Is populist masculinity a hoax?
In last month’s commentary I noted how uncritically allotting blame for violent incidents to toxic masculinity is problematic. I stated that, “certainly, the role of masculinity in these tragedies is acute, but it is not the bottom line. Normative masculinity and misogyny are agents of a higher order problem: the pursuit of power at both the individual and geopolitical level.” I have unpacked these thoughts further in a new article, Toxic Masculinity and the Art of Misdirection (audio version here). In this article I use examples such as Trump’s airstrikes against Syria to argue that a fixation on toxic masculinity can have the unwanted effect of obscuring broader analyses of power.
I have also continued my exploration of populist masculinity with a new article, Are Populist Masculinity Celebrities Fake News? (audio version here). In this article I question the “reality” of the momentum gained by populist masculinity celebrities, suggesting there could be social media manipulation at work that supports the supposed popularity of these individuals. Since writing this article, the authenticity of such celebrities has been questioned further. Alex Jones of Infowars—a source of populist masculinity news—has been outed by his lawyer as a “performance artist” during Jones’ custody battle for his children. This statement is entirely believable and no doubt could be applied to many populist masculinity celebrities who seem more interested in building a brand than actual politics. In short, we should seriously consider whether the whole populist masculinity celebrity class is largely a hoax enacted by paid personalities.
Elsewhere this month I was happy to be featured on the Modern Manhood Podcast. In this podcast we speak about The Five Stages of Masculinity, the over-use of the term “toxic masculinity” and how we can all move forward when it comes to discussing these issues.
As you can see from the masculinity news articles sorted by stage below, it is rather slim pickings this month; there are no articles at Stage 4 or 5. However, more generally there were some interesting stories about gender politics written from within Stage 3 that explore its limitations. Arwa Mahdawi writes in The Guardian Allow Me to Womansplain the Problem with Gendered Language, which highlights the counterproductive Stage 3 habit of “the manifold vocabulary for manshaming.” An interview with Jessa Crispin in The Guardian explores feminism’s focus on individualism and self-achievement rather than social transformation. Also in The Guardian is an interview with Romola Garai who argues that progressive gender politics “is about men and women fighting together for appropriate representations of gender. It’s not a women’s issue.” And finally on Salon is Eileen G’Sell’s article Feminist Flamethrowers: Laura Kipnis, Camille Paglia and the Modern Sex Wars: here I’m less interested in Kipnis or Paglia, rather with G’Sell’s attempt to synthesize and reflect upon differing views on feminism.
A common thread running through these articles is an awareness that feminism (or at least a particular form of neoliberal feminism) does not necessarily have all the answers, and indeed may hinder the discovery of answers. A response to this from some is a return to second wave politics, when feminism had not yet been co-opted by capitalism; but as L. P. Hartley said, “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” As people chip away at Stage 3 orthodoxies we can speculate as to what new form gender politics will take. I suspect this new form will not include the word “feminism”; however, it is of great importance that the lessons of feminism are not forgotten. Being able to hold these two points in productive tension will be an integral element of any new and sustainable gender politics.