Photo credit: Bryan Woolston/ Associated Press
Years ago, the pork industry ran a campaign touting its product as the “other white meat.” It was angling to ally itself with the “chicken-is-healthier-than-red- meat” crowd. People saw it for what it was: a cynical ploy. Today, when it comes to white men, the sound and fury is all coming from the red meat crowd—riot-endorsing Josh Hawley, flyin’ Ted Cruz, and the “former guy,” to name just a few. (Before Tucker Carlson goes on a tirade, no, this is not an assault on hamburgers.)
So where are the “other” white men? You know, the guys who wear masks, who believe in gender equality, who care for their children rather than “babysit” them? Call them working men who volunteer in their communities, or soccer dads, their numbers are not insignificant, even if they are below the media’s radar. (Of course, among the population of changing men are plenty in BIPOC communities.)
If you recognize that men are changing— or if you know men who are—then do not remain silent about the dangers posed by men who dominate the news. Especially in light of the insurrection at the US Capitol January 6, we need to hear from the “other” white men and their allies. Now.
Which representation of manhood we endorse will determine what kind of country we’ll be: Proud Boys nation or a land promoting compassionate men; a Handmaid’s Tale world of subjugation, or one advancing empowered women—and open-hearted men.
Since the new year, the Trumpublican party hasn’t gone away, nor have the aforementioned Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Boogaloo Boys, Oath Keepers, or Aryan Brotherhood. Notice anything they have in common? Proud Boys; Boogaloo Boys; Aryan Brotherhood. And, let’s not forget their recruits-in-waiting: the misfits who shoot up schools, nightclubs, houses of worship, and movie theaters—even threaten violence on sitting governors (see Watchmen, Wolverine). How is it possible that once again—just as in scores of mass shootings—few commentators are willing to state the obvious: virtually all the white supremacists in the spotlight are men, ultraright foot soldiers pledging allegiance to the United States of White America?
It’s hard to ignore a flashing caution light, especially when it turned blood red on January 6. Until or unless we acknowledge the connection between those groups’ violent expression of manhood and their white-collar counterparts—establishment agents like Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, and Lindsay Graham—it will be harder for the “other” white men to take the field in President Biden’s battle for the soul of America. Without men of peace intervening, the insurrection supporters in state legislatures passing new laws to suppress the vote will continue to feel emboldened to seek fresh recruits.
It may be imprecise cultural shorthand to describe the “former guy” and President Biden as examples of old and new expressions of masculinity, especially since, at 78, Biden is an unlikely poster boy for a kinder, gentler manhood. Nevertheless he is a good choice, providing a lot of cover for white men—and BIPOC allies—to stand behind a platform promoting a new masculinity.
In the political world, insurrection supporters Sens. Hawley and Cruz are jockeying for pole position in the 2024 presidential race, allying themselves with the former guy’s base and its expression of manhood: aggression, physical strength, violence. In this reality, the “other” white men and their allies have an opportunity to expose how extreme that posture is. To remain silent would be morally inexcusable, especially now. With the pandemic finally being responsibly managed, there is space for another kind of healing, one focusing on youth, particularly boys and young men.
There may not yet be a vaccine rollout for youth, but by embodying compassion and empathy, men can inoculate themselves against the Trumpublican diet of callousness, abuse, and violence. It’s on us to mentor youth, focusing on transforming masculinity. To do so, we’ll have to demand that parents, educators, coaches, and faith leaders develop programs that nurture young men’s emotional growth.
I’ve advocated for years that the CDC pilot a program at Head Start for preschool teachers to cultivate boys’ emotional intelligence. Perhaps now, with the contrast between the brands of masculinity so stark, Congress will draft such legislation. Imagine bipartisan support for a Healthy Boys Initiative; it isn’t hard to do.
None of this will be easy. Nevertheless, there are bright spots. Even within the narrow world of electoral politics, the number of women winning elective office is a powerful antidote to patriarchy’s poison. And strong women serve as a corrective to four years of misogynous rants, still audible from Trumpublicans, even those with smaller bullhorns.
Unfortunately, empowered womanhood is suspect, branded as feminist. Adherents of traditional masculinity have long denigrated feminism as a virulent virus. Despite its simply denoting “a belief in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” over the last four years the former guy and his minions sought to destroy it at every turn.
With Kamala Harris as vice president, and early trials of Joe Biden’s masculinity vaccine showing promise as a treatment against white male supremacy, conditions are ripe for men to begin receiving feminism antibodies. If they do, we’ll all be healthier for it.