides, I didn’t blame women or anyone else. Women get what they want. Women choose. You don’t like that they choose assholes. I don’t like that they choose assholes. But that’s what it is: a fair number of them choose assholes. Let’s hope it’ll change, but don’t think there’s anything we can do about it.

      2. As usual, Mao raises an excellent point.

        Women choose masculine men because that is their nature as wo-men: men choose feminine women because that is there nature as men. when it comes to gender roles, Darwin agrees with Deuteronomy.

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