Being a man, particularly a straight, cisgendered man, can be a perverse paradox at times. Society caters to us in almost every way imaginable. Even in 2021, as we strive towards greater social and sexual equity for people of different genders and sexualities, straight cis men are very much at the top of the social heap. And yet, men are lonelier and more isolated than ever, feeling not just lost but ignored or cast aside.
It seems laughable; society caters to straight men to an absurd degree. The world is nothing if not considerate of men’s wants and interests. Straight men’s desires, anxieties and — especially — their boners aren’t just the Rosetta stone of modern advertising, but much of pop culture over all. The entire literary fiction genre, for example, is an almost constant paean to navel gazing dudes who want to muse about roads not taken and drown their ennui in the desire to bone much younger women.
But like I said my column on men’s fear of being “invisible”, the issue isn’t so much the way the world celebrates and validates male sexuality or interests. It’s the feeling that while the world continues to validate men’s desire for sex and power, the men themselves are excluded from it. They’re continually shown their hearts’ desires, but the fulfilment of them is kept just out of reach. They’re told that this is what they’re supposed to want, that this is what makes them a “real man”, but they’re unable to partake of it. It’s the frustration — even despair — of realizing that the rewards they were told to expect for being men and following the rules laid out for them are never going to be delivered, and certainly not in the way they were promised.
It comes up in many, many different ways. Because we still celebrate and lionize toxic and restrictive forms of masculinity, even in media that purports to deconstruct them, men who don’t meet (often self-imposed) hypermasculine ideals feel as though they aren’t “real” men.
Others feel excluded from the rewards of manhood and masculinity because of factors outside of their control — a lack of social experience or fluency, their body types, their height, or due to stereotypes based around race, culture or gender presentation.
This feeling — of being excluded, cast aside and discarded — is something I hear from men all the time. It comes up in letters, it gets mixed in with discussions about online harassment, street harassment and cat-calling, even in discussions about character design in comics, video games and movies. And while it’s the sort of thing that seems like it’s easily laughed off — oh no, dudes aren’t getting all the attention — it’s a real and legitimate issue.
But, despite what many will tell you, it isn’t a matter of the lucky and the ones who got fucked by the fickle finger of fate. Nor is it about hitting the gym or getting plastic surgery or other quick fixes.
Here’s how you learn to stop feeling unwanted and undesired.