Posts Tagged ‘masculinity’

Unilad, a website that became notorious this week and has now been taken down. I don’t know who spotted it first, but it quickly entered the social network sphere via women who were outraged by it. I didn’t get to see a great deal of it before it was taken down after a deluge of complaints, but what I did see warranted a few raised eyebrows, to say the least. Advertising itself as a guide to being a successful ‘lad’ in university, it seemed mainly dedicated to the degradation of women, disabled people and pretty much anyone who doesn’t conform to their masculine ideal. One of the passages I read was a bizarrely detailed mathematical analysis of how many women are sluts and how to have sex with one, and ended with the observation that 85% of rapes go unreported, so you’re likely to get away with it if you force yourself on a slut if she ends up rejecting you.
Or something like that. I may be mistaken, it’s hard to read clearly when you’re brain is trying escape through your eye sockets.
Obviously, once it became known about, a lot of people had some serious complaints about the Unilad website, and complain they did. From what I saw, the Unilad team, demonstrating reasoning skills in-keeping with their writing skills, seemingly resorted to one of 3 responses to these complaints.
1. Accuse the complainer of being a lesbian.
2. Accuse the complainer of being a feminist
3. Accuse the complainer of having no sense of humour.
Undeniably, a lot of those complaining were women. This is understandable, seeing as it was largely women who were being denigrated and degraded by Unilad. If you break into someone’s home, it’s usually the home owners who end up calling the police. Cause and effect, that is.
So, as a heterosexual white male non-feminist, non-lesbian, working class background comedian who’s been a member of a university for over 10 years, I’m clearly part of Unilad’s target demographic. And they claimed it was all for comedy, all a collection of jokes and ‘banter’. If we accept this claim at face value, then those who object to it are ‘wrong’ to do so as it’s not serious. Any criticism for it should be delivered in the context of comedy and humour, not political ideology and serious stuff like that.
So, taking this into account, as a comedian with a sense of humour, what reason do I have for not liking the Unilad website?
In a nutshell, it’s crap. From a purely comedic perspective, viewing the whole thing as one big collection of jokes as they assured us it is/was, all the jokes are very poorly thought out and lacking in any element of subtlety or nuance that elevates crude jackass level physicality to genuinely good comedy.
The argument Unilad use that those who don’t like their site lack a sense of humour seems very counter-intuitive to me. Only someone with only the most basic sense of what humour actually is could find their work genuinely funny. Anyone who has a working sense of humour and appreciation of good comedy would find the Unilad website as painful as Unilad’s theoretical targets would find the consequences of their advice.
Perhaps I’m being unfair, perhaps there are many men who found Unilad funny, but I’d imagine they’re not the sort of people I’d want to share a night out with. I’d probably prefer not to share a country with them, if that was possible, but that’s just me. ‘It’s funny because it’s a good joke’ is a very different thing to ‘it’s funny because it agrees with my prejudices’, and I distrust anyone who champions something based on the latter.
I should clarify that I’m not reflexively offended by the subject matter in principle. I’ve heard many feminist friends say that rape jokes are never acceptable, and I respectfully disagree. I see the arguments for this, but I don’t believe there is such a thing as a subject unsuitable for comedy, as long as it’s done right. Undeniably, it’s never pleasant to hear someone make crass jokes about a subject that’s emotive and painful for you, believe me I’ve experienced it myself, but a blanket ban is a level of censorship usually employed by totalitarian regimes, and it only ever gives power to those willing to make the jokes anyway. But that’s a discussion for another time.
My point was, making jokes about any controversial subject can be funny if it’s done well. Unilad, for all their bluster at being humorous and just ‘banter’, do not do it well. It’s seen as fashionable in comedy these days to be deliberately dark and bad taste, but this isn’t that. This is just bad.
The paragraphs above are the response of a great blogger to the recent Unilads furore. I had a lot of problems with the reactions overall, to this online ‘student’ forum, and its ‘misogyny’. However, I found the above blogpost and this video by bearded eloise (aka!/rey_z) more worthwhile than most of the feminist whining about  Uni Lads.  Because they are personal, measured responses and they don’t use dogma to make their points.

