Illustration by Ana Kova
For me, the resistance built slowly. It began in elementary school, on the days I found the confidence to raise my hand to answer a question, only to lose the chance to a boy who doesn’t raise his hand but shouts his response louder and faster. Or getting detention for hiding behind the bleachers and crying during gym class because two boys called me lewd names.
My resistance and anger grew through one disappointment and dismissal after another, both personally and in the world at large. It was there when a male teacher gave those boys a pretend talking-to, but ignored the same behavior for the rest of the year. It was there with male presidential hopefuls screaming into a microphone, lauded for harnessing the rage of forgotten Americans, while female candidates were mocked endlessly for being shrill. It grew with the ease with which my attacker got away with my sexual assault, and the burning shame I felt knowing I wouldn’t be taken seriously. It grew watching some women shrink very small in hopes of being taken seriously, while some women got big and angry with the same hope, and neither strategy doing the trick. I resisted masculinity. I resisted every discussion, every violation, every excuse that came along with it.
So it didn’t surprise me that when the President of the United States announced that it was “a very scary time for young men in America,” he was immediately mocked by people who pointed out that it has always been a scary time for lots of people in this country—and most of them aren’t men.
It didn’t surprise me because I’m one of them. I don’t want to hear the problems of men get more air time. Whenever I come across think pieces about “The Crisis of Single Men” or “What About the Boys?” I’m far more likely to snort derisively and shut my laptop than I am to think “What about the boys?”
Part of this is simply because of who I am and where I’m at in life: I’m a woman, I’m not raising boys or planning to become a parent, and I no longer teach. In many ways it feels like this conversation about masculinity doesn’t apply to me. Yet there are plenty of other things that have nothing to do with me—sports, hedge funds—and I’m perfectly happy to ignore them totally. So what’s different about masculinity?
I can’t escape it, can’t get away from it. It’s my own anger and despair about how far we haven’t come that makes the conversation rankle. When men have dominated the conversation for so long, and women of all races are still engaging in the Sisyphean fight to be seen as equal human beings, asking “what about the boys?” can feel painfully premature.
But I’ve come to recognize that the conversation does need to happen, and it needs men to speak up and speak out. Because without that, the burden is still on us—the people who have always been marginalized. It’s only by hearing men, and allowing space for conversations about masculinity, that we can move on.
It’s not easy to reckon with your past bad behavior. I know, because I’ve had to reckon with mine because of my addiction to alcohol. And I’ve realized that toxic masculinity provides men with many of the same benefits that alcohol offered me (as well as similar consequences.) Drink was a comforting buffer between myself and the more painful parts of reality. It made me feel confident, entitled, less concerned with the people around me.
I know that coming to terms with what you did, or what you thought, is tough—especially when you have internalized it. It’s frightening to face the world when you can no longer rely on old crutches. The day I left rehab was terrifying, but necessary if I wanted to move forward with my life. It didn’t just require behaving differently from my own moment of revelation; it required actively listening to the people I had hurt and showing them how sorry I was by behaving differently in the future.
Women have been a part of this conversation forever; we’ve had to be. But now I realize that men need to take up the challenge, even if it means even more exposure. They need to speak, and to listen, in order to do the work of fixing what is broken. But they have to be honest, too. Because it actually is a scary time for men—just not in the way the president means. Fake accusations of assault aren’t the threat, a warped masculinity that prevents honest reflection is. Men are having to consider the harm they have inflicted on themselves and others, and that can be terrifying. But it’s also liberating, because it is entirely within men’s power to change. They, and the world, will be much better for it. ∆
Katie MacBride is Anxy’s Associate Editor, and freelance writer for Rolling Stone, The Daily Beast, Longreads, and more.