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Find the full transcript of the episode below.
“What’s Good, Man?” Episode One: What’s Wrong with Masculinity?
OR: Masculinity in crisis… so it drives its hummer 20mph over the speed a limit, down a mountain, in the rain, through a national park”
Kyle: Welcome to “What’s Good, Man,” an ongoing, open conversation about men, masculinity and culture.
tony: We are your hosts. I’m tony the scribe, a writer, rapper and activist in Minneapolis, MN.
Kyle: And I’m Kyle Tran Myhre, also known as Guante; I’m also a writer, rapper and activist in Minneapolis, MN. We start every episode with three notes. First, this show is about masculinity, but it’s for anyone interested in that topic: cis men, trans men, people who don’t identify as men but have some kind of relationship with masculinity, and beyond.
tony: Second, this show exists because we listened to people, especially women, in our lives who told us that men need to speak up more about these issues, especially with other men. But we also know that “men speaking up more” isn’t always the answer. So we’re going to try and strike a balance, and be intentional about what stories are ours to tell, what topics we want to address, and how we want to address them.
Kyle: Finally, we’re not experts. We’re just rappers. We both have experience as organizers and educators around these issues, but we don’t have all the answers. We’re here to work through this stuff with you. Because we still have a long way to go. So let’s get into it. What’s good, man?
tony: So I am a swordfighter, in addition to a lot of other stuff that I do. And one of the things that I really love that I do as part of my swordfighting practice is this exercise called “strong/weak.” And basically, it asks each person in the class to talk about one thing they’re feeling strong in in life, and one thing they’re feeling weak in in life, that week. I think it’s a really good exercise, because just in martial arts terms, you need to learn how to be aggressive, but you also need to learn when to retreat. You need to learn when to be super strong, but when to be yielding too. And I think it’s both important to recognize that there’s many different kinds of strength, as well as it’s a really good way to get folks talking about their feelings, and about their weeks, who aren’t usually accustomed to it. So how are you feeling strong, and how are you feeling weak this week?
Kyle: That’s a good framework for thinking about that. And I’d imagine that this is somewhat commonplace, but for me, a lot of my strong/weak tend to be the same things, in a weird way. I don’t know when y’all will be listening to this, but we’re recording it in July; we performed at CONvergence, the big sci-fi convention, a couple weeks ago. And that was great; it felt really good to be up on stage with Big Cats, the producer, and doing a really good set for a bunch of cool people. So that’s a strong. But then the weak is that… it’s just so exhausting. To be on, and be performing, and be talking to people. And I’m having some, like, mouth surgery, so my teeth were almost falling out the whole set. And it’ just stressful, right. And I think that echoes through a lot of my experiences over the past couple weeks. Just finished up a new project that I’m really excited about, and we’re going to be releasing it next week. But then releasing it means you have to be in the world, and have lots of energy, and interpersonal contact, and put yourself in the spotlight. The good and the bad are all wrapped up together, for better or worse, for me at least.
tony: Yeah. I think my strong is that I’ve really been leaning back into my friendships more in the last week. I have spent a long time focusing on projects, and seeing friends still pretty often (I’m pretty extroverted) but not nearly as much as I used to. And the last week or so I’ve been hanging out a lot more with friends. And of course, I guess my weak/flipside of that is that it’s meant that I have less time for projects, which is a thing that I also like.
Kyle: You can tell, just from these little goofy introductions: part of the framework of this whole show is that we’re fairly different people. And I think that can help inform how we come to our understandings around some of these issues, from very different life situations, and personality styles, and identities, and stuff like that.
tony: Yeah Kyle is an introverted asshole, and I’m an extroverted asshole.
Kyle: I’m a lovely person… Anyways, just because this is the first episode, it might makes sense to kind of justify our existence a little. I think what you said earlier in the caveats about “men speaking up more” is often put out there as a thing that needs to happen when we talk about issues of gender violence, and rape culture, and violent masculinity. Men need to be the ones who are pushing these conversations. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that men should just always be talking, all the time, because that can reinforce some of the harmful stuff we’re trying to speak out against.
So the title of this episode is “what’s wrong with masculinity?” We’re going to talk about that the whole time, but really briefly: why does this conversation matter? Why are we having it?
