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The Masculinity of the Future

“I hope you’ve got enough cojones!” George Bush snapped at Tony Blair. The American president then outlined his planned bombardment of Iraq to the British Prime Minister: “I’m gonna kick ass!”

Over the last two decades, much of the world has witnessed a wave of masculinization. Ideas about how strong men are an attractive future ideal have taken hold in many people’s minds. The #MeToo movement is facing a serious attack, fueled by the resentment and aggressiveness of large numbers of men.

Autocratic, populist right-wing leaders are an example of this new, unbridled masculinity.  Donald Trump mocks disabled people, treats women as if they were sex dolls, and boasts about touching them up. Vladimir Putin has a habit of stripping to the waist so he can show off his muscles while being photographed in the snow. In recent years, his government has decreed that domestic violence is not against the law and the Russian state encourages cruelty towards homosexuals and people with different ethnic backgrounds. To the extent that in Russia things have got to the stage where the murders of the dissident journalist Anna Politkovskaya and dozens of other intellectuals, are regarded as little more than peccadillos. Much of Russian society became fed up with democracy and gave the green light to the so-called  siloviki, the tough guys. Many Russians support the rule of force as a state policy. One of the  most popular Russian rock songs is dedicated to Putin and his tough guys: “I love a guy like Putin, he’s as tough as they come’, sing the teenage stars Larissa, Natasha and Ira.

“Man what’s wrong with you? Females are trying to take on the man’s role because you don’t fuck them and because you are an embarrassment. Men are wolves, men are lions, men are the leaders. Stop being weak, be a man, be a warrior, what’s wrong with you?” This was tweeted, verbatim, by the great Russian dancer Sergei Polunin, whose followers are accustomed to comments in which he shouts out his indignation against homosexuals, obese people and the undisciplined. Polunin has had a large portrait of Putin tattooed on his chest.

After Vaclav Havel, the late Czech president whose ethical, humanitarian and pro-European stance was representative not only of the Czech Republic but of all post-Communist Europe, we have seen the rise to power of certain politicians whose values are very different from those of the president-playwright Havel: autocrats such as Prime Minister Orban in Hungary and President Duda in Poland help boost ultranationalist, archaic, and patriarchal values.  There is only one woman in the whole of the Hungarian government:  Andrea Bartfai-Mager, a minister without portfolio. In Poland, where the ruling party, PIS and the Catholic Church give each other mutual support, women count for nothing except as mothers, wives and church parishioners. In the Czech Republic, president Milos Zeman is incapable of saying a single sentence which isn’t strewn with scatological swear words.

But the new tendency towards sexism is not found only among politicians. I discovered that a journalist for a Spanish newspaper referred to the former director of the Federal Reserve as ‘little old lady Yellen’. The French writer Yann Moix reduced women to their bodies when he publicly declared that the body of a fifty year old woman is nothing special, whereas that of a twenty-five year old woman is, especially those of Asian women of this age, who are the kind he likes to date. The current Pope was once recently overheard saying ‘All feminism eventually turns into sexism in a skirt.’

In an article on the rise of sexism, the Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra traces the new rush of testosterone in the Anglo-American establishment to a date not long after the attack on the Twin Towers; by way of demonstration, he quotes the Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, who said that “from the ashes of September 11 arise the manly virtues…masculine men, men who push things and pull things.”

Peggy Noonan defends ‘heroes’ such as John Wayne, above all because: “The GOP should go back to being John Wayne. He had a gun, it was loaded and he knew how to use it… A lot of people killed him – not only feminists but peacemakers, leftists, intellectuals. You could even say it was Woody Allen who did it.”

Peggy Noonan is a great fan of Jordan Peterson, a neuroscientist and the author of self-help books. The New York Times columnist David Brooks described Peterson as “the most influential public intellectual in the western world right now”. Like Peterson, David Brooks insists that the means justify the ends, even if this means wiping innocent villages off the face of the earth: “In an age of conflict, bourgeois virtues like compassion, tolerance, and industriousness are valued less than the classical virtues of courage, steadfastness, and a ruthless desire for victory.”

Jordan Peterson is a typical example of the anxiety felt by Western men. I met people – some of them in American universities – who revere his ideas. Peterson complains that the West has lost its faith in masculinity and attacks the idea that the sexes are equal as a “murderous equity doctrine”. “The masculine spirit is under attack” he likes to proclaim in his speeches on YouTube, which have had just under a million visits. According to him, feminists have “an unconscious yearning for brutal masculine domination”. He also asserts that chaos is feminine and order, masculine.  This must be the reason, say I, why – according to the American Psychological Association – 90% of murders in the United States are committed by men: the wish to restore order. Most of his 560,000 followers on Twitter are young men.

His supporters think of him as a beacon of reason against “the social justice warriors”. Just like president Trump when he talks about Mexican refugees, Peterson instils the idea into his devotees that people on the margins of society are aggressive and violent, enemies which society should rid itself of without thinking twice. Jordan Peterson acts as a guide for people who have lost their way in a society which they find incomprehensible, by promising them that the far right can be a refuge in which they can conceal their frustration.

In Spain, to mention just one European country, the party political programme of Vox, aka ‘the testosterone party”, reads like the transcription of a conversation between several male sexists sitting in a tavern over beers: its salient points are the fight against feminism and abortion, together with the vindication of hunting and bullfighting.. It comes as no surprise that, according to the polls, 60% of its Spanish voters are men (in the most recent autonomous community elections in Andalusia, 65% of Vox’s vote was male). Although a majority of Republican voters in the United States are men, whereas a majority of women prefer the Democrats, the male percentage achieved by Vox is unprecedented. Pablo Casado, the leader of Spain’s mainstream right-wing party, the Partido Popular (PP), caused an outrage on social media when he stated: “If we want to receive pensions, we’re going to have to have more children”. Casado, aside from his rejection of abortion, is trying to put an end to a constitutional promise to protect women against sexist domestic violence. Just like the archaic, ultranationalist parties in Hungary and Poland, Vox and the PP believe that women have only one role in society: to reproduce in order to guarantee the nation’s future.

It is a short step from these patriarchal beliefs to the glorification of war and the law of the strongest; such was the ideology of Fascism and we already know where this type of thinking led to in the 1930s. This ode to violence and force, which considers any attempt to hold talks with one’s adversary to be a sign of weakness, is a denigration of democracy and constitutes a grave danger to society as a whole.

Monika Zgustova is a writer. Her most recent book is Dressed for a Dance in the Snow: Women’s Voices from the Gulag. (Other Press 2020)

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