It’s high noon on International Men’s Day and tumbleweeds blow across empty streets. There are no parades. There are no empowering slogans. No-one congratulates me on my genitalia. No-one tells me that I’m beautiful.
There are men here and there going about their manly business – growing impressive moustaches, holding doors open for weak willed ladies and whatnot – as if this was just any other ordinary day.
Strange, considering how angry the man mob gets on International Women’s Day.
Wait, what? Women have a day?! Outrageous! Sexist! On March 8th some guy on the internet definitely said: “Us mans hav it so hard (lol) its’ is nt fare that wimin get a day wen we dun’t!!!!!1”
Well, we do. It’s today. November 19th. This is what you wanted… so where are you?
What happened to your pride in the achievements of your fellow brothers? What happened to your concern for our allegedly precarious position in this terrible modern world? Why are you suddenly quiet about the male victims you use to derail debates about female victims now the stage is open and waiting for your voice to fill the silence?
Ok, fine. If no-one else is going to talk about how great and noble it is to be a bro, I’ll step in with a few choice chunks of glorious manliness from my own formative years.
FROM SCUMTOWN TO VALHALLA: LESSONS IN MASCULINITY
When I was 12, I was robbed at knifepoint outside the Wheeler Gate Virgin Megastore in Nottingham by four men. I thought they were going to kill me. They took all the money I had, which, being 12 years old, was 20 pence. A monetary value had been assigned to my life. I started carrying a five inch blade soon after.
In year 8, I was put on report for various infractions of school regulations. My form tutor lamented my inability to shut up and behave like everyone else. At the end of the year, in a break from traditional teaching protocol, he read my exam results out in front of the class. For every subject I passed, he accused me of cheating, except in art because ‘queers are always good at art’.
At 14, we had a class on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The version we were taught claimed that sexual intercourse is a fundamental human right and self-actualisation can only be truly achieved against a corporate backdrop. In English, we studied A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow; a nauseating tome that should never be read by anyone. The lesson to take from the book, our teacher said, was that women may seem interesting and unique from a distance, but beyond their womanly allures they are only good for the kitchen.
The following September, our school held its annual ‘Founders’ Day’, an evening of pompous backslapping which I successfully boycotted every year. In the year below me was a boy whose name I cannot remember. I cannot remember his name because he was mediocre, unlike his older brother Nicholas, who was academically gifted, athletic and well liked throughout the school. That Founders’ Day, Nicholas was showered with praise and received several accolades for his academic accomplishments, while The Boy With No Name was derided by students and teachers alike for his curricular and social failures. If only he could be more like Nicholas…
The Boy With No Name went home that night and committed suicide.
A few days later, our headmaster held a memorial service for The Boy With No Name. He seemed genuinely upset and was on the verge of tears several times during his impassioned speech about unrealised potential and the great loss our school had suffered. At the end of the service, he accidently referred to the dead boy as Nicholas.
Aged 16, I was walking home when I bumped into a boy who had bullied me in junior school. I wasn’t sure if he recognised me, but I had been having a bad day, so when he told me to hand over my wallet I impolitely declined. When he tried to take it, I saw red and punched him in the face. He was older and bigger than me and I braced myself for impending vengeance. To my surprise, he ran off with a bloody nose and a tear in his eye. I had always shied away from confrontation, physical or otherwise, but it was around this time that it stopped bothering me.
One evening in my early twenties I learned of the death of a childhood friend. He had accidentally overdosed on drugs at the age of 24. I put the phone down, went into the garden and cried for a few minutes before heading to my local drinking establishment for a good dose of high proof pain medication. In the midst of a triple XL hangover the following morning, my female housemate, who had evidently overheard my stunted moment of sadness, told me that men shouldn’t cry because it isn’t very attractive.
In 2011, my friend was murdered during a drunken brawl outside a fast food restaurant in Derby. He had been brutally assaulted and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. When the case went to trial, an eyewitness told the court that the fight started over a slice of pizza. His assailant was a professional football player and the judge reduced his sentence to avoid prison time so as not to interfere with his career.
On November 19th 2019, I sat at my computer writing this, cringing at the words I had just written. I hovered over the delete key. What will people think? Do I come across as a whiny little waif? Am I being overly dramatic? Oversharing is an understatement. This is more awkward than the time I was cast against my will as the narrator in our school nativity play and made to go on stage wearing a skimpy blue tunic and orange tights that left too little to the imagination. There are probably laws against that now.