For me, the first thing that I look at is the news. I truly believe that every big problem we face, as a species, from climate change, to the rise of fascism, to the prison industrial complex, to immigration policy, to all these different kinds of oppression and hate and violence—it isn’t always that masculinity is THE root of them… but it’s always there. It’s always an ingredient in the recipe. Powerful men hoarding resources. Powerful men thinking they know what’s best for the world. Powerful men terrified of any challenge to their comfort or their power. So much of that is rooted in the basic everyday stuff we’re going to talk about. And of course, we also need to talk about race and racism, and capitalism, and all that. But thinking more critically about men and masculinity, I think that’s at least part of the solution to all these bigger problems.
tony: Yeah, yeah. And on a more personal tip, my friends and I have spent a long time talking about masculinity and its effects on us and the way it affects the world more broadly. But I feel like sometimes, there aren’t a lot of spaces where people can go to have that conversation in public space. So I see men struggling with their masculinity sometimes, looking for a space to go to learn how to be healthier men, happier men, more self-actualized men. And the spaces they run into are either the alt-right, and 4chan, and a bunch of online chat rooms where everyone is talking about the fact that masculinity is a real issue, but is turning around and weaponizing it and blaming it on women, OR feminist spaces, which have a lot of amazing things to teach men about gender and wholeness, but can also be pretty inhospitable to folks who are just figuring their shit out for the first time. So that’s what I see as a major gap; I want to provide space for us to come together and talk about these things in a way that allows for folks to see what’s going on.
Kyle: Yeah. And we’ve talked about the phrase “men” a couple times now. And I think it might be worth looking at, before moving on in today’s conversation, who we’re talking about. Who is the audience for a show like this?
I think it’s really important that we’re not just saying that “some men are good and some men are bad.” A huge ongoing theme in these conversations is that we’re all part of the same systems, and so we all have work to do, no matter where we’re coming from. I’d love for the people you mentioned who go to 4chan and reddit to listen to this show and be open-minded enough to get something from it; more realistically, though, I’m thinking about how this can be a place for people who maybe already agree with the broad strokes of what we’re talking about to sharpen their analyses and dig a little bit deeper. And maybe it’s also a place for the people in the middle, who are just curious, and don’t have a ton of resources.
A lot of my own work is talking about these issues—masculinity, consent, gender violence, bystander intervention, etc.—with diverse groups of people, in person. And what I’ve found is that the whole “we can have a 101 conversation or a deeper conversation” framework is kind of misleading. When you focus on stories, and experiences, and honest dialogue between people, you can do deep work that is ALSO accessible work. So that’s one goal that I have for myself in these conversations, is to do both.
tony: Yeah, I think another piece for me is making sure that… this conversation is about men and it’s being had mostly between two men (although we hope to have on guests of a bunch of different gender identities) but it’s also for literally everybody, because there’s not a person alive for whom masculinity, and our current ideas of masculinity, don’t touch in some way or another. And when I talk to folks, from the most battle-hardened feminists to the least-attentive men who don’t think about gender or talk about gender out loud, everybody seems to be interested in this topic, and wants to learn more and think about this stuff on a deeper level. So let’s do it.
Kyle: So yeah, this conversation needs to happen. But how do we start it? We could dive right into sharing a bunch of statistics or talking about the philosophical or academic explorations of blah blah blah, but it’s important to get down to earth, with just stories and experiences. So for both of us, what is a story from our last couple of weeks of life that might be an entry point into this larger conversation about “what’s wrong with masculinity?”
tony: Cool, dog. You start.
Kyle: There are big things and there are little things, right? And they’re all wrapped up in this larger idea of how we, as men and as boys, learn “what it means to be a man.” And so this is a little one, but I think it might be worth sharing. I went to Yellowstone for the first time, and that was the thing at the beginning of the episode: being tailgated in Yellowstone… which is super weird. It’s like everyone that I met there drove the speed limit. And then suddenly we’re in Yellowstone, it’s raining, and we’re going down a million foot tall mountain, and there are buffalo and stuff. And there’s someone tailgating! With a Wisconsin plate, just like right up on us the whole time. It’s like, I know that that isn’t necessarily about gender, but of course, that’s a guy driving that truck. And of course, it’s a truck, not a car. It’s a truck. It’s a guy. It’s a white guy. And like, why are you in such a hurry going through a national park? Maybe they had to go to the bathroom. I don’t know 100 percent for sure… but I know that whenever I’m tailgated or whenever I have weird traffic stuff happen to me, it’s always a guy. It’s usually a white guy, but it’s always a guy. And I think that that speaks to something about this weird impatience and aggressiveness and hyper aggressiveness… about stuff that just does not matter. You do not need to get shot over trade it to total, right.
tony: And people get shot over traffic stuff too.
tony: Yeah, that’s wild. Mine is also transit related. I was coming back from a work trip actually and I was on the light rail, which is like our local train system, coming back from the airport. And I saw these two dudes on the light rail like facing off against each other. And first they started just arguing about something that was completely inconsequential and didn’t matter. It was like whether somebody was talking too loud or something like that. Right. And they were both clearly drunk. And then all of a sudden, like kind of out of nowhere, the dude on the left gets up and just punches the dude on the right in the face. And the dude on the right is maybe 20 years younger and a lot stronger. So like he hits the dude on the left like four or five times. And sort of locks him up. And the dude on the left starts trying to gouge the dude on the right’s eyes out. So I had to get involved and get everybody to calm down a little bit and basically like pull the dude’s fingers away from the other dude’s eyes because I wasn’t trying to see anybody blinded on the light rail.
