If there's one thing I'm always going to remember about the 2012 election, it's that it was the moment I first saw the white male monopoly lose its vise-grip on American culture. Not that white men aren't in charge anymore—they are, and they will probably always be a dominant political bloc—but there's a sense that they're no longer entitled to win just for playing. They're going to have to enter and roll, just like the rest of us (the dice are still weighted, duh, but baby steps). Mitt Romney was a white dude's white dude, and 62% of white dudes had no doubt that their dude would win. Because, hey, he "looked like a president." That fantasy imploded on election day—and, with it, a whole lot of never-before-questioned white confidence.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, over the course of Obama's first term, what started as a fringe dude subculture has flourished into a thriving online community—the self-described "Manosphere," a safe haven/echo chamber for men who feel discriminated against, ignored, and blamed. Potentially false rape charges and "unfair" child support payments deserve equal or greater outrage, they say, alongside actual rapes and centuries of systemic, enforced poverty. And I don't mean that those problems are bullshit—all injustices deserve attention and care—but we're trying to cure cancer over here. You have a stuffy nose.
When your philosophy—reinforced over and over by other men who are just as scared as you—dictates that men are the real victims and women are the oppressors, the only surefire escape is retreat into traditionalist behavior models where everyone "knows their place." Then everything will be okay again. Then we'll have a president who "looks like a president." But believe that all you want—we can never go back. You can't get the toothpaste back in the tube.
And the fact that there's metaphorical toothpaste fucking everywhere is profoundly frightening to a lot of men, whether they realize it or not. That anxiety seems to be so instinctual, it's beginning to seep out of the more absurd fringes of the blogosphere and into the thinking of otherwise presumably reasonable men. Mainstream manhood is starting to look a little shaky.
You can see the anxiety in sulky hand-wringing about old dudes' right to be found attractive no matter what, as in Richard Cohen's absurd column last week:
In "North by Northwest" and other movies, Grant - for all his good looks - represented the triumph of the sexual meritocracy - a sex appeal won by experience and savoir-faire, not delts and pecs and other such things that any kid can have.
You can see it faintly in even the most innocuous dating advice, which unfailingly advises women not to be "too loud" or "too funny," as though a blank canvas is the ultimate turn-on. And, as though, the very concept of "dating advice"—telling people how to artificially alter themselves so as to best attract a potential partner—isn't a normative idea that's damaging to both genders.
You can see it in the panicked traditionalism of the Tea Party. You can see it in the nauseating "Nice Guy" complex. You can see it in insecure young dudes who think big muscles and homophobia will make them "manly."
And you can especially see it in snide, boo-hoo editorials about how white men get a bad rap and it's just not fair:
From what I read, we're all the same, all guilty, all part of that hard-core white patriarchy, sitting here in the country club man-cave on our brown leather Chesterfields (apparently a fancy kind of couch), staring at the moose head over the fireplace.
We're all pigs. We all kept our women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. We were Ward Cleaver, keeping June at home when she could have been a brain surgeon, expecting her not only to make dinner, but lunch, too, passing our 1950s porcine values on to Wally and the Beav.
Yeah, yeah, yeah—as though certain men deserve some sort of credit for not being completely entitled sociopathic assholes. Congrats, bro. That masterpiece of sour defensiveness? That's not from some obscure man-blog. It's from a mainstream newspaper. White male victimhood is going national. And I mean, okay, men, your feelings are hurt. I get it. Total strangers are making fun of you for being a big white dork. And they don't know you—maybe your life hasn't been easy like the proverbial "white guy" that everyone says is rolling around in megabucks and ruling the world. You're not running the world! You don't even have one megabuck! It's not fair!
But here's the thing. It's not that your life has been easy, per se, it's just that certain hardships have been absent—hardships that affect other groups in ways that are most likely invisible to you. You're not personally being blamed for anything, nor is anyone asking you to abandon your own interests and concerns. You're simply being asked to acknowledge and help dismantle a system that is rigged in your favor, because it's the right thing to do. Opportunity is not a limited resource—other people having stuff does not mean you don't get to have stuff. It'll be okay. In fact, it'll be better.
The so-called "War on Men" isn't a war on men at all—it's a war on inequality. Oh, you're feeling marginalized and underrepresented? Complain to me after you've been marginalized and underrepresented for 200 years. You haven't even made it a day (mainly because it's not actually happening to you yet—you have always had and WILL always have representation). And we can tell that you aren't really subjugated, because if you were you would be coming to us, the supposed dominant group, for help—just like we're forced to come to you, groveling, and beg for our reproductive rights, marriage rights, and equal pay for equal work. Instead, you're insulting and alienating us and trying to shove us back down where we "belong." Women and people of color and LGBT Americans have the right to complain because we've fucking earned it. And we're kind of busy here, working on a project called "equality." Let me know when you're done flipping out over losing 1% of your privilege. We could use your help.