Masculinity and Fake News

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My latest article exposing the “real” fake news about masculinity, originally published at The Good Men Project

Fake News

It is impossible to miss the mantra-like references to “fake news” in the media. Those who traditionally align with progressives point to a host of misinformation from Trump supporters such as imaginary terrorist attacks in Bowling Green or Sweden. Those who traditionally align with conservatives point to any number of mainstream media outlets and their news fakery, with even respectable brands being banned from White House press briefings.

The subject of masculinity functions as a microcosm of this ideological battle, with each side pointing to the other and denouncing its opponent’s agenda, if not outright lies. But there is a further level of fake news happening here in regard to both masculinity and the broader culture wars.

Stage 2 Media

In The Five Stages of Masculinity, Stage 2 is all about defining what masculinity should look like along traditional and stereotypical lines. Stage 2 masculinity finds its voice in what is currently described as “alternative media”: in other words, the slew of relatively new media outlets that align with the populist values of Trump. These media outlets exist in the middle of the populist masculinity pyramid scheme, and take Trumpian populism and sell it further down to the base of the pyramid, which comprises the much-famed “white working class.”

The exemplar of Stage 2 media is Breitbart. News stories that align with Stage 2 values routinely run on Breitbart, dealing with subjects such as university courses about masculinity, the death of American action heroes, and the perils of being male in the workplace, whether at Yahoo or the BBC. And of course it was Breitbart that built a platform for Milo Yiannopoulos who, despite his flamboyant campness, created a huge amount of energy both online and on American campuses focused on denouncing feminism and promoting a kind of frat-house masculinity that functioned as a subset of the populist masculinity that voted in Trump. Articles by Yiannopoulos with headlines such as Male feminists are virgins, perverts or both are common.

The second obvious example of Stage 2 media is Infowars. The articles on InfoWars share a distinct commonality with Breitbart with headlines such as During the Trump era will men finally start acting like men again and Feminized males will allow Muslims to conquer Europe. Infowars goes further than Breitbart by selling dietary supplements for masculinity in the form of Super Male Vitality.

Stage 3 Media

In The Five Stages of Masculinity, Stage 3 is all about providing a critical analysis of Stage 2, noting how it is damaging to women in the form of patriarchy, and atypical men in the form of hegemonic masculinity and homophobia (or, in lay terms, “toxic masculinity”). The vast majority of references to masculinity within the mainstream media conform to Stage 3 values.

The exemplars of Stage 3 media are numerous. The Guardian, for example, routinely runs articles with subjects such as the twin curse of masculinity and male-dominated politics, the problem of masculinity and football, and even a whole series called the week in patriarchy. Similarly, Salon has run many articles about Trump with titles such as The misogyny apocalypse: Turns out being white and male counts for more than intelligence, grace or decency. A quick scan along the list of articles tagged with “misogyny” at Salon shows the frequency with which the subject is discussed. Many mainstream publications follow a similar pattern, and these publications are not even among the many that have an explicitly feminist mission.

The Stage 3 grip on mainstream media is something of an anomaly. A YouGov poll shows that while most people are sympathetic to gender equality, 54% of people would not identify as feminist. Indeed, slightly more people would be inclined to use the term feminist as an insult than a compliment. Certainly, different polls tell different stories, but it is justifiable to conclude that the mainstream media has a greater alignment with Stage 3 values than society as a whole. In this sense, it might be more reasonable to identify Stage 2 media as “mainstream” and Stage 3 media as “alternative.”

The Real Fake News

Both Stage 2 and Stage 3 media have a clear worldview when it comes to masculinity. Our preference for certain news outlets coupled with the impact of the filter bubble means that we usually only see one worldview, or at the very least only take one worldview seriously. As such, when Breitbart writes about masculinity being under attack on US campuses, their readers believe it. And when Salon writes about how masculinity is shorthand for white nationalism, their readers believe it. Of course, neither of these claims are true, and therein lies the real fake news: the impression that there is no choice apart from these two entrenched positions.

It is very difficult to find a media outlet that references masculinity that is not a propaganda tool for Stage 2 or Stage 3. (The Good Men Project is an interesting option, but it is largely agnostic of worldview, which explains why feminists perceive it to be populated by MRAs, and MRAs perceive it to be populated by feminists.) If people wish to see society progress in useful ways, it is necessary to realize that there are other ways of seeing the world, and that we do not have to accept the limited choices offered to us. Several recent articles have suggested that progressives should not compromise by reaching out to “deplorables.” Indeed, progressives should not compromise: reaching out requires building something different together. This is why the solution to the battle between Stage 2 and Stage 3 is not Stage 2.5, rather Stage 4.