News & Politics

The Distorted Idea That the So-Called "Masculinity Crisis" Is Caused by Successful Women

From the new book "Outdated," a look at our very dated ideas of masculinity and how they hurt our relationships and sex lives.

From the book Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life by Samhita Mukhopadhyay.  Excerpted by arrangement with Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.  Copyright (c) 2011.

When we buy into the idea that female and male are “opposites,” it becomes impossible for us to empower women without either ridiculing men or pulling the rug out from under ourselves.

—Julia Serano, Whipping Girl

In the summer of 2010, Cee-Lo’s hit song “Fuck You!” hit the airwaves. The song is a bitter testimonial from Cee-Lo about a girl who broke his heart by leaving him for another man because he wasn’t rich enough. The “fuck you” is mainly directed at the new boyfriend, but also to his ex. This song became a sort of national anthem for young men who were bitter about not being “man enough” to be with the women they wanted to be with. It became intensely popular, and with it came commentary (well, at least on Facebook) about how it was about time men speak out on their feelings of inadequacy about women, money, and romance. This declaration seemed justified given how much pressure men feel to provide in relationships (and given the state of the economy in 2010). It appeared more than ever that men were bitter about the pressure they’re under to be a “man” today.

According to the mainstream media, masculinity is in a state of crisis. Men are not “men” anymore, because women are not “women” anymore. Women today go to college, have their own apartments, jobs, and their own money; they are no longer reliant on men for their financial needs (hypothetically). Meanwhile, the expectation for men to be the primary breadwinner, while unrealistic, is still encoded in our culture. These two competing stories, one of women’s empowerment and the other of men being chivalrous manly men, have been characterized as a crisis, not of gender essentialism, but of manliness itself. The shift in actual gender disparity is quite slim, but the media circus that makes much ado about the whole thing would have you believing that men are the ultimate underdogs. As a result, men are receiving competing messages about what it means to be a man today, and the side effects include everything from anger and resentment to alienation and disaffectedness.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, masculinity describes someone or something that possesses characteristics normally associated with males and can be “used to describe any human, animal, or object that has the quality of being masculine.” Note that the dictionary definition asserts that there is a normal way to be male, but it does not make the mistake of connecting being male with being masculine.

We’re all familiar with the standard understanding of masculinity. When we tell someone to “man up,” we are drawing from conventional ideas of what it means to be a man—to be strong, unwavering, chivalrous, independent, together, and courageous. While none of these are bad characteristics, they suggest that masculinity is based on strength while femininity is based on weakness, ultimately limiting the way men and women are allowed to act and implying that those who act outside these norms are misfits, freaks, or, at the very best, outliers.

Only when we understand that masculinity, like femininity, is something we are taught, can we come to terms with the ways in which masculinity is socially constructed. Male-identified folks are hurt by unfair expectations to “be a man,” and this form of gender essentialism is harmful across the board. The insistence to be a “man” and act in ways that are propagated by conventional ideas of manhood is implicated with violence (think bullying, prisons, sports, the military), repression (chastising little boys for liking “girly” things), and unfair expectations (men always have to pay, etc.) and often results in violence (intimate partner violence, sexual assault, etc.).

The burden put on men to be “men,” the shifting nature of women’s roles, and the overstated crisis in masculinity have had three side effects: (1) it has conflated female success with male failure; (2) it has exaggerated the actual success that women have made (both in the world and in romance); and (3) it has led to angry and/or disaffected male behavior. I have talked throughout this book about the pressures women feel to act a certain way in romance and love, and the purpose of this chapter is to show how unfair expectations of men hurt both men and women.

Deconstructing the Masculinity “Crisis”

If you turn on the television, read a newspaper, or listen to the radio, you’d be led to believe that men are now second-class citizens and completely disenfranchised. The supposed crisis in masculinity is everywhere you look, from men’s rights activists (a small, but very loud minority of men whose primary issues include alimony and custody, but who also manage to say appalling things about women’s rights) to progressive authors. According to its proponents, the crisis is affecting men and boys starting from elementary school–aged kids and impacting men in college, the workplace, and the domestic sphere. According to critics, men are the ones supposedly worst hit by the collapsing economy.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times that we’re living in a “woman’s world” in response to the shift in women’s roles. He writes, “The social consequences are bound to be profound. The upside is that by sheer force of numbers, women will be holding more and more leadership jobs. On the negative side, they will have a harder and harder time finding marriageable men with comparable education levels. One thing is for sure: in 30 years the notion that we live in an oppressive patriarchy that discriminates against women will be regarded as a quaint anachronism.”1 Brooks, similar to many of his “men are in crisis” contemporaries, equates female success with male failure, and even goes as far as to suggest that women’s progress has been so steady that patriarchy will cease to exist in thirty years!

