Image: Illustration by Simphiwe Mbana

Men are rather ridiculous, aren’t they? We take up a lot of space in the world, hog the opportunities, earn inordinately more than our equals, and refuse to do our fair share of the housework. We’re so bad at doing what we’re supposed to that the term “weaponised incompetence” was coined to describe it. Chances are, if you exist in the world, a man somewhere nearby is making things just a little bit worse. As a concept, men are strange. Think about it. What is a man other than an accumulation of fountain pens, power tools, and misattributed quotes from The Godfather?

When Mother’s Day comes around, we dutifully thank our mothers for not acknowledging the tedious and ongoing labour of bringing us into the world and keeping us alive until we can be trusted not to stick our fingers into plug sockets and electrocute ourselves.

But what is Father’s Day actually about? Nobody can say for certain what man-specific things we’re rewarding, which is why every time it rolls around all the retail outlets can do is remind you that the man in your life might need some socks — or some whisky, which statistically we have more of than we should.

Then there’s the fact that we probably account for an inordinate share of the greenhouse gases and rainforest depletion that occur as a result of all the cattle reared and slaughtered by the meat industry to produce the steak to accompany that whisky. If someone declared that men were invented to sell more meat, it would be entirely believable.

The same goes for SUVs. It seems an entirely mannish thing to do, inventing a vehicle that seats the same amount of people as a regular car while taking up more space on the road and being styled to intimidate other road users (and impress other men). We buy more of the ghastly things, and so even ordinary cars now need to look as though they can set off for the Serengeti at the drop of a hat.

Men take up precious newspaper space, wordily discussing whether it’s okay to wear a beanie, or if a patterned shirt is justifiable in the modern era, or what it means if your pants show your ankles. We will watch our partners pull out all the sartorial stops before an event, then ask in earnest if we can wear jeans. Because society believes in giving men an easy pass, we’ve turned wearing takkies with a suit from an admission of collapsed arches into a bold statement. And that’s just the visible stuff.

Our public world is evermore dominated by shouty men demanding that we pay attention to them.

There’s also the way we turn showing emotion into a pantomime. Instead of talking about our feelings constructively, men devise elaborate hitting contests (MMA), start silly nothing-is-communicated podcasts, or devise pungent rap battles where we fling unpleasantries at each other. See how much of the world’s collective attention has been absorbed in watching Kendrick Lamar and Drake shout at each other in a bid to prove which millionaire is the toughest man. You wouldn’t think there was a genocide happening.

If you’re my age, you first became aware of all of this nonsense via the bombastic world of wrestling. I was an impressionable age when wrestling became less a Good Guy (Hulk Hogan) vs Bad Guy (Rowdy Roddy Piper) contest and more a stage for being entertained by an amusing bad guy. It’s where Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson honed all that machismo. In a very bad way, wrestling made it socially permissible for Bad Men to take up our time. Ha ha, we laughed as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin mocked Bret “Hitman” Hart for wearing pink. Two decades on, Andrew Tate is an influencer, not a WWF villain.

Am I being hard on men? Perhaps. But here’s an illustration: Jerry Seinfeld, the richest comedic mansplainer there ever was, chose this moment in history to bore us with his view that political correctness makes comedy impossible. On balance, you’d have to say that, given the supreme effort thousands of men have exerted over the years trying to convince the rest of Seinfeld’s genius, the man himself effectively declaring that he’s not smart enough to make comedy in the contemporary era is not the best look. But we should note that hundreds of media outlets immediately dignified this inanity by reporting it.

We’re thus provided with the all-too-familiar scene of a wealthy man being given a platform and a gilded megaphone with which to decry how he’s being deplatformed. Which brings me back to my initial point. We’re a ridiculous lot. But why does our ridiculousness have to make things terrible for everyone else? If you look at who was contesting the elections we’ve all just voted in, do you notice how many angry, combative men there are? Our public world is evermore dominated by shouty men demanding that we pay attention to them. But perhaps there’s hope. We had “quiet luxury” as a buzzword for a while now. Might it be time for “quiet masculinity”?

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