And then they like sat down and they were cool for like a minute or two. And I was talking to the dude on the right and I was like, “hey, man, you should just move. You should just get out of the way. That dude seems like bad news. You don’t want to be sitting around him.” And he’s like, “nah, man, it’s cool. We were just, we were just kicking it. We were having fun.” And the dude on the left is like, “yeah, man, everybody makes it such a big deal when you fight these days. And like, I grew up fighting like that and I don’t see what the problem is really.” And then they started fighting again like two minutes later! And the whole time I was seeing right next to the dude on the left, his partner was a woman in a wheelchair who is on the train with him. And the dude on the left was like, “oh, she gets mad every time that I get into a fight. But, you know, it’s just what I do.”
And I just couldn’t help but think: what a what a statement. What a thing to say.
Kyle: Yeah, There’s there’s so much in that story about, I mean, the intersections of masculinity and addiction, and how much that is a thing, and then about fighting and how fighting becomes normalized, how physical violence becomes normalized. Also about as a bystander, how were you thinking about what the role of a “real man” in that situation? Do you break up the fight, or do you mind your own business, or do you, like, break up the fight, really hardcore, you know, beat them both up.
tony: Yeah, do I kick the dude on the left’s ass, or kick both of their asses. Yeah. One, it was interesting talking to my martial arts teacher about it earlier this week; I was like “what would you have done about that situation?” He’s like, “oh, if I saw those two dudes fighting on the light rail,I would have just left. First time I saw somebody throw a punch, I would have gotten off at the next stop and waited for the next train.” And I was like, “wow.” That’s another really fascinating reaction to that.
Kyle: So your story was a little more serious than mine, but I think they’re both really good entry points into a conversation about the idea of “toxic masculinity.” And that’s a phrase that… even when those words come out of my mouth, I’m thrown back a little bit because it’s a phrase that has just become really overused, has become a buzzword. It’s become a phrase that when you hear it, you know what side you’re on right away. Like, it turns some people off right away. And other people are like “yeah, I agree with that” right away. And I think, you know, this is an opportunity for us to maybe dig a little bit deeper into it, both for people who think they already know about it on one end, and people who think they already know about it on the other and so on. And so before we even get into definitions, do you have a similar gut reaction when you hear the phrase “toxic masculinity?” What jumps into your head right away; images or situations or memories?
tony: Yeah. I mean, the the biggest thing that’s immediate for me is the idea that it’s masculinity taken to an unnecessary extreme. So you think about alcohol poisoning. People have a lot of different experiences with alcohol. And that’s cool. But I like drinking. And I know that if you drink too much, it’s hell on your body. You feel horrible the next day, or you can get alcohol poisoning and need to go to the hospital, or you can die. And I’ve seen everybody from 18 year olds to 60, 70 year old men passed out from being too drunk. And I think, again, drinking itself isn’t necessarily bad. It’s about where it can go when taken to excess. And I think that’s what I think about when I think about toxic masculinity.
Kyle: Yeah. Men always have to be in control, and always have to be strong and prove themselves, and that leads right into the into a potential abuse of alcohol. And not being able to set boundaries for yourself. For me, it’s similar in the sense that I think about defensiveness, the defensiveness that that comes from fear and insecurity. This obsessive need to always be right about everything, to win a conversation.
You know, I think that it’s a specific example of toxic masculinity, but it also illuminates the way in which men respond to the idea of it as well. So what I mean is like… if you’ve ever been on the Internet before…
tony: No, I haven’t. What’s that?
Kyle: Ha, you’re good then. But if you’ve ever spent any time on the internet talking about this stuff, you hear the same things over and over: “it’s saying that all men are toxic and that’s not fair!” Or “the SJW propaganda P.C. police are rying to emasculate men!” Or “we can’t even be men anymore!” Then, of course, you have the whole thing about blaming women and how “the feminist movement has gone too far and hates men!” these kinds of responses. If you live in this world for any amount of time, they’re super, super predictable; people have the same responses over and over again.
So in order to have a real conversation and not just a strawman shooting gallery, let’s talk about what we actually mean when we use the term. And my favorite thing to do when talking about definitions is not just to give the definition, but to compare and contrast different definitions, alongside our own experiences. I think that the the real valuable stuff is in where those definitions meet each other, and how they kind of interact with each other. So if you are some random kid and you google toxic masculinity, what’s going to come up for you?
tony: Yeah. So this first definition comes from the ultimate arbiter of how human language is processed in discursive space, Urban Dictionary. So Urban Dictionary’s top definition for toxic masculinity is “a social science term that describes narrow repressive types of ideas about the male gender role and defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive and so forth. Also suggests that men who act too emotional,or maybe aren’t violent enough, or don’t do all of the things that ‘real men’ do can get their ‘man card’ taken away.”
