Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Bassem Youssef

I haven’t done one of these in way too long, but one name has been at the forefront for a while now: Bassem Youssef. The snapshot – he was wanted for arrest by the authorities in an authoritarian regime (Egypt) for wearing a hat mocking the President, and when he turned himself in, he was wearing the hat.

Baller.

Before we continue, here is a manly picture of Bassem:

Image result for bassem youssef

Bassem Youssef is an Egyptian comedian and political commentator as well as writer, producer, physician and freaking surgeon. He’s like Jon Stewart, if Jon was born in a dictatorship, smarter and more accomplished, while also facing threats to his life as a matter of course throughout his career. (And I love Jon Stewart. But for real.)

Lots of racists and ideologues in the US like to whine about “free speech” and “censorship” whenever someone calls them out for their shitty ideas, but Youssef has had to deal with actual threats to his freedom of speech and actual censorship. In response to this, he has remained relentless funny.

It’s one thing to respond to a violent, repressive regime with violence. It’s another thing entirely to respond to a violent, repressive regime with jokes on television. One thing that Youssef highlights to me is the emptiness of what so many comedians in the United States complain about in terms of ‘political correctness’, whining about how hard it is to do their jobs now because they can’t make as many trans-phobic or ableist jokes or whatever. I look at someone like Bassem Youssef, in all of his manly glory, and it puts those complaints in an entirely different light.

It makes me wonder whether actual humor (and not just vapid alt-right trolling, or mere snark) can insulate us against being radicalized, or reverting to nativism, or falling under the sway of demagogues.

For his combination of courage, intelligence, and humor, Bassem Youssef is today’s Profile in Positive Masculinity.

For more information, you can start with this interview through The Economist from last year:

 

Men Have A Default, But Not A Path

…nor a goal.

I’m inching my way toward constructive work in helping to create and define positive masculinity, which leads me to think about masculinity a lot, which is weird. The reason it is weird is that there is no healthy, established pathway for the thoughts, and many of the pathways being built that I am aware of are going the wrong direction.

A Google glance at discussion around masculinity reveals a few consistent threads, none of which are helpful, and some of which are harmful:

  1. Men are garbage and the source of every imagineable human problem, today and throughout history
  2. Men are the real victims of powerful Feminists and reverse-sexism, and must band together and swallow the Red Pill and double down on toxicity
  3. Men are innately hierarchical and aggressive, and are the victims of feminizing culture and unnatural restraints on their nature (compared to the good ol’ days); this one is related to the above but feels distinct
  4. Men are less and less employable in modern economies (see who has the jobs created in the last 10 years and who lots the jobs that were lost), less and less happy and healty, committing suicide more often and overdosing more often, but no one can figure out why. See above.
    1. At the same time men are utterly in control and have all of the power, all of the wealth, and every possible privilege. We fill the prison cells and the penthouse suites.

Or, you can boil it down to two main threads:

  • There is nothing positive about men, or
  • There is nothing questionable about men

Why is it so hard to say that there are positive things about men and also questionable things about men? Not only is that the only hopeful way forward, but frankly it seems to be the fact of the matter.

In trying to start constructive work here, I’ve been focusing on my Profiles in Positive Masculinity. As I said when I started the series, rather than coming up with a ‘theory of manhood’ or something at the beginning, what I wanted to do is to present what I thought were examples of positive masculinity in the form of living human beings. This is following along with the old Greek idea of the phronemos – the wise one who teaches wisdom by example rather than by formula. (True wisdom cannot be taught with words, but it can be recognized and emulated.) My hope was, and is, that even lacking a clear path to positive masculinity, we could intuit examples of it and hold them up, and then maybe later out of that comes a theory, and then a path.

The big problem is that men who want to be good men do not have a good path to get there. What we learn from our dads and grandpas is questionable – of inconsistent quality, let’s say, since their contexts were ones where men had more unquestioned power (we might have as much power now, but it is not unquesitoned). What we learn from media is created to make us insecure so that we buy shit we don’t need and fear people we should ally ourselves with – that’s the purpose of media, to be blunt, and using media for anything else requires persistent reistsance and careful discernment. What we get from culture overall is what Utah Philips called a “blueprint for self-destruction” and, along the way, a blueprint for the destruction of others. That’s the default – we are time-bombs that, ideally, never go off. Or, failing that, maybe we only hurt ourselves. (See falling white male life expectancy and rising white male suicide rates for example)

For all the privilege that comes with being a man, this is also a horrible situation to be in. We’re given undeserved power by a system that not only hurts everyone else but hurts us as well, and so if we realize what’s going on we want to dismantle this system. We look for alternatives, and what’s articulated is either we need to be forever restrained (nothing about men is good) or that we have been lied to and we are the real victims (nothing about men is questionable). There is a third option, that men are obsolete, or headed toward obsolescence, but I don’t see this one articulated as often as the first two. It’s out there, though, so we can say there are three bad options: a jail cell, a toxic Red Pill, or obsolescence.

