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Better Ways to be a Man
Letting go and experiencing a new happiness
For those who are blissfully unaware, Andrew Tate was arrested by Romanian authorities. He’s created a brand as a male empowerment guru, or something like that, although what he really sells is violent misogyny and male dominance culture to young men, paired with fascist ideologies. He isn’t anything new, unfortunately. As much as he talks about the Matrix and invents goofy phrases for himself and his followers, it’s really just the same old regurgitated violent misogyny that’s been around for far too long. His large following on TikTok, and his recent readmission onto Twitter thanks to Elon Musk have allowed him to reach millions of men, and persuade many of them that his approach is vital in an age of women’s empowerment and increased skepticism around conventional masculinity.
There have been numerous reports from teachers, parents, and loved ones of these young men that his influence has led them to be hateful, disrespectful, and even violent. And when you see that Romanian authorities are believed to have raided his villa because two young women were being held there against their will, it comes as no surprise that this is what his influence looks like. But it’s crucial to know that his arrest, whatever the outcome, won’t stop this wave of reactionary and violent misogynist propaganda and behavior. In a time of rapid change, with increased instability around the idea of masculinity being one part of that, there are unfortunately many men willing to profit from promoting a hatred of women, violent conservatism, and a false image of returning to a past social order that enshrines these ideas and practices.
So, for many reasons, including the way a misogynist propaganda void will undoubtedly be filled, we need to talk about alternatives to the dangerous vision these men have put forward and will continue to put forward. And doing this in a way that might actually reach some of the young men being targeted, in a systematic and coordinated way across social media in particular, involves acknowledging some of the roots of the problem. The rise of loneliness in men, the increase in the number of single men, and these men having fewer friends is well documented, but the causes are certainly not agreed upon, at all. And I won’t present an empirical survey of how and why this has happened, but I will talk about a source of these statistics that I often see left out: men’s difficulty with, and at times refusal to adjust to changing times.
The conservative misogynist crew is quick to blame feminists for these trends. They say that if women were relegated to the roles they used to hold, and essentially if society was dragged backwards, men would be happier and the world would be restored to balance once again. This misses a whole bunch of things. For one, it misses treating women as human beings, deserving of every single element of autonomy and freedom and choice that men have. It of course misses non-binary people, but that’s an intentional choice and one of the many places where this misogynistic movement overlaps with its fascist friends in seeking to violently create a regressive society under the guise of restoring an outdated order. It also misses something about men, several things about men that I think are its single biggest weakness, and that I think can allow us to articulate a more compelling alternative to this myopic vision that grifters like Andrew Tate espouse. And that is that these violent misogynists don’t actually have an answer for men’s unhappiness.
Almost every man I know was raised being taught a few conceptions about women, masculinity, and their own sense of self. For some, these ideas were taught at home, for some it was in church or synagogue or another religious setting, but for almost every one it was learned in the locker room, even if it was thankfully absent in those other spaces. Here the “locker room” is a stand-in for our middle school social scenes, essentially. I’m sure others have studied this more thoroughly, but for me I can only definitively say that it was in the air in those places and at that time in my life. And what I learned at that impressionable age, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated, was that women were to be clowned on and objectified, but also that my worth was tied to the attractiveness of my partners. I was taught to talk shit about other guys, joke around with them, and never really be vulnerable. In my case I was fortunately to have a best friend from kindergarten on who I was able to circumvent some of this implicit instruction with, aka be honest and vulnerable with. But, I still absorbed a whole lot of this teaching, and it’s taken a long time to unlearn it.
Or rather it’s taking a long time. Part of me wants to skate over the fact that I struggle to communicate the extent of my emotions with the person I love, and that part of me wants to pretend I have it all figured out on this front, that I’ve unlearned everything I want to unlearn and learned the tools I want to have. But in truth I’ve only learned and unlearned some fraction of what I’d like to see for myself. And there’s a lot of reasons I want to skate over this, one being that I’d simply like to be further along this path, but another is that for a lot of young men I know, who really do want to be better than what they were taught, there’s a desire to be the perfect “good guy” already who has it all figured out. But I’m not there, and the truth is that very few of us are. Even as we grow up and move past some of our old bad habits of thought and action, we’re still swimming in patriarchal waters, and the process of figuring out where we are, let alone getting a clear image of where we want to be and how to get there, is really tough. In other words, despite the advantages confirmed to men by society one of the things we can lack is a clear vision of how to be a man who fully embodies the values we want to live in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex society.
But, even though finding the exact path we want to walk can be tough, I think the misogynist propaganda has muddied the waters deceptively and dangerously. That is, the path to being a man in society today might be difficult to navigate for a lot of us, but the promises of Tate and guys like him are essentially lies. They’re lying to you in multiple ways. The idea that dominance or aggression or violence will get us what we’re looking for is a lie. We might not always know exactly what we’re looking for, largely because of those harmful or dishonest ideas we absorbed growing up, but we all want happiness. And the evidence is massive that happiness is based largely on human connection, gratitude, and helping others, once basic material needs are met. I know “what leads to happiness?” is a gigantic can of worms, but I firmly believe that if most men, and other folks, look inside we can all see quite clearly that meaningful relationships are crucial to feelings like fulfillment and contentment and satisfaction, feeling very close to and wrapped up together with what I call happiness.
I also firmly believe that if men look inside we can see that so much of what we learned in the past blocks us off from intimate and meaningful relationships. Treating women and other people as objects to be used blocks us off from the relationships we really desire. Not communicating what’s really happening with us, what’s hurting us, what scares us block us off from these relationships. Our sense of self-worth being based on the attractiveness of the people we have sex with, or how good we are in bed cuts us off from having a foundation of self-esteem within ourselves that is crucial to deep relationships with others.
I know a lot of this stuff is scary. I talked with a friend recently whose a psychologist and he told me about this idea of psychic equivalence, which has been on my mind ever since. As I understand it it’s the idea that the disruption of our internal foundations can feels just as frightening as crisis out in the world. It can spark the same fears and adrenaline and cause people to lash out or be angry or take other dramatic actions and stances. But, on the other side of this particular set of fears is a beautiful new world. On the other side of working through our fears around what’ll happen if we let go of what we thought we knew about masculinity are deep and meaningful relationships, human connection, a profound inner peace, and more. At least that’s some of what I’ve received from just starting this process. And I’ve only just begun. Much like me, I know this piece isn’t perfect. This is just a start. But I hope it can reach you and at least start to help you feel a little more open minded about the possibilities for real happiness available to us in this life. There’s also a world of possibilities for who we can be in community with others, who we can be helpful to, and what we can build as we start to let go of some of the stuff we’ve been taught about masculinity. We’ll still make mistakes, I still make a ton of mistakes and I’m sure I’ll keep on making a few most days. But I hope you can start to get a glimpse of what’s available through even a little open-mindedness, and hope you’ll join me in working towards something much, much better, more fun, and filled with infinitely more possibilities than the version of ourselves we were taught we needed to be in order to “be a man.”
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