We’re a few months in to this project now and I’ve noticed something interesting: the most engaged subscribers here aren’t men.
There’s nothing wrong with this. But it’s definitely not what I expected. I figured a newsletter that tackles big themes like “increased productivity” and “how many pull-ups I can do” would attract mostly dudes. It makes me interested to see how people receive this week’s topic — something that’s been bugging me for ages now.
Fellas, are you OK?
Please note: the following contains discussion of self-harm and suicide.
In many ways this question is already answered. Men, collectively, are not OK. It’s been a while since I browsed the statistics, so I’ve been able to react with fresh horror: By a staggering proportion, men commit most crime, including the worst crimes such as violent sexual assaults and murder. Here are the New Zealand police proceedings demographic data, neatly stripped of their unfathomable human tragedy and rendered into graphs:
Men also kill themselves at an awful rate: in New Zealand, the suicide rate for men is around four times that of women — a statistic that seems to hold true for other countries. I know there are caveats to consider here, but the sheer discrepancy is shocking.
Because it’s well-known that men are not OK, and because the causes and circumstances of this malaise are complex, men’s wellness has long been easy fodder for grifters. The current cure, touted by a seemingly endless parade of (usually) male griftfluencers, is that men have become soft and simply need to, uh, man up.
As far as science can tell, this isn’t true. The shittier traits associated with masculinity — often called “toxic masculinity” — aren’t good for men’s mental health, according to a comprehensive meta-analysis published in 2016. As the Smithsonian Magazine reports:
“Sexism isn’t just a social injustice,” says Y. Joel Wong, a psychologist at Indiana University Bloomington and the study’s lead author. “It may even be potentially problematic for mental health”—men’s mental health, that is.
But facts have never got in the way of this terrible story, and the people telling it are making out like bandits.
Tucker Carlson is famous for a lot of things, most recently for being sacked by Fox News. But before that, there was… whatever this is:
Tucker’s special The End of Men, feat. testicle tanning, men milking cows, shirtless dudes wrasslin’ each other, and all sorts of other weird shit is classic Fox infotainment; baiting both concerned conservatives and easily-enraged liberals with equal aplomb. As usual, there’s a core of truth to this bullshit pearl; testosterone levels in men are dropping over time, at a population level, and no-one knows exactly why.1 There are also plenty of people for whom careful monitoring of testosterone is part of necessary health or gender-affirming care. My intention is not to have a go at them, but to point out that the solutions articulated by right-wing media personalities and manosphere grifluencers are intended to stoke anxiety in people whose testosterone is probably perfectly fine.2 But wait, there's more. Parker Molloy, author of the excellent Substack newsletter This Present Age, has an explainer at Rolling Stone:
As ridiculous and easily mocked as these videos are, they represent an ascendant ideology on the right and an extension of Carlson’s long-standing belief that there is a war on masculinity that threatens to destroy society itself. This theme of social collapse is a mainstay of Carlson’s Fox News show, with immigration, LGBTQ rights, and the battles against racism and sexism are all framed as threats that must be beaten back to maintain Carlson’s preferred patriarchal social order. In short, the video’s not actually about the benefits of sunshine on one’s scrotum at all.
More recently, in February of 2023, Vogue magazine put singer Rhianna on the cover, together with her husband A$AP Rocky and nine-month-old son.
Naturally, completely normal men immediately drew diagrams all over it.
This “green line” stuff, which was briefly the subject of a Tik-Tok trend too painful to discuss at length (but which is easily Googleable if you want to induce a headache) was the creation of an incel-adjacent manosphere Twitter guy with 175,000 followers. Clicking on a few links or suggested follows — thank you, socially destructive algorithms — quickly turns into a bottomless shitmine. Here’s just one of the nuggets from near the top that shows exactly where these people’s minds are at:
And here’s what gets me about this stuff, all these keyboard worriers publicly bemoaning the state of men: it’s not very manly, is it?
Obviously, I don’t think caring about the state of the world makes you unmanly or in any other way unworthy. If I did, I’d have to stop writing. But this overwhelming preoccupation with a lack of masculinity, particularly among the Profoundly Online Dudes that are the vanguard of our endless cultural wars, just seems to me to be kind of weak. Think of the state of the discourse around “alphas” and “betas,” which started as a misunderstanding of how wolves work3 and has since been carefully nurtured by incels and other manosphere denizens. And as long as we're appealing to the animal kingdom for examples of how people should behave, which these people always do, let's use it to dismiss the notion that strength and nurturing fatherhood are mutually exclusive. Silverback gorillas are quite capable of lazily separating a human's arms from its body but they play with and cuddle their babies all the time.4
The content peddled by these belligerent yet fretful male influencers is, at best, total pseudoscience, but the fact remains but a sizeable proportion of the male population seems to both care about this stuff and take it seriously. To which I say: why? If alphas and betas existed (they don’t) the only people who’d devote any time to worrying about being alpha would be betas. And, weirdly, that’s exactly what a lot of these guys do.
