May 26, 2015
Well, I was working on a blogpost on baby brain development last night when, for some reason, I started watching this new NBC show, The Island, and my own brain exploded. What is this shit? asked my baby brain. Oh, it’s the latest backlash programming, said my feminist brain.
If you haven’t seen the set up, apparently “manhood is in crisis” (Here we go again) and the solution is for survivalist Bear Gryllis to take 14 “American men” to a deserted island in the Pacific with cameras and not much else and say “Good luck, boys.” The lead-up shows how unmanly American society as made these once proud Ninja warriors. Technology and women have stolen their “survival instinct.” One is a 28-year-old attorney who sheepishly admits that his survival tool is Google. In the bunch is a 43-year-old stay-at-home dad who worries he’s “gotten soft.” What a bunch of wussies! Welcome to the jungle, baby. You’re gonna die.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the basis of Robert Bly’s 1991 book, Iron John, and the subsequent “Men’s Movement” that followed. Supposedly, modern society has turned once mighty men into a race of simpering mama’s boys who need to reclaim their “inner king” by finding their “deep masculinity.” In the 1990s, feminists like Susan Faludi and Michael Kimmel observed how this was just a lot of hooey in the service of restoring patriarchy after modern feminists put tiny ding in its door. The rise of the pink collar workforce and sexual harassment suits could be countered “real men” running through the woods with mud on their faces, rescuing their warrior within.
I remember the appeal of this thinking when I was young. In 1980, I was 16-years-old and, according to the TV, America was being held hostage. Actually, it was just 52 Americans who were being held hostage by some radical Iranian students. One of those hostages, Col. Charles Scott, was from my hometown. President Carter sent in a Delta Force rescue team on April 24th on a mission called Operation Eagle Claw, but sand got into the rotor blades and the helicopters crashed in the Iranian desert. Eight servicemen were killed. You would have thought that Jimmy Carter, a liberal Democrat, had caused the crash himself.
Into this void stepped Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. While not a military veteran (unlike Carter), he had played a war hero in movies and that was good enough for us. Reagan the Cowboy promised to “reclaim American greatness” (like back when we slaughtered the Indians) and knock the shit out of anybody who pushed us around, unlike that pansy peanut farmer. I was in the bag. Bye-bye Jimmy. Reagan got America’s dick hard and he won in a landslide. On his inauguration day, the hostages were released, as if just the presence of Reagan near the Oval Office made those nasty Iranians back down. (I should point out that by 1982 I was regularly wearing a “Reagan Hates Me” T-shirt and now have pissing on his grave on my bucket list.)
So we’re seeing this reactionary impulse all over again. In a world of gay marriage and metrosexual body waxing, comes another fake “crisis of manhood.” And shows like The Island are meant to “fix” men by turning them loose in the wilderness. But these people don’t know much about gender. They reduce it to biology and cherry pick cartoonish moments from history to back up their claim of the essentialness of a masculinity that is (somehow) differentiated from femininity. Kimmel and Michael Kaufman commented on it in 1995 by writing:
Bly and others wander through anthropological literature like post-modern tourists, as if the world’s cultures were an enormous shopping mall filled with ritual boutiques. After trying them on, they take several home to make an interesting outfit – part Asian, part African, part Native American… All totally decontextualized.
Men don’t need to separate from the feminine to become better men. Evidence shows that way leads to war and suffering. The men in prison that I study do that. We call it toxic masculinity and it ain’t good. I don’t want my daughter living in a world where this mythology of warrior men still is embraced. Recent evidence has revealed that half the Viking warriors were female. This silly cartoon of “cavemen” clubbing their cavewomen over the head to have cave sex (now, rebranded as “rape” by those ball-busting feminists) is a grand lie men tell each other and women. Hunting and gathering societies were a lot more gathering than hunting and evidence shows us that both tasks were split evenly among gender lines.
So what is the value of The Island? There’s a 25-year old radio producer who screams at everyone to “Man up!” or he will punch them in the face (that’s his cool picture to the left). There’s a 50-year-old military guy who wants to name the band of brothers, “The Conquistadors” (a group that knew something about rape, murder, and slavery), and a variety of others who are struggling to hold on to their masculinity while their women receive marching orders from Hilary Clinton’s underground lair. It would be almost comical if it didn’t reinforce the single biggest piece of human bullshit ever told, that men and women are “opposite” sexes.
But maybe we’ll find these guys rejecting the refuge of this bogus idea of masculinity. Mr. I’m Going To Punch You In The Face was taken off the island after the first episode when his little tantrum bit him on the ass and his male body shut down. Maybe for every snake they kill, they’ll have two conversations about their true emotional selves. Maybe one, instead of saying he was wounded by his father leaving the nest (as Bly contends), will say he was saved from being raised by an asshole. And maybe, when they are on their last drop of fresh water and crying out their children’s names, they’ll be rescued by some badass Amazon women who live on the next isla.
I’m just tired of the notion that there is a singular definition of masculinity and a set of rules for “real” men. That’s not an idea of gender that helps my daughter succeed. If you want to be a real man, put down your machete and your war paint and listen to a woman. For a change. You can’t “survive” without women. Monday nights are “Reclaim the Phony Masculine” on NBC, I guess. American Ninja Warriors (Don’t get me started on that one) and The Island. Where are Cagney & Lacy when you need them?