I’ve seen many a post along the lines of ‘Men need to talk about X’, ‘Why are Men not speaking out more about Y?’ or even ‘He’s a 10 but he hasn’t posted about Z.’
Men. Grouped together. As if we were a homogonous block. As if there were a club where we all get together and talk about the issues.
Don’t worry. Breathe out. This isn’t a Men’s Rights or #NotAllMen blog. But it may be an attempt to explain one of the reasons behind the silence or inaction many observe from men on particularly charged issues.
One of the central mistakes is in treating men as if they are a collective – or at least trying to appeal to us as if we see it that way. As if we feel a sense of fraternity, connection, or accountability for all other men. The reality is: many men simply don’t feel that sense of responsibility for actions of other men. Appeals to men to take responsibility for other men based on our manhood, on that basis alone, will inevitably fail. Make them accountable, yes, we can do that, make us responsible, no.
I can see why it seems odd to say. In our identity politics world, we’ve chopped other sections of society into discrete groups, who seem happy to be in those clubs, to campaign in those groups, who feel a sense of solidarity and accountability for those within the team. For example, you will often see women criticising other women for not showing a requisite solidarity within ‘women’.
Anyone with any sense of history knows that these groups largely emerge due to historical oppression, to be fair, largely at the hands of men. There is a similarity of experience that comes from living under the oppression that forges bonds between people. Therefore, those in identity groups are more likely to empathise with others within those groups – and similarly feel accountable for those groups as they resist oppression. But as a result, it’s also hard for those often passionately committed to said identity groups to understand how there isn’t a collective ‘men’ group in the same way.
That’s not to say this was always the case. I’m perfectly willing to concede that historically a collective misogyny by men did lead to more of a ‘fraternal’ feeling, particularly in deciding who was to be excluded. But it’s easy to overstate how strong this feeling lingers in 2022. And, all credit due, that is largely down to the hard work that has gone into dismantling widespread prejudices of men. But the central point remains. We don’t often see ourselves as a group.
Personally speaking – I don’t feel accountable for other men simply because I am one. Or at least I don’t feel more responsible for men than I do for anyone else in society. And I don’t think I’d be alone in saying as much. So when I see appeals to ‘men’, asking us to clean up for the mess of other ‘men’, I’ll admit to feeling left cold.
Firstly, the fact we are men is incidental to most men. It’s something that we don’t think about all that much or is all that important to who we are. Most of us probably don’t even think about it all that often. We’re much more likely to feel an affinity with which football team we support (Boing-Boing), which class we are, where we live, and who we vote for than the fact we are men. And yes, before you jump down my throat, I’ll concede we don’t have to think about being a man because usually the world is set up for our convenience, that we do benefit from a ‘male privilege’. I’m observing not condoning. And maybe that is something that needs to change.
Secondly, many of us find it laughable when men do try to organise under the ‘man-banner’ because in recent history it’s been done poorly. The most common reaction to the Men’s Rights, Incel, or the Manosphere movements is that of pity. And moreover, most men will resist playing the identity politics game. At best we’re conscious of having been at the top of the heap for most of history; at least we’ve learnt not to try and compete in the intersectional games. Those men who have tried to play that game – well it’s been woeful. So we’ve seen men play those games and we’ve decided it’s not a good look.
Finally, we probably refuse to take accountability for other men because we’ve been around other men most of our lives and it ain’t been all that fun for us either. We are all too aware a whole bunch of men are shit. Many of us have been the victims of other men. Bullied. Intimidated. Mocked. Abused. I’ve been sucker punched more times than I care to admit. The whole of human history is a litany of men being awful to other men. And we’ve done our best to set up systems to hold men to account – y’know the whole justice system, for example. Having had a life’s worth of shit from other men… you’re now charging or tarring us with the sins of those other men? And on that basis we should take accountability for their actions? It’s a tough sell.
Many men in 2022 are far more individualist in nature, we are not a monolith. We don’t currently think of ourselves as a group in the same way as others. Imploring ‘all men’ to take action due to others behaviour is like keeping the whole class back during break because a few students were talking. As a teacher it makes sense, but to those who weren’t talking… we’ve all been there. It doesn’t work.