Tucker Max Says Gender Discussions Are Really Just ‘Tribal Signaling’

And why “the battle of the sexes” is such a dumb idea.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Changing gender roles are key to accelerating the culture shift around changing the way we work and live. Redefining Masculinity is an editorial package that investigates what it means to be a man in 2017—and beyond. As part of it, we’re asking a wide range of men across industries, ages and background to answer questions about what masculinity means to them. Read more about the project here.

Max made his break in a big way in the early 2000s, through publishing what would be variously called “fratire” and “dick lit”: autobiographical stories of bro havoc with lots of booze, sex and assorted misadventures. They appeared first on his website and then in a series of books—the most famous of which was I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, which led to a movie of the same name. (His personal website still greets the visitor with “My name is Tucker Max, and I am an asshole.”)

But in 2015, he published Mate: Become the Man Women Want, with Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico. This, in the eyes of a Maxim Magazine profile, was a rebranding from his former “‘dick lit’ douchelord” days to becoming a “self-help guru teaching men how to fall in love.”

Now the father of two young kids, Max spoke to Thrive Global for our Redefining Masculinity project, which led to a pleasantly cantankerous interview you can read here. What shone through was a certain disagreeable humanism: he repeatedly challenged me for even wanting to do a series of pieces about masculinity. When I asked how he’d define it, he said in the broadest textbook sense—of and relating to men. “I’m not trying to be glib—that’s how I would define it,” he said. “Every other definition isn’t a definition of masculinity, it’s a virtue-, or status- or political signaling device. I’m not trying to signal with the definition of masculinity. I’m trying to explain what it is.”

It’s like, he continued, how discussions about abortion “are never about abortion”: it’s really about some other thing, often a “tribal affiliation” that the speaker is trying to signal.

“Almost all gender politics discussions break down to signaling,” he said. “I’ve thought that was stupid from as early as I could remember. The idea of the battle of the sexes, the idea that men and women are in opposition, at least in general, is a dumbass idea that never made sense to me.”

That’s why, he says, people who made their careers on gender politics are primed to stay in that oppositional mode. It’s a function of ideologies, of the human need for “tribal affiliation,” of feeling a part of a group. Indeed, some researchers would say that in-group/out-group posturing is a part of human psychology.

“You have someone else saying, ‘No, we’re all people. We need to work together,’” Max says. “That sort of idea almost never wins against extremist tribal rhetoric.” Tribalism, the research indicates, flares up in times of tumult. 

For more, read the Redefining Masculinity interview with Max. 

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