CULTURE

International Men's Day Has Been Shockingly Wholesome

Instead of affirming misogyny, it's being used to celebrate men's vulnerability

Advocacy for men and men's rights has earned a reputation as thinly veiled misogyny.

And far too often, that is exactly what it is. So it was a pleasant surprise to look into what people on Twitter were saying today about #InternationalMensDay and discover a wealth of warmth, inclusivity, and a broad acknowledgment of the gendered expectations that oppress everyone in our society.


Men are supposed to be stern, and rational, and stoic. Obviously, this stereotype is harmful for any woman who has to compete in a profession where stern, rational, stoicism is valued, but it also harms any man who isn't able to reach out for support when he needs it, or believes his feelings are only valid if they are channeled through some post-hoc rationality. It harms the man who doesn't feel free to break down in tears at the end of a long day, and the man who tells himself that his struggle with mental health is just a matter of willpower or "manning up." Most of all it harms the boys who are learning how to be human while being fed a toxic ideal of manhood.


Figures like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, who might be expected to spearhead a holiday celebrating manhood, were surprisingly absent from the conversation—with Shapiro preferring to focus his Twitter energy directly on Eric Swalwell and "fart-gate." They espouse the virtues of their rigid gender roles, and are often called out for doing harm to women as well as trans and non-binary people of all descriptions, but perhaps the most immediate harm they do is to the audience of young men who take them seriously. Young men who try to hold themselves to artificial ideals of who and what they need to be.


In an alternate universe—that managed to bleed through to ours with a fair few obnoxious takes—International Men's Day is the anti-feminist equivalent of a straight-pride parade or a call for white history month. And in that universe, it helps no one, and only serves to reaffirm existing power structures. But today, for once, we do not inhabit the darkest timeline, and International Men's Day made room for men and boys to be human and vulnerable. It spurred efforts to spread mental health awareness, and helped to loosen the cultural grip of the toxic ideals of manhood.

Peter Pan

Disney's new streaming service, Disney+, premiered on Tuesday to universal complaints.

The system is buggy, it crops out jokes on The Simpsons, and it essentially killed off the Netflix Marvel series. But considering the constant commentary on trigger warnings and the very predictable uproar from a segment of white men whenever a woman or a person of color is placed in a role that could have been given to someone less "political," it's a wonder that there hasn't been more of a backlash against Disney's new content warning.

Along with the usual warnings where sexual themes and violence are concerned, certain Disney movies have been officially labeled as even more racist than others. Pocahontas, for instance, has missed this distinction by tapping into relatively benign "noble savage" stereotypes, rather than playing into grotesque caricatures of inhuman otherness in its depiction of non-white characters. Peter Pan, on the other hand, was not so lucky. It joined the list of movies containing "cultural depictions" so "outdated" that they need a special warning so thoughtful parents can shield their kids from that particular brain-poison (while exposing them to a host of others).

Disney's "Peter Pan" - What Makes the Red Man Red? www.youtube.com

Other movies have earned this recognition include Lady and the Tramp, Dumbo, The Jungle Book, and Fantasia. Some have argued that referring to these wildly dehumanizing portrayals of non-white people (or, tellingly, animals standing in for non-white people) as simply "outdated" places the blame on the era in which they were produced, without taking any responsibility for the impact of producing and distributing such harmful iconography. After all, if Disney is willing to wage an endless fight to maintain their exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse—and for the subsequent deprivation of the public domain—shouldn't they likewise be held accountable for the indefensible content in much of their IP? If the blame doesn't belong solely to them, then why does the profit?

"Jim Crow"in DumboDumbo

It's a compelling argument, but it overlooks an important point. Namely, Disney is right about the eras that produced such offensive trash. Their movies have always tapped into the zeitgeist—the lowest common denominator of ideas. And for the entire history of "Western Civilization," those ideas have been horribly racist (as well as homophobic, misogynistic, and culturally chauvinistic). Colonialism is the foundation of "Western Civilization." The looting and subjugation of other peoples and their lands have made it possible for the Western world to flourish. The United States, for instance, was "settled" on top of an existing civilization that white men ravaged with the help of guns, biological warfare, and the forced labor of people who were stolen from their homes, then bred and sold and treated as livestock.

