Exploring the root causes of toxic masculinity and the resurgence of white supremacy in the boiling pot of America’s culture of antagonism.
In order to understand the lack of empathy which has ushered in the rise of white male nationalism, we must begin with having some empathy for what caused them to lose theirs.
The emergence of academic interest in race, gender and sexuality has by and large been a great benefactor to begin the healing of our most historically abused groups and individuals, as well as providing a wider lens from which to view those issues. But as in any great leap of progress, as the pendulum swings indifferently from one side to the next in the name of total balance, there has been a great deal of backlash. That backlash can be seen in the rise of white male nationalism now spreading throughout America and parts of Europe.
The most alarming aspect of this re-emergence is how much of it is encompasses young white men, and causes them to prematurely convert to grumpy old man hate. Where young men once questioned the system and fought it, they now dream of it becoming more powerful and narrow minded on their behalf. This was no accident.
Academic interest in race and gender peaked in the mid to late 1990s. My partner, who proudly identifies as a feminist, was a student of these disciplines in those early years. For her, and many historically disenfranchised people like her, this was an exciting time full of opportunity to understand how prejudice had ruled us while it was seemingly on it’s way out. That turned out not to be the case. And it is perhaps because of those narratives and their unintended consequences, as well as internet culture, that the face of bigotry has once again dared to show itself in ways that seemed impossible a few decades ago.
College happens in that time of our life where we are, excuse the cliche, trying to find ourselves. The late teens and early twenties are a time of learning from our mistakes as we construct an independent identity for ourselves outside of childhood structures. As many did this through an academic exploration of identity itself, a message seemed to emerge that the white man was a plague upon humanity.
While there can be little doubt that the social construct of whiteness and those who adhered to white identity have been highly problematic for humanity, and that men were usually at the center of much of what has been detrimental to civilization, this narrative created a massive imbalance. Those white males who were not interested in academic studies of race, gender and sexuality were being bombarded with messages by their peers who were that they were the problem. While a generation of white guys were trying to find their identity, they were told that their race and gender made them complicit in world problems that they were barely old enough to even begin understanding the complexity of, let alone contributing to.
The response is hardly surprising. When backed into a corner and being labeled evil for being something you did not even choose to be, you begin to over-identify with that construct. In this way young white men were forced into a defensive position, through no fault of their own, by others who were only trying to understand how they themselves had been made to endure a similar ordeal.
The pendulum swings.
I am not excusing racism, sexism, homophobia or those who espouse those ideas. I am trying to understand them, so we can work towards a solution that is in everyone’s best interest.
The expectation during all this social change was that white guys would all collectively and stoically take this on the chin. But just as it was absurd for white guys to expect the subjugated groups and individuals to just settle for their lot in life, it has been equally ridiculous to not have expected some backlash for the “white men are the worst thing ever” message that, if not intended, was evidently felt.
Indeed stoicism plays a role in male issues of all races. The expectation that men will suck it up and do man stuff is part of a centuries old narrative that we males are supposed to be immune to emotion and only accountable to rational introspection. Even long before feminism this toxic idea was being passed from one generation of men to the next.
Along the way men began to buy into the narrative that they were not emotionally complex beings, that they did not have their own needs that deserved to be considered by those around them. And so after several generations men have absorbed this insane idea that they are not emotional, and that they should ignore their needs and remain stoic in the face of challenges to their own innate drives.
“Fuck your feelz, snowflake!”
This is not the cry of the rational man, it is the desperate plea of the emotional man who is cut of from recognition of his own emotions. While those saying it think they are denying emotional considerations, what they are actually doing is begging for their own to be met. In this blindness of trying to meet unrecognized needs, the urge to deny the needs of everyone else has grown exponentially.
This blindness has extended to include everyone else. Our expectation of men culturally reinforces this denial of their complexity. But because men’s needs have been so subjugated, it is difficult to even take seriously that there has been an infraction of them. The following examples may seem trivial, but that is not due to their own intrinsic nature, but our dismissal of the male psychology as a place of emotional complexity equal to every other person’s.