Kyle: That’s not bad!
tony: Yeah but all the other definitions are like “a term invented by man hating fake feminists seeking to suppress men’s biological superiority.”
Kyle: Yeah, but it’s like when you read something on Wikipedia or whatever and it’s actually like, “oh, this is pretty accurate.” Like that’s not a bad definition for urban dictionary. Here’s a different one. Not specifically about the phrase “toxic masculinity,” but I think one that gets to the root of what we’re talking about. This from bell hooks. From the book “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.”
tony: …which fucking bangs. That book is so good.
Kyle: Yeah, go read that. Don’t listen to us. Just read men, masculinity and love. So bell hooks says: “the first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence towards women. Instead, patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”
tony: Cue the spoken word snaps! Yeah, there’s a poem by Nayyirah Waheed too that goes, “There have been so many times I’ve seen a man wanting to weep, but instead beat his heart until it was unconscious.”
Kyle: And that’s such a good example of what poetry can do. I read that the same way I read the bell hooks quote; they’re saying the same thing. But a poem can take a kind of deep, somewhat jargony or academic explanation and boil it down to its barest elements. Yeah, that that poem is incredible. And that’s the whole poem too; that’s not a quote from the poem. One more additional definition here.
This is from Maya Salam writing in The New York Times about the recent American Psychological Association guidelines for psychologists working with boys and men who are socialized to conform to “traditional masculinity ideology.” “Researchers have defined it in part as a set of behaviors and beliefs that include the following: suppressing emotions or masking distress, maintaining an appearance of hardness, violence as an indicator of power. Think tough-guy behavior. In other words, toxic masculinity is what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly, that they have to be tough all the time, that anything other than that makes them feminine or weak. And no, it doesn’t mean that all men are inherently toxic.”
tony: And don’t worry, we’re going to have a future episode where we talk about whether masculinity is inherently toxic or not, because a lot of people go back and forth on that question. And there are a lot of different opinions about whether masculinity is a problem in and of itself.
Kyle: Yeah, I’m excited for that. But for right now, we have all these different definitions and entry points into this idea. And you might notice that the topic of this particular episode is not “Toxic Masculinity. Does it exist?” It does. And if I have a hot take it’s that a lot of men, and a lot of men from all over the political and ideological spectrum, know that it does. They might not use all the fancy academic jargon or whatever. But I think a lot of men, especially young men in this new generation, know on some deep level that the historical stereotype of the manly man who has no emotions, and is super violent, and always in control, that that’s all bullshit. You know, more and more men know that that expectation hurts us. And it’s also at the root of a lot of the hurt that we cause, whether that’s violence against women, against trans people, against non-binary or gender nonconforming people, violence against other men, gun violence, mass shootings, war, all these different kinds of pain and violence rooted in this deep, deep insecurity about not being “manly” enough, not living up to this impossible stereotype.
tony: And again, it isn’t just about the “bad men.” You know, I don’t think there’s any such thing as just a good man or just a bad man. We’re all human. We all have our flaws. We all have our good things about us. And I think the deeper question is how do these things show up in our lives? And one thing that I think about is how a lot of people in our circles think of us as like, the good guys or whatever, because we talk about these things. And like… I’ve caused harm. I have treated women badly. I have been inaccessible emotionally and unwilling to be vulnerable with folks. I have been unnecessarily violent, you know, with dudes on the street or whatever. So I think the question is not like, oh, who’s a good boy and who’s a bad boy? Right? The question is how do we deal with these things and try to find a way forward that results in us being able to be happier, wholer people.
Kyle: The idea that no matter who you are, and where you’re coming from, and how much experience you’ve had with this topic, there’s work to be done. Going back to the anecdote about being tailgated; that’s a story where I can point a finger and say, like those men over there are bad.
tony: “Fuck that dude.”
Kyle: Right. But then what’s my reaction? My fantasy is slamming on the brakes, getting out of the car, and punching the side mirrors off the truck. And that’s not healthy. The revenge fantasy is such a huge part of pop culture. And it’s so deeply ingrained, I think, in myself and in a lot of men. But that would be really, really stupid. But yeah, that’s my first instinct.
tony: Then follow that. What happens next? Either he pulls out a gun and shoots you, or he gets out of his car and sues you, or he fuckin’ punches you and then you punch him more…
Kyle: …and you catch an assault charge.
tony: Yeah, somebody’s got an assault charge, or has a concussion on a mountain somewhere in the middle of Yellowstone.
Kyle: …and then bears attack, they smell the blood.
tony: Flying bears with bazookas, and all of a sudden everybody’s taking cover. There’s just no way that ends well.
