It’s a Man’s World, and It Always Will Be

The modern economy is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role — but women were not its author

essay on it's a man's world

If men are obsolete, then women will soon be extinct — unless we rush down that ominous Brave New World path where women clone themselves by parthenogenesis, as famously do Komodo dragons, hammerhead sharks  and pit vipers.

A peevish, grudging rancor against men has been one of the most unpalatable and unjust features of second- and third-wave feminism. Men’s faults, failings and foibles have been seized on and magnified into gruesome bills of indictment. Ideologue professors at our leading universities indoctrinate impressionable undergraduates with carelessly fact-free theories alleging that gender is an arbitrary, oppressive fiction with no basis in biology.

Is it any wonder that so many high-achieving young women, despite all the happy talk about their academic success, find themselves in the early stages of their careers in chronic uncertainty or anxiety about their prospects for an emotionally fulfilled private life? When an educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood, then women will be perpetually stuck with  boys , who have no incentive to mature or to honor their commitments. And without strong men as models to either embrace or (for dissident lesbians) to resist, women will never attain a centered and profound sense of themselves  as  women.

From my long observation, which predates the sexual revolution, this remains a serious problem afflicting Anglo-American society, with its Puritan residue. In France , Italy, Spain , Latin America and Brazil, in contrast, many ambitious professional women seem to have found a formula for asserting power and authority in the workplace while still projecting sexual allure and even glamour. This is the true feminine mystique, which cannot be taught but flows from an instinctive recognition of sexual differences. In today’s punitive atmosphere of sentimental propaganda about gender, the sexual imagination has understandably fled into the alternate world of online pornography, where the rude but exhilarating forces of primitive nature rollick unconstrained by religious or feminist moralism.

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It was always the proper mission of feminism to attack and reconstruct the ossified social practices that had led to wide-ranging discrimination against women. But surely it was and is possible for a progressive reform movement to achieve that without stereotyping, belittling or demonizing men. History must be seen clearly and fairly: obstructive traditions arose not from men’s hatred or enslavement of women but from the natural division of labor that had developed over thousands of years during the agrarian period and that once immensely benefited and protected women, permitting them to remain at the hearth to care for helpless infants and children. Over the past century, it was labor-saving appliances, invented by men and spread by capitalism, that liberated women from daily drudgery.

What is troubling in too many books and articles by feminist journalists in the U.S. is, despite their putative leftism, an implicit privileging of bourgeois values and culture. The particular focused, clerical and managerial skills of the upper-middle-class elite are presented as the highest desideratum, the ultimate evolutionary point of humanity. Yes, there has been a gradual transition from an industrial to a service-sector economy in which women, who generally prefer a safe, clean, quiet work environment thrive.

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But the triumphalism among some — like Hanna Rosin in her book, The End of Men , about women’s gains — seems startlingly premature. For instance, Rosin says of the sagging fortunes of today’s working-class couples that they and we had “reached the end of a hundred thousand years of human history and the beginning of a new era, and there was no going back.” This sweeping appeal to history somehow overlooks history’s far darker lessons about the cyclic rise and fall of civilizations, which as they become more complex and interconnected also become more vulnerable to collapse. The earth is littered with the ruins of empires that believed they were eternal.

After the next inevitable apocalypse, men will be desperately needed again! Oh, sure, there will be the odd gun-toting Amazonian survivalist gal, who can rustle game out of the bush and feed her flock, but most women and children will be expecting men to scrounge for food and water and to defend the home turf. Indeed, men are absolutely indispensable right now, invisible as it is to most feminists, who seem blind to the infrastructure that makes their own work lives possible. It is overwhelmingly men who do the dirty, dangerous work of building roads, pouring concrete, laying bricks, tarring roofs, hanging electric wires, excavating natural gas and sewage lines, cutting and clearing trees, and bulldozing the landscape for housing developments. It is men who heft and weld the giant steel beams that frame our office buildings, and it is men who do the hair-raising work of insetting and sealing the finely tempered plate-glass windows of skyscrapers 50 stories tall.

Every day along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, one can watch the passage of vast oil tankers and towering cargo ships arriving from all over the world. These stately colossi are loaded, steered and off-loaded by  men.  The modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network, is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role — but women were not its author. Surely, modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due!

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Paglia’s opening statement at the Munk Debate , “Resolved: Men Are Obsolete,” held in Toronto

It’s a Man’s World: The Effect of Traditional Masculinity on Gender Equality


Public and international discourse on the debate for gender equality focuses on the oppression of women, as it rightly should. However, the influence that traditional male stereotypes have on the perpetuation of gender inequality, at a transnational scale, also needs to be addressed. This essay asks how do male stereotypes affect the manner in which males engage with gender equality? By encouraging males to analyse their socially constructed gender profiles, it is possible to educate them on how their social roles may impact gender equality. This will involve analysing the entrenchment of traditional male stereotypes in society and their consequent impact on women. Firstly, the essay will establish that male stereotypes operate within a larger structure of the gender paradigm. Then, it will define gender equality and its various interpretations. This will then lead the essay to discuss the trajectory of the progress towards gender equality and why males must be viewed as fundamental actors. Certain masculinities preserve and promote the inequalities experienced between men and women, and, in order to achieve gender equality, they must be dismantled.

When analysing male stereotypes, in the context of gender equality, it is important to recognise that they do not operate in isolation. Male stereotypes, or masculinities , function ‘… as an aspect of a larger structure’. [1] This structure is gender . Gender denotes the social phenomenon of distinguishing males and females based on a set of identity traits. The gendering of the sexes produces and sustains socially constructed differences. [2] Men and women are constructed to behave and interact in ways that perpetuate their gendered identities. However, there is a vital distinction at work here, one that will underpin this essay — the difference between sex and gender. Although this difference is highly contentious and widely contested, it will inform the essay’s discussion of gender equality. Sex and gender are classifications for differentiating between men and women. Sex, in contrast to gender, refers to the determination made based upon scientifically accepted biological criteria. The distinction of sex can be made through the classification of ‘… genitalia at birth or chromosomal typing before birth’. [3]

The terms gender and sex are often understood to be the same thing and used interchangeably. [4] However, this only serves to conflate biological anatomy with socially constructed identities. The problem with this misconception is that in societies, such as those in the West, it is assumed that the reproductive function of males and females is a sufficient basis for prescribing psychological and behavioural characteristics onto members of society. [5] In response to this, Peterson and Runyan assert that:

‘… gender should be understood as a social, not physiological, construction: Femininity and masculinity, the terms that denote one’s gender, refer to a complex set of characteristics and behaviours prescribed for a particular sex by society and learned through the socialisation process’. [6]

In other words, society, not biology, confines males and females to particular masculine and feminine character profiles. This means that gender is not fixed. Christian states that ‘… it is perfectly feasible for gender to change while biological sex remains the same’. [7] Gender should be considered an adjustable and fluid concept, as opposed to the more static disposition of biology.

According to Freud, the human subject has always been sexed , and that despite the biological differences, males and females have become particular social subjects. [8] The biological individual can be viewed as a blank canvas upon which gendered identities are projected and performed through socialisation. Therefore, the supposed differences between men and women are accentuated through the legitimisation of social stereotypes. These stereotypes, presented as inherent, are influenced by the social environment to which one is subjected. Male and female gender profiles are normalised to the extent that they appear natural, biological. Freud, who pioneered early psychoanalysis of the unconscious, was able to examine the ‘… continuity between normal and neurotic mental life, the concepts of repression and the unconscious, and the metal process to be ‘read’ through dreams, jokes, slips of the tongue and symptoms’. [9]

His work provided much needed insight into understanding inherent and normative views of gender identities. By definition, psychoanalytic theory aims to deconstruct what is explicitly or unintentionally communicated to illuminate the latent ‘… fantasies, anxieties, and desires of the speaking subject’. [10] In relation to gender, psychoanalysis stresses that our biology is experienced within culture, not nature, and ‘… that the effect of culture is to transform and channel biology and instinct in particular ways’. [11] Thus, the psychological differences between males and females are mostly, if not entirely, socially constructed.

This view, however, is not universally shared. In his paper titled, Feminism Against Science , Goldberg argues that the cognitive and behavioural differences between men and women are established through their respective physiologies, and that society and gender are a reflection of biological realities. [12] Moir and Jessel also advocate for biological determinism, arguing that to proclaim that men and women ‘… are the same in aptitude, skill, or behaviour is to build a society based on a biological and scientific lie’, and that biological reality reveals a comparative relationship of sexual asymmetry. [13] The argument raised by Goldberg, Moir, and Jessel is allegedly based on solid scientific findings. The ethos offered by ‘science’ is easy to succumb to. However, these ‘findings’ and results are often filtered and manipulated to strengthen the author’s argument. In her book, Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities , Halpern contends that throughout her study, the most important lesson she learnt was that ‘… researchers, like the rest of us, maintain a particular world view that they use in interpreting research findings’. [14] So when analysis arguments about gender, nothing should be unquestioningly accepts as irrefutable, scientific fact.

Discussions about gender are often adjacent to discussions that attempt to determine the intellectual capacities of either sex. Debates of this nature were generated in the late nineteenth century, when it was determined, with scientific vindication, that the challenges and complexities of academia were deemed too overwhelming for the female mind. [15] This attempt to distinguish sex difference on the basis of physiology is one found in evolutionary theory. The theory argues that men and women ‘… pursue distinctive strategies to achieve reproductive effectiveness, with sometimes significant divergence’. [16] This view reduces human existence to the reproductive function. It supports the idea that the only factor of sexual differentiation that needs to be considered is the reproductive process. [17] The pursuit of survival is thus contingent upon successful reproduction, which creates a lineage of evolution for both men and women. Wilson, a Darwinist evolutionary theorist argues in his book, The Great Sex Divide , that for individuals who ‘… perform their sex role more successfully, their genes would have superior survival value, and so we would expect progressive differentiation of physical and mental equipment as parallel evolutionary developments’. [18] That is to say, human evolution is based on the propensity of an individual to fulfil their biological function. Therefore, sex differences are of vital importance to survival. Wilson also contends that the differences between men and women ‘… are observed, fairly universally, regardless of species or culture, time or place’. [19] This kind of argument lies at the very centre of gender inequality. Differentiation can unintentionally, and intentionally, cultivate a culture of discrimination. In categorising the differences between two subjects, one is automatically participating in a process of judgment. This judgment can manifest as a destructive bias or a positive comparison.

Sex difference has been biologically substantiated, and, in some cases, justified in the development of evolution. However, some argue that males and females are increasingly similar than different. For example, Epstein, in her book Deceptive Distinctions , maintains that distinctions based on gender identities serve more harm than good, and that attempts to divide the sexes based on intelligence present dysfunctional consequences for society. [20] In many ways, the argument returns to the age-old question: Are women mentally inferior to men? Some scholars argue in the affirmative, that men and women exhibit asymmetrical cognitive capabilities. However, scholars such as Seligman answer in the negative: ‘no, [women] are not. Data are now being laid on the table that show that, on average, men and women are equal in mental ability’. [21] Since the late nineteenth-century, research has studied sex difference across a plethora of psychological planes, such as mental abilities, attitudes, interest, personality traits, and emotions. Moreover, Connell, like Seligman, states that ‘… sex differences, on almost every psychological trait measured, are either non-existent or fairly small’. [22]

Across many social and academic spheres, the question of who is the smarter sex is deemed unanswerable. Given the tendency of researchers to favour a sex, most concede then that men and women are ‘even’ [23] Researchers are gendered subjects, conditioned by sociocultural gender constructs. They may support the superiority of a particular sex, which in turn, is deliberately or intuitively reflected in their respective research. This is why psychoanalysis ‘… does not assume the existence of an a priori “self” or “ego”’, but asserts that personal identity is contingent upon social conditioning. [24] Researchers do not operate, nor conduct their research, in isolation of reality. They are thus influenced by universal social discourses such as race, gender, and class. Absolute scientific objectivity is a standard difficult to uphold. Halpern warns of the existence of researchers that allow their bias for either sex to direct their study outcomes, such as Rushton and Jenson who ‘… steadfastly maintain that women are less intelligent than men’. [25] Views such as this intensify the gender divide by supporting the notion of male dominance, which further solidifies gender disparities. As Gaitanidis states, the conditions, which produce gender identities, are not quasi-universal; sociocultural and historical forces intrude in our lives to shape our personal identities. [26] Therefore, favouring certain data can be a symptom of cultural influences, such as gendered sex roles.

Sex difference has been largely debunked, or at the very least, considered inconclusive. The general consensus is that neither sex is psychologically superior. The emphasis is rather on the socialisation of difference, where the male and female gender constructs are influenced by worldviews, perceived norms and the unconscious. The variation of positions on sex difference indicates how pervasive the gender paradigm is, and how even purportedly objective areas of study, like science, can be skewed to perpetuate the idea of male intellectual dominance. The revolutionary work of feminists and social constructivists over the past four decades has highlighted the impact and influence of gender constructs on sociocultural life and knowledge. [27] Kimmel summarises the scale and influence of gender as an organising principle of society by stating, ‘virtually every society known to us is founded upon assumptions of gender difference and the politics of gender inequality’. [28] This point becomes foundational when answering the question of how traditional masculinity affects the manner in which men engage with gender equality. At this juncture, the essay needs to address this question.

Debates about gender equality refer to the asymmetrical power balance experienced between men and women due to differences in their gendered identities. [29] On this, Peterson and Runyan contend that:

‘… the social construction of gender is actually a system of power that not only divides men and women as masculine and feminine but typically also places men and masculinity above women and femininity and operates to value more highly those institutions and practices that are male dominated and/or representative of masculine traits and styles’. [30]

This is a contemporary analysis of modern gender constructs and the relations between the sexes, yet the idea of gender equality has been a major international principle of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [31] Despite this, Grossman and McClain argue that progress towards achieving gender equality have failed to substantially materialise, and that there still exists ‘… a stark gap between formal commitments to the equal rights and responsibilities of men and women and against discrimination and subordination based on sex the gendered realities of women’s lives’. [32]

The term ‘gender equality’, when deconstructed in isolation, unveils fundamental problems. Some argue the term is a paradox; gender is a system based on difference, and thus could never transform into a state of equivalence. [33] Parvikko frames equality ‘… as a concept which obscures differences’, and states that in contemporary liberal political thought, equality and difference are incommensurate. [34] Such difficulties in the application of the term have resulted in some people proclaiming that gender equality should be considered a discourse rather than a fixed term. This approach is much more constructive, as it recognises gender equality as a fluid concept that responds to the unique requirements of specific contexts. [35] Gender equality has many variants and interpretations, such as formal substantive equality. [36] This essay will consider equality as a system that facilitates equal opportunity. As echoed by men and women across all continents, in the World Development Report conducted by The World Bank, gender equality was seen to encompass three key elements: ‘the accumulation of endowments (education, health, and physical assets); the use of those endowments to take up economic opportunity and generate incomes; and the application of those endowments to take actions, or agency , affecting individual and household well-being’. [37] This is not an exhaustive list of what constitutes gender equality, but it provides a solid foundation for what it should entail. With this in mind, the essay will now discuss the relationship between masculinity and gender equality.

Gender is an organising principle of social life, and change towards equality will require exceptional institutional and gender identity reform. [38] Realising gender equality is strongly weighted on the contribution of males, because ‘… the very gender inequalities in economic assets, political power, cultural authority, and means of coercion that gender reform intend to change (ultimately) mean that men control most of the resources required to implement women’s claims for justice’. [39] In Australia, men make up the overwhelming majority of key decision-makers. In 2012, women comprised only 26.5% of Federal Parliament, and in the private sector constituted approximately 10% of company board members and 24.7% of managers. [40] Thus, men are an essential enabler for gender reform. Masculinities and male stereotypes must be studied and deconstructed in order to effect change in how men relate to women.

