If there’s a cardinal rule of getting along in all relationships, from office interactions with peers, leadership, and direct reports, to intimate affairs of the heart, it goes something like this:
“Don’t be an asshole.”
No, I’m not the first to share this gem of wisdom, nor will I be the last. And yes, there are certainly times in my tenure here on Earth when, breaking the rule, I did some hurtful damage.
Lessons were learned, repair bids tendered. Most held, some did not…
On a long drive with close friends recently, we fell into sharing stories. As happens, we found our way to tales of our clumsy, early relationship histories.
Admittedly, we’re a group of romantic adults. In younger days, we were thoroughly human teen boys, just as stupid, bold, and clueless as they come…
Evidently, we were also gentlemen.
I’m not sure if that was due to family culture, ancestry, nature, nurture, or something in the water. I’m not sure it even matters. Yet to a man, and despite the culture’s pull toward objectification, somehow we consistently saw the women in our lives as whole human beings worthy of respect.
I could talk about the general plunge in levels of civility that’s accompanied the rise in political divisiveness and polarization, but as I look at what’s happening out in the “manosphere”, it’s easy to see that it’s devoid of gentlemanly presence.
Sure, there are thin trappings of old, trope-like manly props. The socials are rife with images of exotic cars, cigars, stylish threads, and other shows of wealth that I imagine represent a brand of distorted, virile providership. I know I’m being judgmental, yet from my vantage point, that stuff – and the attitude with which it’s displayed – sure looks like overcompensation for… something.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with wanting or having cool stuff. As a dyed-in-the-wool play-pig, I have more than my share of things that help me go fast and make loud music. (No, not at the same time.)
What my male friends and I don’t have is an egoic need to leverage our stuff to seduce younger men into our circles of influence. Nor are we about to trash, demonize, and dehumanize more than half the population to feed an illusion of control and superiority.
I know I’m walking a thin edge of self-righteousness here, and likely toppling off – and on this matter I have a very strong opinion, so hang with me.
The drivers of the “manosphere” are doing a solid job of pulling in and locking onto the minds of a shockingly large number of impressionable boys and young men. From what I can see of this phenomenon, it’s a cultural dead-end that simply cannot go well for anyone. (If you’re unfamiliar with the term “manosphere” here’s a handy reference from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue)
The constructs and ideas being espoused are, at best, wildly regressive. They’re the kind of nonsensical notions that, when adopted, make entitled, misogynistic assholes of young men. At their fringe worst, they are deadly. That’s hard fact, not hyperbole. (Examples are cited in the link above.)
Rather than involve itself with anything resembling personal responsibility, curiosity, and self-reflection, the “manosphere’ is built on a foundation of victimhood. Influencers point blaming fingers at women, feminism, the gains of social progressivism, and even… handsome men. (There’s too much to list and address for a brief article of this kind.)
I’m also far from alone in drawing connections between the distorted, sly twists of the “manosphere” and the kind of far-right radicalization that leads to the current flood of militia activity.
To state the obvious, the “manosphere” does not exist to produce gentlemen.
While I’m optimistic about what I see as rising levels of consciousness and the long-term prospects they promise, I’m a bit more anxious about the near future getting even messier before things begin to get better.
So what to do?
For the time being, be in conversation with your sons. Be curious about what they’re seeing online, about how they view and talk about girls and women. Find out about their views on relationships and sex. (And, of course, be in conversation with your daughters. Find out how they and their friends are being treated.)
If that means stepping out of your comfort zone, I’m of the opinion that doing so for the sake of your kid’s future is worth some anxious sweat. Then again, saving someone’s daughter from verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse, to say nothing of dire – even deadly – physical harm, is a very good, important thing to do.
I’m not going to lie and tell you these kinds of conversations are easy. Depending on your family’s relationship to the topics, they can be vulnerable, uncomfortable, full of fumbles, and messy. If we want our sons to grow to be gentlemen, they’re going to need guidance.