I hadn't actually planned to have another newsletter up this soon, since this week has been kind of overwhelming in terms of both work and my brain, but then a thing happened that triggered a thought that I figured was worth sharing. I hope you'd spare a moment to let me ramble about malaise, men, and what we may do about them both.
Sorry, this tea may be a bit bitter, but I assure you, that is the intended taste. Enjoy.
We Need To Talk About (How We Talk About) Men
Society seems comprised of inherent contradictions in terms. It is so easy to see just and healthy ideals as robust and worthy of defense, and yet find ourselves inundated with unavoidable large-scale institutional foibles that reveal how hard it is to live up to them. We know exactly what kind of world we want to live in, and we do what we can when we can to see it, but the world often doesn't budge, precisely because so many other things are tied up in getting there that we cannot possibly untangle them all.
There is no greater evidence of that than the ways in which we lie, and tell the truth, about how to help men in the world.
So apparently Jordan Peterson did an interview on Piers Morgan Uncensored, and I can think of nothing that can compete for a sentence so staid and pale, except for maybe "someone left that bucket of off-white paint open in the sun". It is, in many ways, radically uninformative, the purview of two men who love hearing themselves and people like them talk and are willing to stray dangerously close to something worth saying in order to justify saying anything at all, but not so committed to thinking deeply about the matter otherwise. To wit (with a hat-tip to Twitter user thebadstats for the succinct edit):
The fact that he can parrot the ideal of '[giving] the marginalised a voice' while also being willing to share hollow-headed misogynies unprovoked about how women who wear makeup at work are asking for it notwithstanding, the obvious double-standard in insisting that young men deserve 'an encouraging word' and that we mustn't insult those who behave badly when he refuses to actually acknowledge the identity of many of his interlocutors notwithstanding, the very curious fact that his argument is something worth breaking down in tears over on public television notwithstanding,
... it is upsetting how much of his rhetoric he is willing to be honest about specifically so he can obfuscate everything else.
Here's the frustrating truth: young men do feel alienated, stunted by feelings of lack of belonging caused by undesirability; they do feel cut off from an image of masculinity that they feel like they should be owed, or worse, are personally put off by the notion that they do not deserve it. There is a genuine malaise brewing among young men in particular, churned up from all kinds of social pressures brought upon them, and no one wants to drink it and bear the poison for the rest of them.
All of this is true.
He just refuses to be honest about the rest of it.
There is a spectre of ideology responsible for telling young men that their only value is measured in virility, desirability and brutality, that they must consistently be in competition (or outwardly signaling that they can win said competition) in order to prove said value, and when you can't claim the dividends of that proving, you either wrestle with that entitlement and other people get caught in your grapple, or you lose and get left behind, so other men can undeniably insist that you weren't up to snuff anyway.
A lot of how men talk about masculinity is a kind of secular Prosperity Gospel: you are owed a kind of happiness, and you have to perform the rites of faith to claim it—be desirable, be suave, be cool, be clever, be something or some number of things all at once—but make no mistake, if you don't measure up to it, then it's because you don't have enough faith (or in Peterson's case, because you haven't 'cleaned up your life' in many small and meaningless ways that have nothing to do with any of the ways you are hurting or hurting others). There is no genuine health in it, same as there is no Heaven in Prosperity. It robs us of the capacity to be honest about how much shit sucks, and how doing the work to feel better will also not be magically powerful or golden.
It's senseless to simultaneously insist that men just deserve to be lifted up from the dismal states of their heart lest they become monsters, but women and queer people who suffer violence and disenfranchisement on a daily basis are simply wokescolds bludgeoning good sense with their desires. There is something better, truer, more holistic:
telling young men that they've been lied to.
We can hold on the desires of wanting to feel like part of a community, wanting to feel beautiful and worthy of shared space, wanting to feel accomplished and empowered, without feeding into the assumptions of the world itself about the masculine. We need not tell young men that the malaise is a sign that we must seek to claim the vagaries of 'responsibility' without actually attaching any level of critique of how the 'masculine' is framed. Is responsibility the desire to be deeply self-reflective, or honest about one's struggles? Is it a willingness to be deliberately vulnerable in ways that will help us inwardly rather than ways that will help us achieve external ends? Is it truly divorced from power, from control, from capital?
Because then it becomes good advice for everybody.
And we can't have that, now, can we?
Even the empty quackeries that men are lost and struggling to become their best selves because of postmodernism or because they've been told all masculinity is inherently toxic has to be backed up by something more concrete than "Did you clean your room? Have you talked to your mother?"