Stereotypes, or gender profiles, play an important role in the discussion of gender equality. They attribute certain characteristics to whole segments of society with the intention of presenting perception as truth. [41] In relation to gender, stereotypes form the basis of how society believes men and women should act. The scale to which gender stereotypes impact society is articulated by Epstein who argues:

‘no aspect of social life — whether the gathering of crops, the ritual of religion, the formal dinner party, or the organisation of government — is free from the dichotomous thinking that casts the world in categories of “male” and “female”‘. [42]

Gender stereotypes are inherently political; they can be used as tools for manipulating power relations between men and women. They are naturalised within society through a process of reproduction and maintenance. To this end, gender stereotypes become ‘… self-fulfilling: if we expect certain behaviours, we may act in ways that in fact create and reinforce such behaviours’. [43]

Masculinities, as is the case with femininities for women, are socially constructed gender profiles under which men are categorised. However, they are not created equal. For men, there is ‘… a culturally preferred version that is held up as the model against which we [men] are to measure ourselves’. [44] The dominant model to which men must aspire is what Connell describes as hegemonic masculinity. It is a location within the male gender hierarchy that occupies the hegemonic, or top position. [45] However, hegemonic masculinity is not a fixed position, and occupying the position is contestable. Masculinity can be viewed as a social order that lends analysis and structure from Gramsci’s notion of class relations. As such, hegemonic masculinity retains the dominant position of social life, while other masculinities, such as homosexual masculinity, [46] and women are subordinated. [47] The current, and historical, occupier of this hegemonic position is traditional masculinity, which:

‘… refers to the stereotypical twentieth-century male-chauvinist outlook and activities resulting from the kinds of gender socialisation conventionally seen as appropriate to males in Western societies since at least the late Victorian times’. [48]

An example of how gender stereotypes are cultivated in society, and how hegemonic masculinity is highly valued, is in New Zealand where some schools are pressured to employ male teachers. The rationale for this is to preserve boys’ masculinity through the appointment of ‘real men’ teachers who exhibit characteristics consistent with hegemonic masculinity. [49]

Men who exhibit the traits of traditional masculinity are considered to possess hegemonic masculinity. In order to aspire to this social classification, there is a particular set of core features that a man must demonstrate. These include: power/strength, rationality, heterosexuality, risk-taking, dominance, leadership, control, and repression of emotions. [50] Given that identities, and indeed gender profiles, must be defined, reconstructed, and performed, it is argued that the construction of masculine identities by men is a conscious attempt to maintain their power within the gender hierarchy. [51] This may be true in some cases, however, to apply this universally is problematic. New contends that while ‘men are frequently the agents of the oppression of women, and in many cases benefit from it, their interests in the gender order are not pre-given but constructed by and within it’. [52] To achieve gender equality, it must be recognised that hegemonic masculinities can be altered, or even replaced, through the socialisation process from which they are initially constructed.

Public and private engagement with gender equality is scarce among males, which often obscures the issue and manifests dismissive attitudes. One of the main issues regarding gender equality is that men do not comprehensively understand how traditional masculinities disadvantage women. Many men are unaware they exist within socially constructed gender structures that disenfranchise subordinated gender profiles, and therefore do not recognise a problem. [53] Thus, engaging in discussion about gender equality is often a pointless experience for men who find it challenging to appreciate how entrenched the issue is in society. Fortunately, attitudes, and the gender profiles they are associated with, are subject to social construction and transformation. Christian argues that:

‘sexist attitudes and actions are currently an integral part of the dominant masculinity, but if masculinities are socially constructed by and for each generation of males growing up, rather than genetically inherited, then masculinities can change and sexism can in principle be eradicated’. [54]

However, social construction and indeed, deconstruction, is contingent upon the participation of relevant stakeholders. The supportive involvement of all those affected by gender is required to effect gender equality. In other words, the global community as a whole.

Worldwide, Plan International found three general categories for men’s attitudes towards gender equality: those who recognise gender inequality and seek to address it — the smallest group; those who acknowledge gender inequality but are afraid that empowering girls will come at the expense of boys; and, those who either do not perceive an imbalance, or do not believe in equal rights — the largest group. [55] The significance of this research highlights the overwhelming percentage of men who do not recognise a problem, or do not believe in equal opportunity. These attitudes present a considerable hurdle in reaching gender equality, as they are taught to children and carried on through the generations. A research program commissioned by Plan of over 4,000 adolescent children in different countries including the United Kingdom (UK), Rwanda, and India, found that: 83% of boys and 87% of girls in India and 67% of girls and 71% of boys in Rwanda agree with the statement ‘changing diapers, giving kids a bath and feeding kids are the mother’s responsibility’. More than 60% of participants agreed that ‘if resources are scarce it is better to educate a boy instead of a girl’ and 65% of children in Rwanda and India agreed that ‘a woman should tolerate violence in order to keep her family together’. [56] While this research was conducted among a limited sample, it highlights the startling reality of gender inequality and the continuity of male dominance.

One of the major principles of traditional masculinity that harms gender equality is that women are fundamentally inferior to men. This view can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who based this claim on the principles of reason. He surmised that ‘masculinity was equated with the human rationality of men, and women were marked by sexuality, emotion, and their bodies’. [57] The notion that men are intellectually superior has already been disproved; however, what Aristotle articulates about women and their bodies remains relevant. According to the French feminist philosopher, Beauvoir, men consider humanity to be constructed in their image: ‘it is clear that in dreaming of himself as donor, liberator, redeemer, man still desires the subjection of women’. [58] This idea of male superiority and female inferiority is one that must be maintained by traditional masculinity if it is to occupy the hegemonic gender identity. Attitudes that stem from traditional masculinity, such as ‘… the notion that “real men” are tough and hard and that the only appropriate emotion for them to display is anger’, [59] present a significant barrier towards gender equality.

Due to the fact that traditional masculinity discourages the expression of emotion, men rarely discuss their feelings. Evidence of this is presented in the positive relationship between traditional masculinity and depression among male university students in the UK and United States. It was ‘… found that conformity to Western masculine norms in and of itself is a risk factor for developing depression’. [60] Men compound the issue of depression by aligning with traditional masculinity. Hanninen and Valkonen argue that the principles of masculinity inhibit the expression of weakness or emotional distress and the seeking of help to remedy it. [61] In addition, analysis into the individual accounts of men’s depression ‘… reveals how depression threatened a man’s masculine identity and how recovery presupposed reconstructing one’s self-image and masculinity’. [62] This identifies a lack of openness to change in traditional masculinity. In other words, traditional masculinity is not equipped to respond to challenges that threaten its integrity, such as depression (perceived as emotional weakness) and gender equality.

Changing or altering traditional masculinity should be more widely recognised as an important step towards realising gender equality. In light of this, some gender equality advocate groups around the world have identified the need to promote masculinities that are more conducive of change. MenEngage is a group for boys and men whose primary function is to advocate for equality between males and females. [63] To this end, they have identified that ‘… questioning men’s and women’s attitudes and expectations about gender roles is crucial to achieving gender equality’. Those who acknowledge the existence of gender equality, and seek to address it, agree that equality cannot progress without the contribution of males. [64] It is increasingly evident that the deconstruction of traditional masculinity presents a primary concern, as its uncompromising nature makes it less responsive to revolution. [65]

By encouraging males to become more open and discuss their masculinities, it is possible to educate them on how their social roles and responsibilities impact women. Developing male attitudes towards open acknowledgement of the gender profiles they operate within is an important step in reaching gender equality. The absence of such progress would only serve to maintain the ‘… disempowerment of girls and young women down the generations — and the restriction of boys and young men to traditional “male roles”’. [66] Efforts in this approach to gender equality have yielded that: according to the United Nations Population Fund, boys that grow up with positive male role models are found to be more critical towards negative gender stereotypes and inequalities; men who maintain a healthy engagement with their children are less inclined to be depressed, suicidal or violent; and, boys that have more engaging fathers are less inclined to exhibit risky sexual behaviour. [67] Latin American NGOs also found similar character traits in young men who supported gender equality. These similarities included: having a peer-group or group of friends that were more accepting of gender-equitable attitudes; having personally suffered the negative impacts of traditional masculinity such as domestic violence; and, having a positive adult role model that represented an alternative to traditional gender roles. [68] This indicates that positive, nurturing, and engaging character traits exhibited by males are constructive towards gender equality. Furthermore, this suggests that gender equality is achievable through the deconstruction of traditional masculinity as the hegemonic masculinity.

Male stereotypes affect the manner in which males engage with gender equality, and traditional masculinity acts as the dominant masculinity for men. Although different masculinities exist for men, the idea of traditional masculinity remains the most influential. Realising gender equality is difficult, because the fundamental characteristics exhibited by traditional masculinity defend against change. For global gender equality to progress, males must recognise themselves as fundamental actors and actively work to change the patriarchal structures, which benefit them to the exclusion of all others. Without the supportive contribution of males, gender equality is doomed to perpetuate existing power imbalances that favour traditional masculinity. To progress towards gender equality, efforts must be made to deconstruct traditional masculinity.

[1] R. W. Connell, Masculinities , 2 nd ed. (Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2005), p. 67.

[2] M. Hughs and P. Paxton, Women, Politics, and Power: A Global Perspective , 2 nd ed. (London: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2014), pp. 24-25.

[3] D. Zimmerman and C. West, ‘Doing Gender’, in A. Aronson and M.Kimmel (eds.), The Gendered Society Reader , 5 th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 122.

[4] V. S. Peterson and A. Runyan, Global Gender Issues (Oxford: Westview Press, 1993), p. 17.

[5] Zimmerman and West, op. cit. (2014), p. 122.

[6] Peterson and Runyan, op. cit. (1993), p. 17.

[7] H. Christian, The Making of Anti-Sexist Men (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 6.

[8] M. Gatens, Feminism and Philosophy: Perspectives on Difference and Equality (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), p. 102.

[9] Connell, op. cit. (2005), pp. 8-9.

[10] D. Britzman, ‘Psychoanalytic Theory’, in Encyclopaedia of Curriculum Studies (Online: Sage Publications, Inc., 2010), p. 693.

[11] Gatens, op. cit. (1991), p. 103.

[12] S. Goldberg, ‘Feminism Against Science’, National Review, vol. 43, no. 21 (1991), p. 30.

[13] A. Moir and D. Jessel, Brain Sex: the real difference between men and women (London: Mandarin, 1997), p. 6.

[14] D. Halpern, Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities, 4 th ed. (New York: Psychology Press, 2012), pp. 97-98.

[15] Connell, op. cit. (2005), p. 21.

[16] J. Ashfield, The Making of a Man: reclaiming masculinity and manhood in the light of reason, 2 nd ed. (Australia: Peacock Publications, 2004), p. 154.

[17] G. Wilson, The Great Sex Divide (Washington, D.C.: Scott-Townsend Publishers, 1992), p. 20.

[18] Ibid., p. 19.

[20] G. Sharwell, ‘Review of Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender, and the Social Order by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein; A Woman’s Wage: Historical Meanings and Social Consequences by Alice Kessler-Harris’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences , vol. 517 (1991), p. 229.

[21] D. Seligman, ‘Gender Mender’, Forbes (41998), available online: (accessed 22 October 2013).

[22] Connell, op. cit. (2005), p. 21.

[23] Halpern, op. cit. (2012), p. 96.

[24] Gatens, op. cit. (1991), p. 100.

[25] Halpern, op. cit. (2012), p. 96.

[26] N. Gaitanidis, ‘Benign Masculinity and Critical Reason’, Psychotherapy and Politics International , vol. 10, no. 3 (2012), p. 220.

[27] M. Kimmel, ‘Introduction’, in A. Aronson and M. Kimmel (eds.), The Gendered Society Reader, 5 th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 1.

[28] Ibid, p. 2.

[29] World Bank, World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development (Washington D.C.: The World Bank, 2012), p. 4.

[30] Peterson and Runyan, op. cit. (1993), p. 18.

[31] R. Connell, Confronting equality: gender, knowledge and global change (UK: Polity Press, 2011), p. 15.

[32] J. Grossman and L. McClain (eds.), Gender Equality: Dimensions of Women’s Equal Citizenship (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 1.

[33] J. Flax, ‘Gender Equality’, in M. Horowitz (ed.), New Dictionary of the History of Ideas (Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005), p. 701.

[34] T. Parvikko, ‘Conceptions of Gender Equality: Similarity and Difference’, in E. Meehan and S. Sevenhuijsen (eds.), Equality Politics and Gender (London: SAGE Publications, Inc., 1991), p. 36.

[35] C. Bacchi, ‘Review of Promblematizing “Gender Equality” by Magnusson, Eva, Malin Ronnblom and Harriet Silius, eds,’ Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research , vol. 17, no. 4 (2009), p. 304.

[36] Parvikko, op. cit. (1991), p. 48.

[37] World Bank, op. cit. (2012), p. 4.

[38] Connell, op. cit. (2011), p. 17.

[40] Department of Social Services, ‘Background Paper: ‘The role of men and boys in gender equality’ (2013), available online: (accessed 21 October 2013).

[41] Peterson and Runyan, op. cit. (1994), p. 21.

[42] C. Epstein, Deceptive Distinctions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), p. 232.

[43] Peterson and Yunyan, op. cit. (1994), p. 22.

[44] Kimmel, op. cit. (2014), p. 4.

[45] Connell, op. cit. (2005), p. 76.

[46] Homosexual masculinity is considered to be a gender profile that is subordinated in relation to the hegemonic masculinity. — R. Connell, ‘A Very Straight Gay: Masculinity, Homosexual Experience, and the Dynamics of Gender’, American Sociological Review, vol. 57, no. 6 (1992), p. 735-737.

[47] Christian, op. cit. (1994), p. 7; and Connell, op. cit. (2005), p. 77.

[48] Christian, op. cit. (1994), p. 7.

[49] J. Clarke and P. Cushman, ‘Masculinities and Femininities: Student-Teachers Changing Perceptions of Gender Advantages and Disadvantages in the New Zealand Primary School Environment’, in J. Aston and E. Vasquez (eds.), Masculinity and Femininity: Stereotypes/myths, Psychology and Role of Culture (New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2013), p. 2.

[50] H. Mansfield, Manliness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 23; and Clarke and Cushman, op. cit. (2013), p. 2.

[51] D. Collison and J. Hearn. 1996. ‘”Men” at “work”: multiple masculinities/multiple workplaces’, in M. Mac an Ghaill (ed.), Understanding Masculinities: Social Relations and Cultural Arenas (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1996), p. 65.

[52] New as quoted in O. G. Holter, ‘Social Theories for Researching Men and Masculinities: Direct Gender Hierarchy and Structural Inequality’, in R.W. Connell, J. Hearn and M. Kimmel (eds.), Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities (Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2005), p. 15.

[53] Department of Social Services, op. cit. (2013).

[54] Christian, op. cit. (1994), pp. 7-8.

[55] IRIN, ‘Gender Equality: Why involving men is crucial’ (2011), available online: (accessed 18 October 2013).

[56] Plan, Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2011 – So, what about boys? (Plan International, 2011), p. 3.

[57] J. Gardner, ‘Men, Masculinities, and Feminist Theory’, in R.W. Connell, J. Hearn and M. Kimmel (eds.), Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities (Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2005), p. 36.

[58] S. de Beauvoir and H. Parshley (trans. ed.), The Second Sex (New York: Bantam Books, 1968), p. 172.

[59] Plan, op. cit. (2011), p. 4.

[60] J. Oliffe et al., 2010. ‘Masculinities and college men’s depression: Recursive relationships’, Health Sociology Review, vol. 19, no. 4 (2010), p. 466.

[61] V. Hanninen and J. Valkonen, ‘Narratives of Masculinity and Depression’, Men and Masculinities , vol. 16 (2012), p. 161.

[62] Ibid, pp. 161-162.

[63] MenEngage, ‘What we believe’ (2008), available online: (accessed 20 October 2013).

[65] Mansfield, op. cit. (2006), pp. 31-32.

[66] IRIN, op. cit. (2011).

[67] Plan, op. cit. (2012), p. 4.

[68] V. Fonseca et al., ‘Program H and Program M: Engaging young men and empowering young women to promote gender equality and health’ (2010), available online: (accessed 21 October 2013).

— Written by: Aydon Edwards Written at: University of Queensland Written for: Dr. Samid Suliman Date written: November 2013

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essay on it's a man's world

essay on it's a man's world

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“Show Her It’s a Man’s World”

For a little dose of vintage sexism, I present to you an old Van Heusen ad, sent in by Leticia (via 22 Words ):

essay on it's a man's world

I am still trying to figure out what a “man-talking” tie is, exactly, but I am more than happy to cede the “power-packed patterns” on those ties to the world of men.

Comments 59

Sociologicalme — july 24, 2011.

I'm kind of intrigued by the use of "sewmanship," too.  Are they making a claim that men sewed the ties (which seems unlikely), or that the ties were sewed so well that they're up to some sort of masculine standard?  Does really good stitching make something masculine??  Funny. 

Larrycharleswilson — July 24, 2011

What year was this?

Uly — July 24, 2011

Wow, those are ugly ties. I realize that's a petty thing to take from this but... wow, those are ugly ties!

Dan Rose — July 24, 2011

"Ties that tell her it's a man's world: a world with compact discs, strange insects, interplanetary conflict, and cats with invisible bodies."

Anonymous — July 24, 2011

A woman with makeup, lipstick, prepared hair, and earrings... in a robe and slippers... on her knees... serving breakfast in bed to a man who, similarly inexplicably, is wearing his english-cuff shirt and INTENSELY UGLY TIE. She looks at his tie (ostensibly thinking he needs his eyes checked), he looks "over his kingdom". Symbolism abound.