We’re in the penthouse of a building, but the building is on fire and there are no doors or windows.

And yet, some men stumble into positive masculinity. It’s stumbling because either a man got lucky and got great advice from the other men in his life, or he abandoned the destructive script and made it up as he went along and it turned out alright. Either someone showed him a fire escape, or he smashed through a wall and jumped.

Most men will do neither, and instead, follow the default laid out before them by  society and other men. And men are not unique in this Рit is rare for any given person to break from the mold, so to speak. The problem is that the mold for men is a destructive one, for men and for everyone else.

This is my post laying out the problem. I’m not going to move to a solution here. Rather, I’ll try to continue to do slow constructive work through Profiles in Positive Masculinity, and see what comes of that. I welcome discussion, and ideas, and suggestions, as I go forward.

 

Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Terry Crews

Terry Crews just got more points at character creation than the rest of us.

A few weeks ago, Terry Crews, bodybuilder and actor, testified before Congress in support of a bill of rights for sexual assault survivors. He did this as a victim of sexual assault. Here, it makes some sense to add a manly picture of Terry Crews – and there are no pictures of Terry Cews that are not manly. Let’s go crazy, though:

Image result for terry crews

Terry Crews is funny, charismatic, seemingly kind and affable, and also 6’3” of raw, certified Grade-A beef. He’s action-figure muscular; a “force of nature” indeed. You do not pull his man card, his man card pulls you. He is not the person you think of when you think of “victim of sexual assault”, even if you specify that you are talking about a male victim of sexual assault. He is who you think of when someone says, “Hey what if He-Man was recast as black?”

So, one lesson: anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. Assume nothing. Which was, of course, part of Crews’ point in testifying before Congress. Most people who see that testimony have to take a moment and think, “Oh.” Maybe even really think.

One of the few valid-seeming claims of the Men’s Rights movement is that sexual assault of men is generally ignored, even when we are trying as a society to understand and od right by female victims of sexual assault. If we have a problem with women not reporting sexual assault, we have a much larger problem with men not doing so. The same is true with domestic violence – male victims of domestic violence are genereally not taken seriously, even though there are almost certainly millions of such victims.

Toxic masculinity hurts everyone, including men, because it is toxc masculinity that says to men that seuxal assault is just “boys being boys”, or a joke, or something you should get over, or something you should be ashamed to tell anyone about. Terry Crews could pull my arms off, but he describes being humiliated into silence about what happened to him.¬† He is a popular, recognizeable public figure – imagine what it is like for someone who is not enormously strong and enormously famous, for the millions of victims we never hear from. What keeps them silent? For the most part, I would say it is toxic masculinity.

What can we contrast with that toxicity? The ongoing constructive work of defining and nurturing positive masculinity. In this case, we have Terry Crews using his position of influence for the greater good in two ways. First, he is speaking to Congress on behalf of the millions who will never have a moment in front of a Senate or House committee. Second, he is demonstrating to other men that speaking out is the right thing. In amongst the thoughts men might have, that they don’t want to be seen as weak, or a bitch, or a victim, there is also this kind of ray of light – we would all like to be like Terry Crews.

Be like Terry Crews. Encourage your friends to be like Terry Crews. Support men who are like Terry Crews.

 

Profiles in Positive Masculinity: Philly Starbucks Guys

A lot of the articles about Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson haven’t used their names, so I didn’t feel like putting them in the title, but I imagine many of you reading this know who I am talking about. Back in April, two black men entered a Starbucks in Philadelphia (near where I live) and asked to use the bathroom. They were told that the bathroom was only for paying customers, so they sat down to wait for a friend to join them. Then the manager called the police and asked that they be arrested for trespassing. They were later released when Starbucks did not press charges.

This story hit a nerve, in large part because it is another example of how just existing while black brings suspicion from white people and unwanted contact with the police.

The response from Starbucks was pretty decent, but that isn’t the focus of this reflection. What I found really interesting was how the two men responded to the incident and what followed. There was some media attention, and they both behaved with a lot of dignity. Ultimately, there was a settlement agreement with the city of Philadelphia. The two men took $1 for themselves, and had the city donate $200,000 to set up a foundation to help high school kids who want to become entrepeneurs.

This is what positive masculinity looks like. Two young men are profiled and then unjustly harrassed and arrested by the police. This is hardly the first time they’ve experienced racism They have a chance to profit from the situation, but instead they make a statement, and take the opportunity to make life better for kids they’ll never meet. Starbucks has a chance to do better, and hopefully will. Philadelphia has a chance to do better, and hopefully will. And high school kids have a chance to learn to become entrepeneurs, and hopefully will.

Toxic Masculinity

I’ve fallen behind with my regular Friday updates to this blog, and I’m sorry.

When I post Profiles In Positive Masculinity on this blog, I’m contending with another kind of masculinity, generally referred to as “toxic masculinity.” Not that men are toxic, but that there are toxic ways that men are taught to be men. Toxic to men, and to women, and to everyone. Here is a video about it, because I have to get back to the other things that are eating up my life right now: