Towards a harmless masculinity

“Toxic masculinity” refers to harmful forms of masculine expression, such as violence, aggression, aloofness, and the policing of other men’s masculinity.

Here, “toxic” is a restrictive adjective, which is to say that “toxic masculinity” refers to the subset of masculinity that is toxic; it does not mean that all masculinity is toxic.  Nonetheless, this is a common point of confusion, perhaps because there’s little visible discussion of what might constitute non-toxic masculinity.

So I’d like to explain my ideas about what non-toxic masculinity should look like, on an abstract level.  An outline:

  1. Toxic masculinity should be contrasted with “harmless masculinity”, not “virtuous masculinity”.
  2. Harmless masculinity is mostly a matter of aesthetics.
  3. Masculine aesthetics can also be toxic, but I argue that they are not necessarily so.

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What is a “positive male role model”?

On the subject of how feminism can do better to help men, one suggestion I’ve heard many times, is that we need to provide better role models for men.

Honest question: what does that even mean? I don’t understand what “role model” is, why I would want one, or how it would solve anything.  To me, “Who are your role models?” is a writing prompt they give you in elementary school, which was endlessly frustrating and never made the least bit of sense.

My frustration is compounded when people go on to suggest specific celebrities to be role models.  For example, “Terry Crews is a great guy, and a great model for 21st century masculinity.”  So, I know Terry Crews as someone who has done work against sexual violence, but that doesn’t make him a role model to me.  I’m confused about how that would even work.  Are you suggesting that I follow news about Terry Crews and imitate what little I can glean of his viewpoints and habits?  The solution to the crisis of masculinity is… more celebrity news?  Color me skeptical.

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Social Reproduction

In my series discussing capitalism and socialism, I want to discuss another Marxist idea: the social reproduction of labor.  Basically it refers to a collection of social activities needed to maintain a labor pool.  An introductory article (suggested by Coyote) has a good description of how social reproduction occurs:

1. By activities that regenerate the worker outside the production process and allow her to return to it. These include, among a host of others, food, a bed to sleep in, but also care in psychical ways that keep a person whole.

2. By activities that maintain and regenerate non-workers outside the production process–i.e. those who are future or past workers, such as children, adults out of the workforce for whatever reason, be it old age, disability or unemployment.

3. By reproducing fresh workers, meaning childbirth.

It may be noted that social reproduction is essentially unpaid labor, and is disproportionately performed by women.  Thus, social reproduction theory draws a connection between Marxist and feminist theory.

However, I would fault the introductory article for failing to offer any good explanatory narrative.  Why is social reproduction unpaid, as compared to more “ordinary” labor being merely underpaid?  “Capitalism”, “neoliberalism”, and “sexism” don’t cut it as explanations.  So in this post, I’m going to offer a basic explanatory narrative, based on externalized costs.

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I can’t take Slavoj Zizek seriously

cn: apologetics for sexual violence

I don’t know why, but YouTube keeps on recommending me videos about philosopher Slavoj Zizek.  For some reason as of late he has been held up as a great leftist thinker, the anti-Jordan Peterson.  No, seriously, he’s apparently planning to debate Jordan Peterson or something.  Hard pass.

Honestly, I hate the guy.  The first and only time I had cause to encounter Slavoj Zizek, was in relation to the controversy over Avital Ronell.  (I don’t feel like finding all the relevant links, so you’ll have to accept my own disjointed commentary and the links therein.)  Avital Ronell sexually harassed students for years, and when someone stepped forward, Slavoj Zizek was one of many academics signing a petition defending her, basically on the grounds that it would be such a shame if someone so important as Ronell were to face consequences.

The petition got leaked to the public, along with some rather damning evidence against Ronell, and many of the signatories (including Judith Butler) backed off.  Not Zizek!  He continued to defend Ronell in several editorials, claiming he was privy to additional evidence, that he refused to share.  I speculated that his “additional evidence” was that the victim reciprocated–which is irrelevant, the victim was coerced by the power imbalance.  Zizek later revealed that this was exactly his reasoning.

Sorry, I cannot take seriously a Marxist theorist, of all people, who cannot recognize a power imbalance right under his nose.  How can a professor who studies power be so ignorant of the sheer power that professors have over grad students?

I’m not enthusiastic about enthusiastic consent

In my guide to sexual violence terminology, I mention that “enthusiastic consent” is an unpopular model in ace communities. Why is that? And who else might have issues with it?

When I search for “enthusiastic consent”, the first result is Yes Means Yes (YMY), which emphasizes that consent is given “without manipulation, threats, or head games.” It’s a “whole body experience” and not just a verbal yes or no. It’s mutual and can be withdrawn at any time. I’m on board with all that stuff.

But when it comes to the “enthusiastic” part of enthusiastic consent, YMY describes it as both partners being mutually “excited”. And then it links to an old Feministing article, which talks about “the hotness of getting (and giving!) a ‘hell, yes!'” And here we have more of a problem. Because I can’t imagine ever literally shouting, “hell, yes!”

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On the obsession with penis size and race

cn: discussion of genitals, porn

PZ brought to my attention a “joke” where a comedian mocked the penis size of Asians. My emotional response to this joke is not offense, but rather concern and bemusement.

Concern, because this obsession with penis size sounds hazardous to your health. I would be very surprised if psychologists found that an obsession with penis size were not associated with mental health problems. It’s like if someone “jokingly” mocks another group for not getting smash drunk all the time.

Bemusement, because I knew in the abstract that many people care about penis size, but it still feels unreal. How does this cultural obsession even get transmitted between generations? It’s not a normal topic for kid’s television, or for conversations between parents and children. Are sex ed teachers directly telling kids about the importance of a good dick? Or maybe it mostly affects those souls so unfortunate as to enjoy “edgy” stand-up comics? Or maybe it comes from porn? Hmm, that last one might be the front runner.

As I was reflecting on this, I grew attached to the hypothesis that it’s mostly White people who care about penis size, and Asian people only care insofar as they’ve been affected by cultural imperialism and stereotyping. Of course, a hypothesis demands evidence, and this one is impossible to google. All I could find were think pieces talking about how racist the Asian stereotype is (no, duh).

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Against apologies

Disclaimer: This is not in response to any particular apology. This has been on my topics list for years.  Frustratingly, when I finally committed it to words, someone went and made a public apology, and I had to postpone this to avoid association.  So here we are.

The title, “Against apologies” can be interpreted in several ways, so I will clarify my meaning up front. There’s nothing wrong with people apologizing for things they’ve done wrong. There’s nothing wrong with accepting or rejecting those apologies. The thing I am complaining about, is when people demand public apologies, and then when the apology arrives, they pick out some small detail that they say shows the apology wasn’t really sincere. I think this is more often than not, a flimsy pretext to reject apologies no matter their content.

But I am not saying that we need to accept bad apologies.  Rather, I propose that if we’re going to reject an apology, then we don’t need to invent an excuse. For some kinds of wrongdoing, we may decide that no apology will ever be acceptable.  We should be unashamed to say so.

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