Welcome to Beta Male, a new site from New York Media that for the next four weeks will talk about manly kinds of things, only maybe not in the usual manly way. And welcome to Mansplaining, a weeklong series on the Cut in which men will (finally) explain themselves to women, in any way they want. The convergence of these two offerings is coincidental but, we hope, serendipitous — an opportunity for the sexes to talk, fight a little, and ultimately ignore each other.
Beta Male’s premise is that the chiseled altar of virility is looking a little dated; overwrought; kitschy. Avatars of alpha like Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and Dan Bilzerian have spent years mastering the rough-hewn drag of manliness, but the old moves aren’t landing the way they used to — football causes brain damage and big cars are choking the planet. So we’re ready to call a time out – to do what, we’re not sure. The newest iteration of manhood is still very much in beta.
Meanwhile, the premise of Mansplaining — a somewhat controversial one among the Cut’s team — is that men are good writers, too! Perhaps, we thought, they could even answer some of women’s more pressing questions about them, such as: Why do they take so long to put on their shoes? Why do they play video games long into adulthood? Why do they want us to listen to that guitar solo so badly? And what does a blow job actually feel like?
To kick things off, Cut editor Stella Bugbee and Beta Male editor Aaron Gell talked about the pleasures and pitfalls of gender silos, female dominance of the personal-essay form, and the end of men … or is it only the beginning?
SB: We’re supposed to fight, right? Get a good rivalry going.
AG: Yeah. But wouldn’t that be too predictable?
SB: Yes, so boring.
AG: Remember Moonlighting? Me neither. So tell me, what’s it like editing a gender-based blog in a post-gender world when the old hierarchies have mostly broken down?
SB: Well, for one thing, you need balls of steel, to use a totally alpha-male metaphor.
AG: You heard that clanging in the hallway? That wasn’t me.
SB: I think it was the boys on Select All, actually.
AG: I am sitting in their pod and the musk is overwhelming.
SB: Musk. Ew. But seriously, it’s a minefield, as I am sure you’ll soon discover.
AG: I think I have already gotten a little taste of that. I feel I have been put on notice, to some extent.
SB: Yeah, working on a woman’s site I am used to being critiqued. It was nice to see someone else getting that heat for a change.
AG: Happy to help.
SB: I liked the email you wrote asking writers to pitch to Beta Male, in which you mentioned that “among the many areas in which women are just totally crushing it lately (sheesh, women!) is the confessional essay.” It reminded me of an interview with Elena Ferrante (you probably haven’t read her, being a man and all) in which she said something like, “Women need to create a rich tradition of our own by which men must measure themselves.” And for one second I was like, “WE DID IT!” It only lasted one second, though.
AG: I have not read her, but she is on my list. After I reread Updike!
SB: I’ve heard of him. You should do a post on Beta Male about why men should read Ferrante, not just book one.
AG: Great. Can you file to me by next week?
SB: Done. So, are you a beta male?
AG: I guess I should come clean about that. I am a beta. But I have come to terms with it. That may come partly from being the smallest kid in my class throughout school and never once scoring an actual goal in six years as right wing on the Arlington Cubs.
SB: Did it feel good to admit that?
AG: It did. Maybe one goal.
SB: Aren’t there any short alphas?
AG: Maybe Napoleon or Tom Cruise. The pressure sort of drives them crazy. As a beta, I am happy to benefit from the extraordinarily low expectations people have of me.
SB: Speaking of low expectations, what do you hope to achieve with this blog?
AG: Just a bunch of guys sitting around talking about our feelings. Is that weird?
SB: Only if you’re in the woods in a drum circle.
AG: Men’s magazines are having an identity crisis. You could call it an identity meltdown. I recently worked for a men’s magazine that was trying to find itself, and the struggle is real.
SB: Let’s talk about that big meeting we had where we invited all the editors from print and web to bring ideas for Beta Male. There were so many pitches about porn!
AG: Yes! Also, quite a few staffers would like us to have a porn critic.
SB: But you won’t, right?
AG: I’m not sure there’s enough narrative ambition on RedTube to justify a close read. But there is a fascinating story on tickle porn in the pipeline.
SB: [Googles tickle porn] When I found out there was going to be a “man blog” I have to admit, I rolled my eyes a little.
AG: See, that’s sad. Let’s unpack that. And by the way, the scare quotes are duly noted.
SB: It was my knee-jerk reaction. I got over it.
AG: Mine too, a little. I don’t think that will be an uncommon response. But why?
SB: Well, there’s the cliché joke of like, “Every blog is a man blog.”
AG: I guess so. But don’t women want men to be introspective and talk about our feelings?
SB: I want men to be more like women. And vice versa. Down with gender binaries! The world is a better place when we make room to hear a range of experiences. Just not at the exclusion of others.
AG: It’s true that men have dominated a lot of conversations for a long time, and yet there are ways of speaking and maybe thinking where we are way behind. So now what? The last thing the world needs is a bunch of alienated, hurt, jobless, humiliated men running around being angry. (Ahem, Trump.)
SB: I am all for men getting in touch with their feelings. And sharing them. And questioning the way our world makes them perform their manhood.
AG: That has to be good, right?
SB: It certainly can’t hurt.
AG: But Beta Male’s not all about contemplating our manhood …
SB: Right. I hear you have a piece coming in from the guy with the world’s most perfect ass.
AG: Actually, I decided to save that for my memoir.
AG: But to answer your question, we will have stuff about all the typical male obsessions: gadgets, sports, sex, video games, and night terrors.
SB: Great. We’ll be reading.