I can only hope that Brooks’s predication about the end of patriarchy is right, but his assertions about the declining power of men have been overstated. As I mention in the last chapter, women overall still make less money than men, nationwide. They still own less property. They still get booted from jobs for getting pregnant or are still fighting for fair maternity leave. And while women in many cases are better educated than men, they still make less money (often in the same positions).2

As much as I disagree with his assessment, it’s not just the conservative camp that’s spouting off this kind of rhetoric. The shift in traditional gender roles has irked even some progressive writers. Hanna Rosin’s much talked about 2010 piece in The Atlantic, “The End of Men,” notes that we are in a new phase of social and economic order and the rapid success of women in the workplace shows us that the times they are a-changin’. Rosin suggests that perhaps the evolutionary psychologists were wrong: It’s not a biological imperative that demands men work in aggressive, competitive fields and women at home or in pink-collar jobs; it’s social pressure and economic need that has put men and women in these roles. She poses some important questions: “What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?” According to this argument, jobs have changed and skills that are considered feminine are more in demand—specifically communication skills, efficiency in office tasks, and multitasking—and Rosin’s claim is that since women are better at these things, they are more successful in the workplace and in life.

While Rosin is right to question evolutionary psychology and its sweeping generalizations about “natural” characteristics in men and women that have worked to establish the foundation for men’s and women’s roles in society, she still gets caught in the gender essentialism trap. The assumption that certain skills are for women and others are for men ignores how men and women are socialized to excel in certain roles. We are taught from a very young age that certain skills and characteristics are masculine while others are feminine, and then we are pummeled with constant messaging based on our sex as to which of these roles we should be fulfilling.

The problem with the “masculinity crisis” is not that women have excelled too much and therefore created a crisis for men, but that we have such a strong inability to let go of what it has traditionally meant to be a man. In response to Rosin’s piece, Ann Friedman at The American Prospect writes, “She thinks the problem is men; really, it’s traditional gender stereotypes. The narrow, toxic definition of masculinity perpetuated by Rosin and others—that men are brawn not brains, doers not feelers, earners not nurturers—is actually to blame for the crisis.” As long as we perpetuate the myth that men have inherent qualities that make them more suitable than women for certain types of work, the shifting nature of the economy (and women’s attainment of better and better jobs) is going to continue to be interpreted as a crisis of masculinity.

Lest you think this crisis in masculinity is new, think again. In her newest book, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, Stephanie Coontz finds multiple points in history where a masculinity crisis arose. In an interview, she told Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory, “People have been proclaiming a ‘masculinity crisis’ since the 1890s and, actually, it’s very interesting that when you go back to the 1940s and ’50s, a lot of the vitriol directed at women was because they thought there was a ‘masculinity crisis’ at that time. The idea was that domineering women in the home were expecting too much of their husbands and were driving them to work too many hours.” What Coontz describes is not so different from what we’re seeing today, in that it’s women’s emancipation and supposed lack of reliance on or need for men’s support that have called into question the very definition of masculinity.

The truth is that masculinity has been in crisis for a long time, but it has nothing to do with women being threatening. It has to do with the fact that masculinity is a constructed fallacy to begin with. Men and women have always worked together in multiple, creative, and diverse ways for survival and convenience. Gender roles have shifted throughout history depending on political, economic, and social circumstances, and despite this the push for traditional gender roles has prevailed.

What it means to be a man also varies across race and class. Historically, working-class women have always had to work, and men from disenfranchised backgrounds (gay, immigrant, men of color, incarcerated populations, differently abled, trans) have never benefited from the privileges of being a conventional man. Yes, masculinity has been in crisis for a long time, but it’s only now starting to be paid attention to because it’s impacting middle-class white men.

And what are the subliminal messages we’re sending out when we propagate the message that female success is ruining traditional ideas of masculinity? It suggests that women should stay in “their place.” It suggests that women should have not been given access to jobs and education, as this disrupts normal ideals of masculinity. And it suggests that the only way men can feel comfortable is when women are inferior to them. The rhetoric also assumes that in order to be a man you must be better than a woman, echoing traditional ideas of masculinity that are predicated on the belief that men are superior to women.

