“Uncommen: Fight Commonism” is the slightly confusing slogan which confronts anyone visiting a website a friend pointed me to earlier today.  The Uncommen site encourages men to become “uncommon” by accepting “challenges” and using an app to “engage their wives, kids, friends, co-workers, employees…pretty much anybody that means jack squat to them”.  The site is premised on the idea that “the average man” is feckless, drifting, promiscuous and not in control of his lfie or his environment.

There is a specific social agenda which the “Uncommen” programme seems to be addressing:

when men win: wives, kids, and society wins.

When men win, we don’t have to build as many shelters for abandoned families, or pay the psychological and emotional toll for fatherless kids, or care for so many abused and neglected wives

The specific strategy, of challenges based on an app, inspiring posters and educational resources, is based on their perception of what works (and doesn’t) when addressing the issues above:

If we’re going to solve societal ills, we need a few uncommon approaches. Instead of yelling at dudes, “Hey loser, shape up or ship out!” and heaping societal shame and guilt on their shoulders, we designed a mobile app

We believe men respond to challenges far more than criticisms.

The friend in question asked me what I thought of the site, and so I’d like to think out loud about that question.  I can see the benefit of groups joining together to address problems with the ingrained behaviour associated with men in our society.  I wouldn’t disagree that there are problems with only men can solve with how men as a group act, reinforce each other’s behaviour, model attitudes to boys and so on.  It’s really encouraging to see men looking at these problems as “men’s issues”, rather than as problems with women either have to put up with or solve on men’s behalf.

But…and I’m afraid there is a but…this particular approach looks a bit unhelpful to me.  I may be wrong, and this app may have enormous value, and enable men to turn their lives around, but it seems to fall into a number of the attitudes around masculinity and Christianity which are sustaining problems rather than solving them at the moment.

Firstly, I’m not sure whether “winning” is the most useful – or even logical – way to describe the outcomes the app is looking for.  Why does supporting a family emotionally, respecting loved ones and being a useful member of society count as “winning”?  This might be my downbeat British attitudes coming out, but what does “winning” mean in this context?  Who has lost?  What was the contest?  Why does one of the testimonials describe the process as “competing against other men” if the aim is to raise men’s capacities and achievements as a group?

I may genuinely be misunderstanding the way in which “win” is used, but it seems to me to imply that someone else is being beaten.  There’s something a bit odd too in suggesting that “when men win: wives, kids and society wins”, when men as a group have control of the majority of the world’s resources, capital and military, civil and social power.  When men “win”, women and children do not “win”, if the statistics on violence and abuse are anything to go by.

It seems perverse to set up “winning” as an aim for men when abuse and sexualised violence are the outcomes of a masculinity which encourages dominance over others as the marker of identity. I’m not accusing the people behind Uncommen of approving of these things, I just don’t understand how suggesting men, either individually or as a group, should win more makes sense as a solution to abuse or neglect within families.

The strategic approach of this app also seems unclear: the idea that “men respond to challenges far more than criticisms” seems to bypass entirely any discussion of men’s responsibility for the social problems which it is going to solve.  The pragmatism of “challenging” men instead of blaming them rather too conveniently sidesteps any moral reflection at all.  It is entirely possible that justice will be inefficient in certain circumstances.  Various workers’ rights struggles spring to mind.

Healing and rebuilding may require periods of reflection and lament which don’t move the process forward in any particularly visible way.  But it’s probably not for men to determine the pace of that process, nor to decide that it’s a waste of time thinking about who is to blame.  It certainly feels rather self-serving for a group of men to declare that blaming men for men’s crimes is a waste of time, and empowering them to win would be a better use of resources.

I also (perhaps predictably) can’t see the logic of using “the average guy” as a figure for scorn and derision, a character whom other men are pleased about beating or superseding, whilst suggesting that “societal shame and guilt” are to be entirely avoided.  Shame seems to be exactly the mechanism envisaged by this system, even down to the subscription service called “Covenant Eyes”, which sends reports of internet browsing to other people for “accountability” purposes (for a fee.)  The site offers “Jack”, the mascot of an average guy, for mockery and scorn (and for bookings).

The only way to reconcile these two statements seems to be that Uncommen offers a way for men to avoid “societal shame and guilt” by becoming the right kind of man.  This might be the root of the “winning” mentioned earlier – the app implicitly presents a chance to beat other men and gain a sense of true masculine identity via that process.  This also gives me pause for thought, as it might imply that men can “earn” their way out of responsibility for social problems.  This, as we’ve discussed before on this blog, is a troubling idea: that individual men can insist they’re not “that sort of guy” and so absolve themselves of any connection to wider social problems.

This fits rather too well with the very first banner the reader encounters on entering the site, which asks

LADIES…IS YOUR MAN UNCOMMEN?

ACKNOWLEDGE HIM TODAY!

CLICK HERE TO NOMINATE!

Men who are nominated by “ladies” have the chance of entering the “Hall of Fame”, where their picture appears alongside a testimonial from their “lady” about why they deserve this status.  I can see that gamifying (if that’s the word I want) the process of tackling problems might logically involve a high-scorers board of a hall of fame.  But it feels rather too predictable that the first thing this site does is ask women to validate and valorise men.

As I said above, maybe I’m wrong about all this. I perhaps don’t understand American men’s culture, or the best ways to solve the problems in it.  But the Uncommen site and app seems far too focused to me on encouraging a competitive, individualistic model of masculinity which makes being a decent human being into a game you can beat other people at, whilst asking women to provide admiration and validation for the victors.  I also have problems with the obsession with how bad it is to be “common”, but that’s another blog post…

Advertisements