2023 has not been a good year to be a man. More accurately, it has not been a good year to be a man struggling with toxic insecurity, the kind that would’ve been totally acceptable to project onto women in decades past.
In July, texts between Super Bad actor Jonah Hill—formerly an internet darling for his response to body-shamers—and his then-girlfriend, surfer Sarah Brady, were made public after they broke up. On Instagram, Brady issued a “warning to all girls” and advised that “if your partner is talking to you like this, make an exit plan.”
The reality of their tumultuous relationship was difficult to stomach, although it was painfully familiar to many. He’d asked her to remove all Instagram posts of her showing her “ass in a thong.” She obliged. Then, he said it was a “good start,” but she didn’t “seem to get” his point: “But it’s not my place to teach you. I’ve made my boundaries clear.” Hill’s weaponization of therapy-speak to exert control over his partner sparked countless think pieces on the subtle ways men try to manipulate women, from what they wear to who they socialize with. Let’s be really clear here: Boundaries start and end with you.
Around the same time, Keke Palmer’s partner, Darius Jackson, chose a public forum (the social media platform formerly known as Twitter) to shame her when she wore a sheer black dress to see Usher at his Las Vegas residency. “It’s the outfit tho … you a mom,” he wrote, disregarding the fact that women can, in fact, be two things at once. A woman can be sexy and a parent. The two are not mutually exclusive. Also, as the father of his child, he would’ve been able to just text her. We, as the public, did not need to know he was upset about this, but he wanted an audience for his nonsense—and for other men to agree with him.
Jackson could’ve stopped there, but instead, he doubled down: “We live in a generation where a man of the family doesn’t want the wife & mother to his kids to showcase booty cheeks to please others & he gets told how much of a hater he is. This is my family & my representation. I have standards & morals to what I believe. I rest my case.” Ugh, there’s so much to unpack, but needless to say, his entitlement and misplaced sense of ownership were palpable.
In September, Russell Brand issued a refute to sexual assault and harassment allegations made against him by multiple women, using big words like “baroque” and “metastasized,” which for me at least, did the opposite of making him sound smart. Big man uses big words.
That same month, former lovable dork and prankster Ashton Kutcher faced the music when letters he and his wife, Mila Kunis, wrote in support of convicted rapist Danny Masterson were leaked to the public. Both issued a stiff apology for the “pain that has been caused” to survivors of sexual violence, delivered with a level of monotone that usually comes with reading from a script. It prompted this headline from The New York Times, “The Celebrity Apology Video Aesthetic”, which was a critical analysis of the PR tricks celebs use to look and sound relatable.
Joe Jonas, too, was accused of trying to tarnish his ex-wife Sophie Turner’s name amid their breakup through reports that made her look like a partier and bad mother (when interviews she’s given in the past point directly to the contrary). Refreshingly, the smear campaign didn’t work. As Molly McPherson, seasoned crisis communications expert, told Vox: “It was a clumsy attempt at making Joe Jonas appear like the victim in the public spiraling of this divorce. No one was buying it.”
More examples of men being, well, icky: Matty Healy’s reckoning for derogatory comments he made against Ice Spice; Jason Derulo facing allegations of quid pro quo sexual harassment; and who can forget Justin Timberlake, who thanks to her explosive new memoir The Woman in Me
, has been made to reflect on all the shitty things he said about his ex Britney Spears after their split in 2002? The list goes on.
Men are floundering. They’ve gotten away with so much for so long, and now that the rug has been pulled out from underneath them, they’re seemingly having a hard time coping. Blaaah… not all men, I know! But when you compare them to their female contemporaries in Hollywood, women are thriving.
Take Beyoncé, for example. Her Renaissance Tour broke ticket sales records worldwide, becoming the eighth highest-grossing concert tour of all time, the second highest-grossing tour ever by a female artist (second to Taylor Swift), and the highest-grossing tour by a Black artist, pulling more than $579 million in sales. She’s also the most-awarded person at the Grammys, with 32 to her name.
“Look what it’s done to the culture,” her husband Jay-Z told Tidal Magazine of the Renaissance album. “Look how the energy of the world moved. They play her whole album in the club. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that. The whole entire joint—like, everything?! Every remix is amazing. Everyone’s inspired. It has inspired the world. Every remix is better than the other one.”
And what about Swift? Her fans “represent an extreme version of the turbocharged consumers willing to splurge on everything they missed during the pandemic,” according to Bloomberg; Swift’s Eras Tour energized a $5.7 billion boost to the U.S. economy. Not only that, but her current relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has ushered in a new era of football fans, ones that have seen a 400 percent increase in sales for number 87 jerseys, and ticket sales to Chiefs games increased threefold. Sorry, boyfriends of TikTok, but Swift really did put Kelce on the map.
A New York Times piece deliciously titled “My Delirious Trip to the Heart of Swiftiedom,” written by prolific celebrity profiler Taffy Brodesser-Akner, took readers on a 40,000-word journey through her experience at Swift’s Eras Tour. The writer made the following observation: “I have walked in trembling silence as I entered farther and farther into the inner sanctums of the Vatican. This was like that, except for girls.”
Indeed, there’s a monumental shift happening in what it means to be a woman; defined by togetherness and the reclaiming of femininity as our own rather than to serve the male gaze. But if Taylor Swift is the girls’ lord and savior, who is it for boys? Where’s their Taylor Swift? God forbid, is it Joe Rogan? The mind reels. And until we have an answer to that question, I’m afraid men—sorry, some men—will continue to flounder. Where’s Tom Hanks when you need him?