The most serious implication of the rhetoric, however, is the ways in which it impacts pay equity legislation, reproductive rights, and other types of legislation that guarantee women basic civil liberties to protect their bodies, communities, and families. Suggesting that men are in crisis brings into question the very rights that feminists have fought to earn for women, while neglecting to build any space for men to express or explore the shifting nature of masculinity.

The idea that female empowerment equals male disempowerment puts women in a position where they feel like they have to downplay their successes for the benefit of the male ego. Often, women become afraid to claim their successes for fear they will not meet a man who wants to be with them for the long-term. Remember, lots of women are afraid to even ask men out. Similarly, men either feel like they have to overcompensate or feel embarrassed by their lack of success.

While the crisis in masculinity has been overstated, there have been some concrete shifts in how men and women date, but this is always characterized in the media as a negative trend. Trend pieces invariably decry the decline or loss of femininity while upholding conventional ideas of masculinity. They highlight how giving up sex too early hurts your chances at romance; how men are intimidated by female success; how all the good men are gone; and how specific subgroups of women are single because of their career success.

One example of this “trend” can be seen in a fall 2010 New York Times article titled “Keeping Romance Alive in the Age of Female Empowerment,” by Katrin Bennhold. On first glance you wonder if it is an Onion headline, but no, Bennhold actually states the case for why women should downplay their accomplishments in an effort to foster “romance.” Per usual, romance and female empowerment are diametrically opposed to each other. The author concludes, “Leave the snazzy company car at home on the first date; find your life partner in your 20s, rather than your 30s, before you’ve become too successful.” According to writers like Bennhold, men are fragile flowers who are easily intimidated by your success, so hide it, and while you are at it, hide who you are as well. Get married in your twenties, because when you’re old (and successful) no one is going to like you. The picture this paints of women is bleak and the assumption it makes about men is disgraceful.

It’s easy to ignore such an obviously outdated article about gender roles, but the reality is that the author is taking her cues from current themes about men, women, and romance. In a piece for TBD.com, Amanda Hess writes about the gender essentializing nature of these types of articles and how they “make light of our most basic identities as women—they tell us how our civil rights are ruining our interpersonal relationships, how our wombs are interfering with our higher education, and whether our basic body types are currently socially acceptable.” When The New York Times, one of the main purveyors of cultural trends, publishes story after story that are based on sexist attitudes toward men and women, we should be concerned. Due to its reach, these stories become talking points and impact how the public thinks about romance, female empowerment, and masculinity.

The cultural reluctance to let go of what it means to be a man is most obvious in the onslaught of “death of masculinity” flavored media. But the crisis is not an actual shift; it is more a reflection of the anxieties facing a changing world. These anxieties have made themselves known through an increasingly angry male youth culture, as seen in popular culture with violent video games and music, disaffected male culture (Judd Apatow anyone?), or in more obscure places, like men’s rights groups and the pickup art scene. What is often ignored in the “crisis” of masculinity is that male dominance in most arenas hasn’t actually shifted that much, which suggests that many of these side effects are driven by false information, insecurity, and a media saturated with conflicting images of what it means to be a man today.

Man-boys

One response to the tensions arising between men not living up to the “manly man” expectation and women striving to be empowered superwomen has been the emergence of a new type of man—the perpetually childlike man-boy who is sitting on a couch near you smoking weed, drinking beers, and playing video games. This man-boy deals with his perceived inadequacy by deciding he doesn’t have to be in a serious relationship, and as a result, he never has to grow up. This man-boy loves his friends before he loves the ladies (“bromance” anybody?), he has enough expendable income to do whatever he wants (mostly), and, well, smoking that much weed makes you pretty damn unmotivated anyway. This dude, the character featured in Judd Apatow movies, is sensitive about his lack of aggressive masculinity. He is insecure, isn’t very serious about life, and doesn’t really have to be.

The existential battles of the nerdy, nice, dorky dude, at first glance in movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, or Superbad (all hilarious), seem to disrupt traditional conceptions of masculinity, since they characterize men as more sensitive, disorganized, less methodical, and not that physically attractive. They are “nice guys” who have been wronged by life and women. But upon closer examination we see that these don’t give alternative models of masculinity per se. They do not display nicer, more compassionate, or less sexist behavior toward women; all women are cast as moms or babes, obstacles to overcome or objects of sexual desire. The movies, in fact, highlight men’s failures—failures hidden behind fart jokes, broken careers, and running from the accountability of real relationships (from needy, often shrill, but totally together women). Man-boys are characterized as failures of masculinity, but somehow continue to benefit from male privilege—because, well, they are still men.

