The remarkable similarities between unhealthy masculinity and bad leadership

Becoming Superhuman

Sep 1 2022 • 7 mins

What’s your favorite movie of all time?

Until recently, I had a number of movies vying for the title of “Jeff’s favorite movie.”

I wouldn’t fault you for thinking it’s Spider-Man: No Way Home.

I love that movie, it’s easily my second favorite movie of all time. Dead Poets Society made a huge impact on me at an important time in my life. Countless other movies have made it into the top 3, at various points of my life.

Recently, I came across a movie that resonated with me in every possible way. It was exciting, engaging, thought-provoking, and emotionally touching. Immediately after the closing credits started rolling after my first viewing, I knew it was my favorite movie of all time. The movie is called Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Whether or not you’ve seen it, we’re going to extract an important lesson from it. I’ll give you all of the context you need. However, I think we should start somewhere familiar…

Who are our Leaders and Heroes?

Quick! Think of a superhero.

Chances are, most of you reading this thought of one of the following: Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron-Man, or possibly Wolverine. These are some of the most popular characters as well being some of the longest running publications.

When we think of Leaders, a similar phenomenon occurs — we often think of men, first.

In both of these cases, we have an unconscious bias that is largely a result of the availability heuristic (”rule of thumb”). The availability bias shows we are generally more likely to recall things that we see frequently or that stand out. In many cases, these biases can lead us to make incorrect conclusions as Daniel Kahneman points out in Thinking Fast and Slow.

However, in the case of gender in leadership and comics, the stats are clear, men overwhelmingly dominate. Most of the prominent and celebrated leadership positions we see on a regular basis are dominated by men, even when considering any recent progress for gender parity. The Fortune 500 has reached an all time high for women CEOs…at 44, or 8%. Meanwhile, comics continue to have a representation problem that goes back decades.

All of this is undergirded by the cultural norms handed down to us by the society we live in. While the sum-total of everything above is not the exact definition of the patriarchy, we are dancing in the same disco.

via GIPHY

The Leaders and Heroes we see

When we have such a strong support system for placing men at the apex of society and in leadership or idolized roles, we naturally begin to analyze their traits assuming that it must be something in their behavior or habits that explains their success rather than any structural advantages created through violent opposition to equity.

In a capitalist system, this means that we will find ourselves seeing success among those who are stoic or unfeeling, willing to be aggressive, willing to win at all costs in service of maximizing shareholder value. If you live in the US, you are also living in a country whose entire commonly shared history is a collection of stories that glorify war and conflict while glossing over the untold suffering caused by these conflicts. Is it any wonder that our leaders are influenced by a culture whose “real heroes” went into battle and whose fictional heroes are to be revered and modeled because they indulge our power fantasies of invulnerability and justified, righteous violence?

It is here that we find ourselves waist deep in the conversation about culturally accepted understandings of masculinit

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