Also, Gwen: > I am more than happy to cede the “power-packed patterns” on those ties to the world of men. The only men who I think would accept these "power-packed patterns" probably work in waste reclamation.

Andrew Wilson — July 24, 2011

What the hell is with the tie in the middle? Are those chopsticks passing through the colour blindness test things?

Linda J — July 24, 2011

Vintage sexism... if only it were totally a thing of the past.

But, as for the ties, I collect ties for fiber arts projects. I can't tell you how much I'm now lusting after these... especially the greenish one in the center!

Ravi M. Singh — July 24, 2011

There is so much to say here about gender roles and "hegemonic masculinity" and the like, as well as the general phenomenon of sexism in advertising. However, I'm sure many other readers are far more expert in these topics and can do a much better analysis that I can. 

All I can really do is ask why the hell is he wearing a tie in bed? Seriously, did he go to bed in that tie or wake up, put the tie on and then come back to bed wearing it? You should not be wearing ties in bed. That's about all I have to say. 

Lele — July 24, 2011

I wonder how many wives bought the Christmas tie for their husbands!

" . . . that tell her it's a man's world . . . and make her so happy it is

Riiiight. A tie is gonna make a woman so happy to be a second-class human.

What does it do---iron itself AND the rest of the laundry, give her excellent oral sex while the husband is asleep, hypnotize the kids into behaving, cook dinner, and buy her pearls and diamonds out the wazoo so that the only surviving characteristic of it being a man's world is that she doesn't need to get a job to live the high life?

Ejlepke — July 24, 2011

Didn't women typically go shopping and buy ties for their husbands? Would make this really ironic if that was largely true.

Tie Enthusiast — July 24, 2011

Most interesting to me is how he's totally not even looking at her. Seriously, trace his line of sight with your finger - he's looking directly at the blank space above her head. She, meanwhile, seems to be positioning that tray so as to best cause/avoid a sudden groin-stabbing.

Is this due to the illustrator not giving a darn or some sort of silent, possibly subconscious social satire? A mystery, alas, for the ages.

lorraine kennedy — July 24, 2011

Van Huesen . . . is the best possible shirt . . . . . . is the best possible shirt . . . . . . . . .is the best possible shirt . . . that we could ever give Dad, all of us pitching in, and that I could ever snatch from Canal Street bins, years later! NEVER doubt a Van Huesen . . . . . (ellipses with excessive spacing work here so well;  ask MadMen)

lorraine kennedy — July 25, 2011

Tommy, Mom, and I, would shop late for sales.  I wish we could look at these pictures and be there again . . . WE WERE ALL STRONG PROPONENTS OF THE ERA -- focus on the real issues, not the cumzines gone-bye ! ! !

(still no ERA, huh, trash monitors?)

Jamesrichardson703 — July 25, 2011

It's poignant that some poor working stiff thinks a grim necktie makes him more desirable. The ad agency 'mad men' are laughing behind their hands. Irony wasn't invented last week.

Sam Rogowski — July 25, 2011

Van Heusen makes low quality men's wear anyways, why would they make good advertising?

Anna — July 25, 2011

This is disgusting beyond words.

Foamcow — July 25, 2011

Lord help her if she gets you some crappy girly tie for Christmas. She'll be wearing that breakfast tray if she does. Be warned.

For those have recently undergone a humo(u)r bypass that was entirely sarcastic.  Nobody in their right mind would want one of those ties.

Michael Anderson — July 25, 2011

I don't know which is more unlikely, my wife getting dolled up and bringing me breakfast in bed, or me wearing a white shirt and tie with my pajamas in anticipation of said breakfast.  I suspect any wife who saw that ad required a good stiff drink to get her laughter under control.

I do know that if anyone buys me one of those ties for Christmas, I'm buying a shotgun on Boxing Day so I can take the tie outside and put it out of its misery.

Zed Kelly — July 25, 2011

Who to hell wears a shirt and tie to bed? Bizarre even for 1951.

ISortOfLikeTheTies — July 25, 2011

I know if I was married to somebody who got up, shaved, brylcreamed, put on a shirt and tie, and then got back into bed to await breakfast, I too would be submissive and non-confrontational. Until the people with the straight jacket showed up. 

Moeskido — July 25, 2011

Funny how ties like this are now relegated to goofy retro theme-parties and trust-fund hipsters who've graduated from pork-pie hats.

Theodore Pilasky — July 26, 2011

All of you commenting on the absurdity of being well dressed in bed... your missing the point: Its all in the power of the tie. For all you know, that tie is like some miracle from Peter Popoff. All you gotta do is put it on and free money comes to your house. Furthermore, your wife will do everything and will be replaced on a monthly basis with a more exotic form...

Show her it’s a man’s world — July 26, 2011

[...] Gefunden bei Sociological Images. [...]

Reading While Eating for July 26: Remember When? - TIME NewsFeed — July 26, 2011

[...] Bad Ads: At least the '90s were progressive enough not to have tie advertisements that read "Show her it's a man's world." (Sociological Images) [...]

Reading While Eating for July 26: Remember When? | Life is... — July 26, 2011

[...] Bad Ads: At least the ’90s were progressive enough not to have tie advertisements that read “Show her it’s a man’s world.” (Sociological Images) [...]

Missyromeis — August 12, 2011

Inthemorning — october 8, 2011.

I know this thread is dead but I wanted to point out the woman's expression isn't one of smiling happiness like you might expect to see. In fact, we're not really sure WHAT her expression is - maybe fear?

I wonder if the advertisers did that on purpose. "Show her it's a man's world and watch her cower in fear!"

Gender Roles, Context, and the Church – Who Decides? – Guest Post from Natalie’s Narrative | The Edge of the Inside — October 11, 2011

[...] Credit - first photo [...]

Khope — May 11, 2012

That can't be real - why on earth is he dressed in bed, and why is she kneeling???

Show Her It’s a Man’s World | A Clown On Fire — April 18, 2013

[...] a banned Burger King advertisement for an exclusive Singapore promotion. The title is from a 1951 Van Heusen tie ad. The Ex Zombie and the Alexa Zombie images are from Zombie Industries. The Avengers Be a Hero [...]

Will — May 14, 2013

I hate the ad, but would kill for one of those ties... I loooove those ties :)

Us To Help Companies Invest In Myanmar – | tipynepeg — April 17, 2014

[…] Also on HuffPost: Via CEO Urbanindo Arip Tirta Tressugar It’s A Man’s World Via The Society Pages Doing Some Shopping Via A Cup Of Jo Cooking Up…Something Via Buzzfeed Beer Burns Via Babble […]

Qwert — January 10, 2016

I have to present about this ad any idea what I can say about equality and how to change the ad so there is No sexism

Anonymous — February 7, 2019

Anonymous — october 14, 2019, specialist study in creative media – site title — march 19, 2020.

[…] “Show Her It’s a Man’s World” […]

a man — May 2, 2020

lol the comment section is seething

Changing Language Can’t Change Society – Changing Language Can't Change Society — January 21, 2021

[…] […]

You Will Never Be Pretty – The Bigger Picture Magazine — May 9, 2022

[…] a world of patriarchy and misogyny, women are identified and valued based on their appearance, while men are praised […]

Anonymous — May 24, 2022


Beyond Stereotypes: Unveiling Gender Bias in Advertising – RTF Gender and Media Culture — June 26, 2023

[…] Image: Van Heusen Ties advertisement – The Society Pages website […]

Essay. – Annalise O'Gorman — March 16, 2024

[…] ‌ Gentileschi, A. (1620). Judith slaying Holofernes. [Oil on canvas].The Society Pages (2011). ‘Show Her It’s a Man’s World’ – Sociological Images. [online] Available at: […]

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Audrey Nelson Ph.D.

It’s a Man’s World, Or Is It?

Over the years women, have introduced their own style of management..

Posted August 24, 2014

The problem in the United States and, to a great extent, around the globe is the socialized belief that being a boss, being in charge, or being the leader means being a man and using a masculine leadership style. Perhaps in a matriarchal society we’d see the boss character as a woman with a more feminine approach.

In fact, it’s a joke at one Colorado office that in order to be a boss, you have to have a mustache. All the members of upper management are portly white men with the same thick, dark mustache. One day, one of the female employees, Anne, went to get her eyebrows waxed. The woman waxing her brows asked if Anne wanted the hair on her upper lip waxed, too.

“I don’t have any hair up there,” Anne responded, shocked.

“You do. You have a mustache,” the woman said back.

“No, I have no hair there,” Anne insisted.

The woman shrugged and applied to wax to Anne’s brow. As she leaned in, her face just inches from Anne’s, she mumbled angrily, “Mustache.”

Anne came to work the next day, and upper management pulled her aside. They offered her a promotion and a salary increase.

As Anne was sharing the good news with her coworkers, she couldn’t help but wonder facetiously, of course would she have received that great promotion if she had waxed her upper lip?

Of course, it’s not that simple. But it’s true that the skills and behaviors we associate with being a boss or manager are those that we have been socialized to think of as male behaviors. These include perceived behaviors such as being able to make tough decisions, craving more responsibility, not wimping out, taking things at face value, having a sense of humor , knowing how to play the game, being willing to move or relocate, being a problem solver, being aggressive, engaging in competition , displaying knowledge, being powerful, showing motivation , acting logically, thinking analytically, having physical strength, exhibiting ambition, being dominant, staying focused on the job, being well connected, acting like a winner, and seeming controlling, political, and confident.

The male leader’s communication skills follow suit. Men tend to be direct, forceful, and assertive . Male leaders don’t whine, they have a strong, deep voice and speak loudly when needed. The masculine leadership style is authoritative, hierarchical, and structured.

Much research and many articles written during the past 40 years have looked at male and female leaders’ behaviors and management styles. When people describe a successful leader, they often use the same adjectives used to describe a man. Virginia Schein, professor at Gettysburg College, looked at these issues in the mid-1970s. She and her colleagues continued similar research in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, looking from a global perspective at perceptions of men, women, and successful managers in the workplace. In the countries studied, most men viewed men and successful managers as similar. However, women’s results varied by country. Some women viewed men, women, and managers as similar. Women in other countries still viewed men and successful managers as more similar. This is significant for women seeking to add an international assignment to their resume[as].

Because the business world was generally established by men, the concepts that describe a successful manager are those that describe men and men’s interactions. Women entered the work-world picture late in the game and came into a world already established by men with men’s rules of engagement. For women to succeed, they essentially had to play by the existing rules the men’s rules, also referred to as the “old-boy network.”

Over the years women, have introduced their own style of management. Yet they are often still compared to and judged by the masculine leadership style, which many consider to be the “right style,” the style of a “true” leader. Even as organizations create programs to support and develop women leaders, the stereotypes, expectations, and socialization often get in the way of a woman’s success.

Audrey Nelson Ph.D.

Audrey Nelson, Ph.D., is an international corporate communication consultant, trainer, author, and keynote speaker.

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About Words – Cambridge Dictionary blog

Commenting on developments in the English language

essay on it's a man's world

It’s a man’s world

by Liz Walter

When James Brown sang ‘It’s a man’s world’, he was referring to red-blooded male activities such as making cars, trains and money.  And though his punchline is that ‘It wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl’, the clear implication is that they provide a welcome contrast: he wants to be with them, but not to be like them.

One can only imagine what he would think about the proliferation of new words that give clear evidence that some men, at least, are keen to venture into feminine territory.

The term ‘ metrosexual ’ was coined in the 1990s to describe a new breed of man: heterosexual, but nevertheless interested in issues such as fashion and skincare.  Male toiletry lines such as face and hand cream became much bigger business.  However, it was not until recently that any real attempt was made to launch male make-up products such as manscara and guyliner (mascara and eyeliner for men).  While these have yet to catch on in a big way, it is certainly not unheard of for straight men to use them, and celebrities such as Russell Brand and Johnny Depp have helped to popularize the look.

Many women who have suffered in the cause of hair removal will permit themselves a smile at the invention of manscaping – the removal of male body hair. Of course, athletes such as swimmers and cyclists have been shaving and waxing for years, and this helps to give at least some masculine legitimacy to the procedure. Even the eye-watering boyzilian has a macho precedent, with Arnold Schwarzenegger describing his decision to stand for election as California’s Governor as ‘the most difficult I’ve made in my entire life, except the one I made in 1978 when I decided to get a bikini wax.’

Fashion has not been slow to get in on the act.  Perhaps the most successful invention has been that of the manbag , giving men a socially acceptable version of the handbag they’ve always secretly wanted.  Other items have been more eccentric.  Nobody who saw the film ‘Borat’ will forget his one-piece mankini , while recent fashion magazines have introduced the manpri (a male version of capri pants), meggings (leggings for men) and, for those wishing to hold in a flabby tummy, the mirdle (a male girdle).

These forays into female territory are not all about manity (male vanity) though.  Even the cupcake has a male version – the mancake , using ingredients designed to appeal to men, such as beer, whiskey and bacon, and some travel companies now offer a mancation – a men-only holiday with activities such as rafting or visits to casinos.

And does this crossing of sexual frontiers work the other way round?  What do men have that women want?  Well, the obvious answer is money, and gradually – some would say very gradually – we are seeing the effects of womenomics , or the part that women play in shaping and driving the economy.  Still, though, last year’s Sunday Times Rich List of the 1,000 richest people in the UK contained only 99 women.  It seems that femillionaires are still a rare species, and in that sense at least, James Brown was right – it’s a man’s world.

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One thought on “ It’s a man’s world ”

Here in the US, we are in the midst of our annual basketball mania, as 68 collegiate teams compete for the national championship. The television broadcasts of the tournament games command a huge audience, so advertising is very expensive. I am therefore amazed to see scores of ads for “Dove + Men,” a line of soap and skin-care products using a brand (Dove) popular with women but targeted to men. Even more striking are the ads, which feature well-known (albeit retired) athletes, like Magic Johnson and Bobby Hurley, who recount the high points of their careers and conclude by saying “I feel comfortable in my skin.” This is, of course, an idiom meaning “I am proud of my identity and happy with my life,” though when it is accompanied by a picture of Dove+Men products, it takes on a more literal meaning, implying that top athletes use skin cream.

This advertising is a very clever use of language, but I doubt that many of the sweaty, tattoo-encrusted kids who are fighting for the national title are regular users of Dove+Men products. I also doubt that the ads will have any real effect.

Having spent 25 years in advertising, I learned that the blunt and direct (“50% OFF!) beats the clever phrase every day of the week. So I expect these ads will vanish as quickly at they appeared.

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“It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” by James Brown and Albeit Brilliant 

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“It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” by James Brown and Albeit Brilliant


Music is an essential component that is the life of a human being. It has an impact on the mind and brain of the listeners. It helps them to release stress, pain, improvement of cognitive skills, and depression. Artists use music to pass and educate members of the public on certain things like love, freedom, democracy, equality, among others. It is vital to note that a lot of factors determine the quality of any song. For example, expression of the artist, the lyrics of the song, the style of the vocals, production of the song, and tempo of the music. Others include an arrangement of the vocals and musical instruments, among others. The essay contains the examination of the song “It’s A’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” originally done by James Brown, which was later created as a cover version by Brilliant. The song was recorded for the first time in February 1966 in the United States. In the song, the vocalist acknowledges that if it was not for a lady, he could do nothing. On the other hand, Brilliant took the song and changed it in terms of aesthetic semi reggae lady’s activist slavery tune. In their formation, both James and Brilliant have similarities and contrasts, which will be discussed in-depth in the essay.

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After listening to the two artists performing the same song, James doing the original while Brilliant doing the cover version, it worth mentioning that there exist similarities between the two. From their performance, the original and the cover version artists maintained the original theme and the song. Brilliant used the same verses and lyrics of the original song done by James Brown. The initial tone of the song on both artists is similar. As the song starts, the two artists employed similar tone and style, though, after 3 seconds, the style of the song changes with Brilliant using modern reggae style.

Additionally, the versions of the song by the two artists tries to maintain the theme of the song “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” that this is a male-dominated world but it nothing if would be no women “…this is man’s world, but it would be nothing, nothing Without a woman or a girl.” The song states that men make money and do a lot of activities like building, making cars, trains, roads, boats, and the like. This, according to Brown and Brilliant, would not be there if it was not for the woman or girls.

Moreover, both the original and the cover versions of the song are slow and smooth. As they start, they are low, but they progress they get more and louder. At the end of the song, the artists take us back to slow beats. Similarly, the tempo used by the two artists is reasonably slow and even throughout the song. Also, the song is performed by the single vocalist in the two versions of the song. The original one is done and performed by James Brown while the cover version is done by Brilliant. It is also evident that the two use soberly warm timbre. The duo style is reggae though in a different version of beats. The production of the song by the two artists balances the sounds of the song and that of the musical instruments. For the two versions, the words are heard, and the music flows. The tone of the music is similar to both versions.

