by Leah Bamman
Although time has provided social distance from the age of domestic confinement and lack of voting rights for women, in today’s climate misogyny prevails. The rise in technology and the influence of social media platforms has allowed misogyny to metamorphose into something less governable, in part due to the anonymity and lack of censorship offered by online spaces. Thus, sexism and white male supremacy has become somewhat intangible in online spaces, yet especially sinister due to its lack of restriction.
Last semester for my capstone paper, I investigated the contemporary manifestations of hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is defined as: a societal pattern in which stereotypically male traits are idealized as the masculine cultural ideal. This term encompasses reasoning for how and why men maintain dominant social roles over women, gender diverse persons, and gay men (Connell, 2005). While not necessarily in total opposition, hegemonic masculinity’s popularized and colloquial terminological counterpart—“toxic masculinity”, is arguably less comprehensive. “Toxic masculinity,” when analyzed in terms of its lack of a shared definition, alludes to the speech or behavior of a man that is considered by an individual or group (often raised-female people) to be venomous. Whereas hegemonic femininity (Connell, 1995) represents a femininity most revered by standards of heteronormativity, hegemonic masculinity refers to the societally dominant binary. I investigated (primarily) white masculinity through its presentation on conservative subreddits. On the whole, the alt-right emphasizes that men in Western society are actively persecuted by left-leaning politics, feminism, and identity politics. In their estimation, feminism has injured their definition of masculinity and thus, harmed society as a whole (Dignam & Rohlinger, 2019). The alt-right considers social justice movements and progressivism to be the cause of their perceived attack on masculinity and thus, unfavorable political change. Men on the alt-right covet the recreation and empowerment of white masculinity. They seek solace and attempt to carry out this mission via Internet-based, conservative groups.
Hegemonic masculinity offers a structural lens through which we can scrutinize the impact of gender as it relates to our social configuration. Men on the alt-right have positioned women as thieves of masculinity. However, “taking the red pill” (The Matrix, 1999) does not only encourage the degradation of women, it also promotes a conservative view of masculinity. “The hero takes the red pill, which is meaningful to these groups who feel the world has mistreated them. Gathering in online echo chambers, they feel like heroes for seeing the world for what it is, for being brave enough to handle it and strong enough to show others” (Cunha, 2006). Mentions of heroism, bravery and strength, highlight the hegemonic masculinity bolstering Red Pill culture. While to some, taking the Red Pill might indicate someone who follows conspiracy theory and supports white supremacy, those within these conservative subcultures trust that Red Pill philosophy is an effective means of affirming their masculinities and thus becoming respected and dominant.
Since men’s identification with their masculinity relies on homophobia, queerness becomes a threat under hegemonic masculinity, as it opposes heteronormative ideas of an idealized manhood. As a result, homosocial relationships, (in this case the ones formed on Reddit), become vehicles through which men attempt to solidify their masculinities. The social crafting of an idealized masculinity is inseparable from men’s lack of permitted emotional expression and opportunities for both platonic, and romantic intimacy. These gender binary aligned cultural symbols remain operative in upholding gender performances in adulthood. Pascoe and Bridges (2016) consider a Dodge commercial that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl. The commercial’s transcript reads as follows:
I will get up and walk the dog at 6:30 AM. I will eat some fruit as part of my breakfast. I will shave. I will clean the sink after I shave. I will say yes, when you want me to say yes. I will be quiet when you don’t want me to say no. I will take your call. I will listen to your opinion of my friends. I will listen to your friends’ opinions of my friends. I will be civil to your mother. I will put the seat down. I will separate the recycling. I will carry your lip balm. I will watch your vampire TV shows with you…And because I do this, I will drive the car I want to drive. Charger. Man’s Last Stand!