Men do indeed deserve something better and more direct than this. And again, on the surface, I agree with the guy: men need healthy male social circles to bond and be vulnerable in, they need to have self-directed goals and a desire for self-improvement. But the rest is Deepak Chopra in a pressed suit, seasoned with transphobia to taste.
Young men in particular need to have spaces where they can reckon with the fact that sometimes they will feel alone, tired, overdrawn, undervalued, conflicted, frustrated and emotionally arid just like everyone else. That sometimes your heart will have an inexplicable wound through it, and it will leak what matters and replace it with a gaping shadow, and you can neither make peace with it nor simply excise it, but you do the work to slowly fill it with light and close it back up again, but light is not so simple. You develop true bonds—not because someone told you to, but because genuine relationships with people who will pull us up on our shit help us become emotionally stronger. You come to terms with your space—not because someone told you you will get your due when your room is clean, but because you owe yourself the grace of flowering in good territory. You be honest—not because you're hoping it will pay off, but because you're doing the work. You claim purpose—because it is purpose, because there are other ways to find the things that fill the vaulted black.
Because people can tell otherwise anyway.
Anyway, F.D. Signifier has a wonderful video on the manosphere and the work that we must do to better communicate to young men in our spaces. (After you watch it, you should definitely be giving his Patreon some love, because he's doing such fine work in general.)
Of particular importance to me, somewhat the entire tl;dr of the video, is this choice quote here:
When you see the way that some men on the left act, when you see how many a celebrity or professed male feminist shows themselves to be shitty in the long run when push comes to shove, you see how this fear [of men reproducing toxic frameworks] is warranted. But we should also hopefully see that this is not an ideal state of affairs for our goals, and that by avoiding these topics and this whole area of gender discourse, we are only empowering our enemies to corner the market on that topic. So we aren't making things better by not being explicit about engaging masculinity in our work.
No shade to anyone, but it's not hard to shit on chuds and make fun of alpha-male podcasts or to call out obvious assholes doing the obvious asshole things. Those things are important, but they are also abundant on the platform. What we don't have is a lot of analysis on boyhood, men's experiences in sexuality and sexual development, men's body issues, and God forbid, some type of useful engagement with boys and men learning how to talk to women and engaging in partnering. We've got some elements of that present, but we could be doing a lot more.
A reminder that this newsletter, as well as the rest of my writing and game design work, thrives with your support. My Patreon is where you can find snippets of new TTRPG projects, exclusive writing drafts, and more:
Since we're on the topic: let's talk about how music tells the stories of men resolving relationship conflicts?
I found this from an Instagram Reel, as we all find half of our music these days, and I was so curious about its framing that I had to find the song immediately afterward.
I imagine this is not the pop tone you imagine someone reserves for an edgy breakup track, and I think that's why I am so hooked on it. Something about that juxtaposition merges in my brain as 'hey, that sucked, you suck, and I'm mad, but this is about me, and I'm going to turn this honest energy into something other than rage'. I'm sure that makes no sense on a lyrical level, but it works, and I kinda want to know how that manifests into regular practice about how men navigate this feeling.
Ooh, yes, Years & Years. This track in particular has been on many personal playlists for a bit, because it speaks to something far more nuanced and raw about these conflicts and our feelings about them that just works for me: how your anger puts you in a position to constantly dwell on how it was and how it ended, justifying those feelings as 'you must think I got it worse, huh?', wanting to look back at them and hope they're floundering in life as a result of losing you, only to realise...
hey, I'm free, though. That's what matters. That wasn't healthy for me, and now I'm free.
Neither of these things are A Lesson or The Lesson, I'm sure. But there is something also holistic in more media, even four minutes at a time, about teaching young men that sometimes your struggles with love will sting and the thing you're supposed to get is, 'I'm free, and I have a moment to make something more brilliant than this by myself'.
Hell, everyone deserves that feeling, right?
So that’s all for today.
A reminder that you can help keep this newsletter and the rest of my work afloat by supporting me on Patreon, buying me a coffee on Ko-fi or sending a donation via PayPal, or by buying one of my small game projects over on Itch!
Also, if you missed the news, Can You Sign My Tentacle? won the 2022 Elgin Award in the Full-Length Category, and I couldn't be happier. Again, a thousand thanks to everyone who has loved this little tendril of a book. (And of course, if you don't have your copy yet, there are things that can be done about that!)
But before I go, some questions:
- What do you think we should be telling young men more often that would change our world for the better?
- What songs do you listen to when you want to feel something for yourself (other than sorrow or anger) after a relationship falls apart?
Also, here's some words from Macho Man Randy Savage for my bruthas:
Until next time, I hope you enjoyed the tea!