Apart from the several highlighted similarities in the song “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” it is evident that there are also few contrasts between the song done by the two artists, James with the original version and Brilliant with the cover version. The first difference is that the rhythm of the original version by James Brown is slower when compared to the cover version by Brilliant. The alteration of Brilliant in her song is at a quicker pace compared to Brown. This is because the original version is single, which is entrenched in blues and rhythm, making the tune slower when compared with the version done by Brilliant. The play of instruments in the Brilliant cover version is psychedelic swaying of instruments of metal, making it quicker compared to Brown’s original version.

The two artists use diverse and distinct musical instruments. For instance, James Brown, in his original version, uses both the guitar and the drum set. On the other hand, Brilliant, in her cover version, makes of sophisticated and compelling musical instruments, which adds a lot of liveliness to the song. The difference in these two versions comes because Brown, the original vocalist, allows the musical instruments and the content to resemble R & B or even blues kind of music. On the contrary, the cover version has loud, melodic instruments. This is because of it s substantial reggae style of music. The instruments of music in the cover version are stronger when compared to the original version. The original version by Brown has tonal variation. This is manifested the change of tone by the vocalist “…but, it would be nothing nothing, nothing, without a woman or a girl.” In terms of studio production, the use of animation in the production of the original version helps in conveying the theme of the song. This is an essential and unique concept in the production of music and songs. The words in the song are translated into the animation provided. On the other hand, the cover version by Brilliant only uses performance, which, when contrasted with the original version, maybe less effective due to its singleness in conveying the message of the song.

The song “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” is played by two artists. Brown plays the original version with Brilliant playing the cover version. In their version, there are areas with similarities, while others have differences. Some of the apparent similarities include that the two artists have maintained the theme, tone, and the lyrics of the song. In the gaps, Brilliant in her cover version changed the vocal style of the song to reggae while in the original version, Brown uses R & B and blues. The original version uses guitar and drums but with the cover version, new and sophisticated musical instruments, which makes the melody more persuading and soothing.

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Question and Answer forum for K12 Students

Argumentative Essay Topic – It Is And Will Always Be A Man’s World

It Is And Will Always Be A Man’s World. You can find Previous Year Argumentative Essay Topics asked in ICSE board exams.

Introduction: It is and will always be a man’s world.

  • Prevalent since ages
  • Nature also seems to have willed it this way; Biologically true
  • Disparity exists even today in the society

Conclusion: Instead of competing, they should complement each other, to lead a wholesome life

It is and will always be a man’s world. There have been few exceptionally gifted women who have defied the above statement, but the fact remains, that for all practical purposes it is and will always remain a man’s world.

Since the dawn of civilisation, man has dominated women by sheer physical prowess. He enforced inhibitive customs, like the pardah system, dowry and the Sati practice. This was done to ensure his hold on over them.Though women played a crucial role in his life, as a mother, wife and daughter, but when it came to equal rights, she virtually had none. Thus in all crucial matters pertaining to property, or ascendance to the throne, it was the son who inherited the property or the throne.

Nature also seems to have willed it this way, for it has bestowed men with strength and an aggressive temperament. These attributes are essential to survive and grow in the competitive world. The very conjecture of a man brings forth a picture of brawn, rough and muscular personality, while a woman is the emblem of beauty, frail, soft, tender and caring. Thus biologically, they are quite distinct from one another and in a way complement each other. It is because of this that men graciously refer to women as the better half.

Even today women are discriminated, though we may claim to the contrary. This discrimination is evident in the society for after marriage she has to adopt the surname of her spouse and move in with him. Thus what little she had of her identity is lost after marriage. She is also denied her share in parental property.

The male hegemony is more evident in Muslim societies where men are legally permitted to have four wives and can divorce them, by merely uttering the word ‘Talaq’ thrice. They do not have the right of adult franchise and hence cannot cast their vote. Their evidence is also not accepted in court. Their entry is also barred in certain places of worship. All this goes to prove the fact that it was and will be a man’s world.

‘The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’ is indeed a myth. The increase in literacy and awakening of women would positively reduce the gap. However the disparity is. so great, that it seems nature also wills it this way. Thus instead of competing, it would be better if they complement each other to lead a wholesome life, respecting each other’s right and liberty.


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It’s A Man’s World – The Male Gaze and the Film Industry

….. The technology of movies is a topic we have briefly touched upon in class and on the blogs.  A post by Sugar Spice brought to my attention the writings of Laura Mulvey, the film theorist who first came up with the idea of a male gaze in cinema.  After reading her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, I began to look at the film industry in a new light.  Today, there is definitely an inequality between men and women working in the film industry.  In fact, out of the 250 top grossing films of 2007, only 15% of the directors, writers, executive producers, cinematographers, and editors were women. (“Statistics…”)  But how did this inequality come to be?  It is my theory that since the beginnings of the film industry, when males completely dominated the important production jobs, the male gaze has become a necessary visual narrative tool; and because of this unconscious acceptance of the male gaze, these techniques have become standard for all directors, regardless of their gender.  The camera became, in many ways, gendered independently from the gender of the director.  From here, I believe that the assumption is made that Hollywood is a male-dominated industry, because the mainstream movies being produced are much more male-friendly than female-oriented. This, in turn, has led to Hollywood actually being a male-dominated industry; and while the percentage of women working in high-level jobs has increased over time, it hasn’t been by much. The early gendering of the camera has led to a very gendered film industry world today.

….. In the Fiction and Film course I took in high school, all of the classic movies we watched to learn about successful camera work and ideal technique were directed by males: “Psycho”, “Apocalypse Now”, and “The Graduate” are three examples.  All three of these movies have a male protagonist.  Because of this, these movies often include shots that show the world from a male perspective, and as a result of this all three display some element of voyeurism.  The shower scene in “Psycho”, the scene with the Playboy girls in “Apocalypse Now”, and the way Mrs. Robinson is filmed in “The Graduate” all frame the women as Mulvey describes: “woman as object the combined gaze of spectator and all the male protagonists in the film. She is isolated, glamorous, on display, sexualised.” (Mulvey p 12) The camera becomes the male gaze, and films the woman in a way that uses her as an object of the male’s perception of his world.   Not one of the movies we watched showed the male characters through a female gaze.

….. In my experience with classic and essential films, Mulvey’s male gaze is responsible for much of the effectiveness of the visual storytelling methods.  When these films were accepted as the epitome of visual storytelling, the methods used to make these movies were accepted as canon to good filmmaking.  There are definitely examples of the male gaze being used in movies today, and I believe this is partially due to the fact that there were almost no women working in important artistic positions in early Hollywood.  Male directors, cinematographers, and editors were the ones whose visions were being realized.  Through this monopoly on what was seen as great cinema, the male directors gendered the camera.  The male gaze that worked for these earlier movies became a standard technique, and became the status quo for camera work.

….. Today, the male gaze of the camera has clearly persisted.  Some excellent examples of this are Sophia Coppola’s films.  She is the only American woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, for her film “Lost in Translation”.  There are many shots in this movie that film that show Charlotte, played by Scarlet Johansson, in a way that emphasizes her as a woman being an object of someone’s desire.  This movie has no narrator and is filmed from no specific character’s perspective.  However, despite the fact that there is no real narrative justification for this, the male gaze is clearly at work in this movie.  Our first introduction to Charlotte is a shot of her lying around in her underwear, filmed in a way that presents her as an object of attraction.  In contrast, the other main character of the movie, played by Bill Murray, is never filmed in the same way that Johansson’s character is.  This movie, despite being directed by a female director, shows instances of the male gaze, and it is not the only female-helmed project that does this.  Judging from the success of “Lost in Translation”, this male gaze technique persists as an effective method of storytelling, and it has become so popular that even female directors employ it when there is no real narrative compulsion to do so.

….. The statistics I presented in the beginning of this paper show that there truly is a dominance of males today in important artistic and production jobs.  Because movies have catered to the male gaze for so long, it makes sense that males have continued to dominate the industry.  The acceptance of the male gaze by most makes it easier for a male director to tell his story, whereas a female director must either work within the parameters of this accepted male gaze or work hard to escape it and find another way to tell their story.  Women working in Hollywood are still seen as breaking some sort of stereotype, and this is because they are traditionally viewed as the other or the object in the movies produced by the industry.  In an interview with Stephanie Allain, vice-president of production at Columbia Pictures, she explains what it is like to be working in a “boy’s world”:

“When you try to be one of the guys, you lose. You’re not one of the guys. You have to celebrate who you are. And that’s what I try to do. It’s a tightrope. You do have a responsibility to make movies that are commercial, and you do try to tow the studio line. But I do get upset when I see women portrayed as objects; that’s not the kind of movie I want to pour a year of my life into.” (Weintraub)

….. Many people suggest that the way to fix the problem is to simply hire more women into these positions; however, it is clear from Allain’s quote that this in no way completely solves the problem of unequal representation.  Hiring more women may have an effect, but there is no evidence that this solves the problem. (Lovey)  I am skeptical that the simplest and most effective solution to this problem is to just hire more women to direct movies.  Clearly, industry standards have been set, both artistically and professionally, with a distinctly male undertone.  Mulvey describes this in her article, saying that “it faces us with the ultimate challenge: how to fight the unconscious structured like a language…while still caught within the language of the patriarchy. There is no way in which we can produce an alternative out of the blue” (Mulvey, 6) I think this quote also applies to the way in which the films today are still embedded with the male gaze.  The technique has become an unconscious aspect of film, and this male bias in the films themselves have carried over into the employment statistics of women in the industry itself.

….. If we want to see a change in the way the film industry handles women, we must look beyond the accepted male gaze of the camera and begin to accept new ways of using the camera as a technology of storytelling.  There are women today who do phenomenal work on movies that break the traditional confines of narrative cinema, but these movies are almost never given recognition for their excellence.  These independent and less mainstream movies must be given a chance to be seen by more people, and thus add new methods to the library of what is possible and effective.


Lovey, Claire.  “Women representing women.” MediaEd. 2004 <>.  Accessed 18 March 2009.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema.” Screen Autumn 1975: 6-18.  (accessed through a link provided by SugarSpice in her blog posting)

“Statistics on the State of Women in Hollywood.” Women & Hollywood.  <> Accessed 12 March 2009.

Weinraub, Bernard.  “The Talk of Hollywood; Women Criticizing Women’s Film Roles.”  New York Times 2 June 1993

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Whosh! I’d asked you, last time ‘round, to draw on a larger data set for developing your argument, and you certainly do so here. You have a strong narrative line, based both on some of the sophisticated, classic work in feminist film theory and on some statistical work about the # of women actually making films these days. Your lament—that putting women in directors’ roles doesn’t necessarily change the film-making modes that were gendered masculine long ago—is the long-standing complaint about first wave feminism, that “putting women in high places doesn’t help anyone…the system itself needs altering.”

…which, of course, is where your essay ends. You close with a hopeful gesture about “beginning to accept new ways of using the camera,” but it’s not at all clear to me how you see that happening. Especially if—as you argue throughout your essay—the ultimate challenge is about altering the “structure of the unconscious.” How hard is it to change the unconscious? (Individual or cultural?) How might such a change take place? You suggest that independent films need to be given access to the mainstream, but I might ask why they are NOT mainstream…does this again, have to do with unconscious preferences??

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JAMES BROWN It's A Man's, Man's World (1983)

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It’s a Man’s World: The Effect of Traditional Masculinity on Gender Equality

Profile image of Aydon Edwards

Public and international discourse on the debate for gender equality focuses on the oppression of women, as it rightly should. However, the influence that traditional male stereotypes have on the perpetuation of gender inequality, at a transnational scale, also needs to be addressed. This essay asks how do male stereotypes affect the manner in which males engage with gender equality? By encouraging males to analyse their socially constructed gender profiles, it is possible to educate them on how their social roles may impact gender equality. This will involve analysing the entrenchment of traditional male stereotypes in society and their consequent impact on women. Firstly, the essay will establish that male stereotypes operate within a larger structure of the gender paradigm. Then, it will define gender equality and its various interpretations. This will then lead the essay to discuss the trajectory of the progress towards gender equality and why males must be viewed as fundamental...

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The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) and Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) undertook a collaborative study to inform both policy and practice on how to address masculinities in Afghanistan. Masculinity is defined as how people perceive male-ness. The overall goal of this research is a comprehensive understanding of different notions of being a man in Afghanistan and how they contribute to gender inequality. The study addressed boys' and men's roles; equality, power and control; and violence against women, which are the most compelling perspectives on masculinities vis-à-vis gender equality, peace and sustainable development. It is imperative to address disparities in both domestic and community opportunities afforded to Afghan women and girls. As one of the United Nations' 193 signatories, Afghanistan needs to further solidify its policies and programmes as a blueprint to improve the lives of women and children. Afghanistan retains a definition of masculinities and femininities that has been passed down from generation to generation. The present threats to Afghan girls and women occur in a context of traditional practices that suppress them and make them vulnerable to violence. Despite Afghan gender-based policies, inequalities persist, including unequal access to education, healthcare and employment. Policies still fail to accommodate the research that highlights the advantages of including men and boys in equality programmes that prevent gender-based violence (GBV). Gender equality is a prerequisite for overall health and development and, thus, a driver of the economy, as is clearly pointed out in SDG number 5— " Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls " —and embedded in other goals. There is an unacceptable silence surrounding the widely known discrimination and violence against girls and women. Such a notion is confirmed by the study findings that reveal many women's acceptance of a masculinity-based culture of violence. This indicates how deeply rooted these perceptions are and highlights the value of increasing girls' and women's awareness about the roles they can play in reinstating self-esteem and confidence. A report sponsored by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) claimed that silence implicitly supports those who are intent on maintaining their authority by confining women to household chores and a lower status in life; further, it endorses discriminatory systems that condone violence against women.

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The past decades have witnessed a paradigm shift towards a recognition not only of men as gendered beings, but also of a plurality of masculinities. The new interdisciplinary field of men's studies puts the particular instead of the universal male subject into focus. It conceives of masculinity as an intersectional category interlocked with other categories, such as race, ethnicity, class, age or sexuality. At the same time, there has been a growing recognition that gender equality cannot be achieved without men and boys. Gender inequalities are embedded in a multidimensional structure of relationships between women and men that operated at every level of the human experience-from economic arrangements, culture and the state to interpersonal relationships and individual emotions. Moving towards a gender-equal society involves profound institutional change as well as change in everyday life and individual behavior. Making progress towards this goal requires widespread support, including significant support from men and boys. This, in turn, requires further research and evidence about the changing social construction of masculinities. This special issue of Analize looks at some of the recent trends in both the academic fields of masculinities, gender, and gender equality studies, and recent developments in (popular) culture and societies, including how men are increasingly being engaged in realizing gender equality. Gender norms and conceptions of masculinity, and what it means to be a man, are shifting.

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  • Still a Man's World Essay

Still A Man's World Essay

It is a sociological truth that people will often seek out like beings in order to build relationships. Gender is one factor that the two people have in common and it will allow them to build a relationship that is likely stronger than the one a male will have with a female colleague. There are some disadvantages to being a man in a woman's domain because he will likely be subjected to stereotyping. Men are macho and brave. They are physically strong and emotionally stoic. Males who do "women's work" are expected to live up to the stereotypes because there is relatively little real-life male by which the human being can be compared to. Then there the opposing stereotypes, those of the "sissy" male who is effeminate. While it might be understandable to the majority population for the latter type of man to take on "women's work," the former manly man would definitely be looked at differently if he took on a traditionally female occupation. When a man proves to be human as opposed to a stereotype, this can pose a sociological difficulty unless it is posed as satire , like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop (Williams 304). You can have a macho male be a kindergarten teacher if it is a cover and he is actually a police officer looking for a vicious killer. It is when there is a cognitive dissonance between the type of personality needed for a job and the personality of an individual that it creates conflict. In the workplace, the stereotypes that are applied to…

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photo of Icon of the Seas, taken on a long railed path approaching the stern of the ship, with people walking along dock

Crying Myself to Sleep on the Biggest Cruise Ship Ever

Seven agonizing nights aboard the Icon of the Seas

photo of Icon of the Seas, taken on a long railed path approaching the stern of the ship, with people walking along dock

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Updated at 2:44 p.m. ET on April 6, 2024.

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MY FIRST GLIMPSE of Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, from the window of an approaching Miami cab, brings on a feeling of vertigo, nausea, amazement, and distress. I shut my eyes in defense, as my brain tells my optic nerve to try again.

The ship makes no sense, vertically or horizontally. It makes no sense on sea, or on land, or in outer space. It looks like a hodgepodge of domes and minarets, tubes and canopies, like Istanbul had it been designed by idiots. Vibrant, oversignifying colors are stacked upon other such colors, decks perched over still more decks; the only comfort is a row of lifeboats ringing its perimeter. There is no imposed order, no cogent thought, and, for those who do not harbor a totalitarian sense of gigantomania, no visual mercy. This is the biggest cruise ship ever built, and I have been tasked with witnessing its inaugural voyage.

