Discover more from Ginny Hogan
Raising Questions Season 2: Positive Masculinity
Hey friends! This is another long-ish essay about the new season of my pod. For stand up updates, all I have is that I’ll be at Edinburgh Fringe for ALL of August—come see me, and tell your friends!!! For writing updates, subscribe to my new newsletter of political nonsense, if you like that kind of thing. I also wrote an essay defending the term “like,” another not defending Jonah Hill, and I have a new gig as a political satirist at Betches.
Feel free to stop reading if that’s all you want from me….and once again, have a picture of my cat to create a narrative break….
A few weeks ago, I was assigned to write a review of Josh Hawley’s book Manhood. For the love of god, don’t read this book. You weren’t going to, though, so I’m not worried. (Also, I say I was “assigned.” I begged for an advanced copy so I could pitch a review. I don’t think I’m being too forward in asserting that I was the perfect person to review it, though, as I’m one of about six people who actually wanted to read his book, and the other five are related to him. In fact, I read one review in which the writer admitted in the first sentence that he couldn’t get through Manhood, which is fair).
Hawley’s book is about how men are struggling in our modern era. His arguments aren’t very good—most of his examples are from the Bible, which isn’t really the modern era. But he got me thinking. Do men have it bad?
I was resistant to the idea for obvious reasons, but once I opened the floodgates to understanding men’s dilemma, I couldn’t close them. It seemed like every day I saw a news story about the men’s health crisis, or declining college graduation rates among men, or men’s suicide statistics. There was a standard format to these pieces. Every article would argue that men’s struggles aren’t new, but that “this time is different”—which doesn’t mean much to me, because as a person who occasionally writes articles about “society” for the “internet,” I understand that to pitch a story, it’s necessary to include an explanation of the phenomenon’s history and timeliness.
And still, the more I read, the more convinced I became. Men are not okay.
Masculinity and the questions it leaves unanswered are dense in the atmosphere right now. The popularity of men like Jordan Peterson & Andrew Tate underline how the right is co-opting the masculinity conversation without progressives offering a viable alternative. Even the Barbie movie took on the idea that men don’t know how to be—in the final scene, after completing his transformation, Ryan Gosling dons a sweatshirt that says, “I Am Kenough.” The movie was criticized for being anti-male, but I disagreed wholeheartedly. It was deeply empathetic towards men and how lost they are.
In part, man are suffering for the same reasons everyone is. And to say we’re suffering at the hands of patriarchal forces like capitalism is both accurate and irrelevant to most individual men. It’s true that we can point to a few greedy, powerful dudes—men like Trump, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk—and highlight their destruction. But that doesn’t account for most men. Men at the very top make more than ever, but for all other men, their wages are stagnant, and a variety of economic forces have contracted opportunities in traditionally “masculine” fields.
In Richard Reeves’ book Of Boys and Men, he argues that women entering the workforce has created unexpected problems for men, one of which is that men once derived self-esteem from their role as the sole breadwinner. Without this, they don’t get the benefit of “code-switching”—alternating between various roles in one’s life. Reeves argues that for a working mother, code-switching allows her to fall back on whichever part of her life is going well. If she’s not excelling at motherhood, she can derive self-esteem from her job, and vice versa. Of course, this can backfire when everything is going badly—something I relate to, despite not being a mother, and only sort of having a job.
My initial reaction was to reject his argument on its face, if only because it seems to blame women’s liberation for men’s current predicament. However, upon further reflection, I had to accept that Reeves doesn’t lay the blame on women—he merely states that a sociological shift has had an impact on men that we’re still unpacking. Furthermore, to say men are suffering isn’t to say they’re suffering more than other genders. It’s simply to acknowledge that they’re suffering.
So, on this season of Raising Questions, I’m going to explore how men can be part of the solution, both to their own problems and society’s at large. This season is about Positive Masculinity.
I consider myself the right person to investigate positive masculinity for four reasons.
One—I want to know (and to be honest, based on responses I’ve gotten, many do not). Aside from Josh’s book, there were two reasons my curiosity was piqued. One was the first season of Raising Questions, in which I talked to parents about how they decided whether or not to have children. The men I talked to said they left the decision up to their partner, as she was the one who would carry the baby. After, I wrote an essay for The Daily Beast on why men should speak up about reproductive freedoms. I spoke to 20 men who’d been involved in an abortion. Seven of them (seven) said they never brought it up again, as they felt that expressing their feelings would put unnecessary strain on their partners. What struck me in both cases was their positive intentions. They’d been paying attention to the cultural conversations about parenthood and abortion, and they understood them to be women’s issues. However, at the point where they felt like their own feelings were not only irrelevant, but also a burden to their partner, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe men today just don’t know how to be. To be clear—I’m not the one to tell them. I don’t know, and also, if I knew how to get men to listen to me, my 20s would have gone a lot differently. I’m just raising questions—see also: the title of this podcast.
