My latest article, originally published on The Good Men Project.
Only those living under a rock will have missed the increasing number of stories in the media referring to cryptocurrencies. Once the preserve of geeks and those purchasing dubious items from the dark web, cryptocurrencies are now garnering mainstream attention thanks to the incredible rising price of Bitcoin, which has in turn pulled up the price of other cryptocurrencies.
So there is no better time for those with an interest in masculinity to introduce Masculinity Coin, the cryptocurrency for men (to avoid any confusion, while genuine, Masculinity Coin is totally my own invention). For those with a more technical bent, Masculinity Coin is an ERC20 token digital asset built upon the Ethereum blockchain, the contract for which can be viewed on Etherscan. But why should you care? I’m glad you asked! Part cryptocurrency, part art project, Masculinity Coin gets us thinking along three crucial lines: the nature of masculinity and technology, how we might “cost” the impact of masculinity, and the illusionary nature of masculinity.
Masculinity, Technology and Work
Modern technology is typically perceived as a masculine domain, despite the fact that women played a significant role in its development. In the past couple of months alone we have seen numerous articles about “toxic masculinity” in the workplace at Silicon Valley companies, culminating in the much-famed firing of a Google employee who expressed views that were inconsistent with the company’s diversity policy. As a product of this technological domain, Masculinity Coin holds up a mirror to its masculine culture and as such functions as a form of critique.
But while workplaces in Silicon Valley may be examples of everyday sexism, more generally the workplace is a double-edged sword for men. Masculinity Coin also alludes to the expectation that masculinity “provides coin” through work. Stress from the workplace is particularly hard for men, and lack of financial success results in a greater likelihood of men being single: even women are now feeling the pressure of this as they cannot find men of supposedly “equal” success with which to start a family. So while men enjoy certain benefits from the systemic nature of male privilege, they also experience significant pressures at the individual level.
The Cost of Masculinity
Masculinity Coin suggests thinking about masculinity in dollar terms: in other words, the “cost” of masculinity. Those with an interest in men’s rights advocacy will point to the costs involved in men’s poor representation in various domains such as physical and mental health, education, homelessness, violence, and incarceration. Those with an interest in feminism will point to the costs involved in preventing women’s full participation in the economy (a McKinsey report puts a figure of $12 trillion of potential future growth on this).
If we were to extend the cost of masculinity to include traditionally masculine ways of asserting domination such as war and a rapacious attitude towards the environment, that total cost could run into tens of trillions of dollars. This cost is perhaps broadly equal to the total value of “real” money in the world (but nowhere near the amount of “money” represented by debt and derivatives).
By helping us think about the cost of masculinity, Masculinity Coin highlights the fact that it is one of the greatest costs in existence, yet it appears on few—if any—budgets. There does not even appear to have ever been a single comprehensive quantitative study undertaken of the cost of masculinity, despite decades of gender studies.
Masculinity as Illusion
The Five Stages of Masculinity is a map of the different ways people perceive masculinity. Stage 5 proposes that masculinity does not actually exist, or rather that “masculinity exists as a consensual hallucination which nevertheless has many real effects.” Cryptocurrencies provide an interesting parallel to Stage 5 masculinity, inasmuch as they do not really exist other than via an agreement between parties: they are a consensual hallucination. The real-world effects of such hallucinations can be swift and profound: Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) are currently raising billions of dollars of “real” money for business start-ups and now outstrip funds raised through early stage venture capital. As we saw above, the real-world effects of masculinity-as-hallucination can come at an even higher cost.
The idea that masculinity is an illusion means that ultimately it can mean anything to anyone: masculinity is a shape-shifter (this reveals another crypto-synchronicity, ShapeShift is a well-known exchange for converting one cryptocurrency to another). As such, Masculinity Coin can also mean anything to anyone. As this article suggests, holding and trading Masculinity Coin could be seen as a way of critiquing traditional masculinity. At the same time, it could be seen as a celebration of traditional masculinity. No individual has the ability to claim that one interpretation is “true” while another is “false.” Ultimately, Masculinity Coin can be considered as a useful thinking exercise, a giant act of trolling, or even a scam: all three of which can—and should—be applied to masculinity itself.