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“Author embarks on their first cruise-ship voyage” has been a staple of American essay writing for almost three decades, beginning with David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” which was first published in 1996 under the title “Shipping Out.” Since then, many admirable writers have widened and diversified the genre. Usually the essayist commissioned to take to the sea is in their first or second flush of youth and is ready to sharpen their wit against the hull of the offending vessel. I am 51, old and tired, having seen much of the world as a former travel journalist, and mostly what I do in both life and prose is shrug while muttering to my imaginary dachshund, “This too shall pass.” But the Icon of the Seas will not countenance a shrug. The Icon of the Seas is the Linda Loman of cruise ships, exclaiming that attention must be paid. And here I am in late January with my one piece of luggage and useless gray winter jacket and passport, zipping through the Port of Miami en route to the gangway that will separate me from the bulk of North America for more than seven days, ready to pay it in full.

The aforementioned gangway opens up directly onto a thriving mall (I will soon learn it is imperiously called the “Royal Promenade”), presently filled with yapping passengers beneath a ceiling studded with balloons ready to drop. Crew members from every part of the global South, as well as a few Balkans, are shepherding us along while pressing flutes of champagne into our hands. By a humming Starbucks, I drink as many of these as I can and prepare to find my cabin. I show my blue Suite Sky SeaPass Card (more on this later, much more) to a smiling woman from the Philippines, and she tells me to go “aft.” Which is where, now? As someone who has rarely sailed on a vessel grander than the Staten Island Ferry, I am confused. It turns out that the aft is the stern of the ship, or, for those of us who don’t know what a stern or an aft are, its ass. The nose of the ship, responsible for separating the waves before it, is also called a bow, and is marked for passengers as the FWD , or forward. The part of the contemporary sailing vessel where the malls are clustered is called the midship. I trust that you have enjoyed this nautical lesson.

I ascend via elevator to my suite on Deck 11. This is where I encounter my first terrible surprise. My suite windows and balcony do not face the ocean. Instead, they look out onto another shopping mall. This mall is the one that’s called Central Park, perhaps in homage to the Olmsted-designed bit of greenery in the middle of my hometown. Although on land I would be delighted to own a suite with Central Park views, here I am deeply depressed. To sail on a ship and not wake up to a vast blue carpet of ocean? Unthinkable.

Allow me a brief preamble here. The story you are reading was commissioned at a moment when most staterooms on the Icon were sold out. In fact, so enthralled by the prospect of this voyage were hard-core mariners that the ship’s entire inventory of guest rooms (the Icon can accommodate up to 7,600 passengers, but its inaugural journey was reduced to 5,000 or so for a less crowded experience) was almost immediately sold out. Hence, this publication was faced with the shocking prospect of paying nearly $19,000 to procure for this solitary passenger an entire suite—not including drinking expenses—all for the privilege of bringing you this article. But the suite in question doesn’t even have a view of the ocean! I sit down hard on my soft bed. Nineteen thousand dollars for this .

selfie photo of man with glasses, in background is swim-up bar with two women facing away

The viewless suite does have its pluses. In addition to all the Malin+Goetz products in my dual bathrooms, I am granted use of a dedicated Suite Deck lounge; access to Coastal Kitchen, a superior restaurant for Suites passengers; complimentary VOOM SM Surf & Stream (“the fastest Internet at Sea”) “for one device per person for the whole cruise duration”; a pair of bathrobes (one of which comes prestained with what looks like a large expectoration by the greenest lizard on Earth); and use of the Grove Suite Sun, an area on Decks 18 and 19 with food and deck chairs reserved exclusively for Suite passengers. I also get reserved seating for a performance of The Wizard of Oz , an ice-skating tribute to the periodic table, and similar provocations. The very color of my Suite Sky SeaPass Card, an oceanic blue as opposed to the cloying royal purple of the standard non-Suite passenger, will soon provoke envy and admiration. But as high as my status may be, there are those on board who have much higher status still, and I will soon learn to bow before them.

In preparation for sailing, I have “priced in,” as they say on Wall Street, the possibility that I may come from a somewhat different monde than many of the other cruisers. Without falling into stereotypes or preconceptions, I prepare myself for a friendly outspokenness on the part of my fellow seafarers that may not comply with modern DEI standards. I believe in meeting people halfway, and so the day before flying down to Miami, I visited what remains of Little Italy to purchase a popular T-shirt that reads DADDY’S LITTLE MEATBALL across the breast in the colors of the Italian flag. My wife recommended that I bring one of my many T-shirts featuring Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, as all Americans love the beagle and his friends. But I naively thought that my meatball T-shirt would be more suitable for conversation-starting. “Oh, and who is your ‘daddy’?” some might ask upon seeing it. “And how long have you been his ‘little meatball’?” And so on.

I put on my meatball T-shirt and head for one of the dining rooms to get a late lunch. In the elevator, I stick out my chest for all to read the funny legend upon it, but soon I realize that despite its burnished tricolor letters, no one takes note. More to the point, no one takes note of me. Despite my attempts at bridge building, the very sight of me (small, ethnic, without a cap bearing the name of a football team) elicits no reaction from other passengers. Most often, they will small-talk over me as if I don’t exist. This brings to mind the travails of David Foster Wallace , who felt so ostracized by his fellow passengers that he retreated to his cabin for much of his voyage. And Wallace was raised primarily in the Midwest and was a much larger, more American-looking meatball than I am. If he couldn’t talk to these people, how will I? What if I leave this ship without making any friends at all, despite my T-shirt? I am a social creature, and the prospect of seven days alone and apart is saddening. Wallace’s stateroom, at least, had a view of the ocean, a kind of cheap eternity.

Worse awaits me in the dining room. This is a large, multichandeliered room where I attended my safety training (I was shown how to put on a flotation vest; it is a very simple procedure). But the maître d’ politely refuses me entry in an English that seems to verge on another language. “I’m sorry, this is only for pendejos ,” he seems to be saying. I push back politely and he repeats himself. Pendejos ? Piranhas? There’s some kind of P-word to which I am not attuned. Meanwhile elderly passengers stream right past, powered by their limbs, walkers, and electric wheelchairs. “It is only pendejo dining today, sir.” “But I have a suite!” I say, already starting to catch on to the ship’s class system. He examines my card again. “But you are not a pendejo ,” he confirms. I am wearing a DADDY’S LITTLE MEATBALL T-shirt, I want to say to him. I am the essence of pendejo .

Eventually, I give up and head to the plebeian buffet on Deck 15, which has an aquatic-styled name I have now forgotten. Before gaining entry to this endless cornucopia of reheated food, one passes a washing station of many sinks and soap dispensers, and perhaps the most intriguing character on the entire ship. He is Mr. Washy Washy—or, according to his name tag, Nielbert of the Philippines—and he is dressed as a taco (on other occasions, I’ll see him dressed as a burger). Mr. Washy Washy performs an eponymous song in spirited, indeed flamboyant English: “Washy, washy, wash your hands, WASHY WASHY!” The dangers of norovirus and COVID on a cruise ship this size (a giant fellow ship was stricken with the former right after my voyage) makes Mr. Washy Washy an essential member of the crew. The problem lies with the food at the end of Washy’s rainbow. The buffet is groaning with what sounds like sophisticated dishes—marinated octopus, boiled egg with anchovy, chorizo, lobster claws—but every animal tastes tragically the same, as if there was only one creature available at the market, a “cruisipus” bred specifically for Royal Caribbean dining. The “vegetables” are no better. I pick up a tomato slice and look right through it. It tastes like cellophane. I sit alone, apart from the couples and parents with gaggles of children, as “We Are Family” echoes across the buffet space.

I may have failed to mention that all this time, the Icon of the Seas has not left port. As the fiery mango of the subtropical setting sun makes Miami’s condo skyline even more apocalyptic, the ship shoves off beneath a perfunctory display of fireworks. After the sun sets, in the far, dark distance, another circus-lit cruise ship ruptures the waves before us. We glance at it with pity, because it is by definition a smaller ship than our own. I am on Deck 15, outside the buffet and overlooking a bunch of pools (the Icon has seven of them), drinking a frilly drink that I got from one of the bars (the Icon has 15 of them), still too shy to speak to anyone, despite Sister Sledge’s assertion that all on the ship are somehow related.

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The ship’s passage away from Ron DeSantis’s Florida provides no frisson, no sense of developing “sea legs,” as the ship is too large to register the presence of waves unless a mighty wind adds significant chop. It is time for me to register the presence of the 5,000 passengers around me, even if they refuse to register mine. My fellow travelers have prepared for this trip with personally decorated T-shirts celebrating the importance of this voyage. The simplest ones say ICON INAUGURAL ’24 on the back and the family name on the front. Others attest to an over-the-top love of cruise ships: WARNING! MAY START TALKING ABOUT CRUISING . Still others are artisanally designed and celebrate lifetimes spent married while cruising (on ships, of course). A couple possibly in their 90s are wearing shirts whose backs feature a drawing of a cruise liner, two flamingos with ostensibly male and female characteristics, and the legend “ HUSBAND AND WIFE Cruising Partners FOR LIFE WE MAY NOT HAVE IT All Together BUT TOGETHER WE HAVE IT ALL .” (The words not in all caps have been written in cursive.) A real journalist or a more intrepid conversationalist would have gone up to the couple and asked them to explain the longevity of their marriage vis-à-vis their love of cruising. But instead I head to my mall suite, take off my meatball T-shirt, and allow the first tears of the cruise to roll down my cheeks slowly enough that I briefly fall asleep amid the moisture and salt.

photo of elaborate twisting multicolored waterslides with long stairwell to platform

I WAKE UP with a hangover. Oh God. Right. I cannot believe all of that happened last night. A name floats into my cobwebbed, nauseated brain: “Ayn Rand.” Jesus Christ.

I breakfast alone at the Coastal Kitchen. The coffee tastes fine and the eggs came out of a bird. The ship rolls slightly this morning; I can feel it in my thighs and my schlong, the parts of me that are most receptive to danger.

I had a dangerous conversation last night. After the sun set and we were at least 50 miles from shore (most modern cruise ships sail at about 23 miles an hour), I lay in bed softly hiccupping, my arms stretched out exactly like Jesus on the cross, the sound of the distant waves missing from my mall-facing suite, replaced by the hum of air-conditioning and children shouting in Spanish through the vents of my two bathrooms. I decided this passivity was unacceptable. As an immigrant, I feel duty-bound to complete the tasks I am paid for, which means reaching out and trying to understand my fellow cruisers. So I put on a normal James Perse T-shirt and headed for one of the bars on the Royal Promenade—the Schooner Bar, it was called, if memory serves correctly.

I sat at the bar for a martini and two Negronis. An old man with thick, hairy forearms drank next to me, very silent and Hemingwaylike, while a dreadlocked piano player tinkled out a series of excellent Elton John covers. To my right, a young white couple—he in floral shorts, she in a light, summery miniskirt with a fearsome diamond ring, neither of them in football regalia—chatted with an elderly couple. Do it , I commanded myself. Open your mouth. Speak! Speak without being spoken to. Initiate. A sentence fragment caught my ear from the young woman, “Cherry Hill.” This is a suburb of Philadelphia in New Jersey, and I had once been there for a reading at a synagogue. “Excuse me,” I said gently to her. “Did you just mention Cherry Hill? It’s a lovely place.”

As it turned out, the couple now lived in Fort Lauderdale (the number of Floridians on the cruise surprised me, given that Southern Florida is itself a kind of cruise ship, albeit one slowly sinking), but soon they were talking with me exclusively—the man potbellied, with a chin like a hard-boiled egg; the woman as svelte as if she were one of the many Ukrainian members of the crew—the elderly couple next to them forgotten. This felt as groundbreaking as the first time I dared to address an American in his native tongue, as a child on a bus in Queens (“On my foot you are standing, Mister”).

“I don’t want to talk politics,” the man said. “But they’re going to eighty-six Biden and put Michelle in.”

I considered the contradictions of his opening conversational gambit, but decided to play along. “People like Michelle,” I said, testing the waters. The husband sneered, but the wife charitably put forward that the former first lady was “more personable” than Joe Biden. “They’re gonna eighty-six Biden,” the husband repeated. “He can’t put a sentence together.”

After I mentioned that I was a writer—though I presented myself as a writer of teleplays instead of novels and articles such as this one—the husband told me his favorite writer was Ayn Rand. “Ayn Rand, she came here with nothing,” the husband said. “I work with a lot of Cubans, so …” I wondered if I should mention what I usually do to ingratiate myself with Republicans or libertarians: the fact that my finances improved after pass-through corporations were taxed differently under Donald Trump. Instead, I ordered another drink and the couple did the same, and I told him that Rand and I were born in the same city, St. Petersburg/Leningrad, and that my family also came here with nothing. Now the bonding and drinking began in earnest, and several more rounds appeared. Until it all fell apart.

Read: Gary Shteyngart on watching Russian television for five days straight

My new friend, whom I will refer to as Ayn, called out to a buddy of his across the bar, and suddenly a young couple, both covered in tattoos, appeared next to us. “He fucking punked me,” Ayn’s frat-boy-like friend called out as he put his arm around Ayn, while his sizable partner sizzled up to Mrs. Rand. Both of them had a look I have never seen on land—their eyes projecting absence and enmity in equal measure. In the ’90s, I drank with Russian soldiers fresh from Chechnya and wandered the streets of wartime Zagreb, but I have never seen such undisguised hostility toward both me and perhaps the universe at large. I was briefly introduced to this psychopathic pair, but neither of them wanted to have anything to do with me, and the tattooed woman would not even reveal her Christian name to me (she pretended to have the same first name as Mrs. Rand). To impress his tattooed friends, Ayn made fun of the fact that as a television writer, I’d worked on the series Succession (which, it would turn out, practically nobody on the ship had watched), instead of the far more palatable, in his eyes, zombie drama of last year. And then my new friends drifted away from me into an angry private conversation—“He punked me!”—as I ordered another drink for myself, scared of the dead-eyed arrivals whose gaze never registered in the dim wattage of the Schooner Bar, whose terrifying voices and hollow laughs grated like unoiled gears against the crooning of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

But today is a new day for me and my hangover. After breakfast, I explore the ship’s so-called neighborhoods . There’s the AquaDome, where one can find a food hall and an acrobatic sound-and-light aquatic show. Central Park has a premium steak house, a sushi joint, and a used Rolex that can be bought for $8,000 on land here proudly offered at $17,000. There’s the aforementioned Royal Promenade, where I had drunk with the Rands, and where a pair of dueling pianos duel well into the night. There’s Surfside, a kids’ neighborhood full of sugary garbage, which looks out onto the frothy trail that the behemoth leaves behind itself. Thrill Island refers to the collection of tubes that clutter the ass of the ship and offer passengers six waterslides and a surfing simulation. There’s the Hideaway, an adult zone that plays music from a vomit-slathered, Brit-filled Alicante nightclub circa 1996 and proves a big favorite with groups of young Latin American customers. And, most hurtfully, there’s the Suite Neighborhood.

2 photos: a ship's foamy white wake stretches to the horizon; a man at reailing with water and two large ships docked behind

I say hurtfully because as a Suite passenger I should be here, though my particular suite is far from the others. Whereas I am stuck amid the riffraff of Deck 11, this section is on the highborn Decks 16 and 17, and in passing, I peek into the spacious, tall-ceilinged staterooms from the hallway, dazzled by the glint of the waves and sun. For $75,000, one multifloor suite even comes with its own slide between floors, so that a family may enjoy this particular terror in private. There is a quiet splendor to the Suite Neighborhood. I see fewer stickers and signs and drawings than in my own neighborhood—for example, MIKE AND DIANA PROUDLY SERVED U.S. MARINE CORPS RETIRED . No one here needs to announce their branch of service or rank; they are simply Suites, and this is where they belong. Once again, despite my hard work and perseverance, I have been disallowed from the true American elite. Once again, I am “Not our class, dear.” I am reminded of watching The Love Boat on my grandmother’s Zenith, which either was given to her or we found in the trash (I get our many malfunctioning Zeniths confused) and whose tube got so hot, I would put little chunks of government cheese on a thin tissue atop it to give our welfare treat a pleasant, Reagan-era gooeyness. I could not understand English well enough then to catch the nuances of that seafaring program, but I knew that there were differences in the status of the passengers, and that sometimes those differences made them sad. Still, this ship, this plenty—every few steps, there are complimentary nachos or milkshakes or gyros on offer—was the fatty fuel of my childhood dreams. If only I had remained a child.