I’ll change the tone of my address a bit here: if you, or anyone you know, is caught up in this stuff I think there’s a relatively easy out — or, if you want to put it that way, a shortcut to alpha-dom.
Stop caring about it.
Seriously. Stop giving a shit about whether you’re manly enough, because fretting about being manly is not manly. By way of proof, I’ve got exactly what every griftfluencer telling you to care about the state of your gonads so they can sell you powders or red-light machines has: an appeal to ancient wisdom. Tell me, have you heard of… the Spartans?
Well, they were an ancient society of Greek warriors and blah blah blah. You’ve all seen or heard of 300 and the associated memes and learning opportunities. Did you know that there weren’t just 300 Spartans at Thermopylae there were actually thousands of Greeks ugh, I’ll spare you the rest. But there’s one thing that’s well worth remembering about the Spartans, and is easily the thing I find most endearing about them: they were laconic.
Spartan children, for whom education was compulsory, were taught from an early age to be laconic in their speech. Essentially, it's being concise to excess.5 This example is often given:
Persian commander: “Our arrows will blot out the sun!”
Spartan: “Then we will fight in the shade.”
Back to the point: while Spartans obviously cared very much about being masculine, I can’t imagine that these bloke’s blokes would have been even mildly interested in drawing diagrams explaining how a rich and famous man who performed the actions necessary to produce a child with someone as infamously hot as Rhianna is actually a cuckold. If it’s masculinity you’re looking to cultivate, then there are plenty of methods I’d argue are non-toxic, more fun, more accessible, and much better for you than worrying about it. Here is a short list, pulled entirely from the top of my head:
- Exercise (if your arms work, pullups are free and satisfyingly difficult yet easy to improve at)
- Learning a manly art of some kind. Go find a woodworking class, or learn to paint. Build a table or something.
- Channel the masculine urge to protect and serve into learning about and dealing with actual problems, like climate change, instead of pretend ones like how much sun your balls do or don’t get
- Make a good cup of tea (there’s an art to it)
- Learn an instrument: you can get an OK second-hand guitar for $50 and tablature can be found for free online
- Get in the sea. Seriously, ocean swimming is good for your soul
- Get a bunch of rocks or other small objects and throw them into a bucket; my flatmate and I got hours of entertainment from doing this when I was at University and a literal bucket of rocks is leagues smarter than Andrew Tate
- Touch grass. Just go for a goddamn walk
It’s not that I think any of the above should be the exclusive province of men; it’s just that I think there are lots of useful and manly things that dudes can do on the cheap without needing to spend their time worrying about how manly they are. By all means, go to the gym. Shoot arrows at targets. Acquire a collection of flannel shirts. Grow a beard. Do other forms of male-gender-affirming self-care. Just get off the goddamn internet for a bit and stop worrying about whether men are leaning correctly or whether a given celebrity is a simp or the state of other blokes’ nuts. Because, if that’s something you’re giving undue attention to, you’re being grifted. Here’s Molloy again:
By presenting men insecure about their masculinity with an enemy in need of domination, fascist-friendly media personalities can pull their audience to the right. This is what’s currently happening with the moral panic about “grooming” playing out across right-wing media and being implemented as policy by right-wing politicians. A recent video of the crowd at a Trump rally chanting “Save our kids“ shows just how successful this type of messaging continues to be, consequences be damned. The goal is to not only halt social progress, but to reverse it by painting pro-equality messages as part of nefarious schemes to undermine Western civilization.
If you’re a guy, and you’ve been caught up in anything like what I’ve described — please, take a step back, and think about how weird it all is. Whatever positive masculinity is, all that shit is its opposite. The world needs good men. Go be one.
I’m about to take my own advice and go for a walk, but to keep you on top of my own self-improvement experiment, I managed to do a colossal eight consecutive pull-ups the other day, and there’s a new painting did. Even better, this one has a video to go with it. Go on, lick and subscrub. I’ll see you in the comments!
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There are a lot of suspected culprits, including plastic pollution — thank you, fossil fuel industry, for this among so many other wonderful gifts — and euphemistic “lifestyle factors,” which may or may not involve too much sitting and scrolling through manosphere nonsense while worrying about testosterone. ↩
Out of curiosity, I asked my doctor what my T levels were. Apparently they are very slightly above perfectly normal. Exercise can elevate testosterone, so it’ll be be interesting to check back in a year and see if levels have gone up — but, I have to emphasise, it’s nothing more than interesting. ↩
Man, what is it with self-improvement and wolves? ↩
Male gorillas also form harems and have testes the size of raisins, so as always, proceed with caution when basing major life decisions on animals that aren’t people. ↩
No-one who reads this newsletter is ever going to accuse me of being too concise. ↩
This laconic property — brief, blunt, wry, clever — has since been ascribed to the Australian and New Zealand national character. Champion Kiwi comedy export John Clarke said that New Zealanders didn’t really tell jokes but that they did talk very well, and that pretty much sums us up. ↩