Kyle: And this conversation about how it affects us too is really important. I also think about how, and we said this before, but we definitely do not have all the answers. And like, one very specific example is that like Tony mentioned, I’m an introvert. Right. And so I do tend to be more quiet and a little more closed off and stuff. And even maybe a little stoic sometimes, not always have wearing my emotions on my sleeve. And like I don’t know where the line is. How much of that is because I’ve been socialized as a man and never show my emotions, and maybe sometimes never even access my emotions, and then how much of that is just legitimately my personality as an introverted person. And I think there’s work to be done navigating that grey area.
tony: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s one of the saddest parts about the whole thing. Is that you? You’re not even sure, right? You don’t even know which parts of you are your socialization, the way that you were brought up to be a man, and which parts are you? Yeah. You know, and I think there’s no way that we get deeper into this topic without asking those questions, and without doing that internal work to think about it within our own lives, but then also the work of creating spaces where we can talk about it.
Kyle: Yeah. And the natural follow up there is how do you do that? How do you create those spaces? How do you do that work? And I think we’re not gonna answer that right now. That’s kind of the whole point of this podcast. But I think another thing we could do in this first episode is to talk about the “why.” Not just the how do we do it, but why do we care about this? What might men have to benefit from fighting against that, whether you call it toxic masculinity or hegemonic masculinity or just like outdated stereotypical versions of manly man bullshit…
tony: Oh, man, can we can we have the “don’t ever use the word hegemony on the podcast 2k19 challenge?”
Kyle: I know. I’m so anti jargon, but, like, hegemonic masculinity is, I think, the most accurate term, but whatever. I’m not going to use it. Yeah. That’s the last time I’m using that word.
tony: Ok. Yeah. I’m the one editing this podcast. I’m going to bleep it out every time you use it from here on out.
tony: Hey there. This is tony the scribe. Thanks for listening to the first episode of What’s Good, Man. I’m going to drop in with some announcements the middle of each show. First of all, thanks for listening. We’ve been blown away by the support we’ve gotten already and we’re really excited to keep chatting about all this. If you like what you’re hearing, it’d be dope if you gave us a good review and subscribed to us on your favorite podcast platform. Podcasts spread best via word of mouth. So if you like the show, please share it with a friend, or pull together a listening group. We don’t want the conversation to stop here, so feel free to use hashtag #WhatsGoodMan to keep chatting on social media. My Twitter is @tony_the_scribe and Kyle’s is @elguante. You can find us on Instagram and Facebook too. You can also find out more about the show, and book us for live shows, at www.wgmpod.com. If you’re in the Twin Cities, we have our first live show tonight at the University of Minnesota on what we see as the future of masculinity. That’s November 6th, 2019. Show’s at 6pm. If you’re not around, no worries. You’ll get to hear it here eventually. Thanks to the Women’s Center and the Asian Pacific American Resource Center for hooking that up along with support from a bunch of other orgs at the U. We also want to thank a bunch of folks who helped us get this show off the ground. Shout out to Uyenthi Tran Myhre, Emmy O’Hara, Mickey Moore, Anna McClain, Martin Sheeks and many more. Title music is by daedae and letmode. And this music is by me. Let’s get back into it.
Kyle: So as I was saying before: the challenge, in my experience at least, isn’t convincing men that there’s something wrong with masculinity. The challenge is in how so many men respond to that reality. There’s one group who, you know, sees the problem, wants to do something about it, makes commitments to doing better as individuals and in supporting gender equity work more broadly, etc. You know, it’s the difference between “not being a misogynist” and actively, intentionally pushing back against a sexist power structure. And of course, there’s a subset of that group, you know, the “Male Feminists” or whatever, who uses their position as men doing feminist work to be predators and be creeps and be terrible. But that’s a whole other episode.
That’s one group. Another is made up of those who kind of stick their heads in the sand and continue on. You know, maybe they just don’t want to talk about it. Or maybe the problem isn’t big enough or noticeable enough to demand action. You know, the whole “well, I’m not beating women, so I’m good” attitude.
And then finally, there’s the group of men who sees this problem… and blames it on women. Or blames it on feminism. Or blames it on trans people. The whole, holding the the backwards bazooka of men’s rights and incels and meninists and all that. We’ll do a whole episode on that later. But for now, I think it’s just useful to keep these three different audiences in mind because who you’re talking to might change how you say what you say just on a tactical level, when you’re trying to make the stuff that we’re talking about in this episode live in the world. But with all those audiences in mind, I think what we’re gonna end this first episode by…
tony: Well wait one second actually. So one thought I have that’s interesting, that I’m I’m just gonna say about each of those three groups is that each of them is right about something. You know, “I’m not a misogynist. I’m just gonna go about my life and try to be as good of a person as possible” is right in that like, yeah, I mean, some of this stuff is personal and we do need to be focused on our own personal actions. And we can’t be accountable for a whole system just by ourselves. And then the men’s rights folks, they’re right that masculinity is in crisis. And there is a really serious issue with men not feeling like there’s a place for them in the world right now.. Or that, you know, feeling like this world is a difficult place to be a man in. All of which, from my experience, is really true. And I think the feminist men are actually are doing something about it. They’re doing something really productive and taking on the work and the constant unfinished nature of the work and saying, “hey, this is just what we got to do and we’re going to keep doing it as long as we’re here.”