I walk around the outdoor decks looking for company. There is a middle-aged African American couple who always seem to be asleep in each other’s arms, probably exhausted from the late capitalism they regularly encounter on land. There is far more diversity on this ship than I expected. Many couples are a testament to Loving v. Virginia , and there is a large group of folks whose T-shirts read MELANIN AT SEA / IT’S THE MELANIN FOR ME . I smile when I see them, but then some young kids from the group makes Mr. Washy Washy do a cruel, caricatured “Burger Dance” (today he is in his burger getup), and I think, Well, so much for intersectionality .

At the infinity pool on Deck 17, I spot some elderly women who could be ethnic and from my part of the world, and so I jump in. I am proved correct! Many of them seem to be originally from Queens (“Corona was still great when it was all Italian”), though they are now spread across the tristate area. We bond over the way “Ron-kon-koma” sounds when announced in Penn Station.

“Everyone is here for a different reason,” one of them tells me. She and her ex-husband last sailed together four years ago to prove to themselves that their marriage was truly over. Her 15-year-old son lost his virginity to “an Irish young lady” while their ship was moored in Ravenna, Italy. The gaggle of old-timers competes to tell me their favorite cruising stories and tips. “A guy proposed in Central Park a couple of years ago”—many Royal Caribbean ships apparently have this ridiculous communal area—“and she ran away screaming!” “If you’re diamond-class, you get four drinks for free.” “A different kind of passenger sails out of Bayonne.” (This, perhaps, is racially coded.) “Sometimes, if you tip the bartender $5, your next drink will be free.”

“Everyone’s here for a different reason,” the woman whose marriage ended on a cruise tells me again. “Some people are here for bad reasons—the drinkers and the gamblers. Some people are here for medical reasons.” I have seen more than a few oxygen tanks and at least one woman clearly undergoing very serious chemo. Some T-shirts celebrate good news about a cancer diagnosis. This might be someone’s last cruise or week on Earth. For these women, who have spent months, if not years, at sea, cruising is a ritual as well as a life cycle: first love, last love, marriage, divorce, death.

Read: The last place on Earth any tourist should go

I have talked with these women for so long, tonight I promise myself that after a sad solitary dinner I will not try to seek out company at the bars in the mall or the adult-themed Hideaway. I have enough material to fulfill my duties to this publication. As I approach my orphaned suite, I run into the aggro young people who stole Mr. and Mrs. Rand away from me the night before. The tattooed apparitions pass me without a glance. She is singing something violent about “Stuttering Stanley” (a character in a popular horror movie, as I discover with my complimentary VOOM SM Surf & Stream Internet at Sea) and he’s loudly shouting about “all the money I’ve lost,” presumably at the casino in the bowels of the ship.

So these bent psychos out of a Cormac McCarthy novel are angrily inhabiting my deck. As I mewl myself to sleep, I envision a limited series for HBO or some other streamer, a kind of low-rent White Lotus , where several aggressive couples conspire to throw a shy intellectual interloper overboard. I type the scenario into my phone. As I fall asleep, I think of what the woman who recently divorced her husband and whose son became a man through the good offices of the Irish Republic told me while I was hoisting myself out of the infinity pool. “I’m here because I’m an explorer. I’m here because I’m trying something new.” What if I allowed myself to believe in her fantasy?

2 photos: 2 slices of pizza on plate; man in "Daddy's Little Meatball" shirt and shorts standing in outdoor dining area with ship's exhaust stacks in background

“YOU REALLY STARTED AT THE TOP,” they tell me. I’m at the Coastal Kitchen for my eggs and corned-beef hash, and the maître d’ has slotted me in between two couples. Fueled by coffee or perhaps intrigued by my relative youth, they strike up a conversation with me. As always, people are shocked that this is my first cruise. They contrast the Icon favorably with all the preceding liners in the Royal Caribbean fleet, usually commenting on the efficiency of the elevators that hurl us from deck to deck (as in many large corporate buildings, the elevators ask you to choose a floor and then direct you to one of many lifts). The couple to my right, from Palo Alto—he refers to his “porn mustache” and calls his wife “my cougar” because she is two years older—tell me they are “Pandemic Pinnacles.”

This is the day that my eyes will be opened. Pinnacles , it is explained to me over translucent cantaloupe, have sailed with Royal Caribbean for 700 ungodly nights. Pandemic Pinnacles took advantage of the two-for-one accrual rate of Pinnacle points during the pandemic, when sailing on a cruise ship was even more ill-advised, to catapult themselves into Pinnacle status.

Because of the importance of the inaugural voyage of the world’s largest cruise liner, more than 200 Pinnacles are on this ship, a startling number, it seems. Mrs. Palo Alto takes out a golden badge that I have seen affixed over many a breast, which reads CROWN AND ANCHOR SOCIETY along with her name. This is the coveted badge of the Pinnacle. “You should hear all the whining in Guest Services,” her husband tells me. Apparently, the Pinnacles who are not also Suites like us are all trying to use their status to get into Coastal Kitchen, our elite restaurant. Even a Pinnacle needs to be a Suite to access this level of corned-beef hash.

“We’re just baby Pinnacles,” Mrs. Palo Alto tells me, describing a kind of internal class struggle among the Pinnacle elite for ever higher status.

And now I understand what the maître d’ was saying to me on the first day of my cruise. He wasn’t saying “ pendejo .” He was saying “Pinnacle.” The dining room was for Pinnacles only, all those older people rolling in like the tide on their motorized scooters.

And now I understand something else: This whole thing is a cult. And like most cults, it can’t help but mirror the endless American fight for status. Like Keith Raniere’s NXIVM, where different-colored sashes were given out to connote rank among Raniere’s branded acolytes, this is an endless competition among Pinnacles, Suites, Diamond-Plusers, and facing-the-mall, no-balcony purple SeaPass Card peasants, not to mention the many distinctions within each category. The more you cruise, the higher your status. No wonder a section of the Royal Promenade is devoted to getting passengers to book their next cruise during the one they should be enjoying now. No wonder desperate Royal Caribbean offers (“FINAL HOURS”) crowded my email account weeks before I set sail. No wonder the ship’s jewelry store, the Royal Bling, is selling a $100,000 golden chalice that will entitle its owner to drink free on Royal Caribbean cruises for life. (One passenger was already gaming out whether her 28-year-old son was young enough to “just about earn out” on the chalice or if that ship had sailed.) No wonder this ship was sold out months before departure , and we had to pay $19,000 for a horrid suite away from the Suite Neighborhood. No wonder the most mythical hero of Royal Caribbean lore is someone named Super Mario, who has cruised so often, he now has his own working desk on many ships. This whole experience is part cult, part nautical pyramid scheme.

From the June 2014 issue: Ship of wonks

“The toilets are amazing,” the Palo Altos are telling me. “One flush and you’re done.” “They don’t understand how energy-efficient these ships are,” the husband of the other couple is telling me. “They got the LNG”—liquefied natural gas, which is supposed to make the Icon a boon to the environment (a concept widely disputed and sometimes ridiculed by environmentalists).

But I’m thinking along a different line of attack as I spear my last pallid slice of melon. For my streaming limited series, a Pinnacle would have to get killed by either an outright peasant or a Suite without an ocean view. I tell my breakfast companions my idea.

“Oh, for sure a Pinnacle would have to be killed,” Mr. Palo Alto, the Pandemic Pinnacle, says, touching his porn mustache thoughtfully as his wife nods.

“THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S your time, buddy!” Hubert, my fun-loving Panamanian cabin attendant, shouts as I step out of my suite in a robe. “Take it easy, buddy!”

I have come up with a new dressing strategy. Instead of trying to impress with my choice of T-shirts, I have decided to start wearing a robe, as one does at a resort property on land, with a proper spa and hammam. The response among my fellow cruisers has been ecstatic. “Look at you in the robe!” Mr. Rand cries out as we pass each other by the Thrill Island aqua park. “You’re living the cruise life! You know, you really drank me under the table that night.” I laugh as we part ways, but my soul cries out, Please spend more time with me, Mr. and Mrs. Rand; I so need the company .

In my white robe, I am a stately presence, a refugee from a better limited series, a one-man crossover episode. (Only Suites are granted these robes to begin with.) Today, I will try many of the activities these ships have on offer to provide their clientele with a sense of never-ceasing motion. Because I am already at Thrill Island, I decide to climb the staircase to what looks like a mast on an old-fashioned ship (terrified, because I am afraid of heights) to try a ride called “Storm Chasers,” which is part of the “Category 6” water park, named in honor of one of the storms that may someday do away with the Port of Miami entirely. Storm Chasers consists of falling from the “mast” down a long, twisting neon tube filled with water, like being the camera inside your own colonoscopy, as you hold on to the handles of a mat, hoping not to die. The tube then flops you down headfirst into a trough of water, a Royal Caribbean baptism. It both knocks my breath out and makes me sad.

In keeping with the aquatic theme, I attend a show at the AquaDome. To the sound of “Live and Let Die,” a man in a harness gyrates to and fro in the sultry air. I saw something very similar in the back rooms of the famed Berghain club in early-aughts Berlin. Soon another harnessed man is gyrating next to the first. Ja , I think to myself, I know how this ends. Now will come the fisting , natürlich . But the show soon devolves into the usual Marvel-film-grade nonsense, with too much light and sound signifying nichts . If any fisting is happening, it is probably in the Suite Neighborhood, inside a cabin marked with an upside-down pineapple, which I understand means a couple are ready to swing, and I will see none of it.

I go to the ice show, which is a kind of homage—if that’s possible—to the periodic table, done with the style and pomp and masterful precision that would please the likes of Kim Jong Un, if only he could afford Royal Caribbean talent. At one point, the dancers skate to the theme song of Succession . “See that!” I want to say to my fellow Suites—at “cultural” events, we have a special section reserved for us away from the commoners—“ Succession ! It’s even better than the zombie show! Open your minds!”

Finally, I visit a comedy revue in an enormous and too brightly lit version of an “intimate,” per Royal Caribbean literature, “Manhattan comedy club.” Many of the jokes are about the cruising life. “I’ve lived on ships for 20 years,” one of the middle-aged comedians says. “I can only see so many Filipino homosexuals dressed as a taco.” He pauses while the audience laughs. “I am so fired tonight,” he says. He segues into a Trump impression and then Biden falling asleep at the microphone, which gets the most laughs. “Anyone here from Fort Leonard Wood?” another comedian asks. Half the crowd seems to cheer. As I fall asleep that night, I realize another connection I have failed to make, and one that may explain some of the diversity on this vessel—many of its passengers have served in the military.

As a coddled passenger with a suite, I feel like I am starting to understand what it means to have a rank and be constantly reminded of it. There are many espresso makers , I think as I look across the expanse of my officer-grade quarters before closing my eyes, but this one is mine .

photo of sheltered sandy beach with palms, umbrellas, and chairs with two large docked cruise ships in background

A shocking sight greets me beyond the pools of Deck 17 as I saunter over to the Coastal Kitchen for my morning intake of slightly sour Americanos. A tiny city beneath a series of perfectly pressed green mountains. Land! We have docked for a brief respite in Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts and Nevis. I wolf down my egg scramble to be one of the first passengers off the ship. Once past the gangway, I barely refrain from kissing the ground. I rush into the sights and sounds of this scruffy island city, sampling incredible conch curry and buckets of non-Starbucks coffee. How wonderful it is to be where God intended humans to be: on land. After all, I am neither a fish nor a mall rat. This is my natural environment. Basseterre may not be Havana, but there are signs of human ingenuity and desire everywhere you look. The Black Table Grill Has been Relocated to Soho Village, Market Street, Directly Behind of, Gary’s Fruits and Flower Shop. Signed. THE PORK MAN reads a sign stuck to a wall. Now, that is how you write a sign. A real sign, not the come-ons for overpriced Rolexes that blink across the screens of the Royal Promenade.

“Hey, tie your shoestring!” a pair of laughing ladies shout to me across the street.

“Thank you!” I shout back. Shoestring! “Thank you very much.”

A man in Independence Square Park comes by and asks if I want to play with his monkey. I haven’t heard that pickup line since the Penn Station of the 1980s. But then he pulls a real monkey out of a bag. The monkey is wearing a diaper and looks insane. Wonderful , I think, just wonderful! There is so much life here. I email my editor asking if I can remain on St. Kitts and allow the Icon to sail off into the horizon without me. I have even priced a flight home at less than $300, and I have enough material from the first four days on the cruise to write the entire story. “It would be funny …” my editor replies. “Now get on the boat.”

As I slink back to the ship after my brief jailbreak, the locals stand under umbrellas to gaze at and photograph the boat that towers over their small capital city. The limousines of the prime minister and his lackeys are parked beside the gangway. St. Kitts, I’ve been told, is one of the few islands that would allow a ship of this size to dock.

“We hear about all the waterslides,” a sweet young server in one of the cafés told me. “We wish we could go on the ship, but we have to work.”

“I want to stay on your island,” I replied. “I love it here.”

But she didn’t understand how I could possibly mean that.

“WASHY, WASHY, so you don’t get stinky, stinky!” kids are singing outside the AquaDome, while their adult minders look on in disapproval, perhaps worried that Mr. Washy Washy is grooming them into a life of gayness. I heard a southern couple skip the buffet entirely out of fear of Mr. Washy Washy.

Meanwhile, I have found a new watering hole for myself, the Swim & Tonic, the biggest swim-up bar on any cruise ship in the world. Drinking next to full-size, nearly naked Americans takes away one’s own self-consciousness. The men have curvaceous mom bodies. The women are equally un-shy about their sprawling physiques.

Today I’ve befriended a bald man with many children who tells me that all of the little trinkets that Royal Caribbean has left us in our staterooms and suites are worth a fortune on eBay. “Eighty dollars for the water bottle, 60 for the lanyard,” the man says. “This is a cult.”

“Tell me about it,” I say. There is, however, a clientele for whom this cruise makes perfect sense. For a large middle-class family (he works in “supply chains”), seven days in a lower-tier cabin—which starts at $1,800 a person—allow the parents to drop off their children in Surfside, where I imagine many young Filipina crew members will take care of them, while the parents are free to get drunk at a swim-up bar and maybe even get intimate in their cabin. Cruise ships have become, for a certain kind of hardworking family, a form of subsidized child care.

There is another man I would like to befriend at the Swim & Tonic, a tall, bald fellow who is perpetually inebriated and who wears a necklace studded with little rubber duckies in sunglasses, which, I am told, is a sort of secret handshake for cruise aficionados. Tomorrow, I will spend more time with him, but first the ship docks at St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Charlotte Amalie, the capital, is more charming in name than in presence, but I still all but jump off the ship to score a juicy oxtail and plantains at the well-known Petite Pump Room, overlooking the harbor. From one of the highest points in the small city, the Icon of the Seas appears bigger than the surrounding hills.

I usually tan very evenly, but something about the discombobulation of life at sea makes me forget the regular application of sunscreen. As I walk down the streets of Charlotte Amalie in my fluorescent Icon of the Seas cap, an old Rastafarian stares me down. “Redneck,” he hisses.

“No,” I want to tell him, as I bring a hand up to my red neck, “that’s not who I am at all. On my island, Mannahatta, as Whitman would have it, I am an interesting person living within an engaging artistic milieu. I do not wish to use the Caribbean as a dumping ground for the cruise-ship industry. I love the work of Derek Walcott. You don’t understand. I am not a redneck. And if I am, they did this to me.” They meaning Royal Caribbean? Its passengers? The Rands?

“They did this to me!”

Back on the Icon, some older matrons are muttering about a run-in with passengers from the Celebrity cruise ship docked next to us, the Celebrity Apex. Although Celebrity Cruises is also owned by Royal Caribbean, I am made to understand that there is a deep fratricidal beef between passengers of the two lines. “We met a woman from the Apex,” one matron says, “and she says it was a small ship and there was nothing to do. Her face was as tight as a 19-year-old’s, she had so much surgery.” With those words, and beneath a cloudy sky, humidity shrouding our weathered faces and red necks, we set sail once again, hopefully in the direction of home.

photo from inside of spacious geodesic-style glass dome facing ocean, with stairwells and seating areas

THERE ARE BARELY 48 HOURS LEFT to the cruise, and the Icon of the Seas’ passengers are salty. They know how to work the elevators. They know the Washy Washy song by heart. They understand that the chicken gyro at “Feta Mediterranean,” in the AquaDome Market, is the least problematic form of chicken on the ship.

The passengers have shed their INAUGURAL CRUISE T-shirts and are now starting to evince political opinions. There are caps pledging to make America great again and T-shirts that celebrate words sometimes attributed to Patrick Henry: “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.” With their preponderance of FAMILY FLAG FAITH FRIENDS FIREARMS T-shirts, the tables by the crepe station sometimes resemble the Capitol Rotunda on January 6. The Real Anthony Fauci , by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., appears to be a popular form of literature, especially among young men with very complicated versions of the American flag on their T-shirts. Other opinions blend the personal and the political. “Someone needs to kill Washy guy, right?” a well-dressed man in the elevator tells me, his gray eyes radiating nothing. “Just beat him to death. Am I right?” I overhear the male member of a young couple whisper, “There goes that freak” as I saunter by in my white spa robe, and I decide to retire it for the rest of the cruise.

