As with any online opinion article, the user comments’ section of Paul Hudson’s Why Men Aren’t Real Men Anymore had its fair share of dissent, ranging from tempered retorts to impassioned dismissals of the author’s audacity. Doubtless that Hudson’s intention was to provoke readers, he should be commended for accomplishing what all published writer’s (the web counts) seek: attention. And although Hudson’s claims throughout the piece do reflect some undeniable truths, the tone and coherence of his argument ironically expose him to the very criticism he has of manhood in this generation.
A major point of contention in his Elite Daily piece is its title. My initial response to it, as well as to other people to whom I mentioned it, was “WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!” Heeding my wisdom about digital communication, I realized that posing the question in that manner might not be the best way to get taken seriously. Still, the question is valid. And Hudson’s opening paragraph features reminiscence of authentic masculinity:
“There was once a time when men used to be real men. When they dressed with style, when they had a certain honor code they followed that involved treating not only their elders and each other with respect, but women alike. Unfortunately, those days are far- gone — a thing of the past. What we have now is… to be quite honest, I’m not sure.”
While all the ideals he mentions are admirable, the challenge is in identifying a period when they actually came to bear. While earlier eras in history could be considered more wholesome, respectful, and honorable, none were without objectionable customs, especially as they concerned women. The anthropological discourse surrounding gender roles cedes the likelihood that monogamy was a construct instigated by men to maintain control of women (then considered property). So the values that Hudson romanticizes are inherently linked to crimes against humanity, something he (hopefully) just overlooked.
It is admittedly tempting to romanticize certain social mores, especially through the narrow context in which Hudson frames them. However, greater concern should be for examining how those mores have shifted over time instead of lamenting the disappearance of a time that never happened the way he imagines it.
What’s more problematic than his revisionist history is that Hudson returns from his Land of Make-Believe only to latch onto how technology has also neutered most of the erect Y-chromosomes in the western world. Using the observation that today’s women have accepted the infantilism of their male counterparts as segue, Hudson calls on the custom of remote communication to reinforce how character development among men has decayed:
“Something has been happening during this era dubbed the “information age.” Social media platforms have taken away the need to interact face to face, taking away the need for actual interaction…much of the interpersonal confrontations are now also taking place online. People no longer feel that they have a need to meet in person to discuss their differences; they can now troll each other online. People are using the Internet as a shield, hiding behind IP addresses in order to speak their minds. The Internet acts like beer-muscles. It makes you believe that you are stronger than you actually are, making you more aggressive.”
No one can deny that anonymity encourages online users to confront people in ways that they would never dare to in person. But even primitive technologies (e.g. letters, telegrams, carrier pigeons) allowed people to engage in uncomfortable discourse when face-to-face interaction was inconvenient. So long before online chat rooms and AOL Instant Messenger, the benefit of a remove has defied Hudson’s vision of natural law—where strength and aggression are the stock in trade for confrontation. The complexity that affords humans the ability to settle differences verbally predates the information age, so the claim that ‘pwning’ someone is symptomatic of an epidemic decline in masculinity gets pwned by centuries of counterevidence. That Hudson refers to “people” instead of only men to set his backdrop of e-cowardice further surrenders that technology’s impact on how we communicate is hardly gender-specific.
Hudson proceeds to alienate his readers as he sets himself above and apart from the world he criticizes:
“Personally, when my fight or flight response mechanism kicks in, I always go with fight. It’s not by choice; it’s just the way that I am wired. Online, people have no need to run away because they are already in hiding — so they always choose to “fight.” Although the fighting they do is just about as significant as the fighting I do when I play Call of Duty.”
Hudson’s conceit that his primal instincts are a rarity set a scene in which he benefits from superior genetics not shared by hermetic gamer types…among which he is apparently also a member. So in this case, the very analogy Hudson uses to tear these men down undermines his passive-aggressive attempt at self-aggrandizement.
But then Hudson entices his readers by attacking a fundamental component upon which gender roles are reinforced: dating. Unfortunately, the criticism of men in this regard takes for granted a stance that is ultimately debatable, antiquated, and borderline sexist.
“The same interaction from beneath cover can be seen when we look at the intercommunication between men and women. It is no secret that both men and women alike have sexual urges. Men, however, feel the need to get off more often than most women. So instead of having to spend the time to meet a real woman and have actual sexual intercourse, they watch porn.”
Although social ineptitude among men and women appears to be more common than in earlier decades—when roles were more rigidly defined and, therefore, simpler to navigate—Hudson rests on the flawed assumption that men and women are in irreconcilable opposition when it comes to sexual appetite. The claim that men feel the need to get off more often than most women is an accepted paradigm among the conservative mainstream, but its inaccuracy accounts for the communication rift between men and women as it relates to healthy sexual relationships.