Women who want to be dating from this subset of (mostly fictional) men are far from satisfied. In her book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, Kay Hymowitz makes the case that the rise of female empowerment has destabilized masculinity and that there are no “men” left. In a Wall Street Journal piece titled “Where Have the Good Men Gone?” Hymowitz sees men acting like boys as, “an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess, or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.” Hymowitz, a known conservative writer, might be overstating how much progress women have actually made, but her anxiety is a common one: Where have all the good men gone?

What is overlooked in these frustrated gasps of romantic dreams unrealized is that by asking where have the “men” gone, we are feeding into toxic and traditional ideas of masculinity. It’s true, both on-screen and in real life, man-boys don’t go far enough in disrupting the ethos of masculinity to present us with an alternative male psychology. This is what prompts the question in the first place, but the anxiety and idea that there are no “good men” left stems from fictitious ideas of men. Jill Filipovic writes at Feministe, in response to Hymowitz’s description of the man-boy, “Maybe I’m hanging out at the wrong bars, but far more common is the twenty- or thirty-something dude (or lady) who has a wide variety of interests, a job he’s okay with but an eye for something better, a wide social network and few external pressures to settle for less than what he really wants, in love or family or career. He might also watch Comedy Central and enjoy a good dick joke and a beer every now and again. And you know, that describes me too. It’s actually pretty great. Dick jokes are funny. Good beer tastes good.” Man-boys are as much media constructed fallacies as desperate educated single women are. Yeah sure, there are a few of them and all of us share some of the anxieties these media constructions capture, but for the most part they don’t actually represent us in our totality.

For most men, the characterization of men as “boys,” due to not hurrying through conventional markers of adulthood, is harsh. It’s an almost feminist-style chastising of single men, but it’s ultimately just reconsolidating gender essentialism. Similar to Filipovic, in my experience, a lot of the men that might be cast as man-boys are not that different from me—they are figuring things out in a world that’s constantly changing. The ones who want to be in relationships are in relationships and will be irrelevant of their financial status or their supposed freedom not to have to be in a relationship. And men who respect women and are accountable to their feelings were like that in the first place, and a shifting economy is not going to change who they are.

Also, Filipovic points out something that the Apatow movies and Hymowitz have failed to capture—all women aren’t parading around yelling at men to man-up so they can have their babies. A lot of women are also taking advantage of a new world in which marriage doesn’t happen immediately, and where taking the time to figure out what we want with our lives and careers before we settle down is a good thing. If the supposed crisis in masculinity has shown us anything, it’s that the more natural course of action is to allow for gender to shift with the changing social, economic, and political climate, as opposed to demanding we regress to more traditional gender roles.

The Art of Womanizing: Pickup Artists and the Seduction Community

The responses to the feelings of insecurity that have transpired due to the masculinity crisis run the gamut from the less nefarious rise of “man-boys” to vivid displays of misogyny (as can be seen by the men’s rights activists and other ardent angry decriers of the new vagina overlords) to the less violent but just as toxic rise in men’s dating advice that tells men how to be pickup artists.

Pickup art, or the art of seduction, has been pushed through books, classes, seminars (full-on very expensive retreats), and websites that tell men that they need to use certain psychological tactics to get women to have sex with them. The purpose of pickup art, supposedly, is to support men with their self-esteem. But if you’ve ever survived the advances of a pickup artist, you know that their only purpose is to manipulate women’s insecurities in an effort to get laid. Pickup artists acknowledge power differentials between men and women and then come up with clever and creative ways to manipulate them.

The bible of pickup art for our generation is Neil Strauss’s The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. A quick glance at the chapters gets you familiar with the language and mind-set of pickup art, including Chapter 1, “Select a Target,” Chapter 5, “Isolate the Target,” Chapter 6, “Create an Emotional Connection,” Chapter 7, “Extract to a Seduction Location,” Chapter 10, “Blast Last-Minute Resistance,” and finally, Chapter 11, “Manage Expectations.” This kind of language tells us that men are hunters, women are their game, and the ladies men should be trying to connect with are nothing but targets for the purpose of sex.10 Unfortunately, it also sounds like a manual for date rape.

