The New Masculinity has hit the skids. Was it ever really there to begin with?
It’s been a rough few weeks for the New Masculinity. Last week, Jonah Hill — an icon of the brand, last seen making a documentary about how much he loved his therapist — had his abusive text messages leaked by his ex-girlfriend. He forbade her to be seen in a swimsuit, to speak to other men, and to surf with other men, which (since she is a professional surfing instructor) more or less forbade her to work. In the wake of these allegations, actress Alexa Nikolas has come forward to say that Hill “forced himself” on her when she was 16 and he was 24 years old. Meanwhile, Jonathan Majors — the former reigning champion of positive masculinity, whose title was revoked due to allegations that he choked his girlfriend — has been the subject of a Rolling Stone profile which claims the actor has a longstanding pattern of “extreme abuse.”
“Men, especially young men, [are] getting weird,” writes Christine Emba, in a nearly 7,500-word feature at the Washington Post that was published this weekend. “It felt like a widespread identity crisis — as if they didn’t know how to be.”
I already have a few bones to pick here. For one, I don’t think abuse and misogyny are “weird;” I think they’ve been the male norm for most of recorded history. For another, men who engage in those behaviors aren’t doing it because they “don’t know” any alternative; they’re making a conscious decision to hurt people. Nonetheless, Emba argues — at length, in an article that must have taken a lot of work to report, so I don’t want to be too snide — that the rise of fascist groups like the Proud Boys and misogynist influencers like Andrew Tate are evidence of a crisis in male gender roles, and says that we need to provide men with a framework of “good masculinity” so that they don’t drift off to the right.
Here’s the thing: Concentrating on “masculinity,” whether Toxic or New, is what keeps us stuck here. It’s what creates hypocrisies and abuses of the Jonah Hill variety. Ultimately, it upholds the very structures it claims to abhor.
To really dig into this, we need to define what “masculinity” is, because different people mean very different things when they use that word. The dictionary will tell you that…