Kyle: You know, it mirrors how getting involved in any type of issue happens. You know, people feel it in their own personal experiences in some way, like a family member is affected by whatever issue we’re talking about. And then they might get activated or radicalized that way. And then you start to see that kind of the personal, the interpersonal, the institutional, the different ways that someone can plug in and then do something. But yeah, you know, so with all these different audiences in mind and what they bring to the table, let’s talk a little bit about that. Why is it important for us as individuals, but also for us as men, to be working to disrupt and dismantle toxic masculinity? What do men have to gain from that?
tony: I mean, great question, right? I think the first thing for me is a fuller life, like being willing to express emotions, to grieve fully, when someone that I care about dies. To be angry at bullshit in the world, when I see the world being bullshit. To be genuinely happy and intimate with my partners, to have deep, intimate friendships with all kinds of people. Not just with dudes, but with women, with trans folks.
Kyle: To have friends who are women who aren’t just potential partners.
tony: Yes. God. That’s one of the most important things that has made my life a much fuller place. I can’t imagine having a life without the incredible women that I’m friends with. Or, you know, deciding that since they weren’t immediately going to fuck me, that like we couldn’t be friends, you know, or couldn’t be close, couldn’t be intimate. Yeah. So that one comes to mind for sure. Another one that comes to mind is just better self-knowledge. Like, getting to know myself and what my needs are and who I am better. So kind of like what you were talking about earlier with like how much of that is you and how much of that is masculinity? Like, I want to shed my snake skin, and emerge a smaller, more agile snake. Knowing exactly what I am and what I feel. Whenever I spend time thinking about or talking about my masculinity, I come out of it a stronger, more grounded, more self-knowledgeable person.
Kyle: Yeah. If I’m being super, super honest, part of the reason that I do this work and have done it for the past decade is spite… and yeah, I mean you could probably say that that’s kind of a masculine thing, haha, like “I’m mad!”
tony: hell yeah haha.
Kyle: But that spite comes from the fact that I think there’s this story that we’re told, in the US, but in many places around the world too, about what it means to be a man. And I think that that story is very insulting. I think it’s saying that, you know, you have to do this. You have to buy this product, and look like this; you have to act like this all the time or there’s something wrong with you. And like, that’s not just a harmful story. I think it’s a very insulting story. And so part of the reason is like, I really want to push back against that just for my own mental health because it pisses me off. Yeah. But I also, you know, echo everything you said about when you do recognize or see that story that’s being told to you and you kind of just step to the side of it, or you push back in your own way, or whatever, it does open up all these different possibilities of just being a fuller, more emotional being. And I think that that’s that’s beautiful.
I imagine a future in which, you know, gender is this incredibly complex, beautiful, dynamic thing. We don’t think of it in such binary terms. I imagine a future in which sexuality is a much more complex, dynamic thing and we don’t think about it in these super binary terms and like, yeah, how liberating that’s going to be. I mean, some of us are there right now, right? Some of us are building that world. Some of us might live in that world. Some of us have no idea that that world even exists. But that’s the world that I want to live in.
tony: Yeah, for real. And again, I feel like one of the biggest things in the way of that is masculinity, the way that it is constructed right now, and not necessarily the way it has to be constructed, but the way that it has been constructed right now.
And I guess the biggest thing for me, other than all of those things that that we’ve both shared so far, the biggest reason to like disrupt toxic masculinity or whatever is that it’s incredibly violent. You know, I cannot tell you how many friends I have, men and women, who have been physically assaulted by men, who have been sexually assaulted by men, who have struggled with body image and eating disorders and all kinds of other really difficult mental health challenges. Who live less fun and enjoyable lives because there’s always an insecure, violent man waiting in the wings to cause them harm. And I care about those people, not because I have a daughter or whatever, because I don’t, not because I have a sister, because I don’t, but because I love people. There are a lot of people in my life who I love that toxic masculinity has fucked with, and I am tired of seeing it. I don’t want to see it anymore. I want to find a different way to be.
Kyle: You know, there’s one other note that I wanted to share here that isn’t as much a personal thing, but I think is also important, is that we have a society in which a lot of guys grow up thinking that a “real man” has to be a certain way, has to always be in control, always be strong, always be successful, etc. And like, what if you’re not?
