Esquire Bravely Confronts National Emergency Of Straight White Men Being Told To Shut Up Sometimes
If a heterosexual white man shares an opinion and it is not immediately honored and respected by all around him, is it proof of a world gone mad? That is the question being posed by Esquire magazine's March 2019 issue, and by a featured article about a 17-year-old boy in middle America who sometimes feels like people don't want to listen to him. Man, what person who has ever been a teenager in their lives could imagine what that is like!
Editor-in-Chief Jay Fielden shares this pain. In fact, he chose to introduce this feature by talking about how very dangerous our ideological echo chambers are, not only for ourselves, but for our children. Specifically our white male children, who -- unlike previous generations -- have to share space and authority with all kinds of other people, and who now lack the social power to keep them quiet.
He shared how hard things had been for his own son, who since entering high school has been "grappling with the cold reality of how the world works" in this post-Trump world. Things, of course, are going to be very easy for his two young daughters, even though they will probably grow up in a world where they do not have reproductive rights.
But really! How can something like that even begin to compare to a world where a heterosexual man cannot even say what he really thinks without being "burned at the stake"? Ostensibly by people of color, all women, and all LGBTQ people -- all of whom are, quite frankly, dealing with much bigger problems at this moment in time than lively cocktail party chatter.
Won't someone please think of the lively cocktail party chatter?
Soon after that, November 8, 2016, rolled around, and national life has since entered what might be called a fresh hell. We disagree as a country on every possible cultural and political point except, perhaps, one: that private life, as a result, has also become its own fresh hell. This has made the very social fabric of modern democratic civilization—watercooler BS, chats with cabbies and total strangers, dinner parties, large family gatherings—sometimes feel like a Kafkaesque thought-police nightmare of paranoia and nausea, in which you might accidentally say what you really believe and get burned at the stake. A crackling debate used to be as important an ingredient of a memorable night out as what was served and who else was there. People sometimes even argued a position they might not have totally agreed with, partly for the thrilling intellectual exercise playing devil's advocate can be, but mostly for the drunken hell of it. Being intellectually puritanical was considered backward. More often than not, it was all a lot of fun.
Yo, Jay? That was an ideological echo chamber. You were in an ideological echo chamber. The ideological echo chamber was calling from inside the house. The "thrilling intellectual exercise" of playing devil's advocate was easy when neither you nor the vast majority of people around you had any personal stake in the issue, and those who did, well, they knew to pick their battles. Just as you must do now.
People still have "crackling" debates and people still argue about things. Just look at Twitter! People argue constantly! The difference for Jay Fielden, perhaps, is that he now has to be more considerate of others should he want them to continue hanging around him. Sure, it's a little tougher for him to navigate than when the only people who had any real power looked like him and thought like him, when the people at the table never had any stake in anything, but he's just gonna have to suck it up.
I'm going to be quite shocking here: I do not exactly have empathy coming out of my ears for grown ass men talking about how they can't say what they really believe for fear of being "burned at the stake." Like many women, like many liberals, I have been in myriad situations where saying what I really believe, in not going along with the crowd, has had consequences -- both social and economic. Since childhood, I have been willing to take those consequences. If I, as a seven-year-old girl, could ask my music teacher why he only ever called on boys, I don't see why this middle-aged man can't get it together to brave the consequences of saying what he thinks.
I mean, he certainly had the chutzpah to put this portrait of himself next to his missive, so I can't imagine he's that demure.
Fair use, because look at this guy.
Every other group of people has had to battle "popular opinion" at some point or another. Feminists, civil rights activists, LGBTQ activists, etc. Shit, it is only in very recent history (and not even everywhere) that gay people were allowed to freely be themselves without social consequences. But Jay Fielden does not consider the many people he had been around in his life who were perhaps censoring themselves for fear of social or economic consequences from him and his ilk. He does not consider that his halcyon days perhaps sucked for other people.
I mean, really? Was it so rare that straight white dudes were ever told to shut up that this is now some kind of national emergency? I guess so! I've been told to shut up so many times, and by so many heterosexual white men, that I cannot possibly fathom being fazed by it for even a second.
The actual article itself continues to delve into the problem of white dudes feeling like they can't talk, and the dangers of depriving the world of the opinions of heterosexual white men, who of course are absolutely powerless in this world.
One of the big complaints that Ryan, the subject of the profile, has with his peer group is that his opinion is often dismissed on account of the fact that he is a straight white male.
This past year, Ryan ran another gantlet: social media. He does not use Facebook or Twitter, which he thinks are mostly for older people. And he has no interest in Snapchat. But he, like most everyone his age, uses Instagram. "I'd post a comment," he recalls, "and the replies would all be the same thing: 'You're stupid and that's dumb' or 'You suck' or 'You're straight, you can't talk about something LGBT.' " One time, on a post he describes as "a feminist thing that said something about what men do," he commented, "It's not true, and that's really stupid to say that." The woman who'd posted it responded with something like, "What do you have to say? You're a white man." Ryan is still confused by her response. "Doesn't she promote equal rights?" he says. "What if I posted the same kind of thing but about what women do? Like, if I posted a photo of a feminist march? But wait, feminist people hate when white men talk about stuff like that. That would be the end of me." He pauses. "I guess they think since I'm not a girl, I don't have an opinion."
The piece does not consider that what Ryan said may have actually been ignorant. The author does not consider the obvious fact that Ryan is trolling. That things he had said, previously, might have led to people being sick of his shit.
That being said, is it at all possible that Ryan is just as dismissive of other people's opinions as they are of his? Given the fact that he can't quite see why perspective might matter, that he believes his opinion on an issue regarding LGBT people might be given less weight than that of an actual gay, bi or trans person, I'm going to guess that he is. Or, I don't know, that he complains about being told he is stupid and then in the next sentence calls a girl stupid. Only Ryan being called stupid is worth an entire ramblingly Idiocracyesque Esquire cover. We have a centering here, and it isn't of the girl or the gay person.
I feel like I might be a lot more empathetic to Ryan's plight had I never been a 17-year-old girl surrounded by other 17-year-old girls, seeing what "social pressure" did to a lot of us. I had friends going in and out of psych units for eating disorders -- often because we were socialized to believe that if we weren't perfect looking, boys would vomit all over us and we would be social pariahs.
The fact that the plight of a young man simply having to learn to think before he speaks is the subject of a major article in a major publication at a time when things are absolute shit for everyone else in ways a lot more serious than that is a clear sign that the situation for straight white men is not quite as dire as the editors of Esquire appear to think it is.
Surely, literally everyone else in this country would take "being told to shut up sometimes" over the problems that they are currently facing. I know I would.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse