Men are not toxic by default, just like there are no natural-born criminals. But we all do some things wrong and should try to be better. A bit more understanding of the structural challenges we face would go a long way in helping us do that.
The area of Berlin, where I live can be a bit rough. Everything is a bit vandalised, with spray paint everywhere and way too many broken windows.
Drinking at the local bus stop starts at 9 am, and heated debates consisting mostly of swearwords continue until the evening when the team moves to the metro station. Recently, I witnessed the police forcing the door of a public toilet open to find a spaced-out group with syringes sticking out of their arms.
Needless to say, there is low-level crime ranging from antisocial behaviour to petty theft. We’ve got a mafia, too.
Recently, I was describing all of this to a group of friends, and one of them went on a bit of a rant on how we need to force all of these dirty thieves and junkies to get proper jobs or lock them up to free the city of this cesspool of crime which only makes decent citizens afraid.
Others were shocked. You can’t just overlook the massive structural issues behind this!
It’s one of the poorest areas in Berlin. People here come from disadvantaged backgrounds, many have a history of broken homes, violence, and abuse. Many are immigrants from different cultures. Many are fleeing the wars in Syria and Ukraine.
They have incredible amounts of trauma to work through, how can you judge them for self-medicating and sometimes acting out? They haven’t had your education, family acceptance, or middle-class safety net. They don’t have your prospects or opportunities.
It’s not like any of them have chosen to be where they are. Their social role is determined by their birth, socio-economic background, political instability, and structural problems in the system. Their worldview is shaped by experiences you don’t understand, and their actions are motivated by needs you never had to worry about.
These are not evil people, they are just regular people who do what they were programmed to, and sometimes that’s bad things. They don’t need to be locked up — they need a chance to get better!
The problem is not the individual people — it’s the system. It’s so easy to blame individuals for the structural challenges they face. But do you think that screaming at them and locking them up is going to make any difference? Of course not!
Hey guys — I said. — I forgot to add. One of these guys sometimes catcalls women.
No, he’s just a dick.
Lock him up.
Men aren’t worse than criminals
I didn’t really say that at the end. But I wish I did, I’m curious what the reaction would be.
Why is it that progressives tend to focus so much on structural causes of problems ranging from crime through unemployment to drug abuse and obesity — but when a guy does something sexist, it’s all about him as an individual?
It doesn’t matter that he grew up learning entitlement from countless films, books, and cultural tropes. It doesn’t matter he’s been beaten and laughed at for showing vulnerability and internalised the need to appear strong and assert dominance at all costs. It doesn’t matter he’s been sold wildly problematic dating advice by people who capitalise on men’s loneliness and misery.
Sure, such structural problems may matter when he vandalises a shop. But when he catcalls a girl or, I don’t know, writes a mildly entitled comment online, they just disappear.
Then, he’s wholly and entirely responsible and a valid target for furious wrath and revenge.
Systemic problems which shape men
I would like to propose that progressives start treating men like they would treat criminals. And it’s not just because it would be much kinder.
It’s because, just as with crime, retribution is less effective than restoration and prevention through addressing the systemic root causes and systems of incentives.
We already know that we can’t solve problems such as drug abuse, crime, and antisocial behaviour by focusing on individual responsibility only. We need to address them at a structural level.
The same goes for misogyny and other bad things men do.
What are those structural problems? Here’s a selection:
- Men are taught to hide their emotions. Boys are told not to cry, and grown men are ridiculed and insulted when bringing up topics they feel emotional about. In effect, unresolved emotions boil over and cause harm.
- Men’s self-worth is culturally tied to strength and dominance. Thus, they need to assert themselves just to maintain a positive self-image, even if it harms others.
- Sex is the only socially acceptable way men can receive emotional validation. Often, they just want to be seen, wanted, not ignored, but can’t simply ask for a cuddle or a heart-to-heart without appearing unmanly.
- Men are soaked through with narratives in which women aren’t really the same kind of beings as them. They don’t think it’s possible to understand women and thus don’t even listen to them.
- Other narratives, including those embedded in the world’s biggest religions and cultures, present women as objects in a man’s world. Those narratives are extremely pernicious and soak deep into our brains, coming out in weird unconscious ways even when we think we’ve rooted them out.
- Men are given no or ridiculously little sex education. They might really want to satisfy their partners but have no clue how to do it.
- Many men live in a state of near-permanent sexual frustration, trapped between their hormones and cultural images, which imply that everyone has a better sex life than them. Nobody tells them how to deal with this frustration.
It’s easy to see how many of those mix into combos of death. For example, you crave love and acceptance, but can’t admit that, so instead, you focus on how little sex you’re having, which only feeds your frustration and diminishes your feeling of self-worth, so now you need to increase it by reasserting your strength and dominance over women.
Just as with crime, none of those structural problems are ever an excuse. If you steal, mug, or sexually abuse someone, you should be punished.
But the punishment should not aim to prove that someone is an evil, toxic piece of work and make them suffer. It should take the structural problems into account and focus on helping people overcome them.
Likewise, a long-term solution to systemic problems can’t be to just lock up and cancel all the offenders. What we need to do, is to resolve the structural problems which create offenders.
And most of all, if you’re a guy, you need to understand those structural problems and address them yourself. You can’t wait for society to solve them for you — you need to think: wait, am I about to do something bad just because I’ve internalised those stupid narratives and structural problems?