I perused a few pickup artist websites, too, and found a wide variety of information, from less nefarious advice on how to be confident to violent language about women. One website, “Pick-up Art Mindset,” tells guys what to do when a woman responds poorly to “using a line”:

“If a girl accuses you of using a line . . . she’s not going to fuck you. It simply won’t happen. . . . Chances are she came out to make men feel small and get free drinks, so therefore you must go over the top and put that bitch in her place. . . . Say: ‘Well it got me laid last week with some slut. I don’t see why it shouldn’t work again.’ Enjoy the embarrassed look on her face as she stews in silence trying to think of a comeback. Then turn your back on her. She’ll think twice before saying that nonsense to another man.”

I think this extract speaks for itself.

Most pickup art proponents will tell you that it’s not all about hate and anger toward women; it’s about helping men with their self-esteem. Of course, healthy self-esteem is a good thing. It helps you ask people out, and not be overly offended if you are rejected. I’m sure the majority of guys drawn to these books, websites, and communities are probably decent guys with social anxiety and a real desire to connect with women, and I sympathize with that need and genuinely support actual real-world nice guys to get that help.

But none of the pickup artist materials I’ve seen support the self-esteem hypothesis, and they don’t teach men to connect authentically with women. They teach them instead how to control women. Tactics include jabbing at women (called a “neg,” short for negative remark, a.k.a., an insult couched in a compliment, like making a comment about how she looks that seems nice but actually plays on her insecurities). Or playing games, like showing interest in her, but not too much interest, for the purpose of keeping her wondering and captivated. Another tactic is “kino-ing” (kino is short for kinesthetics), which means touching someone to make the situation comfortable.

Most of the message boards and websites dedicated to pick-up art are full of trolls decrying their hatred for women, all the while professing what “nice guys” they are and how they still can’t get women to have sex with them. Anyone who claims he is a nice guy and therefore women should automatically have sex with him probably isn’t really a nice guy. In a lot of instances it appears “nice guys” believe they are nice because they don’t physically abuse women or yell at them, or because they opened a door or paid for a meal. This, of course, should give them an all-access pass to vagina park, but since it doesn’t, some of them are very very angry.

Perhaps a lot of these guys are all bark and no bite, but the dark side of the pickup community is that it glorifies misogynistic displays of power. From there it’s a slippery slope to committing crimes of coercion and violence against women. One pickup artist in Israel posted details of a recent date on a message board, citing tactics learned in The Game. Scarily, his description of the event sounded like a date rape, excerpted here from the Israel/Palestine based political blog 972:

“Things moved along . . . believe me, I came across countless objections on the way to close an FC [fuck close], but I persisted and stayed consistent to the end. Okay we started making out on the bed and she just refused to take off her clothes and made all kinds of excuses . . . but I’m a blind rhino, she doesn’t know me. I used a quick seduction technique and it totally confused her. I took her hand and put it on my cock . . . slowly slowly I closed a BJC [blowjob close].”

In this case, “blasting last-minute resistance” means forcing her into having sex.

Two recent examples of pickup artists who went on to commit violent crimes toward women are Allen Robert Reyes, known as “Gunwitch,” who shot a woman in the face at a party in January of 2011, and George Sodini, who opened fire in a Pittsburgh gym. He targeted women, at random, and killed three of them. Yes, these are extreme examples and don’t reflect the majority of men who participate in pickup art communities, but they are telling of a particular attitude reflected in the language of these communities. There is a relationship between feelings of rejection from women and the desire to control them, whether through violence or psychology.

I asked feminist/masculinity studies writer and teacher Hugo Schwyzer if, from his perspective, pickup art communities can be good for men. His response was, “Yes, in the sense that unhealthy fast food is better than starvation to someone who hasn’t eaten in a week. But it doesn’t address the root cause of so many men’s sense that they are losers in the sexual economy. It promises so much more than it delivers. . . . ” It’s unfortunate that men feel insecure about talking to women and when they go to find out what to do about it they find advice about how to control women, as opposed to learning how to respect and love them (and themselves).

Seduction isn’t inherently bad. Flirting and sexual tension are some of the most pleasurable parts of dating. The dance of meeting someone and the buildup of sexual tension that follows is exciting and can be extremely satisfying.

But there is a difference between someone who hits on you because they think you are sexy, smart, and awesome, and someone who sees you as a target to be controlled and willed into sexual submission. Pickup art is not about propping women up, supporting their sexuality, or having equal relationships; it’s about control and manipulation, plain and simple.

