For those of us who spend a lot of time trying to explain to youngsters why patriarchal masculinity urgently needs to be taken down, it’s very hard to find positive alternative examples. It is still easier for us to explain the opposite, in other words, to use examples of men whose behavior shouldn’t be followed because it represents the toxicity that comes from a subjectivity that is built to dominate and feel important. The Oscars ceremony has offered us yet another flagrant case that perfectly summarizes what men shouldn’t do. Will Smith’s reaction to an unfortunate joke by Chris Rock has all the elements of the model of masculinity that continues today to be the main obstacle against building a world without gender inequality, in which violence is no longer legitimate. This violence is linked to the idea of power, to the omnipotence in which men have been socialized and the assumption that there is no better way of managing conflict than resorting to force. In this way, violence for many men today has become a mechanism to reaffirm their virility and to restore their so-called lost honor.
Will Smith’s reaction not only comes from this legitimization of violence, which I insist, comes from a masculinity conceived in terms of control and conquest, but also in the justification of our eternal roles as patriarchs, restorers of order, guardians of virtue and women’s honor, and defenders, as though we were superheroes for women, who many men still consider to be children in need of protection. In other words, just as we are compelled to defend women with our sword and cape, we are also just as capable of subjecting them to the vilest practices of exploitation and servitude. The sum of these two extremes is the most dramatic evidence of the horror that is implied in the sexist culture embodied by individuals like Smith. After hitting Chris Rock, the actor – in the same style as a domestic abuser – later tried to justify himself, asked for forgiveness and even for clemency. The same hand that slaps, later wipes away tears. And in between, the superhero is unmasked.
And thirdly but no less importantly, what is also striking is the largely supportive response of the Academy Awards, which came as no surprise, but also of the audience, who should not have even applauded Smith when he won the Oscar for Best Actor. When faced with situations like this one, we cannot be complicit by omission, much less assume a position of impartiality. It’s a recourse that men are used to sheltering in so as not to feel like traitors to a brotherhood that supports us and affirms our virility.
Hopefully, in the best of cases, the example of Will Smith will have an educational impact and trigger a current of unease and criticism among men. A kind of reverse #MeToo movement, in which we make it clear that we are not willing to tolerate such behavior, and also commit to denouncing such actions when we see them around us. Only when men commit to this will we begin to inhabit a world in which, finally, there are no longer individuals such as the actor who won the Oscar for his mediocre performance of a man who exploited the talent of his daughters. The perverse circle is completed. And there is nothing to applaud.