One of my main problems with the feminist reactions, which led to the student site taking down all its content, was that they did not seem to consider the views of the young men involved, or any young men for that matter. On twitter, Petra Boynton the sex educator/academic, made quite a meal out of how bad she thought UniLads were. She pointed out, rightly, that feminists were concentrating on the ‘rape jokes’ on the website and ignoring e.g. anti-disability comments, and posts that denigrated men’s sexuality.
But her conclusion that the site was ‘anti-men’ did not seem to be based on actually talking to men!

I DID talk to some men about Uni Lads. The overwhelming majority of those I spoke to thought the site was unimpressive, included some very nasty comments, and, as the blogger above says, its jokes were UNFUNNY. I agree with him and other men I spoke to, that ‘banning’ jokes about sensitive subjects such as rape is ridiculous and censorious. Especially when there are some very funny jokes around, about subjects including murder and violence.

Not so long ago I argued with a feminist blogger about this subject. Her view that rape jokes are always unacceptable annoyed me. Partly because, as you can see I said in the comments, as a ‘survivor’ of ‘intimate partner violence’ I have found the use of humour very cathartic. And if I can justify  using it, why can’t anyone else?

So I liked the men’s more sensible comment that when it comes to humour, being funny, or at least competent at telling jokes, matters. And Uni Lads were not funny. One of the men I talked to, who is in his twenties and a student himself, did not defend the Unilads. But he did argue eloquently that maybe we should consider WHY men make jokes in this way, especially in groups.

He said:

‘I’ve seen many people, even the usually great Dr Petra, saying that they don’t need to understand ‘banter’ to know what the ‘lads’ are saying is disgusting and awful. That is wrong in my opinion. A big part of what banter is (or at least has been for me) is saying the unsayable. I have said things in the company of other guys which I don’t believe, and would never dream of saying in real life. That is sort of the point. The aim is to get a rise out of each other, or to out do each other. It is that horribly guilty pleasure of laughing at something you shouldn’t. The main problem is that Unilads made it public, and it slots right into a ready made feminist narrative.’

It sounds a bit more complex now doesn’t it, than just being anti-women, or even anti-men humour?

This person’s astute analysis reminded me of the work of Mark Simpson. He writes about how when men are in all male homosocial groups, which could be perceived as heading scarily towards ‘homosexual’ groups, they put a lot of effort into reinforcing their sense of being ‘men’. And heterosexual men at that.

But Simpson has pointed out how this attempt always fails. He explains that machismo is in fact incredibly camp. And, inspired by his idea for using the term ‘fag’ in place of ‘manly strap ons’ (e.g. Manfood manscara manbags) I came up with the term Fag Up.

So I think the Unilads Lads need to fag up. They have tried very hard to emphasise what big MEN they are, but have just come across as slightly pathetic. I don’t know if I think they should have taken down their content. I do think people who criticised them might have been a bit less shrill, and maybe even talked to them about their site, and their writing.

The fact is the scandal meant the Unilads got thousands of new followers on facebook and twitter and I expect it hasn’t dampened their spirits at all.

But maybe if they read this they will get the hint. And maybe the feminists will learn the art of nuance.

Well, a girl can only dream.


Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion.

Toward the end of last year, I read an article in the UK newspaper, The Guardian, entitled ‘The Culture of Masculinity Costs All Too Much To Ignore’. But the url left clues as to a draft title which was even more damning: ‘Dangerous Masculinity Everyone Risk’. In the piece, two senior feminist academics basically blamed men and boys for all the trouble in the world. They wrote:

In 1959 the social scientist and policy activist Barbara Wootton looked at the crime statistics and remarked that “if men behaved like women, the courts would be idle and the prisons empty”. Half a century later the British Crime Survey and police crime figures bear her out. In 2009-10, men were perpetrators in 91% of all violent incidents in England and Wales. The figures vary by type of incident: 81% for domestic violence, 86% for assault, 94% for wounding, 96% for mugging, 98% for robbery. MoJ figures for 2009 show men to be responsible for 98%, 92% and 89% of sexual offences, drug offences and criminal damage respectively. Of child sex offenders, 99% are male. The highest percentages of female offences concern fraud and forgery (30%), and theft and handling stolen goods (21% female).

