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Three Lessons For Men From The Bad, Weird Year Of 2018

Modified from Wikimedia

2018 was a year.

It jumped out of 2017 and scurried into the darkest corners. It latched on to satire’s face, only to burst from satire’s chest with
the most ludicrous headlines. Overall, it was a bad, weird year, but men —  especially — did not come off looking good in 2018, and it’s time to examine what lessons we should glean from these past 12 months to make our collective futures less bad and weird…maybe even better.

#1 Words vs. Conduct: Louis C.K.

In response to displaying his penis at non-consenting women, comedian Louis C.K. took time off to allegedly reconsider himself. “I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want,” he said in November 2017. “I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”  

That lasted all of five minutes.

Mr. C.K. was back on stage just a few months later, and was recently recorded dressing up his white guy whines as comedy, including his chagrin when people with Down syndrome asked the word ‘r***rded’ not be used anymore (he felt his freedom was invaded); he mocked black and Asian men, berated trans people, and belittled the students of the Parkland shooting who survived a horrific massacre.

The question is not whether he’s allowed to say these things – as far as I know, he’s not been charged – but whether he should.

Despite admitting to the sexual misconduct, C.K.’s response showed no development. Indeed, all his response did was cast off the veneer of the self-reflecting white guy that made him important to many of us: His insights into white privilege and being a (cishet) white man, for example, were poignant, challenging other white people.

His admitting of sexual misconduct should have been the catalyst for Mr. C.K. to use those assets he had cultivated to grow and to teach, as we know he’s capable of doing. Instead, Mr. C.K. simply became another angry, entitled white man, who viewed criticism as intolerance, progress as immorality and bigotry as entertainment.

The Lesson

People reveal their true selves at their lowest point, not at the height of comfort; it’s easy to be the good guy when you have nothing to lose, easy to use the right words to convey a belief. It’s much harder to demonstrate those beliefs via conduct. Men can easily learn to say the right words and support the right values without having to put any actual effort into themselves. This is why we have many cases of so-called good guys revealing the cracks made by patriarchy and toxic masculinity.

No one is claiming to be a good person you need to be perfect. Perfection is unattainable. Instead, part of what makes a good person is owning up to failure and mistakes, improving yourself and encouraging others like you to do the same, working toward never committing those same failings again. Being good is a verb, not a state anyone reaches.

Having cultivated the image of a woke white man, with an audience receptive to his moral challenges, Mr. C.K. shrugged it all off and swam with the status quo; it was flowing in his preferred direction.

Being good is a verb, not a state anyone reaches. Click To Tweet

Mr. C.K. is an interesting example because he shows what men should avoid but also—in his past—how men can be better: He used his privilege to speak out and challenge those like him. We need more men holding mirrors and fewer holding hammers.

#2 Listening to Women: Aziz Ansari

Aziz Ansari was accused by a woman of being incredibly inappropriate toward her, making her feel unsafe, and repeatedly ignoring her rejections of his come-ons. Ansari and the woman went on a date, back to his place, then he became increasingly aggressive: he kissed, fondled and so on, almost as soon as she was inside. As put it: “Throughout the course of her short time in the apartment, she says she used verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was.” After eventually leaving, she was in distress. When she messaged him some time later, he conveyed surprise and an apology.

In response to the whole story, many men pointed to the Weinsteins and Spaceys of the world as “actually” deserving condemnation, for their aggressive, criminal assaults – Ansari’s conduct was handwaved away as confusion, miscommunication, or somewhat fictional. He thought it was consensual and even apologized!

For many, Ansari’s bonafides as an outspoken feminist male comedian created a large fortress from such accusations: How could someone like that, who writes and thinks and discusses the nuances of dating, who proudly and vocally supports feminism, be at fault in this? Maybe this young woman has just reacted poorly!

What’s more important than the story however are the responses.

The Lesson

It’s easy for men to speak out against the criminal acts of Weinstein and Spacey. It’s far harder to reflect on Ansari’s situation. Yet, it’s precisely that the incident isn’t an obviously criminal one that makes it more troublesome. The reality is: More men have been an Ansari than a Weinstein.  

The chances are, if you’re a cis man that’s dated or dates women, you’ve done something to make a woman uncomfortable in your attempt to be sexy.

You can prevent a lot of that by reading and listening to women. Take a mild example, as noted by the brilliant Madeleine Holden: men who never ask their dates questions. As Holden notes, the men say the dates went amazingly, while the women note how these same men didn’t ask a single question about their dates. It wasn’t so much a date as an unprofessional, free therapy session. If men are not even reading the room when it comes to basic conversations in public, is it any wonder, in their—arguably—aggressively horny states, that men will not read or consider women’s comfort levels in private? Men can and must be better than this.

If you’re a cis man that’s dated or dates women, chances are you’ve done something to make a woman uncomfortable in your attempt to be sexy. Click To Tweet

Patriarchy has taught men to equate our experience with truth, relegating other experiences to the language of sensitivity or ridiculousness. Instead of viewing women’s experiences as additional windows on the same experience, we dismiss those experiences as mere finger paintings.

Listen to women, not just in the immediate sense, but as an active part of your life — seek out their perspectives, pay attention, and read the goddamn room. (Also, you’re an adult in control of your conduct — you can’t use horniness as an excuse.)

#3 Opposing Nazis Works: Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer

If you’re worried only bad men had a good year, take some comfort: Both Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer had a terrible year.

Yiannopoulos, it was recently revealed, is almost $2 million in debt, and has lost a great deal of the fame he’d cultivated from the poisoned Nazi garden he had managed. He was banned from Patreon, Venmo, and PayPal. He also dropped his lawsuit against former publisher Simon & Schuster, after they refused to publish his (terrible) book.  

Spencer didn’t fare better. He cancelled his speaking tour due to low audience attendance but high numbers of anti-fascist protestors. Spencer’s wife filed for divorce, alleging he is a domestic abuser. He has had to rethink his strategy for spreading white supremacy and pro-fascism to young men – he’s been trying desperately not to say he’s losing to passionate anti-fascist protestors.

The Lesson

Actively not listening to fascists and Nazis works! As Rachel Kraus notes:

“The fact that Yiannopoulos has found his reach and influence so depleted that he can’t get new gigs and takes to comments on Facebook to complain shows the real world effect that de-platforming a toxic public figure can actually have.”

Spencer has stopped trying to lecture at universities because it’s far too troublesome, and his audience’s passion doesn’t match the numbers or organizational skills of his opponents.

We do not need to give equal time under the guise of fairness. Not all political issues are conceptual discussions about the best economic theory; some involve the lived experiences and social aspects of particular groups.

Nazis and pro-fascists aren’t giving alternative opinions about race or gender, they’re spreading hatred. They dress their supremacy under the guise of civil rights, complaining that their power is being taken from them, while at the same time saying those taking away power are beneath them. They never quite square this Swastika but it’s not about logic: hatred can’t be debunked, it can only be opposed.  

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to bring logic to a Klan meetup. Listen to those affected by hate groups, work toward actively opposing those wanting to spread Nazism and fascism and don’t give them even an inch. Men, in particular, are the leaders of these movements and it should be other men—especially white men—who speak out loudly, passionately and with full voice to their emotions.

Hatred can’t be debunked, it can only be opposed. Click To Tweet

The Nazi’s call for debate is a cheatcode to get you to debate people’s humanity, dragging you down into the racist trenches. Stay out, stay firm, yell, oppose, bring your placards, report abuse. We need more men showing emotion for good causes rather than ridiculous/racist/sexist ones.