The heteronormative gender divide, reinforced by traditional values and mass media, can be found everywhere that people consume content. From seemingly innocuous ‘battle of the sexes’ game shows, to emotionally manipulative romantic comedies, and even debates that take place in state and federal government, both genders have been subject to countless representations of gender double standards and power struggles to polarizing effect. Discussions about the evolution of dating and the future of the American family, for instance, often pit masculinity and femininity in opposition, with allies of the opposite gender on either side.
This mixed parity strengthens the convictions of both conservative and progressive stances, but it also demonstrates how ingrained gender roles are for many people, even at the expense of a more equitable version of humanity. Of course, the Internet has proven fertile ground for gender discourse. And millennia of gender politics have led to a spectrum of attitudes more diverse than the traditional American gender binary would suggest.
Along this spectrum is Return of Kings, a website created by Roosh V that “aims to usher the return of the masculine man in a world where masculinity is being increasingly punished and shamed in favor of creating an androgynous and politically-correct society that allows women to assert superiority and control over men.” That mission statement may sound like it came from Frank T.J. Mackey—the misogynist motivational speaker played by Tom Cruise in Magnolia—but poring through the site’s many articles confirmed that Return of Kings was not intended as a work of provocative fiction; its contributors are being serious.
The feminist website Jezebel has been aware of Return of Kings and its archaic projections, and has since dismissed it and its 7k-plus Facebook followers in an effort to starve it of attention. And considering that women have more immediate concerns (google Hobby Lobby or Equal Pay Day, for example) and the overall quality of the site’s writing (does anyone proofread anymore?), female progressives are right to not give Return of Kings the satisfaction.
But men who identify as feminist allies would be remiss if they did not view Return of Kings as an opportunity to speak up when speech against women takes place. One such opportunity are the article titled “Most Women Don’t Deserve A Good Man” and its “Fallout” follow-up on Thought Catalog, both written by Kilmister. In initially explaining the behavior of carefree young women in their 20s and those their senior, whose “self-esteem is shot and they will do what it takes to get attention and feel like they are still desirable,” Kilmister provides these varied examples to support his claim that “most women” exhibit behavior inconsistent with the lives they want for themselves, regardless of their phase in life. Then, in his sequel on Thought Catalog, he rebuts claims of making generalizations by absolving himself on the grounds that “most,” and “all” are somehow starkly different in terms of his argument. Nevertheless, the verbal tapdance in which Kilmister engages exposes the weakness of his argument, likely rendering female dissenters even more frustrated by him if they haven’t ignored him already. Conversely, men who recognize the limitations of Kilmister’s philosophy should be eager to use those limitations to debunk the problematic aspects of it and move us all forward as a result.
Alas, employing weak semantic qualifications to deflect valid confrontation is just one way that Return of Kings contributors defend their viewpoints. Not to be outwitted by gender traitors’ claims of perpetuating sexism, Return of Kings has already gone on the offensive with male interventionists in mind. Return of Kings contributor Tuthmosis wrtoe “The White Knight Landing Page” and “7 Traits of the Male Feminist,” which detail the ways in which male feminists are ultimately self-serving, lovelorn, and effeminate, whose sense of duty on behalf of women is ironically sexist by its virtue. But in framing ‘white knightism’ as an “epidemic,” a diagnosis consistent with the Return of Kings beliefs, Tuthmosis makes plain his narrow view of the men who speak in the name of gender equality for no other reason than it being the human thing to do.
So, to forestall any mislaid assumptions of bias or motive, perhaps some personal disclosure would be fair: I am a 31-year-old, sexually active, heterosexual black man who has been in several relationships of varying degrees of seriousness. Those experiences, as well as those with female friends and women of unreciprocated romantic interest, have informed my attitudes toward relationships, attitudes that are rarely hopeful as it relates to ‘finding the one.’ I neither celebrate nor lament the situation, acknowledging my own agency to change it as I see fit. However, I say all this to confirm that I have very little stake in criticizing viewpoints on Return of Kings as a method of ingratiating myself to women for immediately selfish reasons.
As with Kilmister’s articles—which were written for men as a warning to the uninitiated and as validation for the experienced—my response is for men as well, men prone to agree with Kilmister’s take on the double standard by which the women mentioned in his articles live. That men and women alike have commended Kilmister for his initial post confirms that the behaviors he lambastes accurately reflect reality for some. But the gender-independent consensus also indicates a deeper pathology that goes largely unnoticed despite its impact on how men and women find meaning through interacting with one another. Proclaiming that most women don’t deserve good men may be Kilmister’s way of taking a swath of women to task for their behavior, but the tone and perspective he uses does little to inspire a constructive dialogue among the people whose behavior he criticizes. By extension, Return of Kings simultaneously stands for change (albeit a regression) while having no hope that most women are capable of designing a better future on their own. Thus, Kilmister supplants one perceived double standard with his own, and we all know how 2 wrongs work out.
