John Scalzi (@scalzi) and #masculinitysofragile

Something about these two tweets made by science-fiction writer and self-avowed feminist John Scalzi really stuck in my craw:

Stuck enough that here I am, twenty-four hours after the fact, taking to WordPress. According to Mr. Scalzi, if I’m reading this correctly (and it’s not hard to unpack, being two tweets), if men are secure in their masculinity, they have nothing to say about the hashtag as it does not affect them, and therefore remain silent (and if they don’t, they’re apparently <insert straw man here, in this case “dudebro”>). In other words, exercise stoicism and a general lack of emotion in the face of criticism. Personally, I would say “adhere strictly to their pre-defined gender role as men”.

That, Mr. Scalzi, is the very definition of toxic masculinity. Especially taken into account Scalzi’s accompanying antics on social media, and this quote from that very linked page:

…And because they challenge the status-quo, they must be forced back into compliance, whether through mockery and derision or through outright violence….

Something in which Scalzi participates not merely casually, but gleefully. It is very possible (and likely true) Scalzi is attempting to make a point that systems of oppression affect men as well as women, and that men need to realize how systemic oppression affects them negatively and break themselves out of it, first and foremost by redefining manhood and masculinity.

The problem is antics like this hashtag reinforce toxic masculinity; they don’t challenge men to overcome it. As do individuals like Scalzi, for mocking and deriding critics who would speak out in response. And, they do so by perpetuating a culture of fear and silence in regards to gender issues that negatively impact men, through the very highlighted erasure, mockery, derision, and victim-blaming.

Somewhere between 45-47% (napkin math, here) of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence victims are men (pages 17-27). That’s self-reported. In the last year; the CDC can’t even get lifetime estimates, due to insufficient reporting. The United States is hardly alone in this phenomenon, nor is the CDC alone in reporting it.

It’s Women’s and Gender Studies 101 to know what happens to abuse and violence reporting in the presence of a climate of fear and silence perpetuated by erasure, mockery, and victim-blaming. This is where Scalzi, the hashtag itself and those participating unironically in it, prove wantonly reckless at best; at the end of the day, reinforcing a gender role is still reinforcing a gender role, regardless of ostensible purpose.

“But it’s not me,” I’m sure at this point Scalzi or a surrogate would say, “it’s the patriarchy! I’m just the messenger…” I’ve been in this conversation far too many times with individuals like Scalzi, and I’ll just jump straight to the endgame. Have a quote by Audre Lorde,

… the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

I’m sure everyone reading that will recognize it, as it’s become the unofficial screed of radical social justice “advocates” across the first world. Of course, that’s where it ends as Lorde is understood and used within social justice circles as well as they do Foucault; which is to say, about as well as Marx used Hegel, the Nazis used Nietzsche, or the Tea Party uses Paine.

How, one might ask. Let’s take a look at the full context of that oft-cited quote (emphasis mine).

[Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older] — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.

Oh, a note about that bit in brackets. When Lorde wrote this, she was calling out the classism, eurocentrism, racism, and homophobia of second-wave feminism. Sound familiar? Far be it for me to say were we to roll copper wire around Lorde’s grave, we could power the eastern seaboard indefinitely solely off her words’ misappropriation by the contemporary social justice movement…but fuck it, I’ll say it anyway. Nor am I done.

What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable.

Frankly, that speaks for itself. Being “just the messenger” is sufficient in and of itself to be, paradoxically, an agent of the selfsame oppression. Let alone when the message is carried as loutishly as has been of recent years, evidenced by none other than this very hashtag. End of story.

Crap like this hashtag and Scalzi’s words are reductive, incendiary nonsense that puts the very men that are being “helped” at greater risk in the long run. It’s not about genuine change, least of all gender equality; it’s about scoring political points, getting one over on “the other team”, as Lorde would put it “temporarily beat[ing the master] at his own game”. At worst, it’s about kicking the “old” master out and moving in to take his place.

Personally, I’m reminded of an oft-misquoted excerpt from a famous Peter Arnett article about the shelling of Ben Tre city during the Vietnam war: “we had to destroy the town to save it”. Make of that what you will, and I urge the reader to look for themselves the historical context of that quote in the process.