I was horrified by this misandry, being presented as ‘sensible’ social analysis in a national paper. But I was not exactly surprised. As I have written about here at GMP before, feminist-dominated gender studies demonises men, when it is not completely ignoring them:

Feminism has done three things, particularly in relation to masculinity, which relate to how gender studies has come to ignore and belittle men’s experiences and perspectives:any academic treatment of gender has been focused on the disadvantages faced by women and how women have been “omitted” from research, arts, literature, history, etc. Heterosexual masculinity, in particular, has been “pathologized” by some feminist gender academics, and taking an active interest in men and masculinity has been presented as “gay” in itself.

However, I prefer to look on the positive side of gender, and of men. This site is called the ‘good men’ project after all. What, in spite of the bad rep men get across the board, is good about masculinity?

The first word that jumps to my mind to describe what’s good, no great, about masculinity, is ‘change’. Men—and what is expected of them—are changing so quickly that possibilities keep opening up all the time.

One of the key areas of change for men in contemporary culture is style and self-expression. Gone are the days where men were limited to wearing grey suits or boring jeans. Men’s fashions have expanded and diversified so that boys can develop their sense of personal style and feel good about the way they look, just as women do. This is illustrated by things like the fact that in June 2012, London will host the first evermen’s week in the fashion show calendar. And by the fact that metrosexual sports stars such as David Bekcham and Rafael Nadal are known just as much for their menswear modelling as their sporting achievements.  Also, it is now possible to buy male beauty products and cosmetics, including make up, false eyelashes and fake tan.  Vanity, whether you think it is ‘good’ or not, is here to stay, and it is accepted now as a preserve of men as well as women.

Another way that men, and gender roles are changing is in terms of what is considered ‘man’s work’ and ‘women’s work’. These days it is much more acceptable for men to do jobs previously thought of as ‘feminine’ (or gay), such as nursing, childcare and performing arts. And in the home, men are more likely to look after the children and do the shopping and cooking. This marks the approaching end of the division of labour between men and women that was traditionally a key aspect of gendered inequalities.

Perhaps one of the most important changes for men has been in the realm of physicality. Recent research has shown that far from being cold, unfeeling, and restrained, men are becoming more affectionate with everyone, and in particular, with each other. Kisses on the cheek have replaced handshakes in greetings, and young men even ‘snog’ their male friends  as they might a girl friend. Nowadays, text messages and emails between men often end in an “x” (a kiss), and the phrase ‘I love you man’ is becoming more and more common. I think these shifts are great in and of themselves, but they also relate to social justice issues such as homophobia and LGBT rights. Gay marriage is becoming legal in many places, and likely to spread, and rights of recognition for trans identities are coming into being. This is all happening in a context where men are increasing their flexibility and opening up to new ways of being men.

Something that is sometimes overlooked by everyone, is that ‘masculinity’ does not just relate to men. One of the changes I have noticed lately that I celebrate, is how masculinity is being explored by a range of people of various gender identities, and is becoming more fluid as an aspect of gender. Drag kings have had a resurgence, as documented by writers such as Rachel White, and women in general are free to dress and act in ‘masculine ways’ in contemporary culture. Many of us women don’t think twice about wearing jeans or drinking pints of beer, but this has not always been acceptable behavior for ‘a lady’. Trans people are leading the way in blurring the divide between ‘man’ and woman’, ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. Some trans people make a point of expressing themselves in a ‘non-conforming’ way, and some actually call themselves ‘gender queer’ instead of trans. So if you have a stereotype image in your mind of an uber-femme trans woman in high heels and a tight dress, it is probably wrong.  Beyond trans identities, men such as Andrej Pejic and DJ Spanglish are rejecting the traditional expectations of masculinity altogether, and just being themselves.