I have been “picked up” twice by guys who were trying the art of seduction on me. In both instances, I thought they were friendly and interesting at first, until they started making bizarre and personal comments and touching my shoulder. One even went so far as to say the girl he was supposed to meet that night was someone he had no “spark” for. (I suggested he tell her so.) I was confused by their actions in both cases, and in both cases the men were confused when I didn’t fall for their games. So it led me to the hypothesis that (feminism+self-esteem) x (pickup artist+corny lines) = pickup art dating system failure.

Moving to a New Model of Masculinity

The reason men so often benefit in the sexual economy of romance isn’t because women are too successful. It also isn’t because men don’t want to be in relationship, or because we have lost a traditional sense of what relationships should be. It is because sexism is still alive and thriving. Male self-esteem isn’t bound by the success of men’s relationships, but rather their financial status, sexual bravado, and how often they can get laid. And often what is hidden behind that bravado is a whole lot of insecurity. I know what it is like to date the cheater, the player, the self-hater, the misogynist, and the disaffected dudes. I’ve dated them all. But deep down, I’ve come to see how these behaviors all mask low self-esteem, an inability to adapt to a changing world, and difficulty navigating what it means to be a man.

If men are no longer providers, where is their self-esteem going to come from? While women may not always need the financial support of men, what we do need more than anything is the emotional support of men in our romantic relationships. Sadly, this is one thing traditional masculinity is not good at teaching young men how to do: to deal with their emotions around romance and sexuality. So instead of looking at external factors based in sexist assumptions of what it means to be a man—like lack of solid income, career goals, and ability to commit—we should be thinking about what young men need to support themselves and the women in their lives emotionally. It seems like many men are opting out of traditional ideas of masculinity, but what is the non-man-boy alternative?

A few months ago, my brother—who for many years was the quintessential “man-boy”—said something to me that really impacted the way I understood how men are dealing with this shifting idea of what it means to be a man. In previous years, he said, he thought being a man meant being unaccountable to women and ignoring their feelings. Looking back, he realized he’d abused his male privilege and acted selfishly in his relationships. In the last few years, he has made a concerted effort to be more accountable to women, even if just to tell them he was not interested. He changed the way he interacted with women to take the time to be responsible and share how he felt, listening and being as supportive as possible. This, he said, is what it really means to be a man, and part of his process was to unlearn what he had been taught it meant to be a man.

I was proud of my brother for reaching this conclusion and making such a serious effort to consciously change how he was relating to women, and this conversation opened my eyes to the damage that has been done to the psyche of male-identified folk by masculinity. Part of the reasoning behind calling the shift in masculinity a crisis is that it’s about uncovering this age-old conspiracy that men don’t have feelings. Rather than expose those feelings and the history of neglect and abuse that comes with it, it is much easier to suggest that being disaffected, abusive, unemotional, and disconnected is actually the natural way of being a man.

If men are still judged by external factors, like how much money they make, how nicely they dress, how tall they are, and how disconnected they can be from women, emotional dudes who don’t have high-paying jobs are not going to feel too good about themselves. When men are effeminate and chastised for it, this feeds into regressive ideas of masculinity and puts unfair pressure on men to act a certain way. Homophobic and sexist epithets are used to bully men of all ages into conforming to a rigid idea of what it means to be a man. All of these conditions indicate that we are lacking alternative models in masculinity.

Furthermore, women internalize these messages and they often expect their partners to be a certain way, not realizing how this expectation supports the very structure that keeps them stuck in rigid gender binaries. The worst impact of this is that it may lead men to act out violently, generally toward their intimate partners.

We are hardly living in a post-sexist culture. Male privilege is alive and thriving. But men have undue pressure on them to be studs and to act a certain way toward women as well. Until we redefine masculinity, we have to take a more radical and compassionate approach to dating. And it will take both men and women to shift the ways they think about the role of men and masculinity. For women, most of the time that means walking away when we are not getting what we need, or shifting our expectations in our relationships and working toward a conversation that allows for new and experimental types of masculinity. For men, it means thinking about how they benefit from male privilege, where they get their self-validation, and pushing themselves to think about emotional accountability and how they view women and relationships. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But it’s a good place to start.

 

Samhita Mukhopadhyay is the executive editor of Feministing.com and the author of the forthcoming book, Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life.