A few close shaves in my misspent youth taught me one thing: some men will push your buttons to test your spirit and demand that you fight. In order to evade these risks, some find solace in groups that operate like support hotlines, believing themselves insulated from the impact of an unforgiving world.
The recent hit Netflix series 13 Reasons Why attempted to feature a male-only space with its central theme incorporating the high-school jock cliché of the locker room; a would be tense arena where a fight might emerge from a misplaced remark. Unfortunately the show glossed over realism somewhat — light-hearted banter on an equal footing with supportive commentary is a far cry from my experiences in familiar settings.
This smoothing attempt to ignore the rawness of these forums indicates a distinct softening of the times. Strength cannot exist in a vacuum, it must be tested, like a forged sword must first glow from intense heat before hardening. If your social circle defaults to support, compliance or indifference, in the end it erodes your ability to hold up the roof of the domus. The siren call of validation in abundance dulls the senses. When it is time to show mettle, a habitual diplomatic or evasive manner rears its head. Tough times are not abstracted into a challenge — there is only reaction and emotion.
Tribes have always existed (Jack Donovan makes a great case for them), but there is a pernicious idea among masculinity theorists in the chambers of online discourse that implies the only expression of masculinity is the bond between you and other men, and there can be no threat to that bond. This is almost sacrosanct among men that think like mechanics and revere the wider group. I do not blame these men. Their motivations are aligned with good intentions, but people in the end act out their defaults with the devil watching. A crutch is born.
The band of brothers motif is intoxicating. You see others like you and find confirmation in the emotion reflected back at you. You tell yourself it all fits together, ergo it belongs in my life. This helps me understand myself to be a part of this group. In times of war, this feeling affiliation reaches its zenith. The essence of camaraderie is rooted in this spirit. Outside of life or death, it’s a safety net for weak hearts.
Surrendering to a group ensures strength in numbers but alone you remain vulnerable, fragile and weak. The heightened risk is that even when we are with others we are still alone. Nobody can ever perfectly read or anticipate us, no matter how much we would like to pretend otherwise. We are a product of ourselves in every environment. Even the most stimuli-response oriented humans are of a singular distinction. They are a unique person.
A group is even more of a liability if it does not test you or apply rigorous standards for membership. You become a freeloader empowered to speak in the same tongue. In such situations, the ethos you share with others is no different to a movement dictated by an emotive cause. You only need your feelings to vie for social justice, no qualification or rite of passage – as tribes once boasted.
As a practising agreeable person, a truly disagreeable person can expose critical vulnerabilities. Your openness becomes an exploit to be hacked. In putting the group first, to others you must always come last. The people that put your first however, are not afraid to take aim. The people that genuinely support and care about you will step on your toes. They will tell you when you are going to fuck up your life, or when you are being a coward. Gratitude comes later.
Through cultivating a group of friends that put truth and reason above their need to be liked, strength is afforded with and without them. Honest feedback is always available, and the strength in numbers exists inherent to the group. If you build a locker room in your life, men you appreciate will respect you enough to not shine fake smiles and utter pleasing words, that comfort instead of teach. They will dig into you, find your true character and expose it.
Weakness cannot thrive in the locker room.