I sometimes get accused of being a man myself, largely due to my anti-feminist stance in gender politics. But, far from the insult it is intended to be, I take it as a huge compliment. Partly because I love men and masculinity, but also because it shows how gender expression is transforming and, especially online, it is not always possible to tell who is a man and who is a woman. I’d like to live in a world where that distinction is meaningless, and from what I can see, we are on the way to that world being a reality.

Originally at GMP:

Sometimes it’s hard being a man.

According to sex educator Charlie Glickman, one of men’s key problems is how they are ‘constructed’ socially to always be trying to fit in the ‘act like a man box’. If only men could free themselves from the constraints of ‘hegemonic masculinity’, then everything would be ok.

I am not so sure.

Glickman writes:

‘One of the primary reasons that boys and men gay bash and bully queers is that they need to perform masculinity in order to show the world that they’re in the Box. And since very few guys can always be in the Box for their entire lives, the trick is to act like you are in order to cover for any lapses. In effect, the performance of masculinity requires constant vigilance to make sure that nobody sees any missteps. Since the logic of the box is an either/or, you’re either all the way in or you’re all the way out.

I agree with Glickman that gender is very much a ‘performance’. Or rather I agree with  Judith Butler  that gender is a performance within discourse. I expect Judith would agree to an extent with Charlie, too, that there is an element of ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ acted out by men, especially when in groups of men together. But what Butler might point out, that Glickman fails to do, is just how ‘homosexual’ and ‘homosocial’ men can be when they are trying so hard to prove their heterosexuality. ‘Gay bashing’ is the extreme, cartoon version of how men prove their ‘straightness’, the one, it seems most loved by gay rights activists, showing as it does just how ‘homophobic’ straight men can be. But in fact, it is much much more common for men to ‘prove’ their heterosexuality by doing things like this:

or this:

Or they might, like the lads mentioned in this article in the Independent, get drunk, get on a bus and start masturbating, themselves and each other. For fun!

I genuinely do not see the picture here, that Charlie Glickman is trying to paint, of this strictly defined, heterosexual ‘man box’ where you are either in or you’re out and you are not allowed any ‘lapses’. If we take into account the ‘homo-erotic horseplay’, as Mark Simpson terms it, so popular in football and rugby teams, the army, student fraternities and other male environments, heterosexuality looks to me like one long ‘lapse’ from the ‘man box’.

Research conducted last year by Dr Eric Anderson and colleagues at Bath University showed that for young men, in this case students at UK universities and FE colleges, same-sex kissing and shows of affection is not frowned upon at all, but is considered the norm. As this article about the research says: ‘forget homophobia’.

So the idea of this ‘man box’ that men have to be all the way in or ‘all the way out’ – i.e. a ‘fag’ or a ‘pussy’ just doesn’t seem familiar to me.

Charlie Glickman is American though, and ‘macho’ homophobic culture does seem to be quite prevalent in the states. But this just seems to mean that in America, straight men appear even more camp, even more ‘homosocial’ and even more ‘into’ the idea of, and often the practices of homosexuality than we are in the UK.

Going back to Judith Butler, who is also American, and so her theories of ‘gender trouble’ come from an American context, she had this to say about how straight men in the military can both ‘repudiate’ and show a very strong preoccupation with homosexuality:

‘When they were debating gays in the military on television in the United States a senator got up and laughed, and he said, “I must say, I know very little about homosexuality. I think I know less about homosexuality than about anything else in the world.” And it was a big announcement of his ignorance of homosexuality. Then he immediately launched into a homophobic diatribe which suggested that he thinks that homosexuals only have sex in public bathrooms, that they are all skinny, that they’re all male, etc, etc. So what he actually has is a very aggressive and fairly obsessive relationship to the homosexuality that of course he knows nothing about. At that moment you realise that this person who claims to have nothing to do with homosexuality is in fact utterly preoccupied by it.

I do not think that these exclusions are indifferent. Some would disagree with me on this and say: “Look, some people are just indifferent. A heterosexual can have an indifferent relationship to homosexuality. It doesn’t really matter what other people do. I haven’t thought about it much, it neither turns me on nor turns me off. I’m just sexually neutral in that regard.” I don’t believe that. I think that crafting a sexual position, or reciting a sexual position, always involves becoming haunted by what’s excluded. And the more rigid the position, the greater the ghost, and the more threatening it is in some way’.

