On Saturday, January 21, 2017, the world saw what is being billed as one of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history, the Women's March on Washington. Even Breitbart News reported that an estimated 3 million women and men from around the world joined in the march to support women's rights, and indirectly rebel against the inauguration of Donald Trump. This was undoubtedly a beautifully human demonstration of solidarity in the face of misogyny and sexism that still pervades the national discourse.
The challenge now is figuring out how to continue the progress that was made on the 21st and translate it into true change for women in society. But as the purposefully 'clickbait-y' title of this post suggests, success may be difficult unless we understand the role of men in this movement, and start to rethink how they must change as well.
Let's begin with Piers Morgan, the outspoken TV personality and former Larry King Live replacement on CNN. In response to the Women's March, he tweeted "I'm planning a 'Men's March' to protest at the creeping global emasculation of my gender by rabid feminists. Who's with me?"
It seems Morgan has really missed the point entirely. It's the idea of masculinity to begin with, and the narrow definition that we (as men, as women, as society, etc.) place on this term, that is the actual problem that has led to the March.
There's a book called Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman that a friend of ours likes to reference. In it, the author says that men are afraid women will laugh at them, while women are afraid that men will kill them. Setting aside the very real fear that women face, let's dive deeper on the thought that men are afraid of being laughed at.
There's a funny aspect to male culture that really seems to separate us from women. Men bond in a weird way. We don't give each other compliments and then ask to exchange phone numbers. Instead, we tend to...well...make fun of each other. It's almost like how a first grader would flirt with a girl he likes. Instead of just telling her, he might steal her pencil or something. This approach doesn't go away. As men get older and we meet new people, we maintain our 'gentle ribbing' approach to friendship building. I'm guilty of this. Most of my friends are guilty of this as well. It's actually one of my most favourite parts of being a man to give someone the gears. The understanding is that a light joke at someone's expense isn't meant to offend, it's meant to say, hey, I think you're alright, and I'm showing this by taking you down a notch or two.
Unfortunately, the very real downside of this first grader approach to bonding is that way more often than not, the way a man will make fun of another man is by accusing him of being feminine. This kind of male bonding relies on associating a man with the dreaded 'other' - being a woman. Low hanging fruit might include if a guy wears pink or purple, if his clothes are 'too loud', if he gets emotional in a reasonably emotional situation. So, to avoid being the butt of the joke, men tend to regress towards the mean. Don't wear the wrong clothes. Don't say the wrong thing. Show you like beer, sports, sex, and women. Hide your emotions. I could go on.
The result of this is that 'what's okay' tends to be dictated by a very static and outdated version of masculinity. If you want to avoid being laughed at, adhere to what you think a man should be. Walk into any sports dressing room or mostly male corporate board room and look around. You'll probably see carbon copies of each man sitting in the room, all acting in relatively the same manner, usually fiercely debating a topic like sports or who the hottest girl is at the office / on TV / at school. There are no compliments between them, only quick quips at someone's expense. As a man it can be fun banter, but deep down each person is hoping they are the most 'common'; they are the most 'male'. They don't want to be the butt.
Unfortunately, our playful, fun banter back and forth - that like I said I am definitely guilty of - can restrict our ability to change. However there's another part of the male psyche that might be even more detrimental. The idea that we somehow deserve the romantic affection of women in our lives.
Men are afraid of being laughed at by women, and what worse way to be laughed at than be turned down by a woman, or even worse, friend-zoned. Men tend to think they deserve some sort of sexual recourse for their friendly advances with women. I'll admit that I felt this way at times throughout high school and university. The reasons for this may be deep and psychological - or maybe years of Hollywood movies where the pestering male protagonist finally 'wins' the female lead has given us a false sense of romanticism. Either way, men seem to think they deserve women, and our idea of 'masculinity' envelopes that notion. If we're turned down, we're less of a man. Our male friends will probably think less of us, and we become even more insecure.
This is where I think the term masculinity becomes a disservice to men, and definitely an obstacle for the women's movement. Men tend to want to fit in with other men, are chastised when they branch out, and think women owe them something. So, for men like Piers Morgan, to see 'rabid feminists' taking the streets in outspoken opposition to the patriarchy, demanding autonomy, equal rights, and equal treatment, could be viewed as a direct attack on how he perceives his maleness.
And thus we reach the heart of the problem - men like Piers Morgan don't see an alternative by which they can redefine their identity. I believe this will be the core problem of why the Women's March will probably fail. Men need to give ourselves permission to redefine what it is to be a man. If the Women's March is rebelling against misogynistic qualities that are typically associated with masculinity (and to note, for all my examples above, Donald Trump is example 1A, and Barack Obama seems to be the counterpoint), then for the March to succeed, men need to redefine what is considered masculine.
Masculinity today is about the number of women you've slept with, your ability to win a fight, the number of beers you can drink, the lack of emotion you show - pretty much any James Bond movie should give you a good overview. Combine these stereotypes with the man's need to 'gently rib' each other in social situations, and you get a society of insecure men, stuck to their outdated views, flailing wildly to defend their idea of masculinity as millions of nasty women fearlessly take to the streets.
I do not agree with Piers Morgan, but I can definitely understand what he and many other men are feeling right now.
There is one place where I am on board with Piers' tweet though - we do need a Men's March on Washington. We need to show ourselves - as men - that masculinity is not static. It needs to evolve so we can create a more equal society with our female counterparts. They want respect and dignity from men; we should want empathy and emotional support. They want sexual safety; we should want a definition of what it is to be a man that doesn't rely on notches on a bed post. They want freedom from physical violence; we should want acceptance of our masculinity regardless of our ability to win a fight. They want acceptance in the workplace; we should demand and encourage ourselves to pursue a stronger role in the home with our family.
Women are trying to solve the problem of inequality in our society, but until men accept their role as well, to demand and accept a redefinition of masculinity, the Women's March may not achieve its goals. Piers Morgan is scared and flailing; it's our duty as men to provide an alternative path for him and others to feel masculine while still supporting the nasty women in our lives who are trying to change the world.