Ritchie Calvin
6 min readFeb 7, 2024
Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

None the less the feminine element in man is only something in the background, as is the masculine element in woman. If one lives out the opposite sex in oneself one is living in one’s own background, and one’s real individuality suffers. A man should live as a man and a woman as a woman.” (Carl Jung)

It’s always amusing what the social media algorithms think I will be interested in. I was recently fed a short clip of Andrew Tate, recently released from his imprisonment for human trafficking, disparaging the very idea of Canadian masculinity. (No, I won’t provide links to his content.) He scoffed at the very idea. How could a Canadian man be, well, manly? The idea was ludicrous to him. And, of course, in the process, he got to bolster his own sense of masculinity. But just what does that mean to him?

His derision and self-aggrandizement got me thinking about masculinity and what it means in the current cultural and political context.

For Andrew Tate, masculinity has a very particular meaning. I mean, he really does overcompensate in very obvious ways, doesn’t he? He constantly has a cigar in his mouth. He rarely wears a shirt in his videos. Gotta show those pecs. He collects very expensive cars, and constantly brags about them to all and sundry (even Greta Thunberg). And then there’s the bevy of beautiful women. He is frequently surrounded by women, and he almost always objectifies them. I recall a video in which he’s in bed with multiple women. He then flicks his fingers to send them away, as if they are lint or debris, before he can say his very important thing.

All of those are signifiers of masculinity, and of a particular kind of masculinity. It is a masculinity when men are in charge, where men possess objects of beauty (cars and women), when men spend money on objects, where men demonstrate their strength and power, and where they threaten violence. It is an older kind of masculinity, one which I’ll call “retro masculinity.” RetroMasc.

Jordan Peterson seems to ascribe to a similar kind of masculinity. He predicates his notion of masculinity on two (outdated) things: Carl Jung and the Bible. Now, before people get too upset about me calling the Bible outdated, what I mean is that the notion of masculinity found there is a masculinity present in desert-dwelling shepherds. Things have change a bit, and that means our notions of gender will have changed too. Even so, a weird thing happens with evangelicals and people like Peterson. They manage to instill contemporary masculinity onto the lessons of the Bible. No longer is the figure of Jesus Christ a call to gentleness or meekness. No, it has become a call to power and threats.

In terms of Jung, Peterson also seems to miss the point, or to overlay the point with a more contemporary reading. Many read Jung as understanding every human beings as containing both masculine and feminine. Jung argued that any person who was solely masculine was an incomplete human beings. Sounds progressive and “woke,” doesn’t it? Well, no. Jung coded the masculine as strong and rational and the feminine as weak and irrational. Yes, each person should find some of the other inside of them; however, as with Tate and Peterson, the masculine is strength.

Peterson quite (in)famously said that a man should be powerful and intimidating. His argument is that it is no achievement at all to be non-threatening if one is not dangerous. However, if one is dangerous and scary, and holds that threat in check, then he’s really a man. He can be peaceful; he just has to have the ability to be powerful and violent.

Why the violence? Well, he has to be able to defend himself and his possessions — his home, his cars, his wife, his children. (See, a lot like Tate, again.)

But here’s the fundamentally messed up part of that logic. First, there’s the fact that his wife and children are not possessions. They have their own hopes, dreams, and desires and should be able to act on them. They should also be able to defend themselves. But apart from that (really important) point, from whom is he protecting them? Oh, yes, other big, strong, threatening, and dangerous men. We live in a society that is largely removed from nature. We no longer have to battle lions and bears. We no longer have to protect against invading neighboring clans. (Yes, we must keep Ukraine and Gaza and other such places in mind.) No, in our contemporary towns and cities, the single largest threat is men.

That’s one of the basic absurdities of the Tate-Peterson model of masculinity, or retromasc: men wouldn’t need to be dangerous and threatening if the standard of masculinity wasn’t to be dangerous and threatening. What if the model of masculinity were more caring and nurturing? What if the standard of masculinity were kind and supportive and loving?

OK, their response to that, both of them, would be to say that that a loving and nurturing man is not going to do you any good if someone breaks into your home with a gun and bad intentions.

Well, A) you can’t know that for a fact. A loving and kind response may be able to diffuse the situation. Police forces all over the world are working on implementing de-escalation specialists and techniques. But, B) who’s breaking into the house with a gun and bad intentions? Oh, yes, someone retromasc. The problem here is retromasc.

Which leads to another realization: Tate and Peterson are, as we too often do in this society, addressing symptoms and not causes. One of the characteristics of contemporary society is to bully and to threaten violence. We see it in grocery stores. We see it in parking lots and gas stations. We see it in schools. We see it on sports broadcasts. We see it in politicians.

It is true: crime happens. It is true: people (usually men) break into homes. People (usually men) assault and rape other people. Tate might understand this, and Peterson certainly should understand this: these crimes are symptoms of something inside the criminal. Why does the person break into the house? Why does the criminal assault another human being? They have unresolved trauma. They do not see themselves as part of a society. They feel dispossessed in a materialistic world. They view other people as possessions! At the very least as less-than-human. They are retromasc.

The retromasc’s answer is to treat the symptom. Someone is going to break into my house, greet it with violence. Someone is going to threaten me with physical violence, greet it with greater physical force. That will never, ever stop these things from happening.

What does stop it? Treating unresolved trauma. Welcoming people instead of scapegoating and alienating them. Adjusting how we socialize masculinity. Stop viewing other people as possessions.

Above, I noted that we see this in politicians, too. People’s exhibit number 1 (he likes being number 1): Donald Trump. Retromasc is also at the very heart of Trump’s behavior and his politics. His own motto is to make American great again. Well, just what has changed that he doesn’t like? In what ways are we no longer great?

You got it, masculinity.

You see, Trump wants to return to a time when women were possessions (he himself makes the explicit case about Melania). He would like to return to a time when women were objects. He would like to just be able to grab them by the pussy and not have them object. That’s the thing he’s missing. These days, women will not stand for it. These days, perpetrators get called out and get hashtagged (and held liable in court).

Trump would like to return to a time when masculine bluster was part of the deal. Just threaten those neighboring clans and keep them at bay. Sit shirtless in a TikTok video (Tate) or atop a horse (Putin) or on a digital trading card (Trump). Signal your virtue, which is your strength and violence.

All three of these examples long for a return to “better days,” to a time when men ruled the roost with iron fists, and when women were mere ornaments. Their ideal is to go back to an older form of masculinity — which, to be clear, was never actually OK, but it was the norm — a form of masculinity that they see as slipping away. That’s why they decry the “woke” men and the Canadian men.

However, the changes in gender norms have been a long time coming, and we cannot go back to the nostalgic past favored by Tate and Peterson and Trump. Enough.

Ritch Calvin is an Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at SUNY Stony Brook. He is the author of Queering SF: Readings, Feminist Epistemology and Feminist Science Fiction (Palgrave McMillan) and edited a collection of essays on Gilmore Girls (McFarland). His most recent book is Queering SF: Readings (Aqueduct Press).