Meanwhile, pornography—and masturbation, for good measure—allows for a path of less resistance in satisfying natural physical urges for men AND women, but neither precludes the need for a deeper interpersonal connection. The trend of men forfeiting the right to socialize for an easier alternative does support Hudson’s assessment of the less primal version of manhood prevalent today, but blaming behavioral shifts on men alone ignores the greater social context in which women play an equal role.
Yet, Hudson continues his unilateral attack on men with his commentary on online dating:
“Instead of going out into the real world and meeting women, they stalk women on Instagram. People now date online as well. It’s much easier to talk to a woman online than it is in person—or rather, it’s not that it’s easier. Both are just as easy, but for some reason, men now prefer to hide their faces behind their monitors.(Every time I use the term ‘men’ in such context I quiver) It’s out of fear and laziness. Men have become lazy pussies. I don’t even want to use the word pussy because it brings to mind women, who nowadays have much more character than men.”
In criticizing the phenomenon of online dating, Hudson demonstrates a lack of understanding for how the online dating world works. Firstly, he suggests that trolling the Internet to peer into someone else’s life is exclusively a male pastime. And secondly, he ignores that online dating sites facilitate the eventual face-to-face meetings that he champions. Admittedly, there are people who maintain long-distance relationships with people they have met online. However, to repeat the rebuttal from earlier, letter correspondences took place for centuries between would-be lovers, so it would be interesting to learn whether Hudson would consider those relationships as illegitimate as a relationship sustained solely over email. As for the vulgar rant with which Hudson concludes that paragraph, it reeks of the kind of male self-loathing and female deification that could not possibly be considered attractive to a well-adjusted bachelorette.
Ultimately, Hudson weakens the premise of his entire article as he concludes by focusing primarily on the Millenial Generation writ large. The instant gratification demanded by those born in the late ‘70s and early ’80s has certainly altered how we behave and respond to the world around us. And using those behaviors as the backdrop for what Hudson recognizes as problems in a heteronormative context could have contributed to a collectively introspective dialogue about the extent to which our generation differs from those of the past. Alas, Hudson attempts to vilify men as the sole instigators of the troubled culture Generation Y has ushered in. Of course, the selfishness that he associates exclusively to men transcends gender in many cases, which he would have no choice but to grant given his broader observation. Instead, that logic evades Hudson toward the end of his essay:
“Being focused on self-satisfaction will lead to nothing but broken relationships. Real men are not selfish. Real men are just as concerned for the feelings, needs and minds of women as they are for their own — not just women’s bodies and their sexual usefulness. Real men have a well-defined code of ethics and respect that they follow.”
Hudson’s affirmation of real men applies to real women as well, but his stance puts men in contrast to a monolithic womanhood that clashes with contemporary demonstrations of it. That women use men for sex just as men do seems to be a foreign or reprehensible concept to Hudson, whence could stem the inability to observe contemporary culture without being so preachy. While a male-dominated society is more forgiving of male selfishness, the microcosm of a sexual relationship of any orientation involves a mutual negotiation of that selfishness. And assumptions that men are solely responsible to monitor their level of concern for someone they date does not sound like a relationship that any “real man” would deserve.
What began as a call-to-arms for men to “man up” ends as a master class in whining/pandering, justifying the ire in the article’s comments’ section:
“It’s awful because women are becoming accustomed to such boys and believing that these pansies are all that is left of our sex. Some great women are settling for these fools and then finding that they themselves have no choice but to wear the pants in the family because their “man” is PMSing. All I can hope for is that the law of evolution will see the world rid of these weaklings, these characterless, hopeless pseudo-men.
Ladies… real men do exist; there aren’t many of us, but we’re survivors and will be around for a while. Come find us.”
Although many men can relate to the frustration of meeting attractive women who gripe about their flawed boyfriends, the “real man” that Hudson claims to be would not be as concerned about “these weaklings,” much less resort to name calling and judging women’s choices in the interest of raising his own stock. Further, the final line of his article depicts a scene in which all the real men are marooned on a desert island that women cannot see for the ocean of “PMSing” “pseudo-men” in the way (admittedly a funny cartoon for New York Magazine). And the request that great women “come find us” certainly undermines the supposed initiative of the gallant, debonair, and principled gentlemen who actually deserve the women these pseudo-men somehow snag. So perhaps, on some level, Paul Hudson is admitting that he, too, is a victim of the passivity into which men have fallen in this generation. Or maybe he just felt like venting because he got tired of asking women what underemployed, frail hipsters have that he doesn’t have. Either way, the flaws in his argument are too many to consider his explanation of why men aren’t real men anymore a part of constructive social criticism. Elite this article was not.