I visit the Royal Bling to see up close the $100,000 golden chalice that entitles you to free drinks on Royal Caribbean forever. The pleasant Serbian saleslady explains that the chalice is actually gold-plated and covered in white zirconia instead of diamonds, as it would otherwise cost $1 million. “If you already have everything,” she explains, “this is one more thing you can get.”

I believe that anyone who works for Royal Caribbean should be entitled to immediate American citizenship. They already speak English better than most of the passengers and, per the Serbian lady’s sales pitch above, better understand what America is as well. Crew members like my Panamanian cabin attendant seem to work 24 hours a day. A waiter from New Delhi tells me that his contract is six months and three weeks long. After a cruise ends, he says, “in a few hours, we start again for the next cruise.” At the end of the half a year at sea, he is allowed a two-to-three-month stay at home with his family. As of 2019, the median income for crew members was somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000, according to a major business publication. Royal Caribbean would not share the current median salary for its crew members, but I am certain that it amounts to a fraction of the cost of a Royal Bling gold-plated, zirconia-studded chalice.

And because most of the Icon’s hyper-sanitized spaces are just a frittata away from being a Delta lounge, one forgets that there are actual sailors on this ship, charged with the herculean task of docking it in port. “Having driven 100,000-ton aircraft carriers throughout my career,” retired Admiral James G. Stavridis, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, writes to me, “I’m not sure I would even know where to begin with trying to control a sea monster like this one nearly three times the size.” (I first met Stavridis while touring Army bases in Germany more than a decade ago.)

Today, I decide to head to the hot tub near Swim & Tonic, where some of the ship’s drunkest reprobates seem to gather (the other tubs are filled with families and couples). The talk here, like everywhere else on the ship, concerns football, a sport about which I know nothing. It is apparent that four teams have recently competed in some kind of finals for the year, and that two of them will now face off in the championship. Often when people on the Icon speak, I will try to repeat the last thing they said with a laugh or a nod of disbelief. “Yes, 20-yard line! Ha!” “Oh my God, of course, scrimmage.”

Soon we are joined in the hot tub by the late-middle-age drunk guy with the duck necklace. He is wearing a bucket hat with the legend HAWKEYES , which, I soon gather, is yet another football team. “All right, who turned me in?” Duck Necklace says as he plops into the tub beside us. “I get a call in the morning,” he says. “It’s security. Can you come down to the dining room by 10 a.m.? You need to stay away from the members of this religious family.” Apparently, the gregarious Duck Necklace had photobombed the wrong people. There are several families who present as evangelical Christians or practicing Muslims on the ship. One man, evidently, was not happy that Duck Necklace had made contact with his relatives. “It’s because of religious stuff; he was offended. I put my arm around 20 people a day.”

Everyone laughs. “They asked me three times if I needed medication,” he says of the security people who apparently interrogated him in full view of others having breakfast.

Another hot-tub denizen suggests that he should have asked for fentanyl. After a few more drinks, Duck Necklace begins to muse about what it would be like to fall off the ship. “I’m 62 and I’m ready to go,” he says. “I just don’t want a shark to eat me. I’m a huge God guy. I’m a Bible guy. There’s some Mayan theory squaring science stuff with religion. There is so much more to life on Earth.” We all nod into our Red Stripes.

“I never get off the ship when we dock,” he says. He tells us he lost $6,000 in the casino the other day. Later, I look him up, and it appears that on land, he’s a financial adviser in a crisp gray suit, probably a pillar of his North Chicago community.

photo of author smiling and holding soft-serve ice-cream cone with outdoor seating area in background

THE OCEAN IS TEEMING with fascinating life, but on the surface it has little to teach us. The waves come and go. The horizon remains ever far away.

I am constantly told by my fellow passengers that “everybody here has a story.” Yes, I want to reply, but everybody everywhere has a story. You, the reader of this essay, have a story, and yet you’re not inclined to jump on a cruise ship and, like Duck Necklace, tell your story to others at great pitch and volume. Maybe what they’re saying is that everybody on this ship wants to have a bigger, more coherent, more interesting story than the one they’ve been given. Maybe that’s why there’s so much signage on the doors around me attesting to marriages spent on the sea. Maybe that’s why the Royal Caribbean newsletter slipped under my door tells me that “this isn’t a vacation day spent—it’s bragging rights earned.” Maybe that’s why I’m so lonely.

Today is a big day for Icon passengers. Today the ship docks at Royal Caribbean’s own Bahamian island, the Perfect Day at CocoCay. (This appears to be the actual name of the island.) A comedian at the nightclub opined on what his perfect day at CocoCay would look like—receiving oral sex while learning that his ex-wife had been killed in a car crash (big laughter). But the reality of the island is far less humorous than that.

One of the ethnic tristate ladies in the infinity pool told me that she loved CocoCay because it had exactly the same things that could be found on the ship itself. This proves to be correct. It is like the Icon, but with sand. The same tired burgers, the same colorful tubes conveying children and water from Point A to B. The same swim-up bar at its Hideaway ($140 for admittance, no children allowed; Royal Caribbean must be printing money off its clientele). “There was almost a fight at The Wizard of Oz ,” I overhear an elderly woman tell her companion on a chaise lounge. Apparently one of the passengers began recording Royal Caribbean’s intellectual property and “three guys came after him.”

I walk down a pathway to the center of the island, where a sign reads DO NOT ENTER: YOU HAVE REACHED THE BOUNDARY OF ADVENTURE . I hear an animal scampering in the bushes. A Royal Caribbean worker in an enormous golf cart soon chases me down and takes me back to the Hideaway, where I run into Mrs. Rand in a bikini. She becomes livid telling me about an altercation she had the other day with a woman over a towel and a deck chair. We Suites have special towel privileges; we do not have to hand over our SeaPass Card to score a towel. But the Rands are not Suites. “People are so entitled here,” Mrs. Rand says. “It’s like the airport with all its classes.” “You see,” I want to say, “this is where your husband’s love of Ayn Rand runs into the cruelties and arbitrary indignities of unbridled capitalism.” Instead we make plans to meet for a final drink in the Schooner Bar tonight (the Rands will stand me up).

Back on the ship, I try to do laps, but the pool (the largest on any cruise ship, naturally) is fully trashed with the detritus of American life: candy wrappers, a slowly dissolving tortilla chip, napkins. I take an extra-long shower in my suite, then walk around the perimeter of the ship on a kind of exercise track, past all the alluring lifeboats in their yellow-and-white livery. Maybe there is a dystopian angle to the HBO series that I will surely end up pitching, one with shades of WALL-E or Snowpiercer . In a collapsed world, a Royal Caribbean–like cruise liner sails from port to port, collecting new shipmates and supplies in exchange for the precious energy it has on board. (The actual Icon features a new technology that converts passengers’ poop into enough energy to power the waterslides . In the series, this shitty technology would be greatly expanded.) A very young woman (18? 19?), smart and lonely, who has only known life on the ship, walks along the same track as I do now, contemplating jumping off into the surf left by its wake. I picture reusing Duck Necklace’s words in the opening shot of the pilot. The girl is walking around the track, her eyes on the horizon; maybe she’s highborn—a Suite—and we hear the voice-over: “I’m 19 and I’m ready to go. I just don’t want a shark to eat me.”

Before the cruise is finished, I talk to Mr. Washy Washy, or Nielbert of the Philippines. He is a sweet, gentle man, and I thank him for the earworm of a song he has given me and for keeping us safe from the dreaded norovirus. “This is very important to me, getting people to wash their hands,” he tells me in his burger getup. He has dreams, as an artist and a performer, but they are limited in scope. One day he wants to dress up as a piece of bacon for the morning shift.

THE MAIDEN VOYAGE OF THE TITANIC (the Icon of the Seas is five times as large as that doomed vessel) at least offered its passengers an exciting ending to their cruise, but when I wake up on the eighth day, all I see are the gray ghosts that populate Miami’s condo skyline. Throughout my voyage, my writer friends wrote in to commiserate with me. Sloane Crosley, who once covered a three-day spa mini-cruise for Vogue , tells me she felt “so very alone … I found it very untethering.” Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes in an Instagram comment: “When Gary is done I think it’s time this genre was taken out back and shot.” And he is right. To badly paraphrase Adorno: After this, no more cruise stories. It is unfair to put a thinking person on a cruise ship. Writers typically have difficult childhoods, and it is cruel to remind them of the inherent loneliness that drove them to writing in the first place. It is also unseemly to write about the kind of people who go on cruises. Our country does not provide the education and upbringing that allow its citizens an interior life. For the creative class to point fingers at the large, breasty gentlemen adrift in tortilla-chip-laden pools of water is to gather a sour harvest of low-hanging fruit.

A day or two before I got off the ship, I decided to make use of my balcony, which I had avoided because I thought the view would only depress me further. What I found shocked me. My suite did not look out on Central Park after all. This entire time, I had been living in the ship’s Disneyland, Surfside, the neighborhood full of screaming toddlers consuming milkshakes and candy. And as I leaned out over my balcony, I beheld a slight vista of the sea and surf that I thought I had been missing. It had been there all along. The sea was frothy and infinite and blue-green beneath the span of a seagull’s wing. And though it had been trod hard by the world’s largest cruise ship, it remained.

This article appears in the May 2024 print edition with the headline “A Meatball at Sea.” When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.

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Saleem Rehmani being detained in 2010

Indian government ordered killings in Pakistan, intelligence officials claim

Allegations of up to 20 assassinations since 2020 follow Canada’s accusation of Delhi role in murders of dissidents

The Indian government assassinated individuals in Pakistan as part of a wider strategy to eliminate terrorists living on foreign soil, according to Indian and Pakistani intelligence operatives who spoke to the Guardian.

Interviews with intelligence officials in both countries, as well as documents shared by Pakistani investigators, shed new light on how India’s foreign intelligence agency allegedly began to carry out assassinations abroad as part of an emboldened approach to national security after 2019. The agency, the Research & Analysis Wing (Raw), is directly controlled by the office of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who is running for a third term in office in elections later this month.

The accounts appear to give further weight to allegations that Delhi has implemented a policy of targeting those it considers hostile to India. While the new allegations refer to individuals charged with serious and violent terror offences, India has also been accused publicly by Washington and Ottawa of involvement in the murders of dissident figures including a Sikh activist in Canada and of a botched assassination attempt on another Sikh in the US last year.

The fresh claims relate to almost 20 killings since 2020, carried out by unknown gunmen in Pakistan. While India has previously been unofficially linked to the deaths, this is the first time Indian intelligence personnel have discussed the alleged operations in Pakistan, and detailed documentation has been seen alleging Raw’s direct involvement in the assassinations.

The allegations also suggest that Sikh separatists in the Khalistan movement were targeted as part of these Indian foreign operations, both in Pakistan and the west.

According to Pakistani investigators, these deaths were orchestrated by Indian intelligence sleeper-cells mostly operating out of the United Arab Emirates. The rise in killings in 2023 was credited to the increased activity of these cells, which are accused of paying millions of rupees to local criminals or poor Pakistanis to carry out the assassinations. Indian agents also allegedly recruited jihadists to carry out the shootings, making them believe they were killing “infidels”.

Pakistani Sikhs hold placards and a banner during a protest over the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar

According to two Indian intelligence officers, the spy agency’s shift to focusing on dissidents abroad was triggered by the Pulwama attack in 2019 , when a suicide bomber targeted a military convoy in Indian-administered Kashmir, killing 40 paramilitary personnel. The Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility.

Modi was running for a second term at the time and was brought back to power in the aftermath of the attack.

“After Pulwama, the approach changed to target the elements outside the country before they are able to launch an attack or create any disturbance,” one Indian intelligence operative said. “We could not stop the attacks because ultimately their safe havens were in Pakistan, so we had to get to the source.”

To conduct such operations “needed approval from the highest level of government”, he added.

The officer said India had drawn inspiration from intelligence agencies such as Israel’s the Mossad and Russia’s KGB, which have been linked to extrajudicial killings on foreign soil. He also said the killing of the Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in 2018 in the Saudi embassy, had been directly cited by Raw officials.

“It was a few months after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi that there was a debate among the top brass of intelligence in the prime minister’s office about how something can be learned from the case. One senior officer said in a meeting that if Saudis can do this, why not us?” he recounted.

“What the Saudis did was very effective. You not only get rid of your enemy but send a chilling message, a warning to the people working against you. Every intelligence agency has been doing this. Our country cannot be strong without exerting power over our enemies.”

Senior officials from two separate Pakistani intelligence agencies said they suspected India’s involvement in up to 20 killings since 2020. They pointed to evidence relating to previously undisclosed inquiries into seven of the cases – including witness testimonies, arrest records, financial statements, WhatsApp messages and passports – which investigators say showcase in detail the operations conducted by Indian spies to assassinate targets on Pakistani soil. The Guardian has seen the documents but they could not be independently verified.

Pakistani security forces member with gun

The intelligence sources claimed that targeted assassinations increased significantly in 2023, accusing India of involvement in the suspected deaths of about 15 people, most of whom were shot at close range by unknown gunmen.

In a response to the Guardian, India’s ministry of external affairs denied all the allegations, reiterating an earlier statement that they were “false and malicious anti-India propaganda”. The ministry emphasised a previous denial made by India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, that targeted killings in other countries were “not the government of India’s policy”.

In the killing of Zahid Akhund , an alias for the convicted Kashmiri terrorist Zahoor Mistry who was involved in the deadly hijacking of an Air India flight, the Pakistani documents say a Raw handler allegedly paid for information on Akhund’s movements and location over a period of months. She then allegedly contacted him directly, pretending to be a journalist who wanted to interview a terrorist, in order to confirm his identity.

“Are you Zahid? I am a journalist from the New York Post,” read messages in the dossier shown to the Guardian. Zahid is said to have responded: “For what u r messaging me?”

Millions of rupees were then allegedly paid to Afghan nationals to carry out the shooting in Karachi in March 2022. They fled over the border but their handlers were later arrested by Pakistani security agencies .

According to the evidence gathered by Pakistan, the killings were regularly coordinated out of the UAE, where Raw established sleeper cells that would separately arrange different parts of the operation and recruit the killers.

Investigators alleged that millions of rupees would often be paid to criminals or impoverished locals to carry out the murders, with documents claiming that payments were mostly done via Dubai. Meetings of Raw handlers overseeing the killings are also said to have taken also place in Nepal, the Maldives and Mauritius.

“This policy of Indian agents organising killings in Pakistan hasn’t been developed overnight,” said a Pakistani official. “We believe they have worked for around two years to establish these sleeper cells in the UAE who are mostly organising the executions. After that, we began witnessing many killings.”

Aftermath of a protest in Jammu, India, after the Pulwama terror attack in 2019

In the case of Shahid Latif , the commander of Jaish-e-Mohammed and one of India’s most notorious militants, several attempts were allegedly made to kill him. In the end, the documents claim, it was an illiterate 20-year-old Pakistani who carried out the assassination in Pakistan in October, allegedly recruited by Raw in the UAE, where he was working for a minimal salary in an Amazon packing warehouse.

Pakistani investigators found that the man had allegedly been paid 1.5m Pakistani rupees (£4,000) by an undercover Indian agent to track down Latif and later was promised 15m Pakistani rupees and his own catering company in the UAE if he carried out the killing. The young man shot Latif dead in a mosque in Sialkot but was arrested soon after, along with accomplices.

The killings of Bashir Ahmad Peer , commander of the militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, and Saleem Rehmani, who was on India’s most-wanted list, were also allegedly planned out of the UAE, with transaction receipts from Dubai appearing to show payments of millions of rupees to the killers. Rehmani’s death had previously been reported as the result of a suspected armed robbery .

Analysts believe Pakistani authorities have been reluctant to publicly acknowledge the killings as most of the targets are known terrorists and associates of outlawed militant groups that Islamabad has long denied sheltering.

In most cases, public information about their deaths has been scant. However, Pakistani agencies showed evidence they had conducted investigations and arrests behind closed doors.

The figures given to the Guardian match up with those collated by analysts who have been tracking unclaimed militant killings in Pakistan. Ajay Sahni, the executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in Delhi, said his organisation had documented 20 suspicious fatalities in Pakistan by unknown attackers since 2020, though two had been claimed by local militant groups. He emphasised that because of Pakistan’s refusal to publicly investigate the cases – or even acknowledge that these individuals had been living in their jurisdiction – “we have no way of knowing the cause”.