Something like 75 percent of suicides are men. Successful suicides. Eighty five percent of gun deaths are caused by men, more than 95 percent, almost all mass shooters are men. The vast majority of sexual violence, no matter what gender identity the victim holds, is committed by men. And we know that sexual violence is isn’t really about sex. It’s about power. We know that sexual harassment isn’t about pleasure. It’s about control; it’s about dominance. And even beyond interpersonal violence, I think there’s a specific relationship between masculinity in the way that we’ve been talking about it in this podcast and like, authoritarianism and fascism. You look at all the crooked billionaires and politicians and warmongers and how many of them are men? And how many of them are men who have completely and totally bought into this scam?
tony: An ultimately, how many of them are men who have bought into this scam and it still probably doesn’t even make them happy. You know, masculinity is such a pyramid scheme.
Kyle: You think Donald Trump is happy?
tony: Hell no. He’s miserable, right? He just wants to keep being the president because he knows that he’s gonna go to jail the second he leaves office.
Kyle: So in the interest of digging a little bit deeper than the conversation we usually get to have, I think there’s also something we need to talk about here in terms what we stand to lose by doing this kind of work. If we’re trying to challenge the dominant conceptions of what it means to be a man, what obstacles maybe stand in our way?
tony: I think bulletproofness is a big one. Like, one of the things that really I’ve seen happen in the whole #Metoo era, or all the conversations that have been happening around violations of consent and boundaries; if you’re being honest with yourself about how consent and boundaries have worked throughout your life, almost all of us have violated boundaries in some way or another. Or maybe I shouldn’t speak for everybody. I certainly have, and definitely want to talk about that more on a future episode. But I think that once you start actually thinking about these things, once you start actually thinking about ways that we play into ideas of gender or invulnerability or, you know, being an incredibly strong, sexy, powerful man, then you start looking around and realizing that you’re not a lot of those things. And I think that that can be a really painful, difficult experience, to realize, and admit to yourself, and then say in public that you have been tricked by this ideas. And that you have caused harm to people, because of these ideas. And you are not happy because of these ideas.
I know so many men who are unhappy, and have a hard time even admitting that they’re unhappy, because it disrupts that sense of being bulletproof. And they think to themselves “oh as soon as I admit that I’m not bulletproof, people are going to start shooting at me.”
And in my experience, that’s not true at all. I’m a much healthier, happier person on the other side of doing a lot of that work and thinking a lot about this stuff. But it can feel like a shield that’s really scary to lose for a lot of folks.
Kyle: Yeah, there’s the basic bursting of the ego bubble that has to happen. But I also think about how at some point, there’s got to be a material cost too. Like, not applying for that grant. We’re artists, so we both live in that world. I don’t slam (poetry slam) anymore, competitively, partly because I think I had an unfair advantage. I’ll still go to a slam and share poems, but not to win, or make a team or whatever. Because so much of what I talk about is feminist stuff, or stuff about masculinity, I would be applauded becuase it’s a “cool, interesting thing” when a guy talks about it. But then when a woman, or a nonbinary person talks about it, they get punished for it. It’s such a small thing. Not slamming anymore is such a small thing. But I think it’s symbolic of something larger. On one hand, I do believe we can live in a world where there’s real equity and everyone can be their authentic selves. But on the other hand, on the road TO that world, for me, it’s not just about what we give; it’s about what we give up.
tony: Word. One example from my artistic history is that I got booked to play this show. It was like a couple hundred dollars that I was going to get paid. And then after I got booked, this person reached out to me and was like “hey, we just realized that there are no women or gender-nonconforming people on the lineup. You’re the last person we talked to. Would it be okay if we put you on a future show, instead of on this one, so we can include a little bit of representation and diversity?” And I was like yeah. Because I care about my community. And I care about young girls coming up in the rap world and want them to see somebody on stage who looks like them, or who at least isn’t “a dude.”
Kyle: And there’s so much here we could talk about in terms of class stuff too. Like, what if you needed that $200 to make rent that month? How that impacts our ability to say no to certain gigs, or turn down certain opportunities, or give up certain privileges. But that might be a whole other episode.
Kyle: That’s going to be a running theme: there’s so much to talk about. This is the first episode, I still don’t know when you’re going to hear it, but we have a bunch of stuff planned picking up on some of the little things we touched on in this episode, and going in other directions as well. But one question we can end with is… well, the nature of this work is that you never get to a neat, tidy, wrapped-up-with-a-bow ending to this conversation. So are there things still on your mind, things that might inform future episodes, or things you’re still thinking about based on what we’ve talked about today.
