Pretty frequently in the United States, we get incidents like this, where a young father died of an infected tooth, for no other reason than not having health coverage. In response, we get smug assholery like this, saying (among other crap) that he should’ve bought the antibiotics instead of the painkillers. A man is dead for, let’s be fair here, no good fucking reason, and the immediate reaction is to Monday-morning-quarterback his life in order to blame him for his own tragedy.
We hear this shit all the time. It’s literally an industry here in the States. Savings wiped out? You should’ve had them invested someplace else. Dying of something preventable? You should’ve gotten better health coverage. House destroyed by a natural disaster? You should’ve lived someplace else. Robbed blind by a corporate scam? You should’ve trusted a different corporation.
You know who all these post-hoc kibitzers are? They’re that asshole who leans over your shoulder while you’re playing a video game, and every time you lose a life, he goes, “You should’ve hit jump, jump, then duck, that’s the only way to avoid the swinging blades.”
As a progressive, I feel it’s my job not to tell people that they should have ducked sooner, but to ask why there are swinging blades in this corridor in the first place. (If you’re bad at metaphors, the corridor here is socioeconomic conditions in the U.S. If you don’t know what the swinging blades are, I assume you make over $200K a year.)
The reason I bring this up here is that I think men are particularly susceptible to the shoulda-ducked narrative. Men, especially men with families, are supposed to be responsible for themselves and everyone else, so obviously if something goes wrong it’s their fault. Moreover, as we’ve discussed before on this blog, men tend to be defined solely in terms of their actions. So if something bad happens to a man, it’s not because of circumstances or the guy’s intrinsic qualities or the deck being stacked against him, it’s because of the actions he took or didn’t take. We don’t consciously decide that, but it’s intrinsically part of the gender narratives we absorb from the culture, so here we are.
This isn’t to say women don’t get the shoulda-ducked routine, but I think it’s easier for men to feel stuck with it. Our narratives about women having a lack of agency and being victims make it easier to believe that a woman got ripped off or taken advantage of. If a guy gets cheated, it’s easier for us to tell ourselves (and him) that it’s because he was too dumb or too gullible or whatever.
Thing is, the shoulda-ducked narrative depends on the notion that there’s a chance to avoid the blades, to make it, to succeed. It doesn’t have to be a fair chance; historically, it never has been. But as long as it’s possible, remotely possible, you get to cling to lines like “Anyone can make it in America” or “If [whomever] succeeded, that proves anyone can.”
To return to our video game analogy, it’s possible to beat Super Mario Brothers in five minutes, or Resident Evil in just over an hour, or… okay, I haven’t bought any new video games in a long time. But just because it’s possible with enough luck or advance knowledge or inside information does not mean that there’s a legitimate, reasonable chance of doing that. It’s possible that anyone with a buck can win the lottery, but they still have to warn people that that’s not an investment plan.
I think part of liberating men in modern society will need to involve liberating them from the idea that being ripped off, being taken advantage of, losing against a stacked deck, is somehow a personal failure.