“If you look at the numbers, there is clearly a shift in intent by someone or other,” said Sahni. “It would be in Pakistan’s interest to say this has been done by India. Equally, one of the legitimate lines of inquiry would be possible involvement of the Indian agencies.”

Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Muhammad Syrus Sajjad Qazi, publicly acknowledged two of the killings in a press conference in January, where he accused India of carrying out a “sophisticated and sinister” campaign of “extraterritorial and extrajudicial killings” in Pakistan.

Islamabad’s accusations were met with scepticism by others, due to the longstanding animosity between the two neighbouring countries who have gone to war four times and have often made unsubstantiated accusations against the other.

For decades India has accused Pakistan of bankrolling a violent militant insurgency in the disputed region of Indian-administered Kashmir and of giving a safe haven to terrorists. In the early 2000s, India was hit by successive terrorist attacks orchestrated by Pakistan-based Islamist militant groups, including the 2006 Mumbai train blasts , which killed more than 160 people, and the 2008 Mumbai bombings , which killed 172 people.

Both countries are known to have carried out cross-border intelligence operations, including small bomb blasts. However, analysts and Pakistani officials described the alleged systematic targeted killings of dissidents by Indian agents on Pakistani soil since 2020 as “new and unprecedented”.

The majority of those allegedly killed by Raw in Pakistan in the past three years have been individuals associated with militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, and in several cases have convictions or proven links to some of India’s deadliest terrorist incidents, which have killed hundreds of people. Others were seen to be “handlers” of Kashmiri militants who helped coordinate attacks and spread information from afar.

According to one of the Indian intelligence officers, the Pulwama attack in 2019 prompted fears that militant groups in Pakistan were planning a repeat of attacks such as the 2008 Mumbai bombings.

“The previous approach had been to foil terrorist attacks,” he said. “But while we were able to make significant progress in bringing the terrorist numbers down in Kashmir, the problem was the handlers in Pakistan. We could not just wait for another Mumbai or an attack on parliament when we are aware that the planners were still operating in Pakistan.”

In September, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, told parliament there were “credible allegations” that Indian agents had orchestrated the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh activist who was gunned down in Vancouver. Weeks later, the US Department of Justice released an indictment vividly detailing how an Indian agent had attempted to recruit a hitman in New York to kill another Sikh activist, later named as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

Trudeau speaking to media

Both men had been major advocates of the Khalistan movement , which seeks to create an independent Sikh state and is illegal in India. India denied any involvement in the killing of Nijjar, while according to a recent report , India’s own investigation into the Pannun plot concluded that it had been carried out by a rogue agent who was no longer working for Raw.

According to one Indian intelligence official, Delhi recently ordered the suspension of targeted killings in Pakistan after Canada and the US went public with their allegations. No suspicious killings have taken place so far this year.

Two Indian operatives separately confirmed that diaspora Khalistani activists had become a focus of India’s foreign operations after hundreds of thousands of farmers, mostly Sikhs from Punjab, descended on Delhi to protest against new farm laws. The protest ultimately forced the government into a rare policy U-turn, which was seen as an embarrassment .

The suspicion in Delhi was that firebrand Sikh activists living abroad, particularly those in Canada, the US and the UK, were fuelling the farmers’ protests and stirring up international support through their strong global networks. It stoked fears that these activists could be a destabilising force and were capable of reviving Khalistani militancy in India.

“Places were raided and people were arrested in Punjab, but things were actually being controlled from places like Canada,” said one of the Indian intelligence operatives. “Like other intelligence agencies, we had to deal with it.”

In the UK, Sikhs in the West Midlands were issued “threat to life” warnings, amid growing concern about the safety of separatist campaigners who Sikhs claim are being targeted by the Indian government.

Paramjtt Singh Panjwar

Before the US and Canadian cases, a high-profile Khalistani leader, Paramjit Singh Panjwar , was shot dead in Lahore last May. Pakistani investigators claimed they had warned Panjwar that his life was in danger a month before he was killed and said another Khalistani activist living in Pakistan has also faced threats to his life.

Panjwar’s assassination is among those alleged to have been carried out by Indian operatives using what Pakistani agencies described as the “religious method”. According to the documents, Indian agents used social media to infiltrate networks of Islamic State (IS) and units connected to the Taliban, where they recruited and groomed Pakistani Islamist radicals to carry out hit jobs on Indian dissidents by telling them they were carrying out “sacred killings” of “infidels”.

These agents allegedly sought help from former IS fighters from the Indian state of Kerala – who had travelled to Afghanistan to fight for IS but surrendered after 2019 and were brought back through diplomatic channels – to get access to these jihadist networks.

According to an investigation by the Pakistani agencies, Panjwar’s killer, who was later caught, allegedly thought he was working on the instructions of the Pakistan Taliban affiliate Badri 313 Battalion and had to prove himself by killing an enemy of Islam.

The killing of Riyaz Ahmad , a top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander, in September last year was allegedly carried out by Raw in a similar manner. His killer, Pakistan believes, was recruited through a Telegram channel for those who wanted to fight for IS, and which had been infiltrated by Raw agents.

They have claimed the assassin was Muhammad Abdullah, a 20-year-old from Lahore. He allegedly told Pakistani investigators he was promised he would be sent to Afghanistan to fight for IS if he passed the test of killing an “infidel” in Pakistan, with Ahmed presented as the target. Abdullah shot and killed Ahmed during early morning prayers at a mosque in Rawalkot, but was later arrested by Pakistani authorities.

Walter Ladwig, a political scientist at King’s College London, said the alleged shift in strategy was in line with Modi’s more aggressive approach to foreign policy and that just as western states have been accused of extrajudicial killings abroad in the name of national security, there were those in Delhi who felt “India reserves the right to do the same”.

Daniel Markey, a senior adviser on south Asia at the United States Institute of Peace, said: “In terms of India’s involvement, it all kind of adds up. It’s utterly consistent with this framing of India having arrived on the world stage. Being willing to take this kind of action against perceived threats has been interpreted, at least by some Indians, as a marker of great power status.”

The allegations of extrajudicial killings, which would violate international law, could raise difficult questions for western countries that have pursued an increasingly close strategic and economic relationship with Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government, including pushing for intelligence-sharing agreements.

A former senior Raw official who served before Modi’s premiership denied that extrajudicial killings were part of the agency’s remit. He confirmed that nothing would be done without the knowledge of the national security adviser, who would then report it to the prime minister, and on occasion they would report directly to the prime minister. “I could not do anything without their approval,” he said.

The former Raw official claimed that the killings were more likely to have been carried out by Pakistan themselves, a view that has been echoed by others in India.

Pakistani agencies denied this, pointing to a list of more than two dozen dissidents living in Pakistan to whom they had recently issued direct warnings of threats to their lives and instructed them to go into hiding. Three individuals in Pakistan said they had been given these warnings. They claimed others who had not heeded the threats and continued their normal routines were now dead.

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The hacker Bassterlord in his own words: Portrait of an access broker as a young man

He started off doing simple phishing attacks. But the Russian, who is known as Bassterlord, soon graduated to planting ransomware in emails, holding companies’ data hostage. And he quickly became one of the best. In her exclusive interview with the hacker, Dina Temple-Raston of the “Click Here” podcast delves into the ransomware underworld.

  • By Dina Temple-Raston

What makes a hacker tick?

A 27-year-old hacker in Ukraine named Bassterlord helps to shed some light on the matter.

He’s been a member of some of the most infamous hacking crews of our time, and he explained, through an interpreter, how he worked his way up from spammer to initial access broker — breaking into networks and selling that access to other cybercriminals.

A mentor to other hackers and the author of two ransomware manuals, Bassterlord has made a name for himself since joining the cyber underworld in 2019.

Then, in March, he announced his “retirement,” a claim security researchers largely view as misleading. Researcher Jon DiMaggio of the threat intelligence firm Analyst1 is releasing a report about him this week, and he gave the “ Click Here ” podcast an exclusive first look, which helped inform the discussion.

“Click Here”: What would you like us to call you?

Bassterlord: Let’s just simply use the name Ivan. It’s a pretty popular name, and I’m more used to it.

OK. So let me just try and understand. How do we describe you?

Let’s put it this way: an extortionist, retired.

Retired extortionist. OK. You’ve worked for lots of different hacking groups. Can you give us a little list of the ones you’ve worked for?

Since 2019, I worked for REvil, but I didn’t have access to the panel. After the contest [Note: Bassterlord says he participated in a summer contest put on by LockBit, which sought research papers on all things cybercrime] , somebody contacted me and offered [for me] to work for LockBit, but at the same time, I was working for Abaddon and I also worked for Ransom X.

And what do you think your specialty is?

I would describe myself as a searcher for access or access broker. My way of getting access is through exploits or brute-force attacks. My team is engaged in VPN and corporate server brute-force attacks.

How did you get into this work?

Since childhood, I took an interest in hacking. I was always curious and interested in the various forums, but never used them. At the beginning of 2019, I didn’t know anything about ransomware, and I was just a regular human being. What really propelled me to move to the dark side of the internet was one case that happened with my mom. It’s personal, but I’ll still try to talk about it.

[Note: Bassterlord lives in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where fighters linked to Russia invaded in 2014.]

One night, a powerful shelling started. My mother had kidney stone disease and had an attack because of the nervous stress. Nobody could come to the rescue at that point. There was no chance to call  9-1-1 or anything like that. And only one thing helped. I saw the neighbor driving from around the corner. I simply came up, laid on the hood and said, “Help get us to the hospital. I will give you anything.”

We brought my mother to the hospital and purchased medicine for credit. Obviously, I had no money at that time. So, [as] I was going home, I thought that this debt actually will have to be repaid. And at the same time, the Ukrainian jet fighters were flying overhead to bomb the neighboring town. I returned home, went to the forum and wrote my first ad on XSS [a Russian-language hacking forum]. I highlighted that I need money, and I’m not afraid of work in any country of the world.

What response did you get?

So, one man approached me through this. As it turned out, his nickname ended up being “National Hazard Agency.” He offered me work on spam. They paid, I think, $300 a month. This was just enough money to cover the expenses, or at least for some time. But as I found out later, this man happened to be one of the REvil founders. I understood the concept of what he was doing, and I asked him to teach me. He agreed, although he initially never planned it. At that particular moment, he was working on the Pulse Secure VPN. This actually was a topic of my [LockBit contest] article when I described the exploits of Pulse Secure, for which I’m being hated by many until this day.

Hated because you revealed how it worked?

Well, specifically revealed the principle of work because that was the principle utilized by many groups at that time.

And did you win money for that?

I had a consolation prize, and I actually had a proposition to get into a partnership problem with LockBit. Everybody got a consolation prize, approximately the amount of $1,000.

Did the $1,000 seem like a lot of money at the time, given that you didn’t have a lot of money?

And I had heard that you were a graphic designer before you started doing that.

That’s true. And that was my unofficial work. I was involved in drawing for clothes suppliers in the Russian Federation.

How did you get the idea for the ransomware manual?

The first part of the manual was the contest article. I simply wanted to make more money and win the contest, but I still didn’t win it at that time. It took me literally two weeks to compose the text.

Why did you write a second one?

The second one I wrote for a person trying to purchase a new method of zero-days . So initially, he offered $200,000, but then he refused to pay, and I had to actually put the manual on the web for everyone to look at it. And also, I needed money at that point.

So, if I barely know how to code and have your manual, could I launch a ransomware attack just using the manual?

If you had both versions of the manual.

And there’s a cybersecurity company called Prodaft. They got a copy of your manual. How did you hear about that?

I learned about it from somebody on the forum, from his message. He wrote that the manual was published by this company.

How do you think Prodaft got your manual?

I think one of the clients, one of the buyers, decided to return $10,000. They paid for it, and they sold it to the cybersecurity company.

[Note: Prodaft threat researcher Juan Ignacio Nicolossi denied this claim, saying, “We don’t give money to criminals.” Nicolossi said Prodaft “gained visibility into [Bassterlord’s] server and was able to extract [the manual].” In a follow-up email, the company said it does not use offensive tactics and insights are gathered from open-source intelligence and the work of security analysts.]

So, when you wrote these manuals, did you write them as a mentor to help the community grow or was it purely for money?

It was strictly for financial profit because, at that point, I already had my own team who I trained.

And some people say that what is different about you in this world is that you try to help people with their skills. Do you think that’s accurate?

In some cases, yes. If the questions [other hackers ask] are composed correctly and they do not represent some stupid idea.

You like smart people who are trying to learn. So, you don’t like script kiddies?

Most of my team members are exactly that because they did not know anything about hacking when they came in. But I was the one who taught them.

How did you choose them?

Most of them I knew. Every one of those people I know in person and I completely trust them.

Does your crew have a name?

National Hazard Agency. This is to honor my teacher, Lalartu.

Do you consider him a friend?

The last thing I know about him is that he has some real business in Russia and he completely stepped away from his business.

I wanted to talk to you about stepping away, too. You announced that you’re retiring. How does your crew feel about that?

They completely mastered my part of it. And they were actually not against it, as my psychological condition substantially deteriorated lately.

Tell me more about that.

After REvil got arrested by FSB [Russia’s Federal Security Service], I received a call from a high-ranking FSB official who requested that I show up for interrogation. That, to some extent, caused some panic in me, but as it turned out, that summons was regarding something totally different. People from Luhansk [in Ukraine] had [committed] a terror act in Russia. And they thought people from the community knew about it. So, they started summoning people from the community.

And when they called you, did you worry that they realized that you were hacking?

Correct. That’s exactly what I was afraid of. I had to cover the tracks and leave the forum, making an official announcement to that effect.

You must have been relieved.

Well, my nervous stress was at capacity. After what happened with REvil, I started receiving various threats to my life and that started taking its toll on me, and I started having panic attacks.

Threats from other hackers?

I do not know from whom, but it looks like in the community many people started confusing me with “ BorisElcin ” from XSS. I don’t know what evil he did to them, but this confusion started taking a toll on me.

But the final accord to this was the following situation. At the time of the end of my career, I made enough money not to worry about anything and not to worry about ransomware at all. I needed to put the money that I earned into cash, and I was doing this in small amounts. It was just a regular trip to the bank, and nothing was signaling any trouble. I withdrew some amount of money [and was] on the way out of the bank. [A man] was approaching me, which happened right in view of the bank cameras. He said something like, ‘ Well, did you take all the money or is [there] something left?’

Was he a bank manager or an employee? Or was it a stranger?

No, it was a man from the street. I got afraid that it might be some company that got upset with me. Or worse yet — gangsters, the mob.

Was it a lot of money you took from the bank? Was there any reason why he would know that you had this cash?

It was several million rubles [about $86,000 as of April 2023], and this is what caused the fear. Because nobody could know about this, as it turned out, it was simply a drunkard who tried to panhandle or approach me in front of the bank. Right after that, I started receiving threats from various cyber community members, and that made me exit and destroy all the tools of my virtual machine. It was piling up as a snowball, and at that point, I was actually being treated with medical remedies for panic attacks. So, in order to successfully complete this, I needed to wrap this whole thing up.

Where is your mom now? Does she know what you were doing?

She knows my whole story, and she lives in the next building block from me.

And is she feeling better?

Yeah, absolutely. At this point, the money that I made is absolutely sufficient to have a comfortable life here for my entire family.

Do you feel guilty about it?

No, not really. For the companies that were paying me, what I’m making is just pennies for them.

Because it was companies, and not people, you think it’s not as bad.

I think more yes than no. I think these companies have enough money to pay all their expenses, and I think people who work for them do not really suffer a lot.

Are you giving this up forever?

Well, at this point, my business is continued by eight people. One of them is in charge of XSS, and the other person is responsible for cooperation with LockBit and the panel. We have an agreement that I receive 20% and not participate in it, for the fact that I gave them the opportunity to do what they do.

So, you’re more like a manager now.

Let’s put it this way: I completely distanced myself from this business, and I’m making a passive percentage.

And are you going back to graphic design?

Um, no. I have other hobbies, But I’m not going to divulge them since I can deanonymize myself by doing this.

I understand. You’re living in the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine. Do you feel safe?

No. Several days ago, three HIMARS rockets hit the center of my town.

So, why are you not leaving with your mom?

We planned on doing this, but a little later, we had some document issues.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I’d like to create a family, and right now, my immediate plans are to construct a house in Russia.

I guess my last question is why are you talking to us?

Number one, before this, I gave an expanded interview to Jon [Dimaggio, of Analyst1], who basically got us together. I also think it’s a good idea, because this will proliferate information about my leaving.

Anything else?

This chat will eventually be removed, and there won’t be any materials. If you need to save anything from the materials, save it right now.

Have a good day.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

An earlier version of this story appeared on the “Click Here” podcast from Recorded Future News. Additional reporting by Sean Powers and Will Jarvis.

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