Two—I like masculinity. In fact, as a straight woman, I find it attractive (Jesus was not the only one with a cross to bear). I believe in it, as embarrassing as that is to admit in the year 2023. I like masculinity and I love men, so honestly, I want them to be okay.
Three—I already have a podcast that I had structured in such a way that I could start asking questions about any topic I liked, at any time. You don’t really need to be the “right person” to begin exploring anything. You just need a podcast. And honestly, you don’t even need that.
Four—I read Josh Hawley’s book on masculinity three full times, and I have 100% confidence that nothing I do can be worse.
Positive masculinity lies at that enticing intersection of “things I hadn’t thought much about before” and “things that could solve an enormous number of problems.” It’s like solar energy, before I knew what solar energy was. Well, that could be a stretch. I believe men can be good, but can they be solar energy good? (Once again, not the right person to answer that, as I know very little about solar energy).
I’ve already recorded about eight episodes, and I still don’t quite know what “positive masculinity” means. Is it an embrace of men’s feminine sides? Is it using their masculine sides for good? Is it the opposite of “toxic masculinity,” or is that not specific enough? Maybe there’s “neutral masculinity,” too, which could be the topic of my next season.
If “positive masculinity" isn’t the opposite of “toxic masculinity,” then the opposite of “toxic masculinity” might be “toxic femininity,” which is a term near and dear to my heart. A little bit of personal Ginny career history—my choice to title a 2018 New Yorker article Examples of Toxic Femininity in the Workplace set off a chain-reaction that culminated in a book deal followed by a studio deal for a television show that I dramatically quit because it was ruining my life, prompting a nervous breakdown of such devastating proportions that I bought a tent and began training to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. After that, I decided I had taken the phrase as far as it would go and vowed to never say it again.
My original article is not about “toxic femininity.” The thesis (if satirical essays can have a thesis) is that if women were in charge, workplaces would be perfect. I cringe reading it now, because it’s classic white feminism. The implication of the piece is that women can’t be toxic, which is obviously wrong. (The title also prompted dozens of men to thank me for calling feminism out for the “cancer” that it is).
And so, if I reject the idea that there can’t be a toxic femininity, I similarly reject the idea that there can’t be a positive masculinity. Of course masculinity can be positive and of course femininity can be toxic. You can’t throw a rock without hitting examples of both. Don’t throw rocks, though—that’s toxic behavior.
By the same logic, I fear that my current exploration is an embrace of gender essentialism; to boil certain traits down to “male” and “female,” and then subsequently categorize each of those as “toxic” or “positive.” Maybe the solution is to eliminate gender entirely. As one of my guests, Alex Manley, put it: “in an ideal world, there will be as many genders as there are people.”
Except, we don’t live in an ideal world. For men who identify as men right now, for men who don’t doubt their masculinity today—how can they work towards the most positive version of that same masculinity?
Who knows. I can’t know what I’ll find out, as I haven’t found it out yet (see? I’m exhibiting the type of humility that we can all agree is 100% unique to women).
It wasn’t easy to find men who wanted to come on this podcast. Initially, I felt like I was hunting down my male friends and demanding they tell me what’s hard about being a man. Masculinity is a sensitive topic, and some of my guests feared that any sort of celebration or complaint would invalidate the challenges of women, non-binary, and transgender people. Finally, after hours and hours of prodding, wearing them down to their emotional core, each of them quietly muttered, “I just wish it were more normal for me to talk about my feelings.” JK, that’s not what happened. But it’s also not the opposite of what happened in some of these episodes, to be completely honest.
I’m not speaking only to men—I’m speaking to people of all genders. But I really do want to hear from men, and that’s not something I’ve said often. I have my own blind spots, so if you think there’s anything I need to be thinking more about or perspectives I’ve been missing, please reach out!
I’ve written an impressive amount considering that my general thesis is that I don’t yet know anything. Don’t ever let having nothing to say stop you from saying a shitton! I hope this has piqued your interest. Our first episode is up now with Mayor Joe Signorello of Roselle Park, NJ, who’s currently running an awesome campaign to flip NJ-7 blue. In coming weeks, I’ll have interviews with guests who have Ph.D.s in expansive masculinity, guests who’ve written books on how to form new types of masculinity, and more! So please think about subscribing. Just think about it!!