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Don't much care about the men: Man problems edition

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What about the menz is weighing on me this week.

So everyone’s talking about how *gasp* men and boys are dealing with body image issues. Due to a recent story in the New York Times, the CBC’s Q did a segment yesterday morning looking at boys who were overly focused on working out, asking whether or not the issue of boys “reshaping their bodies and fitting a muscular ideal” should be getting more attention.

Douglas Quenqua, the author of the Times article, writes:

"Pediatricians are starting to sound alarm bells about boys who take unhealthy measures to try to achieve Charles Atlas bodies that only genetics can truly confer."

He goes on to write:

"Just as girls who count every calorie in an effort to be thin may do themselves more harm than good, boys who chase an illusory image of manhood may end up stunting their development, doctors say, particularly when they turn to supplements -- or, worse, steroids -- to supercharge their results."

Ring the alarm! “Just like girls” who spend their entire lives learning that their bodies are commodities and learning to obsess over and hate their bodies, which will never, ever be perfect, but should be; boys who work out too much are in danger, danger.

To be clear, I’m not saying that steroids aren’t dangerous. Because they are. And I’m not saying I want boys and men to have body image issues like girls and women do, because I’m not sure how that would help girls and women not to hate their bodies, but I am giving this whole “Alarm bell! Men and women have the same problems!” thing a big meh.

Hanna Rosin noted in a recent article responding to the Times piece that, in fact, this wasn’t really the new and frightening phenomenon it was portrayed to be:

"I’m sure that things have changed for teenage boys, around the edges. We have social media now, so boys can post Tumblr pics of their favorite ripped athletes under the heading “fitspo,” the Times story reports, which is a rip-off of the “thinspo” tag banned from many sites because it promotes anorexia. They can also post progress pics of their own workouts and their friends can judge. And maybe steroids are easier to get now -- I have no idea. That said, I distinctly remember my brother being obsessed with Joe Weider protein shakes when we were teenagers in the ’80s. And wasn’t Charles Atlas (“Hey Skinny! Yer ribs are showing!”) the original Situation back in the ’20s?"

This whole men having body issues thing was also addressed by Richard Cohen in The Washington Post who is worried about all the time that Daniel Craig had to spend at the gym in order to play James Bond in Skyfall. “Chasing youth”, he calls it. Cohen goes on to lament that, back in the good old days, “sex appeal [was] won by experience and savoir-faire, not delts and pecs and other such things that any kid can have.” Humphrey Bogart won Ingrid Bergman (who was 15 years younger than him) in Casablanca, due, not to pecs, but to “the experience, the confidence, the internal strength that can only come with age”. You know, the way it should be. Young, taut, beautiful woman seeks wise old dude regardless of intellectual compatibility.

Jill Filipovic points out the ridiculous sense of entitlement demonstrated by Cohen and men of his ilk over at Feministe, writing:

"Women are actually human beings and not prizes you win or deserve for the hard work of being a middle-aged white guy who happens to drink good whiskey. Also: Middle-aged men who only want to date 23-year-old women almost always have serious issues with egalitarian gender relations, maturity and self-esteem."

As I’ve likely mentioned once or twice, middle-aged men who seek out much younger women are pathetic. And sure, some men, as they move closer to middle age, experience “anxiety about [their] own diminishing attractiveness," as Hugo Schwyzer put it, but so what? Does that make us even?

Women go suddenly from hypersexualized to invisible as they cross over into middle age, losing any imagined power they had in the ability to hold men’s attention (see: b.s. argument that strippers are empowered because men want to do them) and are simultaneously pathologized by a society that sees, in particular, single older men as swinging bachelors and single older women as sad, lonely and neurotic.

And now what? The erasure of older women from the world is suddenly something experienced by men too because 25-year-olds no longer want to sleep with them? What Schwyzer points out about this so-called anxiety men are experiencing is that, actually, it doesn’t have much at all to do with aging; rather it’s a fear that, once they hit middle age, they will no longer be attractive to women in their 20s.

To this I say: Wah wah, boo hoo, and grow up creepazoid.

As a person in their 30s, I’ve noticed that I am interested in dating people who are also in their 30s. And NO, ‘don’t-shame-me!’ crowd, I’m not saying there are hard and fast rules about who you can or should want to date, but I am saying that men who are intentionally trying to date much younger women or for whom it’s a pattern, are not only sad and pathetic, but don’t have any desire for egalitarian relationships with women.

Let’s be real. This older man-younger woman phenomenon isn’t about the fact that middle-aged men just happen to be more intellectually and sexually compatible with women in their 20s, because that’s bullshit. This is about ego. Schwyzer quotes one 28-year-old woman who said of her experience with online dating: “I see lots of men online over 35 who are looking for women 18-30. I wish they knew how big a turn-off that is. If you can’t handle your peers, then you can’t handle me.”

Having made the mistake of dating a significantly older man once (never again!), it’s clear to me that this man was 1) Interested in younger women because women his own age didn’t fall for his crap, and 2) He wanted to show off to other men. That, you know, ‘Look at this prize I caught! It’s 25!’ thing. Gross, I know. But also, ego. All ego.

And I know what defenders of this phenomenon will say. They will say I KNOW A 45-YEAR-OLD WOMAN WHO DATED A 25-YEAR-OLD MAN. And next they will say: BUT EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY. But those people are wrong. This is a gendered phenomenon -- middle-aged women, en masse, are not after men in their 20s (I like to remind people, when it comes to discussions of gendered phenomenons and sexism, that the exception isn’t the rule). And evolution blah blah blah. Are you trying to make babies in your 50s? Unlikely. So it really doesn’t matter if the woman you’re sleeping with is fertile or not.

One of the problems with evolutionary psychology is that, often, it finds what it’s looking for. So, as Martha McCaughey‘s The Caveman Mystique, shows: “Popularized evolutionary discourse, or pop-Darwinism, offers men a scientifically authorized way to think about -- and live out -- their sexuality,” as well as “enabl[ing] some men to rationalize sexist double standards about relationships." So, evolutionary psychology, particularly in as far as it is interpreted and regurgitated for mass consumption, tends to seek to prove ‘natural’ what are often social phenomenons (Rebecca Watson demonstrates this practice well in a recent talk at Skepticon, if you have 45 minutes to spare).

I’m not saying that no one in the world is allowed to find people who are younger than them attractive. I’m saying that, when looking to start an equitable relationship, youth doesn’t matter. And if youth is your priority then it is not an equitable relationship you’re looking for, it’s a malleable trophy.

Sigh. Man problems.

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