While I find it challenging to interpret this advertisement as anything other than satire, there is much to unpack in this commercial. While initially this may be read as a kitschy or cliché example of a sexist thought process, something profound wells in these words. What is interesting is that the heteronormative relationship presented here suggests a renouncing of masculinity. The forsaking of virile energy foreshadows the consumption of micronutrients at breakfast, paying attention to your partner, considering your partners assessment of others with whom you have relationships and so forth. In addition, the man’s masculinity is depicted as something moderated through a committed relationship. “Vampire shows” and “lip-balm” are not only representative of a woman void of intellect and density, reduced to superficial pleasures. These insertions also address the man’s dejected emotional state. The man’s reality in his relationship renders him “fruity” (the breakfast—a detail containing homophobic undertones) and subjected to environmentally considerate deeds (recycling). Just as the male child is provided cars to play with, the adult male clings to the automobile as a method by which he indemnifies his last shred of masculinity. Amusingly, although the commercial is heteronormative in nature, it actually criticizes, (albeit in an unfortunate anti-feminist manner) compulsory heterosexuality.
Throughout my research, I discovered and analyzed homosocial dynamics. Homosociality simply refers to non-sexual relationships that a person has with others who identify as male or female. However, within academic studies on masculinity and gender, male homosociality is analyzed as a means through which men seek the approval of other men, thus affirming their own masculinity. Some folks claim that this desire for peer validation is inherently homoerotic. Others maintain homosocial dynamics illustrate how limited male connection and friendship is under the patriarchy. I took the latter stance to support my research and claim/s regarding male emotional constriction. Many conservative men practice misogyny (or in their opinion, traditionalist masculinity) trusting that, what others would likely deem sexist language or behavior, will guarantee them the adoration of women and sexual prowess. By insisting that feminism, left-leaning politics, and social justice movements are at the root of their predicaments, men discharge their feelings of loneliness and insecurity. These sentiments however, are shared under the guide of social-progression-induced alienation. Traditional notions of masculinity within heteronormative spheres are revered, leading men to experience deep feelings of inferiority should they not possess and practice antiquated qualities and understandings of masculinity. Failure to integrate into the kingdom of hegemonic masculinity means potential exile from manhood. This fear of a collapsed masculinity leads men to seek affirmation in their manhood through peer relations.
The discourse on the Reddit forums I explored and researched, involved the constant communication of anti-feminism. I analyzed this dogma as a means through which the white, alt-right aligned man feels he can connect to his masculinity. These dynamics demonstrate a type of male bonding that is reliant on homophobia. My purpose in focusing on young white men was to reveal how, (in the context of social positioning), the oppressor denies their dominant social status and instead claims to inhabit a marginalized identity. Using an intersectional framework, I dissected contemporary ideals surrounding masculinity and assessed the sociopolitical reverberations of men self-categorizing as wounded. In America’s current, highly polarized political climate, social platforms have evolved into political tools. Online spaces allow individuals to discover communities where the dialogue parallels their own philosophies. Within radical conservative subcultures, platforms such as 4chan that house extremist ideologies, fostered synchronization through their support of Donald Trump. Consequently, what were once sequestered Internet zones teeming with dated attitudes, rose to power preceding the 2016 election, alchemizing into widely broadcasted, pro-Trump havens, accommodating white supremacy and misogyny. Prominent, frequented platforms (such as Reddit) possess the potential for momentous influence, as seen in their role in the 2016 election.
In writing my capstone paper, I looked at people such as Kyle Rittenhouse, who arguably embodies the perils of hegemonic masculinity and how the patriarchy is inextricable from white supremacy. An important question I came to in finalizing my research was: if countless young men are subscribing to alt-right media and are forming connections with others who subscribe to these ideologies, what does this mean for future generations of emotionally restricted male persons in the United States? I do not have a concrete solution or answer to my research question. After completing my thesis, I do possess a stronger comprehension of how hegemonic masculinity and our highly gendered society are at fault for the lack of mental health support available for men. If men were provided the room to experience vulnerability and tenderness with themselves and other men, I imagine the world would look very different. To address pertinent issues such as male sexual assault and mental health, depoliticize platforms such as Reddit and Spotify, and challenge hegemonic masculinity, those involved in the process of raising young men must be educated on the detrimental nature of teaching male young people that empathy and emotions are synonymous with weakness. Feminism today spends a lot of time trying to hold men accountable for enacting violence or misogyny. What the concept of hegemonic masculinity offers though, is a way of contextualizing the actions of one man and understanding how this behavior was authorized by our patriarchal organizing in which men are simultaneously dominant and neglected.
