Seán Mon­crieff

Men need to be saved from them­selves

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE -

Prior to his bout, an MMA fighter pally with Conor McGregor had a frisky al­ter­ca­tion in a New York ho­tel with his slated op­po­nent. Out­raged by such un­sports­man­like be­hav­iour, McGregor promptly flew to New York and caused chaos. You know the rest.

These kinds of camp hi- jinks have been a sta­ple of WWE for decades. Ex­cept pro­fes­sional wrestling is fake. MMA, ap­par­ently, is real. Conor McGregor, ap­par­ently, is real and, de­press­ingly, a role model for many young men.

And the model of male­ness he presents is thou­sands of years old: al­ways alive to the pos­si­bil­ity of dis­re­spect, which, if left un­chal­lenged, is a sort of emas­cu­la­tion. The He- Man’s dark­est fear.

This fear – and its use as a weapon – stretches across all cul­tural par­a­digms. To de­nude Ben­gali males, the Bri­tish Raj would rou­tinely de­pict them as ef­fem­i­nate when com­pared their manly Bri­tish masters. Osama Bin Laden told his fol­low­ers that Mus­lims had been “de­prived of their man­hood” by the West.

In the Byzan­tine Em­pire, the em­peror could po­lit­i­cally emas­cu­late po­ten­tial ri­vals through lit­eral emas­cu­la­tion: once you were cas­trated, your power was gone.

Power, it seems, rests in the an­cient and modern pe­nis, and anx­i­ety about los­ing that power is still be­ing ex­pressed. Brexit, the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump, rows over immigration, even cli­mate change de­nial all carry a not- so- sub­tle sub­text of the fear of a loss of viril­ity, about not be­ing al­lowed to stick it wher­ever you like.

As a man, I find it baf­fling and in­fu­ri­at­ing that my gen­der is still mired in such a dam­ag­ingly re­duc­tive self- def­i­ni­tion. His­tory is crowded with wise, sub­tle, com­pli­cated, brave and cre­ative men, yet in the 21st cen­tury, we still seem to have not pro­gressed past the pe­nis- is- power way of look­ing at our­selves.

Not all men though: many have fought to break through the bound­aries of that facile def­i­ni­tion, risk­ing and of­ten suf­fer­ing re­jec­tion as a re­sult. This tem­plate of male­ness is still ubiq­ui­tous – in ed­u­ca­tion, in cul­ture, and yes, in sport. Subli­mated war­fare doesn’t teach you about life. It teaches you about subli­mated war­fare.

Young men look in the mir­ror held up by their cul­ture and see un­com­pli­cated crea­tures: a bag of urges that they can do lit­tle to con­trol. So it’s no great sur­prise when they spec­tac­u­larly fail to un­der­stand fem­i­nism. Given their limited un­der­stand­ing of them­selves, they are ill- equipped to imag­ine what be­ing a woman might be like. The best they can do is as­sume that woman are pretty much like men, ex­cept with boobs.

And this lack of un­der­stand­ing ren­ders them all too vul­ner­a­ble to men­da­cious ar­gu­ments from clever men in academia and the me­dia who whis­per in their ears that it’s not about equal­ity for women, but the op­pres­sion of men. This is a zero- sum game where for women to be more, men have to be less. Ev­ery­thing is subli­mated war­fare.

It might some­times be for cyn­i­cal, com­mer­cial pur­poses, but most of our modern fe­male role mod­els usu­ally present some ver­sion of agency, of de­vel­op­ing past the early con­strain­ing def­i­ni­tions set for their gen­der. Over the last cen­tury or so women have ex­plored and ex­panded the dif­fer­ent ways to be fe­male. Men have not.

Male role mod­els, all too of­ten, are the Conor McGre­gors of this world: men with thick necks and thin skins, seem­ingly in­ca­pable of adapt­ing to change or metabolis­ing new ideas, im­pris­oned by a simplistic, de­ter­min­is­tic view of what they should be: one that will al­ways keep them at war.

There are too many men like these run­ning things. Too many men like this are ru­in­ing our planet.

Men need to be saved from them­selves. For them­selves. They need to be re­minded that they can be so much bet­ter than this.

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