For me, although Glickman and Butler are both talking about what is in effect the same thing: straight men ‘performing’ heterosexual masculinity in order to reinforce it, they talk about it in such different ways that it seems like they are discussing two completely different things.  I am much more drawn to Butler’s idea of people being ‘haunted’ by what is excluded from their own attachment to a specific sexual position/sexual identity.

Glickman’s article was in part inspired by this research reported in Time magazine, about how masculinity is a ‘delicate flower’. It includes studies whereby men were asked to braid hair and then given the choice of doing a puzzle or punching a bag, and they punched the bag.  I find this kind of ‘behavioural’ psychology particularly annoying to be honest, because it makes out that how people behave in laboratory type conditions has some meaningful relationship to ‘real life’. I might feel like punching a bag if some psychologist in a white coat got me to braid some fake hair. The participants in another study were also given scenarios in which they were asked to explain acts of violence by men and women. Men tended to say that men might be violent as a result of external factors, whereas women and men tended to say that women might be violent due to something to do with their ‘character’.

But this does not fit with how I see the constant glut of writing by feminists about how men commit sexual assault and sexual harassment against women, simply because they are ‘men’.

Indeed, Glickman’s own article states:

‘The Box is one of main reasons why men harass women on the street and why catcalling and violence tends to escalate when men are in groups. Since the Box is hierarchical as well as performative, the guy at the bottom of the heap is at risk of being cast out. So each guy has to compete with the others in order to not be the one who’s outside the Box.’

Whilst Glickman is referring to a gender construct: ‘the box’ he is still relying on the idea that men are somehow fated to harass women, simply by being in groups of men. Groups of ‘unenlightened’ men that is.

And there’s the rub.

According to Glickman:

‘I reject the entire notion of the Box. I’ve learned to pick and choose what aspects of masculinity work for me and which ones don’t, since some of the things in the box are positive or at least dependent on one’s relationship to them. In effect, I’ve queered the Box but to the guy who’s stuck in it, the only place he can imagine me being is outside the Box’.

So despite the fact he says he does not believe in ‘real men’ or in fact in ‘the box’ as an actual thing, he is making a clear delineation between the men ‘stuck in the box’ and men like him who have learned how to ‘perform masculinity’ in a healthy, positive way. If he is not constructing an idea of a ‘real man’ he is at least constructing the idea of a ‘good man’ or a ‘healthy man’. And this needs an ‘other’ – an unhealthy man, a bad man, an unenlightened man. It is a ‘therapeutic’ version of  performing masculinity that seems to be so popular in America at the moment. It also verges on the evangelical sometimes: if only they could see the light, like me, they could be ‘saved’ from the constraints of the ‘man box’.

Talking of bad men leads me to the quote that Glickman ends his article with, by Melissa McEwan:

‘I don’t have slack to offer men. What I have is the alternative to a life spent swallowing one’s emotions and feeling a constant anxious insecurity where one’s contended self-esteem should be—and that seems a lot more valuable to me than “slack.”’

Melissa McEwan  is known for misandrist gems like this:

‘Rape culture is the objectification of women, which is part of a dehumanizing process that renders consent irrelevant’.

She thinks women are so objectified in culture, by men, that women are ‘dehumanised’ to the point where they cannot consent to sex. This is a variation on the theme of ‘all men are rapists’.

So it is no surprise to me she won’t cut men any ‘slack’.

I think Charlie Glickman should, though. I don’t see the vast majority of men, in the picture he paints of the ‘act like a man box’. I think masculinity is changing, and it is discourses like his, that are actually the ‘reactionary’ ones in many ways. Discourses that involve clinging on to an idea of men as macho, homophobic, misogynist and potentially violent.  And also that involve the contradictory notion that (heterosexual) men are simultaneously ‘privileged’ and ‘constrained’ by dominant models of masculinity.

Glickman and McEwan see themselves as the enlightened ones, the teachers who can show men how to change their relationship with masculinity. But they, in my view, are the ones stuck in a box.