I was recently sent a video from MTV’s "Look Different Creator Competition" about cultural masculinity and how it affects gay men. I actually kind of like this video. It does such a good job pushing an over the top agenda that it might just get people thinking about how stupid identity politics is in the first place. I'm going to break this down into two section: whats said in the video, and whats shown. I suggest listening to it first, then watching it the second time.
The narration mostly focuses on the differences between how men are supposed to act and how women are supposed to act. It's got a few silly ones like "beef not chicken" where you can feel the writers stretching for good dichotomies, but overall I actually agree with most of whats said. Yes, men on average act differently from women. Good game, whats next?
Whats next is an assertion that following this highly restrictive set of requirements will turn you into a shell of a person. "Not a person, but a path of least resistance". It feels like a slap in the face because nothing leading up to the end really sets up any value judgements. It's like the writers expect us to get to the end, see how unhappy the speaker is, and retroactively decided that all the stuff leading up to that point had actually been bad.
The imagery depicts a really buff good looking guy who hangs out and parties all day with his also amazing looking frat brothers. Oh, he sucks at beer pong. And, oh, he uses steroids. I guess he feels inadequate. But he looks pretty happy. Oh, now he's beating the shit out of a pledge. Not cool bro.
When taken separately the narration and the imagery tell two very different stories. Put together, they still tell two very different stories. It's again left to the viewer to decide they don't like the looks of things, and therefore everything involved must be a part of the problem. Don't like a guy using a tool to beat the shit out of some kid then you must not like gay guys acting straight.
The Problem is, theres nothing inherently bad about a set of preferences. Thats all they're talking about when you break it down. Men prefer xyz. Women prefer abc. I'm not stupid, I get that the intention is to say "men who feel insecure about themselves will try to adhere to those superficial traits in an attempt to legitimize themselves as men, and thats bad". I just don't agree, and the video doesn't make a strong argument to convince me otherwise.
If I wanted to hang with goth kids, I'd start acting depressed. If I wanted to be a race car driver, I'd probably start boning up on my mechanics knowledge. If I wanted to be in the fashion industry I'd probably start paying a lot of attention to how I'm dressed. People take on the superficial traits of the cultures they want to belong to. Its a natural and healthy part of social behavior. You do it every day.
I just want to hammer this one home. You are not some special snowflake that is perfect and complete from the day you are born. You will change and develop and try new things. personality is fluid and constantly changing and improving. Gender will play a big role in who you end up becoming. At no point is the concept of "changing who you are" inherently bad.
I suspect that Erik Erikson, a german psychologist from the mid 20th century, is the source for much of the thinking behind this video. Erik's theories put forward that, among many other things, "if the parents allow the child to explore, they will conclude their own identity. If, however, the parents continually push him/her to conform to their views, the teen will face identity confusion." This way of thinking, that youth undergo crisis of identity and then just resolve whether to be an individual or an ant in the colony, has been largely overshadowed by the role playing theory.
Developmental science now thinks that youths try many varied experiments in identity by way of taking on the traits of cultures and other individuals they think are interesting. Through this process of trial and error, they are able to pick and choose what works and what does not. Going goth might have gotten them some goth friends, but it alienated everyone else. This process goes forward even in the face of pressure from parents and social norms. Teenagers are the hallmark of pushing back against societies expectations for them. Its a far cry from the fear that a monolithic "man culture" will ruin all boys with toxic masculinity.
But we still haven't really touched on the heart of this video. The real message is: gay men are being told they aren't real men. Gay youth are lead to believe that their homosexuality separates them from other men. This leads them to feel inferior, like they have to hide themselves to stand equal with their brothers. They do this by mimicking toxic masculinity and becoming something they are not. Gay men should be allowed to act however they want and be proud of it. If they don't act just like those meat head frat boys, it should not lessen their self worth.
Did you catch that? It's really subtle but there's a reversal in there that's totally mind blowing.
Gay youth are lead to believe that their homosexuality separates them from other men.
If a gay man is acting masculine it's to hide himself to fit in.
This is the real message of identity politics: Being gay DOES make you different. Being black does make you different. Being a woman DOES make you different. That message sells to everyone it's aimed at because on a deep level everyone feels they are different.
I'll let you in on a little secret: even straight white CIS gendered males feel like outcasts in their own cultures. Being young is not easy on anybody. No one goes through their childhoods without some form of ostracization. The more different you are, the harder it is on you.
Imagine now that some grown-up came and told you that those feelings of being different weren't just a normal part of life that you grow out of. What if they told you those feelings were everyone else's fault? What if instead of telling you to try to get along with the other kids, they told you to double down on what made you an outcast? Would that produce a socially healthy young kid? No, of course not.
As long as we wallow in how different we are, and how hard that makes everything for us, we will forever be victims.