Last week, I wrote an email to Spotify after cancelling my subscription. The fact that Spotify continues to support Joe Rogan, and allows him to benefit monetarily from its platform is a perfect example of how capitalism endorses hegemonic masculinity. Despite the medical misinformation Rogan allows on his show, in addition to his personal history of transphobic, racist comments, Spotify prioritizes capitalist gain and has not at this time de-platformed Rogan.
Satanic tenet IV states: “The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.” However, Satanic tenet V reads: “Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.” I am of the opinion, that in the case of present-day, medical misinformation, tenet V should be a guiding principle in how we approach freedom of speech as it relates to the COVID-19 crisis and the accompanying misinformation. Spotify’s refusal to de-platform Rogan means that people continue to consume the content of a creator who many idealize as the epitome of masculinity. As we have seen during the former president’s era, mass subscription to misinformation can result in violence and social division. Furthermore, compassion (tenet I) is also a fundamental moral practice within Satanism. To permit the spread of medical misinformation on popular, mainstream media platforms to which many young people subscribe, is to act without benevolence. Allowing Joe Rogan to remain on YouTube and Spotify is doing an intellectual disservice to the individuals, families, and healthcare providers who have been impacted physically and/or mentally by the pandemic. While people should be allowed to freely voice oppositional views or alternative perspectives, Joe Rogan has authority over a platform with immense reach.
The predominantly alt-right trope that declares men are becoming increasingly marginalized by modern society, repeatedly includes a beaten-down, hopeless tone. These allegations are becoming increasingly popular. Consequently, when figures such as Joe Rogan, Donald Trump, Jordan Peterson, or Ben Shapiro (for example) assume a sympathetic stance towards the believed plight of men, they become revered by men who also consider themselves disadvantaged by feminism and society’s moral evolution. What I believe these men are not cognizant of is that, the superficial compassion these well-known individuals seem to offer, is actually a defense of the societal structures that are truly harming men. While men believe women and social justice are to blame for their misfortune, in reality, it is men who are wounding men. The curtailing of men’s emotions is historical, rooted in heteronormativity and capitalism. It endures, despite newer psychological knowledge and data that informs us of the consequences of emotional suppression. The antiquated, yet persistent, heteronormative ideal stating that men have to be the sole provider for their family, that acquisition of wealth is a man’s most valuable contribution to a committed relationship, stems from the enduring history of men hiring other men, thus creating a male dominated workforce—a sexist arrangement that continues to produce a gendered wage gap. As a result, men are persuaded through the patriarchy to be the simultaneously most important, yet dispensable cogs in the wheel of capitalism. Due to the emphasis capitalism places on productivity, I believe men develop a pathological sense of self-sufficiency based on gendered workforce dynamics. This is a generational epidemic, inherited by men whose fathers were also pawns for the economy, dedicating their lives to upward mobility. The men who promise other men salvation are actually further propagandizing those who feel alienated, recruiting them as emotionally desperate individuals who will follow instructions on how to sustain heteronormativity, capitalism, and politics.
In subscribing to the ideologies of men who’s have large followings, men experience liberation from their suffering by blaming women, feminists, and “woke culture”. Men on the alt-right commonly believe conspiracy theories about governmental tyranny (Qanon, Antifa, COVID-19 vaccination etc.). I think however, that an alternative, more crucial theory is that: the patriarchy and its associated systems (such as capitalism) benefit from men remaining chained to their stoicism and repressed psychological distress. The patriarchy mobilizes men’s frustration, using it as a weapon, leading men to flock to male-centric podcasts, Reddit and other social media platforms and enact misogyny and aggression in an attempt to reconcile their pain. The patriarchy is not only harmful to women. It seriously injuries men and yet, hegemonic masculinity and its close ties with capitalism, prevents this realization.
What the ideology of Satanism, Satanic ritual and the Satanic community offer, is unique. We have the knowledge and opportunity to, through writing, consciousness-raising, and activism, to probe and dislodge systems of hegemony through fierce compassion.
The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
The Satanic Temple, NYC Chapter
Bachelor of Women and Gender Studies