It’s Complicated Trying Not To Be A Douchebag As A Man In This Wave Of Online Feminism

As another video of men behaving like douche-bags goes viral, Richard Godwin argues it's complicated sorting the dickheads from the dissenters online...


by Richard Godwin |
Published on

'Well, I'm finding it harder to be a gentleman every day,' sang Jack White in the early days of the 21st century, clearly dismayed at the emerging crisis of gentility. 'All the manners that I've been taught are slowly dying away/But if I held a door open for you would it make your day?'

It is sobering to think this was before #EverydaySexism and the Dapper Laughs revolt, long before the 'Fourth Wave of Feminism' brought closer scrutiny to the actions and intentions of males online and offline. Now we might question White’s intentions. Is chivalry, for him, no more than a retro hipster aesthetic? Is he using charm to undermine the agency of his victim? Is he essentially Julien Blanc with a guitar? Does he need to attend an informed consent lesson? WHO CAN YOU TRUST?

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The latest "proof" of the douchiness of malekind, came courtesy of a viral video this week set up to show how men would respond to a seemingly drunk woman on Hollywood Boulevard. You don't really need to watch the video to figure out what happened: none of them helped her find a bus home. Most of them tried to get them to come home with them.

The video sparked conversation in The Debrief office. **After all, they all knew many men IRL would no more see an inebriated woman as a potential fuck than they would see an unarmed man as a potential kill. Now that douche-shaming has been elevated to an international sport - and douchebags have been elevated to a symbol of the international male archetype - they worried about throwing out the non-douchebags with the douche-water. If you do happen to be a man and you encounter a drunk girl this party season how are you supposed to look out for them without looking like a creep?

And so they turned to me, Gentleman of the Year 2014 (JOKE) for an account of whether I find it harder to be a gentleman in this, the Fourth Wave of Feminism.

The simple answer is… No and yes and finally hmm. (It is not a simple answer, nothing is). I mean, I don’t really see why feminism poses a challenge to men - in fact, it is beneficial, since it frees him from gender expectations just as much as it does his sisters and friends and lovers and mothers. I don’t see why gentlemanliness - by which I mean 'aspiring to act in a courteous and charming manner without the expectation of anything in return', aka kindness - should be in conflict with, say, Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman or the appearance of Jane Austen on a ten pound note. It’s not to say it’s easy to kind… I just can’t recall a single incident where I’ve found it in conflict.

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Masculinity itself might have some peculiarly modern challenges, as reflected in the death-spiral of boys' exam results, the male suicide epidemic, the remorseless pressure to earn more money in a world that values money as paramount, and the fact that men on Hollywood Boulevard appear to have such low self-esteem they view the chance to have sex with a drunk woman as the best thing that’s ever happened to them. And manners, they are certainly in decline, thanks to malaises such as iPhones and self-absorption.

But for such questions as: 'Should I offer to pay the bill?' 'Should I help this lady up the stairs with her buggy?'; 'Help! A woman is speaking to me: where should I look?'; the answers seem fairly evident. (Yes but don't insist; yes of course you should you idiot; not the tits). As for holding open the door, no woman has ever objected to this ever and neither has any man.

If you do happen to be faced with a drunken girl in distress, hail a taxi and ensure she has the means to pay and if not mabe call her an Uber? It’s probably worth £9 to know that someone hasn’t been molested due to your laziness/social awkwardness. It’s simply about treating people with equal respect.

But these are examples from the offline world where, for the most part, our consciences are our guides. In the shame culture of the internet, our actions have a slightly different weight. And whilst Fourth Wave of Feminism has thrived online becoming one of 2014's digital phenomenons, not-being-a-douchebag is perilous.

Retweet Caroline Criado-Perez with a bit too much zest and you risk looking like a creep. Strain for the sort of honesty that characterises certain eminent female colleagues writing about sex and porn and people will be like: 'Woah.' Write '101 Everyday Ways For Men to Be Allies to Women'and no one will ever have sex with you again. Tweet your slight despair at the misuse of the term 'rape culture' in some New Statesman article and you risk being drawn into some lengthy flame-war. Make a failed attempt at a Mel Gibson joke to @EverydaySexism and… oh God what kind of douchebag could ever think that was appropriate? Short answer: me.

But I still don’t think the niceties of internet etiquette present a significant problem for the modern male when you compare them to the filth women have to face on a daily basis from the sort of malevolent slime who populate Reddit and Men’s Right Activist forums. I guess if you’re in doubt, you could ask: Could this behaviour conceivably make a Dapper Laughs fan go 'LEGEND!'? Is it going to make someone’s day significantly worse? Am I, in short, being a douchebag?

In real life, provided you don't have a genetic disposition towards being a douchebag, you shouldn't need to ask this too often. Because offline, most of our social interactions rely on what the psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls your brain's 'system one', the subliminal bit that functions without much active input. Most of the time, we have nothing to gain from being a douchebag, so we don’t need to make an active decision not to be one.

Online, your words are your actions and we can tend to be much more calculating. Here, we operate much more from our 'system twos' – the calculating parts – to weigh up what’s funny/truthful/clever/appropriate/impressive/douchy at any given moment. The problem is that Kahneman’s experiements show time and again that system two is fraught with errors, much less reliable than the 'automatic' system one. In an online climate where every man is a douchebag until he proves otherwise, it’s especially prone to fuck-ups. Especially if you actually want to have an opinion, rather than just stay silent.

Which is especially fucked up if you generally think those douchebags on Hollywood Boulevard are indeed douches. And don't want to be considered any more similar to them than the male rights activists who came out in support of high school massacist Elliot Rodgers.

But then again, maybe being a gentleman comes down to worrying less about how other people make you feel and worrying more about how you make them feel.

Like this? Then you might also be interested in:

An Open Letter To The ‘Women Who Don't Need Feminism’. Clue: You Do

Post Viral Syndrome: How It Really Feels To Get Trashed On The Internet

Why We Need To Ignore The Misogyny And Recognise The Internet As A Place For Women's Activism To Thrive

Follow Richard on Twitter @richardjgodwin

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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