But the most alarming aspect of Kilmister’s approach is its apparent lack of balance. By not acknowledging that men who frequent bars and married men can also live by a contradictory set of values, Kilmister implies that men are on a different plane than women are, where they are free to be aggressively promiscuous with impunity. He also implies, then, that married men never feel a need for validation outside of their marriage, or that doing so is a man’s right. These implications are consistent with the beliefs of Return of Kings, which vaguely cite biology as justification for accepting double standards that mess accountability less of a priority for men.
Ironically, though, the criticism of women in Kilmister’s piece can easily be grafted onto their male counterparts. In the current dating landscape, where coupling relies less than ever on whether a man can provide for his mate, women have just as much of a right to ask, “So what exactly qualifies you, or any modern American [man] as someone who deserves a good [woman]?” While it would be unwise to blindly defend the hot mess ladies that Kilmister describes, the absence of criticism of the male equivalent earned him the backlash he received on Twitter and Facebook.
Facebook is actually where I discovered “Most Women Don’t Deserve A Good Man,” as shared by a former co-worker in his 20s. To my disappointment, the post generated several likes and comments (from men and women), lauding the article for its accuracy. But the cross-gender resonance of Kilmister’s article does not deny that larger questions would actually bring us closer to a place where Kilmister’s criticisms would no longer be necessary:
· Why is it unacceptable for women who exercise sexual freedom to also long for stable and lasting relationships?
· How can the clash of traditional values and the human appetite be reconciled if men and women are not judged equally?
The “true gender equality” that Tuthmosis’s claims to seek on the “White Knight Landing Page” will remain ineffective if the messages on Return of Kings continue to be embraced by young men still forming their understanding of acceptable behavior with women. As rape culture and rampant violence against women continue to loom, Return of Kings proudly represents part of the problem with its belief that “women are sluts if they sleep around, but men are not.” The other assertions from the site’s list of beliefs may seem nonsensical to some experienced adults, but passing those beliefs on to a younger generation only propagates a culture that has already proven dissonant with how American life has changed since the 1950s, when gender double standards meshed more smoothly with the status quo.
But with shifts in American culture must come shifts in how we adapt to them and how we discuss those adaptations. Calling for a return to a more primitive version of the gender dynamic may seem cathartic for men and women shocked by the changes they see, but yearning for a bygone period that continues to fade only creates a self-righteous alienation of people genuinely interested in progress.
What is it about feminism that suggests that it is an assault on masculinity? What is it that Return of Kings followers really stand to lose to gender equality? It seems as if the void that Return of Kings seek to fill, by asserting the superiority of men as previous generations maintained, might be better served without conflating androgyny and gender equality. Change can be scary no doubt, but holding on to constructs that continue to weaken and having no interest in open discourse surrounding change is horrifying. And any rebuttal against claims of the site’s contributors not being interested in open discourse need go no further than the About page:
So Return of Kings believes that, in the wake of this new “androgynous and politically-correct society,” “yesterday’s masculinity is today’s misogyny.” If true, then the more favorable step for these so-called kings would be to establish the extent to which that idea is accurate. Behaviors characteristic of men began to change well before the advent of the Internet. And if sensitivity, for example, is considered exclusively feminine, then maybe masculinity should go the way of the old phonograph, yet another outdated device capable of skipping us back to a place past which humanity has continued to groove.
As for Tuthmosis’s claim that “If tomorrow, people started getting punched in the face for butting into other people’s business, white knightism would plummet overnight. That makes the average white knight a coward:” My name online (LeMar McLean) is my name in real life, and my pretty face is featured on the About section of my website (the one you’re reading right now). I say nothing online that I would not double down on if the people I was talking about were standing in front of me, and I am not the only man who would say so.
If violence is how Tuthmosis would prefer to counter the acts of someone who stands up against sexism and human disrespect toward women (or anybody, for that matter), at least it’s consistent with the whole restoration of antiquated masculinity gimmick. Just know that my masculinity has never been questioned, but doing so would neither be an insult nor a smart move in knowing your opposition.
I welcome debate with anyone who stands by the messages that Return of Kings espouses. And even though the attention that it may attract could expose more young people to its dangerous rhetoric, saying nothing would make male feminists just as problematic as Roosh V, Kilmister, Tuthmosis, and everyone else on their warped side of progress.
Consider this the figurative warning slap to your “safe space” face, Return of Kings. If unanswered, the next one will be hard.