Illustration by Emily Birch
Disclaimer: This is a response to Esquire‘s debut cover only. It is not a response to the article, which is yet to be published.
On Tuesday Esquire debuted their March magazine cover, “An American Boy: What it’s like to grow up white, middle class, and male in the era of social media, school shootings, toxic masculinity, #MeToo, and a divided country.” This quote is accompanied by a picture of Ryan Morgan, a 17-year-old from West Bend, Wisconsin.
The above cover has been debuted during Black History Month in America. It also features a piece called “Inside the defence of Harvey Weinstein”.
It mentions the #MeToo movement, a movement about female sexual assault, only in relation to ‘what it’s like’ to be a white American boy. It offers insight into the mind of a man like Weinstein, so heavily condemned by countless acclaimed female actresses. But most strikingly, it victimises one of the most privileged classes in the world.
For all non-white and non-male onlookers, what we’re seeing feels sickeningly self-indulgent.
The hashtag #MeToo has been running for little under two years now. White men have been sexually assaulting and raping women for millennia. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s time to swing back the mic to them just yet.
It feels as though Esquire are trying to tap into much younger white privileged males, by inadvertently condemning things like the media and empowered female voices that they’ve grown up listening to. Traditionally an older men’s magazine, it wouldn’t be surprising if the publication’s intentions are to broaden their readership.
Esquire editor-in-chief, Jay Fielden, is now trying to argue that this cover is part of a ‘growing up now’ series – white, black, LGBTQ, female. But this, in itself, then begs the question: How can you victimise a white privileged male kid just as much as a young black kid, a gay kid or a female kid? Putting all their childhoods on a parity with the phrase “what it’s like to grow up…” is, to quote Jennifer Percy, the writer of this feature we’re currently discussing, misleading.
A white kid simply has to exist to be on the cover of a worldwide magazine, but a black kid such as Lena Waithe has to write a screenplay first and wait until she’s 34 to be featured on Vanity Fair’s cover.
When it comes to the awareness created by #MeToo, I often hear white middle class males complaining: “Yeah, but I didn’t rape anybody.”
No, no you didn’t, *queue sarcastic applause*. But the men who did came from the same privilege as you, had the same access to entitlement as you. So forgive us if we start a movement like #MeToo, that your ancestors have created the need for, but who have gone unnoticed for decades because white male entitlement made them invincible.
We aren’t accusing you of rape when we give you a class in consent, we’re just trying to pre-empt living continuously in a world that your ancestors left us in.
In the UK nearly 90% of those convicted of rape or who are on the sex offender’s list are still white men, and yet we hear far more about British Pakistani child grooming gangs. Whilst both are true, only one receives extensive media coverage.
Esquire’s cover also mentions toxic masculinity. It insinuates toxic masculinity is part and parcel of the ‘white male experience’.
It’s not. It’s an issue men of all races face. As black feminist Bell Hooks tells us: ”On college campuses all over the United States, I talk with these black males and hear their frustrations. They are trying to oppose patriarchy and yet are rejected by black females for not being masculine enough”.
Yes, men have increasingly high suicide rates. Yes, we should certainly be talking about men’s mental health. But we should be talking about masculinity in the universal, not in the small bedroom of a middle class American white boy.
The cover even includes mention of “a divided country”. A divided country, may I add, which currently favours white middle class boys in Wisconsin. It does not, of course, favour young Mexican immigrants in search for greater opportunities.
It calls out school shootings too, which are, we know well, often conducted by disgruntled middle class white boys with “a catastrophic sense of male entitlement”. Take Nikolas Cruz and Elliot Roger as cases in point. They were both convinced that the women in their life ‘owed them’.
To pander to young white boys, especially in such extreme cases as Nikolas or Elliot, is to perpetuate this feeling that the world owes them something.
If we don’t lend our ears to the ‘plight’ of being a white middle class male, it’s because we want to teach you that not getting exactly what you want all the time is fine.
Feminism, the #MeToo movement, consent classes – all of this, I’m told, makes white middle class boys feel uncomfortable.
To that I say: pick up a history book. Learn about people who have faced far worse than ‘uncomfortable’. Let’s see: execution, torture, mass genocide, life-imprisonment, slavery, lives exempt of basic rights. All this, because of the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexuality or what god they worship. These fates are a little worse than ‘uncomfortable’, wouldn’t you say?
What’s worse, is that they’re all still happening. Whilst Esquire talks about “What it’s like to grow up white, middle class, and male”, high-profile Iraqi women are being assassinated for speaking out about sexism in their country.
Bottom line is, white middle class males, I won’t feel sorry for your white privilege. Not until you recognise that you have it, that it’s never going away and that becoming a ‘victim’ of it will only alienate the rest of the world from you. A world who’ve had it a lot harder, and for a lot longer, than you.