Utopia or Dystopia?
When you imagine the future, what do you see when you think of masculinity? Does it look similar to today or different? Do you feel happy with what you see or saddened? Following are three predictions regarding masculinity, extrapolated from what is happening right now. These predictions do not represent three possible futures, rather three focal points that exist concurrently in a single near future.
Masculinity and Populism
Politics abounds with false binaries. Historically, the primary false binary has been left vs right. During the past 20 years this binary has been eroded due to the decline of progressive values in major politics parties, so whether you’re in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia or France, the large left-wing parties have become more centrist.
This has been recently replaced by a new false binary: populist vs elitist. The common perception is that populism is the new “right” and elitism is the new “left.” Implicit in this is yet another false binary: globalist vs nationalist. However, while the populist-nationalists may appear right-wing, they have some policies that are traditionally left-wing, such as a concern for “working” people and a suspicion of transnational business. So we need to be careful about getting stuck in these false political binaries, in much the same way as getting stuck in false gender binaries.
One alliance that emerged clearly in the 2016 presidential campaign is that between populism and traditional masculinity. Trump repeatedly relied on simplistic appeals to masculinity, and these were lapped up by many members of the manosphere such as the writers and readers at Return of Kings.
In the future, this connection between masculinity and populism will become further consolidated. Of course, because binaries require two poles, we will also see an increased perception that elitism is bound with femininity. This functions as a natural end to a certain conspiratorial masculinist logic that has always claimed that feminism has been about women taking control rather than seeking equality. What is particularly clever about this ideological maneuver is that it aligns traditional masculinity with the 99%, thus establishing some underdog and even democratic morality that has previously been hard to justify. Because both traditional masculinity and populism rely on caricatures of both themselves and others, any attempt to add subtly and nuance to the debate will be seen as elitist, making this future pattern very hard to break.
MGTOW and Sex Technologies
The conversation about masculinity and false political binaries is echoed by the aims and objectives of Men Going their Own Way (MGTOW), who seek lives without women. A good deal of MGTOW ideology sounds right-wing or populist in tone, given it is largely anti-feminist. However, there is a left-wing (or even anarchist) vibe to some MGTOW goals, such as economic and societal disengagement from a system that seeks to dominate men in order to further its own oppressive agenda.
But the real future trend for masculinity that will be driven by MGTOW is the impact of new sex technologies. Whether it be virtual reality porn or sexbots, we are probably not that far off being able to achieve good-enough replications of sex for many men to disengage from meaningful relationships with “actual” women. If we perceive there to be an emotional disconnect between men and women today, one can only assume this will increase by an order of magnitude once men start to shun biological relationships. Expect women’s inevitable claims of men’s lack of emotional depth to be framed as yet another elitist attack on men.
While the above two focal points are regressive in nature, a third is progressive: the proliferation of queerness. A recent report from JWT Intelligence shows that young people belonging to Gen Z (aged 13-20) are rejecting traditional understandings of gender in significant numbers. This is the kind of evidence that supports the recent call for a queer liberation for straight men.
Those promoting radical new ideas about gender will likely be small in number relative to those in the populist communities who will largely appeal to historical and “common sense” models of masculinity. However, expect these radical new ideas to have a disproportionately large voice due to being championed by celebrities and content producers in the mainstream media. Of course, the inevitable downside of this is that these radical new ideas will be labelled by the populists as elitist, thus paradoxically helping to consolidate the false populist vs elitist binary.
A Future of Extremes
What all three of these focal points have in common is the forcing of masculinity to extremes. Populism pushes masculinity to the regressive extreme because it demands an historical caricature of gender. Sex technologies push masculinity to the regressive extreme because they suggest a vaguely autistic vision of masculinity that either cannot or will not engage with real relationships. Queer proliferation pushes masculinity to the progressive extreme, potentially out-pacing the speed of most regular peoples’ evolving understanding of gender. The question then remains, what happens to all the people whose opinions are not fully represented by those extremes?
Left unchecked, these extreme future scenarios for masculinity lead to an ever-more fractured society with people further retreating into “us” and “them.” If you are one of the people in the middle you will probably be forced to choose a side, as to have no side leads to isolation, and most people will probably make peace with an extreme that are not fully comfortable with rather than go into self-imposed exile.
However, the alternative is to resist these various false binaries over the coming five-to-ten years. The populist vs elitist binary must be the first to go. Progressives, in particular, must acknowledge how they are complicit in a variety of oppressive actions in society, and do a much better job of understanding the very real concerns of those currently finding a home in populist movements. This, in turn, will loosen the binds between populism and masculinity and elitism and femininity. MGTOW critics must do a better job of understanding why so many men might be turned off by real-life relationships, and of course MGTOW members need to think deeply about what underpins their motivations. Queer evangelists need to understand that some people are just fine with their plain old vanilla tastes. In short, if we want a positive future for masculinity that is not bound by false binaries—both old and new—we have to start listening to those we perceive as opponents, and to work much harder at recognizing the things we get wrong.
The role of men is changing in the 21st century. Want to keep up? Get the best stories from The Good Men Project delivered straight to your inbox, here.
Photo credit: Getty Images