The thought of sharing these personal experiences on a public platform makes my skin crawl. Talking honestly about my ‘feelings’ sends a gag convulsing through my body.
How ironic that this indictment of the warped notions of masculinity that young men are indoctrinated into should reveal the extent of my own warped notions of masculinity. My year 8 form tutor was right – why can’t I shut up and be miserable like everyone else? It’s safer that way.
“THE MASK OF MASCULINITY IS A MASK THAT’S WEARING ME.” – JOE TALBOT
I doubt these formative experiences are at all unique to me, so it’s no wonder the concept of masculinity is a Class A clusterfuck. We are raised as islands and aligned against each other in a crooked game where everyone is an enemy. Trapped in a moral hall of mirrors where words such as ‘noble’ and ‘savage’ are inextricably linked, we are taught shame and fear as virtue. Man up and shut up. Dream big, fight dirty. Be your own man, but never ever be yourself. Dan Bilzerian is your spirit douche, let him guide you…
The image of man that I was given was somewhere between a Viagra fuelled power wank with a lucrative career in the city and a council estate wide boy with a baseball bat and a bag of speed, so I made my own:
I use my anger to create, not to destroy. I expect nothing from the world and I am forever in debt to it. The privilege I inherited is beyond my control, what I do with it is not. Criticism and failure are avenues to becoming more than I already am. Alienation drives me to explore and learn, not to hopelessness or resentment. Empathy is the best form of resistance.
HOLD MY PURSE
So here we are. Another wasted International Men’s Day. Is it really necessary?
International Men’s Day is held on November 19th to commemorate the Trinidad and Tobago football team qualifying for the world cup in 1989. International Women’s Day, by contrast, is celebrated on March 8th because it was on that day in 1917 that women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia.
You bleat on about the terrible injustices of the Me Too movement and cry wolf over the mean feminazis coming to legislate your dick into oblivion when there are actual legitimate problems that we should be dealing with. Where are your murder rates and suicide statistics now? Where are your shocking facts about male homelessness and drug addiction and prison populations and work place fatalities? Are you forgotten men or are you men that forgot?
Of course, male victims are predominantly victims of males – maybe you don’t want to accept that responsibility? Is it because you see a reflection of yourself in the guilt of another? That’s a shame because we could easily fix the problems we have created right now if we could just stop being such a bunch of idiot man sheep.
So happy International Men’s Day, you weak hypocrites. You don’t deserve a day if you can’t be bothered to show up.
The struggle is real, brothers.
EPILOGUE: EVEN DOGS DO BETTER
In 1970, American wildlife biologist L. David Mech published The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviours of an Endangered Species. The book was a study of grey wolf social dynamics and behavioural patterns which popularised the concept of ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ males, inadvertently bringing the terms into mainstream lexicon.
During his research, Mech observed competition for status within male wolves and a strict pack hierarchy with each assuming rank based on physical prowess and capacity for violence. At the top of the hierarchy Mech found the alpha male. Typically bigger, stronger and more aggressive than subordinate beta males, the alpha dominates through intimidation. The pack leader is the quintessential tyrant, preserving his own status by exploiting the weakness of others. Challenges to the alpha result in savage confrontations often culminating in the death of one or even both combatants, exemplifying the human man maxim, ‘death before dishonour’.
The alpha male is revered by the pack. He will be the first to eat following a kill and likely the only male in the pack to mate.
But there was a fundamental flaw in Mech’s research: male wolves only display this kind of behaviour in captivity.
In the wild, wolf packs are nuclear families. The alpha male is Dad, the betas are his pups. Nurturing and loving, the wild alpha mates for life. Unlike his captive counterpart, wild males are rarely observed acting aggressively towards their own pack. Here, the alpha is usually the last to eat, he plays with his pups, he gives preferential treatment to the runt of the litter. Violence is reserved for hunting and protecting his family and wild alphas have been known to sacrifice their own lives to save the lives of his mate and offspring.
Following a further 13 years of research, this time studying wolves in the wilderness of Ellesmere Island in Northern Canada, L. David Mech officially retracted the alpha male theory, describing the conclusion of his original hypothesis as “particularly misleading”.
I would agree. We have indeed been misled.