Men need to be saved from themselves
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.