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After Writing a Thousand Posts for MEL, What Have I Learned About Men?

No two guys are alike, but they all face one great challenge

Makes perfect sense I’d get writer’s block when it’s time to write about all I’ve written. 

I never know what to say to another writer who says I’m “prolific.” Spending a large part of every day staring at the blinking cursor in the middle of an unfinished sentence, I certainly don’t imagine I am working quickly or abundantly. Then, one day, I find out I’ve published a thousand articles here, and the years of effort — the slow, actual hours it took — feel like a hallucination.

At the beginning, in early 2017, I was in no position to give men advice. I’d broken up my marriage and spent months living in a shambolic Hollywood house with much younger roommates, sleeping on a mattress that, true to cliché, lay right on the floor. I scraped together a living wage from three different part-time jobs, and about half of my dinners came from a taco truck. My great ambition, to finish writing a third book, had nearly stalled out. Somewhere in there, Alana Levinson, one of the editors to bring MEL to life, rescued me with a question: Would I want to be a contributor? By the time I met with the editor-in-chief, Josh Schollmeyer, it appeared I already had the job. Yet the subject matter of “men,” or their issues, still hadn’t penetrated my brain. And, like I said, I wasn’t exactly what men aspire to be.

By that fall, I’d moved in with my partner, Maddie, and my lot had improved significantly. For MEL, I covered memes and web culture, my initially outlined beat. Then the Harvey Weinstein allegations went public, followed by a torrent of #MeToo stories. Like so many other men, I found that the scope of sexual harassment and abuse across every industry and institution far surpassed my understanding of it. It was humbling, and frightening — to the degree that one feared to speak, lest it be heard as an interruption to the survivors finally taking center stage. Thankfully, Alana was determined to have us take a stand as a men’s magazine, and after further discussion with Josh, I prepared to write what seemed to me then an impossible essay. We gave it the headline “Men: Our Silence Will Not Save Us.”

This became a reminder to myself — that keeping your head down isn’t any help, and saying “not all men” is a dodge from recognizing that our gender has long been wielded as a weapon. Since that piece, I’ve delved into every toxic male subculture you care to name, with the goal of tracing the errant paths that lead to the darkest beliefs. I have tried to grasp how we’re all indoctrinated in misogyny and male supremacism, and, crucially, how some can resist those norms while others push them to violent extremes. At the same time, I’ve sought to explore male kindness, openness and joy, interviewing any number of warm, generous, inspiring men. My job now embodies the contradiction of asserting that “dudes rock” while acknowledging that dudes really ain’t shit. But, if forced to leap one way or the other, which side would I take?

That would require thinking of men as possessing innate qualities, and I don’t think they do. When I read male hate forums, I notice the members are always bound by their dogma of masculinity; they regard everything as biologically determined. They’re angry because the world in no way reflects such a rigid frame. Gender is fluid, human beings are varied and complex and our identities are shaped by how we respond to the challenges set out for us. We wonder why these men are bitter, considering the social advantage of being born as they were, and their supposed faith in maleness as the guiding power of the species. It can only be the assumption, given these conditions, that all your triumphs will fall into place without you lifting a finger. This is entitlement, and when cruel reality interferes, it’s an unacceptable blow to the ego.

Meanwhile, I hardly consider myself a “good” man, but I know I have been a lucky one. The reasons I wound up writing from the other side of that alienation and contempt include my loving parents and family, economic security, the overall absence of trauma, good health, a fine education, wonderful mentors and role models, and diverse communities built on principles of cooperation and equity. I’ve been blessed to search and grow beside those who — like my brilliant colleagues here at MEL — refuse to be locked into small or reductive ideas. It’s easy to see, in the sum of my experience, that “bad” men are the result of a messy process that might’ve gone in another direction if the right opportunity or friend had happened along. The opposite, therefore, is true of “good” men: The wrong break can turn them completely around. 

But it’s never just the external factors. The true measure of a man’s strength, of anybody’s strength, is the fortitude to meet failure, take accountability and not blame everyone else. Working here, assessing these problems, interrogating my own complicity and ignorance, has been a tremendous gift. Nothing is harder and more rewarding than the struggle to improve.      

You and I are well aware that things aren’t “rigged” against men as a category. We also know that men are nonetheless crushed by the systems that other men dictate. The rotten core of the manosphere is packed with those desperate to escape the loneliness of their personal defeat. To bond over disappointment is natural; to unite in rage is an awful, self-destructive choice. Yet it is only that — a choice. 

What have I learned about men, writing a thousand articles that probe their vulnerabilities and delusions, their stubbornness and fatalism? We can be redeemed. 

But we have to want it.