The provocateur: ‘It’s been a brilliant year for men!’
On the face of it, Weinstein, Spacey and the others accused of being sexual predators have damaged masculinity indelibly. But, argues Josh Burt, there is another way to look at it…
Excellent news, everyone – 2017 has been yet another great year for men. One of the best ever, in fact. OK, in terms of HAVING YOUR CAKE AND EATING IT, it might not have reached the halcyon heights of early medieval times, when impatient men could legally hurl their wives off cliff tops. And it can’t really hold a candle to the freewheelin’ ’60s and ’70s, when guys could guzzle booze at their desks, aggressively grab some hot piece of ass at reception and still get that promotion. But, in terms of societal development, even up against such historically stiff competition, 2017 has been EXCELLENT for men, because look at them – wandering around, being all ‘woke’. They’re changing. Growing as people. Talking about their feelings more. Opening up in a way that was once unthinkable. Slowly inching their way to possibly recognising centuries of dreadful behaviour, and perhaps considering apologising for it. At some point in the near future. Maybe. So, all in all, well done men. Big clap. Now, before too many trumpets are blown, I should point out that this overt shift in the landscape has only really happened in the last few post-Weinsteinian weeks. And also that, and this can’t be emphasised enough, as men, we definitely DON’T ENDORSE twisted sexual behaviour of any kind (any more, at least). But how’s this for another way of filtering the avalanche of rape, abuse and harassment reports that have knocked 2017 completely off its axis? That they’ve finally opened men’s eyes. That the gigantic splash in the ocean has rippled outwards, and men everywhere are collectively re-examining their part in the jigsaw, wondering if they might somehow be complicit in all of this, and now trying to improve the planet.
Take me, for example. No matter how I try to spin it in my own mind, I can’t escape the fact that I’m not a totally innocent bystander. I haven’t raped or abused anyone, but I have known about notoriously predatory colleagues and said nothing. I’ve heard about sexual abuse at work and treated it as gossip. I’ve laughed at derogatory jokes. And, for a large part of my early writing career, I plied my wares at men’s mags. Magnificent additions to the newsstand though they were, proudly painting men as unheroic, they also became a hotbed for the objectification of women – an acceptable
voice of misogyny, whether by putting ‘girls’ on the cover and focusing on their norks, or churning out umpteen features on how to cajole hot women into bed.
It didn’t matter that they were staffed with normal, average-looking, mostly decent men, with the same complex fears and anxieties as anyone else. These magazines became shackled to laddish notions of masculinity, slaves to the hideous whims of sexist banter, and we allowed ourselves to constantly feed that beast. To encourage men to treat women as ‘conquests’, to ultimately view even our own gender as selfish and simplistic, ignoring the quieter, gentler voices of the beta, gamma, and delta males. No nuance, just ‘ being a man’ painted in broad, inaccurate brush strokes. It did little to bridge the gender gap.
So it was a bittersweet relief to see the fleshy Victoria’s Secret show touching down in China a couple of weeks ago to the exact opposite of a fanfare, looking less like a thinly veiled masturbatory extravaganza and more like a tawdry sideshow run by dinosaurs. It shows that, post-weinstein, society doesn’t trade on that kind of objectification, which in turn suggests that the drooling ‘silverback’ might have finally had his day. I admit, I felt a mixture of shame and relief. Shame that I used to make a living openly trading on the objectification of women, but relief that we’ve moved on from it too. That a culture of perpetual dick-swinging – where loud, intimidating men like Weinstein, Spacey, Tambor, Piven (who have denied some allegations against them) and CK can thrive, and even be held in high esteem – may have finally swung its last pathetic swing ( pun entirely intended).
And now men can just get on with being kind, normal, well-adjusted people. The mighty have fallen, the pressure is off, so let’s celebrate that, and let’s celebrate 2017 for providing a blank page where we can rewrite the rules of masculinity from scratch. But before we do any of that, let’s also be slightly ashamed that it primarily took the will of women – and particularly the strength of sex-abuse victims – to ultimately burst a big pervasive bubble that has clouded masculinity for years.
We should probably start with a loud SORRY, then follow it up with an even louder THANK YOU. You’ve made 2017 a great year for men.