A common trope one hears in the midst of the “official” discussions on masculinity (ie: stuff that you’d never find within a mile radius of a website such as my own) is the idea that “toxic masculinity” can be solved by “reimagining masculinity.” To elaborate, this is the idea that the traditional “social construct” of masculinity is harmful to all: it forces men to live up to a thuggish, belligerent, stressful ideal of masculinity that deprives them of worthwhile emotional connections, it hurts women because this “false” ideal of masculinity is the wellspring of cat-calling, the pay-gap, and of course the dreaded bugbear of “rape culture”, and it hurts the assorted non-heteronormative because they will be demonized for not living up to the aforementioned traditional fake gender roles.
Thus, masculinity must be reimagined, and that always seems to amount to “make men more like women”–“like women” meaning the traits stereotypically associated with femininity, because those stereotypes are somehow better than the men’s stereotypes, except when they’re not: gentleness, nurturing, aversion to risk and status squabbling, etc.
Of course, you reading this know that the vast majority of the above is a lie: you know that the pay gap is a lie, as is rape culture. You know that the “false Western social construct” of masculinity is, in fact, more or less the same idea of masculinity that exists throughout all cultures in the world (suggesting of course, that masculinity is biological in origin), just as you know women have their own pecking orders.
(Ironically, the idea that masculinity leads to traditional prejudices against flamboyant homosexuality and other aberrant sexualities is probably the closest this Narrative comes to being truthful—but don’t take my word for it, take an actual gay man’s!)
Seeing as you know this is all false, I’m not going to go point by point as I normally do, disproving all of this—I’ve already done so, as have many others. Instead, I’m going to dredge up slightly painful memories of my past to explain why I, personally, know that the idea of “reimagining masculinity” has always failed in the past, and will continue to fail in the future:
I know this because I once was the sort of soft, gentle, nebbishy nu-male that society wanted me to be. I was a neutered, de-sexualized consumer wuss: And it fucking sucked!
As I’ve stated before, as a teenager I found myself drawn to social justice due to my resentments, the belief that since I wasn’t masculine, I just had to meet the “right” people to feel better about myself
While I was going around with the high school social justice club, I saw other young men, more strapping and virile than I, getting all the girls and generally having a much higher quality of life than I. But rather than, say, getting my ass in shape or growing a pair and learning how to talk to women, I resigned myself to the much simpler task of rewriting society itself and forcing it to change, rather than changing myself—and this decision was supported by my social justice peers, who repeatedly assured me that I was on the “right side of history” and that I shouldn’t worry about my lack of masculinity—eventually, the girls would come around, or at the very least the girls that were worth my association would. The same applied to my self-loathing towards my race: I knew that Asian men were dismally ranked on the sexual hierarchy, but I couldn’t be bothered to change myself: I was “more evolved” than those brawny troglodytes, and I’d force society to reimagine its conception of male sexuality, that’d show them!
It wasn’t very long until I realized that I completely hated myself. I was, of course resentful of the school’s alpha males, but it was the first inkling I had of what I like to call “motivational resentment”, a concept I have alluded to previously. In a distinctly masculine train of thought, I saw men higher on the pecking order than me, and I wanted nothing more than to tear them down and take their place.
In other words: I wanted to embody those “stifling, artificial” ideals of masculinity! Nobody forced me into that, it was something inherent and I hated myself for not living up to those ideals! And judging by the way the girls flocked to those atavistic throwbacks, they knew it was inherent as well.
So tenuously, I began lifting weights and working out, making the same mistakes that many novices do, but making enough progress (and showing enough post-workout soreness) for my spindly social justice compatriots to notice. Upon telling them that I was lifting weights and running in an effort to make myself more physically attractive, they were genuinely outraged, throwing feminist doggerel at me “proving” that I was seeking out artificial male archetypes (the term “toxic masculinity” hadn’t been spawned yet), and objectifying women…somehow.
And when I told them that I was thinking that perhaps it was easier to change myself than change society, as well as positing the radical idea that the cause of social justice might be bettered if we trained our bodies as well as our minds, the leader of this motley crew grabbed the ear of a guidance counselor and reported that I was emotionally “Troubled”, and perhaps she could better deal with me.
Thus, I found myself in an unnamed conglomeration of all the twitchiest, spergiest students in the school, brought into the guidance counselor’s office twice a week to hold hands and discuss our feelings. I don’t think I need to tell you that this was humiliating to me, as it would be for any normal teenage boy.
And needless to say, after the first week, I got myself out of both the social justice club and the sperg club (After proving that I didn’t need to be in the latter, of course). The conclusion I came to after a few days of thought (hey, I was a pretty dumb kid) was: “If I had just realized what I wanted a long time ago, this mortifying experience would never have happened”. And thus, I decided to embrace my masculinity, and embrace those dimly remembered childhood dreams of strength and honor.
It, of course, wasn’t immediate (for one thing, I didn’t lose my virginity until my sophomore year of college), but “a thousand mile journey begins with one step”, as they say. And for me, that first step was to realize the inevitability of masculine behavior amongst most normally functioning males.
Undoubtedly, I’m not the only one to come to neo-masculinity on this exact same path. I am also not the only one who has first hand experience with why reimagined masculinity is not masculine at all, and will always fail.