Voices: Geek male identity has been reduced to Kylo Ren thrashing a computer with his sword - this needs to change


Call me a geek, but the highlight of my Christmas season was seeing Daisy Ridley as Rey in The Force Awakens, grasping Luke’s old lightsaber, with the John Williams epic score swirling behind her, before beating seven shades out of one of cinema's most creepy-yet-terrifying villains.

If Rey and other kick-ass heroines are icons of geek feminism, Kylo Ren seems like a portrait of geek masculinity at its worst. Twitter has declared the black-helmeted Kylo a “Ren’s Rights Activist”, and that's not the only way the nerd knight reminds us of the most atrocious geek male behaviour of 2015.

Kylo Ren impotently thrashing a computer with his big red sword is the perfect portrait of Gamergate, the online hate campaign that continued its crusade against feminist video game reviewers in 2015. If Kylo Ren’s buddies in the First Order have a manifesto, don't be surprised if point one is "actually it's about ethics in galactic domination".

Whether it was the attempt to push women and writers of colour out of the 2015 Hugo awards, OpalGate and other incidents around the open source software movement, or the backlash against female comic book characters, the same pattern repeated across geek culture in 2015 - angry men acting like bigots because they believed something only they should be entitled to was being taken away.

There's an unfortunate overlap between geek culture and the “manosphere”. Men who still harbour the low self-esteem often associated with geek culture can be easily sucked in by "meninist" rhetoric, absurd ideas of Alpha and Gamma maleness, pick-up training, and a toxic attitude to women that has enthroned feminism as its enemy.

The Red Pill, a metaphor culled from scifi movie The Matrix, is the central metaphor of the manosphere. Swallowing the pill means waking up to reality, but in a bitter twist of irony, it's not the reality of sexism and bigotry. Instead "red pillers" believe in a shared delusional system in which "Feminazis" and "Social Justice Warriors" have taken over the world.

Profiting from this nonsense are a growing number of Men’s Rights gurus who exploit male self-esteem issues, and inflame festering anger over class and identity, as a way to drum up business for their self-help books, seminars and various other products. Like mini-Donald Trumps, these men will spout any outrageous rubbish simply to polish their brand among the half-wits who listen to them.

It's easy to mistake the marketing campaigns of Men's Rights gurus, and the frothing outrage they provoke, for a real discussion of male identity. The sad truth is that discussion, which badly needs to be had, is a barely detectable signal in the vast noise of the internet and social media. And without strong voices helping shape a new male identity, there’s a void which hucksters and conmen happily fill.

If that's true of our geek culture icons, it's just as true in the wider culture of masculinity. In a world where straight white male is no longer the de facto face of heroism, what new identity do men aspire to? For too long male identity has been twisted to serve values of violence and militarism. Maybe Star Wars offers a little hint here as well, in the strong but loving shape of Po Dameron, who makes caring a part of the male soul.

In 2016 we need a healthy, honest discussion of male identity, one not sidelined and swamped by the fake gurus of “meninism”, so we can actually start to make sense of what it means to be male today.