The #MeToo movement and the political happenings in the White House are once again intertwined this week in its most dramatic arc yet: Accusations from multiple women of sexual assault and misconduct by Supreme Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But this episode reveals more than the question of Kavanaugh’s suitability for America’s highest court. It is yet another sign — one of the strongest yet — that white male masculinity is at its ends and we should do away all aspects of it.
And yes, I specifically mean white male masculinity. It’s important to distinguish this from the experiences of men of color growing up in America. The testimonies of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh and others involved in the incident reveals an upbringing that many Americans are very familiar with, not because a majority of young white American men exhibit the same behavior Kavanaugh is accused of, but because this male culture, which at its worst feeds rape culture, has been passed on from generation to generation. This macho culture is multi-faceted in it’s self-perpetuation, whether it be passed on by fathers to sons or just guys to guys reinforcing the need to always take on a posture of dominance and strength (“be a man”) or cohorts of young men have this mentality pummeled into them through stories and tales from America’s most influential institutions: Hollywood and wider American media.
Underaged drinking in excess. Aggressive partying. Misogynistic jokes and the encouragement of entitlement towards women’s bodies. “Locker room talk” and “Boys being boys.” All trappings of an entitled and upper-class white male upbringing, and the very upbringing that describes Kavanaugh’s teen years. But also the behavior that the “bad boys” of TV and movies, up to and including today, have been privy to. Constance Grady over at Vox has an excellent write up breaking this down in her article on rape culture and Sixteen Candles, pointing out that popular media from these days played off date rape as a sort of hilarious sequence, which would “in 2018 would be unambiguously considered date rape”.
We young men who grew up during the 80s and the decades after have been brow-beaten with these messages and images of the white bad boy, glamourizing the high school house party, the college fraternity greek life, and the wall street banker lifestyle — all familiar territory for privileged straight white men. All with similar patterns of mistreatment of women. Even my industry, tech, which is stereotyped for meek nerds, has been recently afflicted by this archetype of unwelcomingly aggressive men (we call them brogrammers), as detailed by Emily Chang’s recent book Brotopia: Breaking up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley.
This white male upbringing is simply a factory that produces young shitheads.
Call it toxic masculinity, call it what you want, but what should be clear is that this sort of culture and lifestyle is not one that’s welcome or useful today. This white male upbringing is simply a factory that produces young shitheads. It trains us into believing that we are not real men unless we act entitled to everything in life, including a right to women’s bodies. Men of color, especially, should be aware of this and keep their distance. There is an emotional logic as to why 1.5 and 2nd gen Asian men in particular are susceptible to falling into the trap of desiring this lifestyle, as we grow up with close proximity to white culture yet are generally excluded from their social gatherings, causing a familiar anxiety of wanting to fit in and assimilate.
Asian men are very much so exposed to this sort of bro-ish mainstream culture. A lot of us are manipulated to desire this sort of excessively macho lifestyle as we move through adolescence, as we’re often excluded by the white male majority, and feel a need to “catch up” later in life. You can see it in the existence of Asian fraternities, something that is modelled on a largely white American organization and white American model of expressing masculinity. And something that can produce the same damaging results, as seen in the hazing death of Baruch College freshman Michael Deng.
These are dangerous rites of passage and men of color should not have to imitate them as a model for experiencing a “successful” social life during our early adulthood. It should be clear from Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles that they don’t want us, anyway. The mainstream images of male upbringing in America are past their expiry date, and all men should look elsewhere for aspiration.
For Asian men, that may be exploring ideas of “fluid” masculine ideals, as recently discussed about up and coming star Jake Choi, not to mention looking at the success of K-pop. Or it may be engaging in discourse along the lines of the Men’s Liberation movement, a form of Men’s activism that allies itself with feminism, rather than being diametrically opposed to it. Regardless of the approach, it’s clear that Asian men in America should avoid the paths of young white men, as it’s getting no one nowhere.