This brand of devouring colonialism has been made possible by concerted efforts to dehumanize anyone who doesn't conform to the mold of the dominant elite. And men like Walt Disney perpetuated that brand. Whatever Jordan Peterson might want you to believe, Disney movies have always been propaganda—part of a mythos that defined "the West" in contrast to the rest of the world, holding it up as something worth defending. "Western Civilization" is inextricably linked to these self-aggrandizing myths, and any attempt to undermine derogatory depictions of the Other is fundamentally an attack on "Western Civilization." Worse than the new content warning, Disney has completely omitted Song of the South, erasing the proud tradition of pretending that black people were happy as slaves. The Disney+ claim that "The Vault Is Wide Open" seems to be ignoring a few items in the lock box at the back.

In short, Disney's latest effort at woke-washing is an affront to the principles that our society was built on—namely, the principle that the world belongs to white men, and no one else is really a person—but it doesn't go nearly far enough. They are attacking our disgusting history in little ways, but they are still profiting from its relics and using Tom Hanks to put a nice face on the whole operation. Now that Disney owns literally all of culture, they owe it to us to own up to the dark past that defines our society and attack "Western Civilization" head on. Because until we fully dismantle the disgusting ideas at the core of "Western Civilizations" and begin to build an inclusive and global society, we will not have earned the right to call ourselves civilized.

What do the victims of lynch mobs, witch trials, and the holocaust all have in common? Wealthy white men identify with their struggles.

Donald Trump, comparing his treatment in the impeachment inquiry to a lynching, is just the latest in a long line of wealthy white men who recognize a commonality between the people who've been horribly mistreated by the dominant culture and the people who are at the center of the dominant culture. There's nothing like a centuries-long legacy of brutally clinging to power to suddenly transform you into an underdog when people start to challenge your natural role at the top of the social hierarchy.


Donald Trump's "Lynching" Tweet Twitter

That's what makes this such a terrifying time to be a rich white guy. Cultural activists want to amplify the accusations of women you (allegedly) assaulted, minority groups want to reform the police forces that solely protect your interests, and political candidates want to take the wealth that you justly harvested from crops of underpaid workers. As wealthy white men are eager to tell you, we live in a culture that is cruelly victimizing wealthy white men.

The Emmet Till Memorial Covered in Bullet Holes


Donald Trump gets that. Who can better relate to the experience of Emmett Till than the man whose key demo vandalized Emmett Till's memorial to the point that it had to be replaced with a bulletproof version? Who could possibly understand the struggle of the black Americans, and the historic horror of lynching, better than the man who wanted to close down the National Museum of African American History and Culture for a private tour on MLK Jr. Day—and who couldn't be shown anything "difficult" there, because he was in a bad mood? Why should he have to see the cruelty that marginalized people dealt with in the past, when he and wealthy white men like him are living it right now. Can you imagine being Jordan Peterson, having to deal with a lot of people saying mean things to him on Twitter just because he has built his career on the refusal to acknowledge the existence of trans people? He no longer feels safe to even post his own tweets! Is there any clearer example of erasure? I literally can't think of one. Doesn't he deserve some sort of space where he can speak his mind without being bullied by those with less power and cultural status? A space that's safe, if you will? He is a unique and fragile individual, as precious as those little things that snow is made of (what are those called again?). We have to protect him!



And you have to feel bad for Brett Kavanaugh, who had his life so destroyed by multiple, corroborated accusations of sexual misconduct that he's been forced to serve on the Supreme Court and continue coaching his daughter's basketball team. Meanwhile, his most notable accuser has the luxury of remaining in hiding and no longer teaching more than a year after she recounted her deepest trauma in the most public venue imaginable. Remember how nice the Republican senators were about her testimony, just before they voted for the man who assaulted her?

Brett Kavanaugh Being a Sad Little Boy REUTERS

And consider the lot of Tom Perkins, the tech billionaire who sounded the alarm on how bad things were getting for rich white guys all the way back in 2014, comparing his experience to that of Jews in Nazi Germany. Poor guy (not literally poor, obviously, that would be gross). And Trump's climate adviser, William Happer, who has made a lucrative career advocating for fossil fuel companies, made a similar observation about the demonization of carbon dioxide, yet we continue to give Greta Thunberg a platform to spread her carbon hate, with only death threats and constant harassment to put her in her place. Won't someone please think of the oil executives?!

Truly, unlike every other instance in recorded history, in the modern day it's the wealthy and powerful white men who are on the receiving end of oppression. The struggle is real.