What Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg’s canceled cage match says about masculine anxiousness


Whereas the cage struggle between Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla CEO Elon Musk appears to be on maintain, if these males do ever find yourself sparring, it’ll give an entire new that means to the time period “tech bro.”

The 2 billionaires’ enterprise pursuits have butted heads up to now: Musk’s 2016 take a look at launch of a SpaceX rocket destroyed Zuckerberg’s US$200 million satellite tv for pc. In 2022, Musk mentioned Zuckerberg shouldn’t dominate social media and inspired individuals to desert Meta-owned Fb. Meta additionally lately launched Threads, which competes straight with Musk’s X, previously referred to as Twitter.

However threatening to beat the pulp out of one another represents a brand new – if not weird – type of one-upmanship for the 2 males. At one level, it was rumored that the livestreamed struggle would happen in Rome’s Colosseum, the place gladiators as soon as gruesomely battled to the dying.

What within the identify of Maximus is happening?

Although Musk and Zuckerberg have tried to border their pugilistic pursuit as a once-in-a-generation occasion, they’re removed from alone. They be a part of the ranks of different high-profile males in public and political positions who’ve proven off their bodily energy to burnish their standing.

As a gender scholar, I’ve seen how these fights – let’s name them “performances of virility” – are likely to coincide with beliefs that masculinity is both in disaster or beneath assault.

Cash can’t purchase masculinity

You don’t normally see two rich white billionaires duking it out. So what would Musk and Zuckerberg acquire from preventing one another?

As sociologist Scott Melzer writes in his research of struggle golf equipment, “Manhood Unattainable,” preventing is culturally related to masculinity, and U.S. tradition celebrates males’s violence in the suitable contexts.

For white-collar white males, Melzer explains, preventing can assist them to really feel they’ve handed a take a look at of maturity and fulfilled the cultural requirement of energy. The preventing helps them show to themselves that they’re “actual males,” regardless of their comfortable – most likely manicured – fingers.

To me, the chest puffing between Musk and Zuckerberg is a determined show of masculinity for 2 tech nerds with deep pockets. They are saying cash can’t purchase happiness. Maybe cash can’t purchase masculinity, both.

Kris Paap, creator of “Working Building,” explains that males who don’t take dangers are sometimes seen by their friends as weak and effeminate. Males who danger their well being and well-being, alternatively, show their bravado for the respect of their friends.

That is significantly the case for working-class males. However politicians have additionally placed on gloves to struggle for admiration – and political clout – via shows of bodily prowess.

In 2012, Justin Trudeau squared off in opposition to Senator Patrick Brazeau in a boxing match. A member of Canada’s Parliament who got here from cash and political royalty, Trudeau declared earlier than the match that he was “placed on this planet to do that … I struggle – and I win.”

After rising from the bout victorious, Trudeau’s picture as a scrawny nepo child all however evaporated. Three years later, he turned prime minister similar to his dad.

Cover of comic book depicts smiling man sitting in corner of boxing ring wearing boxing gloves and a red and white pinny with a maple leaf logo.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems as a boxer in a 2016 concern of the Marvel comedian ebook sequence ‘Civil Warfare II: Selecting Sides.’
Marc Brainbant/AFP through Getty Pictures

There are numerous examples of different highly effective males trying to showcase their virility. Russian President Vladimir Putin infamously rode horses shirtless, whereas U.S. President Joe Biden as soon as mentioned that when he was in highschool, he would have taken Donald Trump “behind the health club and beat the hell” out of him.

For nearly two centuries, performances of masculinity – from William Henry Harrison to Donald Trump – have been part of profitable U.S. presidential campaigns.

The top of males … time and again

It’s no coincidence that Musk vs. Zuckerberg comes at a time when there’s well-liked notion that masculinity is in disaster. Ladies are acquiring faculty levels at a quicker clip than males, whereas revenue gaps are closing. Suicides and overdoses amongst males – typically termed “deaths of despair” – are on the rise.

Perception in a “disaster of masculinity” spikes throughout instances of progressive social change. And proponents of this view are likely to blame feminists and different social progressives for critiquing historically masculine mores and values, which, they declare, is inflicting males to spiral.

Gender students level to the flip of the twentieth century and the Nineteen Nineties as different moments of social change that sparked related anxieties.

In 1890, strikes towards coeducation stoked debates round women and boys being taught the identical curriculum. Advocates urged that intercourse shouldn’t matter within the classroom and that women’ schooling ought to put together them for jobs outdoors the house.

This didn’t go over nicely with males who benefited from gender segregation. The Boy Scouts of America truly emerged in 1910 in order that boys had been assured an area the place women and girls weren’t allowed – and the place boys could be “sufficiently” acquainted with masculinity.

Equally, the emergence of id politics within the Nineteen Nineties, which highlighted rights-based ideologies, scrutinized, specifically, the privileges of white males.

At present, social progress – whether or not it’s extra ladies within the office, extra ladies in political workplace or women permitted to hitch what’s now known as “the Scouts” – appears to stoke males’s insecurities. You possibly can see it within the recognition of males’s rights advocates like Jordan Peterson, who claims males are being requested to castrate themselves within the identify of equality. And you may see it in conservative commentator Ben Shapiro’s scorn towards the “Barbie” film, which has been lauded for calling out patriarchal values.

In these moments, males have traditionally taken predictable actions to reclaim the concept they’re inherently completely different from ladies – and thus belong in several areas.

Sociologist Martha McCaughey has identified how evolutionary biology has turn into the favored technique to argue that males simply can’t assist their “innate propensities.”

This contains the urge to dominate others, whether or not that’s in enterprise, in mattress – or, sure, within the ring.



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