Katie Hebert, Staff Writer |
On Feb. 12, Esquire Magazine published a controversial cover story in which the front page centered a middle-class, white boy with the caption reading, “What it’s like to grow up white, middle class, and male in the era of social media, school shootings, toxic masculinity, #MeToo, and a divided country.”
The story, “The Life of An American Boy at 17,” written by Jennifer Percy, followed the life of 17-year-old Ryan Morgan who “is a high school senior from West Bend, Wisconsin. Like all seventeen-year-olds, he thinks a lot about what he wants to do with his life, because everyone keeps telling him he’s supposed to have it figured out. He’d rather just talk about his girlfriend or cool sneakers or the Packers. But life is never that simple.”
The main quote from the article that circulated around was Morgan saying, “Last year was really bad, I couldn’t say anything without pissing someone off,” which many took as the main point of the story: centering a conservative white man’s experiences and allowing him to play the role of a marginalized person.
The story begins talking about Morgan’s daily life, focusing on family life, relationships, and hobbies. It continues in discussing an incident where Morgan got into a fight with a student, hitting her back after she smacked him, as Percy writes, “He began absentmindedly opening and shutting the door. This girl he didn’t really know told him to stop. When he did it again, she smacked him in the face. He smacked her back. She clawed at him, and he fell into a row of computers.” Morgan, later reflecting on the incident thinks that “if [I] were a girl, [I] wouldn’t have been punished. As long as I don’t get in trouble again for a year, I’m okay, but I had to deal with it for a few months. [The kids in school] called me a woman beater. I don’t think anyone actually thought I was. They were just giving me crap. It was just a stressful time.”
Following that story came more discussion of Morgan’s life in a more political sense, especially of his interactions with women following the incident. During the 2016 election, he recalls getting hate for being pro-Trump: “Everyone hates me because I support Trump? I couldn’t debate anyone without being shut down and called names. Like, what did I do wrong?” He followed that up with “[Trump] is respectful towards his wife, as far as I know,” he says. “I don’t think he is racist or sexist. [I] think the president tries to piss people off a little too much. Sometimes I think it’s funny, but I guess it’s really not that funny in the end.”
Not only was the issue focusing on someone whose multiple identities are already privileged and have become the standard to follow in society, but the issue’s timing of being published during Black History Month left many audiences angry and frustrated as our culture already centers and prioritizes the lives of white, cisgender, straight, middle-class men.
Many posted their frustrations online, with people like Jemele Hill tweeting, “Because you know what we don’t discuss nearly enough? The white male experience. *facepalm emoji*” attaching a photo of the issue.” Other comments included Leslie Mac saying, “Ya’ll – this Cover Story in @esquire is thee WHITEST S— I’ve come across all… well all week at least. I’m so f—g tired of press stories about poor white boys while marginalized people are actually dying because the current ‘era’,” as well as Zara Rahim noting the incredible double standard of American society: “Imagine this same ‘American Boy’ headline with someone who looked like Trayvon talking about what it’s like to have your mother sit you down to tell you how to stay alive in your own city during Black History Month. Just imagine. Shame on you, @esquire.”
However, this is not the first time Esquire has centered the experience of someone who already has the privileges and benefits of American hegemonic society. In 1992, Susan Orlean wrote “The American Man at Age Ten,” focusing on 10 year old Colin Duffy “and his contemporaries, who will be twenty-one in the year 2003. Hopefully, the women of the twenty-first century will be ready for them.”