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Why so defensive?

You see it all the time.

It’s in our homes, bars, schools, television, colleges, politics and social media. God, you only have to look at the comment section on any Jordan Peterson or Andrew Tate video on Youtube to see the confusing behaviour.

That is the aggression and abuse that gets hurled in response to the feminist position.

The kind of irrational hatred that is spouted shocks me sometimes. The issue seems to take on its ugliest form online, where often heavily loaded words or just outright abuse is the norm as a reaction to feminist arguments.

The biggest question I have is, why?

It’s baffling and often so extreme that you do have to take a step back sometimes and wonder what drives such heavily charged talk. It’s not rational if we think about what it is that women are actually asking for and – at the risk of oversimplifying it here – they are only asking for, y’know, equality. They want to be paid the same for the same work. They want to live without fear of harassment, sexual assault, rape or murder. They want to be equally represented in all spheres of society.

Seems fair to me.

But still, some men continue to resist and vehemently reject feminism with such passion and vigour that you would think they were fighting for their rights. Although there may be an issue around some men simply not understanding feminist arguments and lacking important knowledge of female issues, I have begun to view the blunt refusal to accept female issues as legitimate as, at least in part, an emotional issue.

Masculine ideals of machoness, hyper-confidence, stoicism, aggression and dominance are outdated, useless and harmful. Yet, they continue to be idolised in popular culture and some notable examples include Andrew Tate, Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson and successful TV series like the Peaky Blinders which hold no punches when it comes to glorifying criminal behaviour, nationalism and violence.

Privilege and power have a paradoxical effect on the male ego and make it vulnerable to criticism, it fosters a sense of entitlement. However, with the rise of feminism and the legal, economic and political recalibration that has occurred (but is not yet completed) a portion of that power has been redistributed in society, and rightly so. But, there is a lot of catching up to do culturally.

When men reject feminism so firmly is it an attempt to hold on to that power that they feel they are entitled to? I mean, men have been taught through the media and often piss-poor role models that they are entitled to what they want and if they behave in certain ways they will obtain those things for example, status, money, women and respect. More often than not what is represented by these role models is not realistic and can be misleading. The outrage towards feminism may be a response to the discrepancy between these ideals and reality.

This is partly why the Jordan Petersons and the Andrew Tates of the world manage to gain a grip on so many boys and men. They offer us an excuse for our perceived inadequacies, and they act as role models for so many men (particularly young men) who have had very few or no healthy male figures in their life.

It’s fully recognised now that the ideals of masculinity that boys internalise through various social influences are harmful to emotional well-being. Historically, they have been taught to suffocate their emotions. Resilience and male strength have been presented as not expressing emotions and never being phased. This often means empathy skills in men are left untapped. However, sadly, empathy is a highly important skill which enables us to understand, consider and relate to the experiences of others. This also includes the potential to understand and relate to the potential plight of others with different genders, races, languages, religious beliefs, disabilities and ages.

In a nutshell, several men just straight up do not possess the required emotional competency to self-regulate and empathise with others. However, what I am not saying here is that men don’t have any potential for empathy or emotional intelligence, just that this is not a trait which is valued and encouraged in men. This means it is more common to come across men who have a lack of experience in applying empathy skills. The lack of healthy early years of emotional development can leave some men hollow and may result in them seeking out other means to feed their self-worth. They may attempt to dominate others or cave and turn in on themselves emotionally. Taking into account that official figures relating to male suicide rates in 2021 from Public Health Scotland reveal that 75 per cent of suicides are men, emotional well-being seems to be a major issue.

So, with this in mind, what is actually going on psychologically when some men are approached with the feminist position? Their position is threatened, and they feel accused. The natural reaction to that for some men is to dismiss the argument and frame it as silly, irrational or pointless. If it isn’t true then you don’t need to take any responsibility, right? It’s a defence mechanism and a way of protecting the ego. It seems to be a knee–jerk emotional reaction.

Masculinity creates weaker men, it drives inferiority and everyone pays for it. Poor emotional and stress regulation can explain a lot of pathological behaviours that are disproportionately engaged in by some men. Violence against women, rape, sexual assault, suicide and hate crimes – to name a few. Again, this is not a green light or justification for awful behaviour. The statistics tell the truly horrific extent of the problem with Refuge estimating that one in four women have been the victim of domestic abuse and two women a week are murdered by their current or ex-partner.

It is nowhere near good enough.

If you are struggling emotionally you must seek support.

The issue can start to be tackled by considering what it is that we funnel into the minds of men through the media. Men and boys need respected figures in society to start acting as healthy role models and to openly point out and shut down harassment and misogyny. We can do this ourselves by not engaging in certain behaviours or condoning the harmful actions of others. I think it's safe to say that quite a large number of men have been in a position where they have had to make those types of right and wrong decisions, albeit however small, let’s make sure we choose the right ones.

We can invest in our mental health system and make sure that a sufficient level of help is available for men who are suffering from mental health issues and let’s support and validate men for speaking up and healthily expressing their emotions. Community and charity projects such as “Andy’s Man Club”, “Man Talk” and “The ManKind Project” are places where groups of men can come and talk about their experiences and issues that they may be facing in day-to-day life. These are highly important in providing men with a secure environment to emotionally vent. “The Mankind Project” is particularly interesting as it provides training programs where men learn an alternative form of masculinity and are taught things like progressive attitudes, the importance of emotions and, crucially, an understanding of the role each individual plays in a larger system of inequality. In these programs emotional well-being is key. These may be the only spaces where some men feel comfortable unloading and can come and feel heard, listened to and understood. These support networks will undoubtedly help men to regulate stress and emotions more functionally.

The education of young males is critical in this problem and so important for having an impact on the beliefs and attitudes of male pupils. Making sure that children are educated on consent, boundaries and how to deal with emotions is a starting point from which the education system can aim to foster healthy interpersonal relationships between children and mould positive gender dynamics. The power and impact of a good educator cannot be underestimated.

Speaking to my partner – a primary school teacher – she explains to me a scenario which happened recently in her classroom. A young boy whilst misbehaving in class shouted out “men are better than girls!” then the young boy proceeded to attempt to justify his statement with reasons why boys were better than girls. This, on a micro level, shows the types of beliefs that if left unchecked will be internalised by the child and form the basis for male entitlement that I have been discussing.

Following on from this, I asked my partner if there was one thing that she could teach her male pupils and it would stick with them throughout their entire lives, what would it be?

To this, she replied with one word “Consent”.

The focus should be on developing long-term solutions to the problem that prioritises and uphold the rights and protections of women in society. Re-shaping male attitudes requires re-educating young boys on issues such as fairness, boundaries, consent and the importance of emotions, shifting core family values, promoting alternative healthy forms of masculinity, community and support groups, encouraging men to engage in self-help and therapy to self-regulate, become more emotionally aware and to view it as a personal responsibility to eliminate gender inequality.


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