Even during Christmas season, it’s annoying to be called a snowflake. This time, it’s Louis CK throwing out the accusation, deeming young people who fight for a more tolerant society a PC-nuisance.
In a leaked audio of a heinous recent comedy set, he is heard to be mocking gender non-conforming people for using the neutral they/them pronoun, as well as ridiculing the Parkland shooting survivors, “joking” that what they went through doesn’t make them “interesting”. He even jibes that young people should be partying instead of getting involved with politics.
I’m sure Louis CK and his supporters will see my words as yet another example of “millennial outrage,” but this isn’t at all what’s happening here. What this episode reveals is once again the fragility of white cisgender masculinity.
CK’s leaked audio is teeming with insecurity and entitlement. His issue with the them/they pronoun is that it allows gender neutral people to feel seen. His suggestion that a request for such pronouns is just about younger people who want to feel like “royalty” reveals what he may see as a threat to his own privileged position. The subtext is: “What makes you so special? The more visibility you have, the less I do – so shut up and get on with being misgendered.”
Clearly, the mere effort it takes to use a them/they pronoun sends him into a blind rage. But this is unsurprising – white cisgender men who have long enjoyed the privileges of their identity often can’t be bothered to make the effort to accommodate minority groups. Using the them/they pronoun takes a little getting used to – though human beings have erected cathedrals, I’m sure we can all manage this minute task – but it is a huge help to those of us who are not cisgender. When someone addresses me with my them/they pronouns, I feel immediately relaxed, like I’m in a lavender bath, no longer anxious that I’m being perceived as a man (when I don’t identify as one).
Being misgendered can take a toll on the mental health of gender non-conforming people. A US study showed that 32.8 per cent of gender non-conforming people felt stigmatised when they are misgendered. Using correct pronouns can significantly improve the quality of life for many people, yet the tiny bit of labour it requires can send cisgender masculinity into crisis.
I see toxic masculinity as a huge, wet bubble, the width and height of an entire room. It takes up a great deal of space, but is intensely fragile, about to burst at any moment. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, men have been asked to deeply consider the consent of women’s bodies – but for men who have never been held to account, this is a nuisance. How else might we explain Brett Kavanaugh’s petulant courtroom whining (even though Christine Blasey Ford was the alleged victim), or Donald Trump’s dangerously short fuse when accused of any kind of bigotry? It’s important to note here that CK has recently admitted to five instances of sexual misconduct towards women. With his hands tied in that department, he’s now mouthing off at gender non-conformists and teenage shooting survivors.
What might be the reason for his anger at young activists like Emma Gonzalez? That they are getting up on TV and demanding changes in a gun-polluted society? Again, it points to a fiery insecurity: “The more air time you get, the less I do, so QUIET DOWN.”
CK’s comments reveal the unwillingness of some older people to grapple with the needs of younger generations – an issue we saw sharply in the divisions of opinion during the EU referendum. CK parrots a senseless argument I’ve seen thrown around by many older white men – it goes something like this: “In my day, we didn’t have any of this political correctness nonsense, and it should stay that way.”
In recent decades, we’ve also had slavery, anti-abortion laws, no rights for LGBTQIA+ people, the Aids crisis, and a huge concoction of social ills. I’m glad it didn’t “stay that way”. Young people fighting for change aren’t the problem – they are the solution, and they have been throughout history.
So to Louis CK and his supporters – instead of attacking younger generations for attempting to make this world a more tolerant, peaceful place, how about you sacrifice some of your privileges and fight with us.
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