“I want you to listen, but not offer advice.”
This is a common female complaint of men. Women’s desire to just vent and be heard is indeed important to them, and that need should not be taken lightly. But maybe all guys aren’t the best suited to fill that role. The male perspective often entails that a problem should be met with a solution. This is in no way a bad thing. Just as sharing a problem merely to be heard and understood isn’t. Yet a man who is always asked to sacrifice his own impulses in some expectational show of stoicism is faced with a denial of of his own needs. Over time this leads to a sense of powerlessness, which often manifests in an over-exertion of power in other areas.
“Patience is a virtue.”
Indeed, it is, but no virtue is virtuous under compulsion or coercion. The comedic cliche of a woman taking too long to get ready is emblematic of a male issue that can only safely be recognized when downplaying the cost of that interaction. The truth is that many men feel a strong drive to adhere to the expectations they have agreed to, even if only among themselves. When a partner has us running late, and waiting in pause mode with no reasonable expectation of a time frame in which to be personally productive according to ones own drives, it can create a serious amount of anxiety. While this anxiety may not be rational, why should we expect men to habitually ignore their feelings in favor for that which is what is rational? Why is the default position one which forces us to stoically conform to Victorian ideas about virtue and manliness?
Guilt trips, shaming, emotional manipulation and loaded questions are among many other kinds of interactions that endanger men’s emotional states, yet the expectation is of endurance and not of taking responsibility for having one’s needs met. There are so many ways in which male needs are not even recognized and taken seriously, let alone met, that men have had to identify against their own emotional needs just to endure the trespasses against them. And as this loss grows deeper, it is filled in with a masculine concept so contrived and bogus that it becomes a catalyst for ideologies that cover up male weakness with denial and renewed misogyny.
The sort of villain identity and apathy towards whiteness and maleness in general has created massive amounts of misunderstanding. I know this, because I was one of them. Just a few years ago I was engaging in some of the ideologies this backlash has generated. Through humility and love and the knowledge bestowed on me by my partner, I eventually decided it was more important to make allies with disenfranchised groups and individuals, rather than work against each other. I came to accept narratives that were counter-intuitive to my own, both because I learned that experience is undeniable, and that antagonism and contrarianism were just digging me a deeper pit. And in doing so I learned I didn’t have to throw myself to the wolves to understand other peoples experiences.
“Shared pain is lessened.
Shared joy is increased.
Thus we refute entropy.”
― Spider Robinson
I am highly aware that the manner in which I have written all of this seems to conform to normative ideas of race, gender and sexuality. However I do not regard these as objective truths, but refer to the social constructs that generally occur in regular discussions. Maleness, straightness and whiteness are all terribly oversimplified concepts, and I realize that the application of these ideas applies in different ways to individuals outside of the norms I have used as a basic reference. Masculinity can be an attribute that a woman or a gender fluid person identifies with. Whiteness is such an absurdly piecemeal concept that it only completely makes sense to supremacists. All of these constructs are open to all people, regardless of objective categorizations.
Which brings me to one last point. Evidence of these concepts rests within the network of white male allies. Women and people of different racial backgrounds, genetically and culturally, have also absorbed the white mans burden and become advocates for them. Women who deny the role feminism has played in the social positions they enjoy today and those of other racial backgrounds who adhere to ideologies posed by white nationalists are a clear indicator that the White Guy movement deserves attention, in much the same way that a white woman identifying black in support of the NAACP indicates a need to transcend self-identity in a genuine attempt at empathy.
White dudes need your help. We are big and strong, but still vulnerable humans. If a recognition of our predicament does not follow prior advances in social enlightenment towards understanding, then the rise of masculine white nationalism will only be empowered. This seems to lead to an intolerable outcome for everyone. The only hope is that our empathy becomes universal rather than segregated. That we face hate with love and understanding. That we seek balance rather than retribution and reparation.
We are all in this together.
The pendulum swings.