After spending a few minutes on the subreddit r/TrollYChromosome it’s hard not to feel like something is different about its tone. While it’s immediately clear that this is a male-centric outpost — memes about jerking off in self-isolation and He-Man abound — at the same time, it’s unapologetically progressive. Case in point: Just below a post about “beatin’ the meat in quarantine,” is a post describing how Frodo and his pals from Lord of the Rings should be considered manly because of how they treat each other and their partners.
According to the subreddit’s lead moderator, TAKEitTOrCIRCLEJERK, this is all by design. “There wasn’t really a specific carved-out place online for men to just be dudes and be expressive and have feelings. So TrollY is trying to be a place where doing that is okay and welcome,” he tells me. And after seven years of watching men try to figure their shit out, the 33-year-old moderator has learned plenty about the challenges facing the modern male, the way they emote to articulate how they’re feeling about these challenges and the beauty of dudes just bein’ dudes.
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One of the foundational gender norms for men is that they Know What’s Happening. It’s where the “men need to be confident” role comes from. The idea that the ideal man can handle anything that comes at them runs very deep. That makes “I don’t know” the three hardest words in the English language for a man.
Especially with the kind of rapid social change we’ve seen over the past 30 or 40 years, boys and young men just don’t know what the new norms or rules are. TrollY, at its best, functions as a place for guys to just show up and say, “What the fuck is even happening right now?” Hopefully, occasionally, we make a couple of guys more comfortable saying, “I don’t know!”
Either way, men need to emulate this GIF. Getting together with friends and talking through this stuff will certainly help. Which is something dudes struggle with — and why this GIF is perfect. It says, “You can be STRONG like a MAN and also be CLOSE to ANOTHER MAN.” Friendship takes a measure of vulnerability. It’s good for guys to remember that you can strike that balance.
Because while gender is changing really, really fast, we still have a strong revulsion to weakness in men.
Like with friendship, though, expressing feelings through memes facilitates the process of guys giving themselves permission to have the feelings they have. There’s something freeing about hiding behind humor. It tends to abstract your ego away from you.
If you can laugh at a situation, you can deal with it better — or at least differently. I’m reminded of this Calvin and Hobbes comic. Sometimes, you have a day when you wake up late and fuck up a midterm and drop a glass on a customer’s table. And when you get back to your car at midnight and there’s a parking ticket, well, all you can do is laugh, right?
Better yet, having a group of people or friends laughing with you, saying, “Yeah, that sucks lol,” is a strong reminder that we’re all just actors in an absurdist play.
I’ve noticed a significant uptick in body-related insecurities, especially height and musculature. But again, men are still figuring out how to express those insecurities. For some, being sensitive isn’t allowed, so they instead internalize the messages and get angry and sad.
The zoomer boys, specifically, are worried about jobs and money, and in general, the fact that one’s basic existence has gotten tenuous. They’re well aware that the world is an absolute mess, and the fact isn’t lost on them that we still judge boys and men on their careers and ability to provide.
For the past four or five years, there’s also been an uptick in worries about consent, sex and girls in a qualitatively different way. The boys who were already anxious messes have ended up even more inside their own heads about #MeToo. That’s an unintended side effect of our (correctly) heightened conversations about consent — the boys who were already prone to overthinking the situation have now completely collapsed into their own heads.
They find themselves in a double bind: They have to be confident enough to approach women but they also have to be very aware of boundaries. And since those boundaries are so variable — based on context, the specific individual woman you’re approaching, your looks, your charm, etc. — the guys who are already anxious about this get overwhelmed.
This will sound like hippie nonsense, but I’ve come to believe that a ton of the distress that men feel is because they enforce behaviors on themselves. They themselves decide not to emote, or work so hard that they can’t think about anything else or that their sexual conquests are the key to their happiness.
We all need a narrative, but we need more guys writing their own narrative instead of looking to other institutions to define their narratives for them. The fringe alt-righty stuff comes from a sense of resignation in this search for narratives. If the only narrative to masculinity is “be strong no matter what and also your job defines you,” why not fall in with a guy who tells you that you’re great and awesome because of how strong you are?
Which is to say, there are a lot of guys doing things that they’re told are very important to their existence as a dude, instead of doing things that have value to them, or doing things that are meaningful to their lives.
Like, dudes, just commit to yourselves. Be you. If you really do love lifting seven days a week, by god, go lift. But maybe you don’t. Maybe you like D&D. Maybe you like ponies! You do you. Go out there and don’t let anything stop you from existing as just you, a guy, bein’ a dude.