The adverts for Fosters on YouTube are just one example of this limited version of male identity.
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The real problem men face today is not the rise of women

Men worry about feminism, as if a culture of women's rights is about to stamp out male identity. But really, it's men who are their own worst enemies.

Apparently, I'm not a real man. The profile of masculinity that exists today, on television and the internet, doesn't fit me whatsoever. I don't drink. I don't watch football. Most egregiously of all, I believe women are my equals. Like millions of men, I'm alienated by the male gender stereotypes that continue to exist. Popular culture tells me that, as a man, I can either be a farting, tattooed sex pest or a defeated, helpless kidult, who needs his wife to cook and clean for him lest he burn down the house. Take a look at TrueLad.com, or the commercials for cleaning products. These are the types of men that pervade today's media. Our brains are ostensibly only interested in three things: sport, drinking and fucking. If we try to do anything else, we'll need a woman to help us.

Men worry about feminism, as if a culture of women's rights is about to stamp out male identity. But really, it's men who are their own worst enemies. In response to feminism, there's been a surge in ultra-male television and writing. TrueLad is one example, so is Man v. Food, those Fosters ads on YouTube and the hugely venomous Return of Kings. This kind of media is – ostensibly - designed to reclaim a lost kind of maleness. It tells young men that it's acceptable to adhere to their basest instincts, to eat, drink and laze around, and expect subservience from women. But rather than empower or reinvigorate the male gender, this lad culture is retarding it. An entire generation of men is learning, by osmosis, that tolerance, restraint and self-improvement are all virtues that are unmanly, and that ascribing to higher behaviour than “laddishness” is to rebel against their genetics. It's leaving men looking outmoded, childish, irrelevant. If masculine emotional attitudes had matured at all since the Stone Age, then much of that progress has now gone up in smoke thanks to the male media's puerile response to new feminism. It's as if men are throwing out their cars and going back to the bicycle. The version of maleness that lad culture seeks to reclaim is resoundingly at odds with today's world.

Reclaiming men's social position by reintroducing pre-war male attitudes is a mission that fails as soon as it starts. Firstly, of course, men have nothing to reclaim. The structure of societies in both the East and West are already tipped grossly in men's favour. And if ultra-male culture is a response to feminism then, unsurprisingly, it's missed what feminism is about: an end to inequality; the formation of new ideologies that don't favour or threaten one gender over another.

But secondly, it's absurd to believe that men, by returning to primitive and misogynistic behaviours, would deserve a higher position in society, or a position in society at all. If men truly are worried that their voices are becoming distant, then it's only with advanced learning, greater understanding and informed opinions that they can expect to be listened to more closely. A perspective on social issues won't be affirmed by acting childishly, or by complaining that men aren't allowed to whistle at women in the street any more. It'll be done, basically, by thinking and talking more like feminists.

I'm distressed that young men, people I know and have grown up with, today take pride in infantile behaviour. I'm distressed that it's considered unmale to engage with politics, or to express an emotion that can't be compartmentalised as either a “man-hug” or a “bromance”. The real problem males face today is not, of course, a rise of women – it's a shrinking of men. It's the presence of lad culture, driving us mad, like the lead in the Romans' water.

Brave and vital forces for social change are finally starting to occur. By stomping our feet, pretending these things aren't happening and retreating to poxy Boyz Only clubs, not only are we slowing long-needed progress, we're writing ourselves out of history.

Edward Smith is a writer based in Liverpool. Follow him on Twitter @mostsincerelyed.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue