By David Futrelle
Right-wingers really don’t like the idea of Pharrell Willians in a dress, huh?
Earlier this week, GQ magazine unveiled a special issue devoted to what it called the “new masculinity.” On the cover: pop music artiste Pharrell, wearing a gown, I guess, that looked vaguely like a sleeping bag for an octopus. Inside the magazine, Pharrell models an assortment of barely less-dramatic gender-bendy outfits and offers his thoughts on new models or masculinity in a long and rambling interview.
Naturally, the defenders of traditional masculinity were shocked and stunned. On Twitter, right-wing ideologues like Mike Cernovich and Paul Joseph Watson sniffed their disapproval. “The New Masculinity looks pretty gay,” former Gamergate grifter Ethan Ralph opined.
You’d think that Mr. Ralph would be more open to a challenge to old-fashioned toxic masculinity, given that one of the former editors for his website literally stabbed his father to death in a rage (allegedly) in the midst of an argument over online conspiracy theories.
Other commenters on Twitter were a bit blunter:
Meanwhile, assorted right-wing rags offered more extended, er, critiques of the issue. The American Conservative declared that GQ had “emasculate[d]” itself by rounding up, and listening to, an assortment of writers, activists, comedians and others who weren’t all straight white men. (The horror!)
Spectator USA denounced what it saw as
a bunch of pouting narcissists in ugly €1,000 jackets talking down to men who struggle to improve themselves and build and sustain their families is disgusting. Frankly, they can roll their issue up and perch atop it.
But perhaps the most panicked reaction of the bunch came from Brandon Morse of RedState.com, clearly upset that GQ was, as per his headline, “Overtly Celebrat[ing] the Feminization of Men.”
Really putting the “his” in “histrionic,” Morse began his piece by announcing that “[o]ne of the largest projects being undertaken by the regressive left is the elimination of men.”
Morse devoted much of his article to a defense of “true masculinity” against the evil spectacle of men wearing dresses or “just ditching being a man altogether to embrace transgenderism.” The centerpiece of his argument? Wolves.
[I]t’s not femininity that’s been keeping the literal and proverbial wolves in the hills for thousands of years. When evil begins carrying out its purposes, it’s not people like Pharrell showing up in dresses that put it down. It’s not the “new masculinity” that’s going to charge into battle to protect those it loves at the risk of its own life.
Huh. I hate to break it to Morse, but there aren’t a lot of manly dudes out there wrestling literal wolves to protect the ladyfolk. Indeed, as our old friend Wikipedia notes,
There are few historical records or modern cases of wolf attacks in North America. In the half-century up to 2002, there were eight fatal attacks in Europe and Russia, three in North America, and more than 200 in south Asia
And back here in reality the “proverbial wolves” that “true masculine” men are supposedly so nobly protecting women from are overwhelmingly … other “true masculine” men.
In many case there is no protection to be found. Roughly a third of all women worldwide have been the victims of sexual violence. 50,000 women are murdered worldwide by their intimate partners or family members – that is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, by the very men who are supposedly protecting them from “wolves.” (Both of these stats are from the United Nations.)
That’s a big part of why we’re talking about developing a new model of masculinity in the first place.
While the right-wing attacks on GQ’s “new masculinity” are both hysterical and incoherent, Pharrell may not exactly be the ideal poster boy for this particular cause. Sure, he makes a fine model for the various outfits the folks at GQ handed him. But his thoughts on the subject of masculinity – while well-intentioned — are a mixture of trite cliché and baffling new-age babble. Over the course of this gas giant of an interview, Pharell serves up thousands of words of free-associational babble that only occasionally comes to the point.
I think the truest definition of masculinity is the essence of you that understands and respects that which isn’t masculine. If you ask me, when we talk about masculinity, it’s also very racial, this conversation. Because the dominant force on this planet right now is the older straight white male. And there’s a particular portion of them that senses a tanning effect. They sense a feminizing effect. They sense a nonbinary effect when it comes to gender.
Other time he seems to be prothletizing for the Church of Our Lady of the Bleeding Obvious:
You know, America was “created by our Founding Fathers”—not our Founding Mothers or our Founding Mother and Father. Right?
In one telling passage, he tries to empathize with trans folks, but in the end brings the converstation back around to himself:
Because think about it. What is happening to a transgender person? What are they going through? They feel like their body is not connected to their spirit. And what kind of toxic environment do we live in that they have to justify how they feel? That must feel incredibly insane. That is spiritual warfare. So I wanted to be in the conversation.
Well, sure, dude. Be in the conversation. But maybe not the center of it? There are a lot of other people out there with far more interesting things to say than the guy who’s only just getting around to apologizing for “Blurred Lines.”
Pharrell could perhaps learn a thing or two from some of the diverse assortment of other voices featured elsewhere in the magazine – especially lesbian comedian Hannah Gadsby, who had a few pointed suggestions for the men in the room.
“Hello, the men,” she began.
Here’s a thought experiment: What if you, the men, looked to traditional feminine traits and tried incorporating them into your masculinity?
Women are always being encouraged to stir masculine traits into their feminine recipe. We are told to “be bolder!” “Speak up in meetings.” “Exaggerate your skills.” All that Lean In sort of crap. So perhaps it’s time for you, the men, to be more ladylike. How about you scale back on your confidence? How about you try not to act in every situation? What if you tried to refrain from sharing your opinions or co-opting other people’s ideas?
Sometimes the best way for a man to contribute to a discussion is to shut up and just listen for a while. Or, in the case of the folks at RedState and The American Conservative and the rest of the right-wing critics, to shut their traps forever.
Send tips to dfutrelle at gmail dot com.
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