tony: I think the thing that comes up for me the most is, just over the course of the last little while we’ve been talking about the idea of doing this podcast and what topics we might focus on… out of all of the people I’ve talked to about this, from Republican men, to the most ardent feminists— every single person I’ve talked to about this podcast has been like, “we need to have these conversations,” and wishing they had some sort of resource, and some sort of public space where people can talk about this stuff in a way that goes beyond surface level. It feels like every other week, we see a new New York Times article, or Atlantic article, where folks are talking about the fact that there’s a problem, that something is wrong with masculinity, yet it seems like there are so few opportunities for people to go deeper, and have bigger conversations about it. Some of that, I think, is individual men’s fear and reluctance to have those conversations, and some of it is that the spaces don’t exist. The feminist movement didn’t get a lot more women into the workplace, and legalize no-fault divorce, and get birth control legalized, and abortion legalized, by just one day magically waking up and there was a critical mass was there. It was conversations. It was small-scale conversations. Consciousness-raising groups of women who met in each other’s living rooms that helped to build up the conversation and turn it into something that could be a lot more powerful and literally change the whole world. So I think that’s the work. Not just for us, in this room with these microphones. I think for you at home, or in the car, or on the bus— how can we start having these conversations more, and having them in a way that actually goes somewhere, rather than just saying “hey this is a problem; we need to do something about it.”
Kyle: Yeah. So I imagine having a long conversation about, for example, accountability. What does accountability mean after, specifically a man, has harmed someone. That’s a whole episode. Even on lighter stuff too. I want to talk about pop culture, and how much pop culture has shaped how I understand manhood throughout my whole life watching cartoons and reading comic books. I want to talk about sex. I think men, particularly straight cis men, don’t really talk super openly about sex and relationships. That’s something to talk about. The possibilities are endless, and I’m excited to see where this goes.
tony: Yeah, I’m excited to talk about all those things. I’m excited to talk about sex, but also just dating in general. I know a lot of cats who have felt really uncomfortable around dating, or haven’t really known how to do it in a way that’s respectful. And I think a lot of time when people talk about healthier masculinities, one of the thoughts is “oh in this world we live in, nobody’s allowed to ask anybody else out.” And that’s absolutely not true, but it’s like, how do you do that in a way that’s healthy and good?
Kyle: Yeah, and if you’re confused about that, and you want to turn to a resource, what resources exist? Online pickup artist bullshit.
tony: Yeah dog, I almost got got by some of that shit when I was like 16. But yeah, that’s another episode.
Kyle: Yeah, let’s do a whole episode on that.
tony: Anyway, so one of the first places that I heard this conversation, in a deep way, way before we actually knew each other, was, Kyle, your poem “ten responses to the phrase ‘man up’.” So if you’d share that, that’d be really dope.
Kyle: Cool. Ten responses to the phrase “man up”
1. Fuck you.
2. If you want to question my masculinity, like a schoolyard circle of curses, like a swordfight with lightsaber erections, save your breath. Because contrary to what you may believe, not every problem can be solved by “growing a pair.” You can’t arm-wrestle your way out of depression. The CEO of the company that just laid you off does not care how much you bench. And I promise, there is no lite beer in the universe full-bodied enough to make you love yourself.
3. Man up? Oh that’s that new superhero, right? Mild-mannered supplement salesman Mark Manstrong says the magic words “MAN UP,” and then transforms into THE FIVE O’CLOCK SHADOW, the massively-muscled, deep-voiced, leather-duster-wearing super-man who defends the world from, I don’t know, feelings.
4. Of course. Why fight to remove our chains, when we can simply compare their lengths? Why step outside the box, when the box has these bad-ass flame decals on it? We men are cigarettes: dangerous, and poisonous.
5. You ever notice how nobody ever says “woman up?” They might imply it, but it’s not a thing people go around saying. I think that’s because women, and the women’s movement, figured out a long time ago that being directly ordered around by commercials, magazines and music is dehumanizing. When will men figure that out?
6. The phrase “Man Up” suggests that competence and perseverance (both good things) are uniquely masculine. That women—not to mention gender-nonconforming people, not to mention any man who doesn’t eat steak, drive a pickup truck, have lots of sex with women—are nothing. More than anything, though, it suggests that to be yourself—whether you wear skinny jeans, or rock a little eyeliner, or drink some other brand of light beer, or write poetry—will cost you.
7. How many boys have to kill themselves before this country acknowledges the problem? How many women have to be assaulted? How many trans people have to be murdered? We teach boys how to wear the skin of a man, but we also teach them how to raise that skin like a flag and draw blood for it.
8. Boy babies get blue socks. Girl babies get pink socks. Right? What about orange? What about purple? What about green, yellow, chartreuse, cerulean, black, tie-dyed, buffalo plaid, rainbow…
9. I want to be free, to express myself. Man up. I want to have meaningful, emotional relationships with my brothers. Man up. I want to be weak sometimes. Man up. I want to be strong in a way that isn’t about physical power or dominance. Man up. I want to talk to my son about something other than sports. Man up. I want to be who I am. Man up.
tony: Thanks for joining us, and we’ll talk to you in two weeks!
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