As far as viral TikTok content goes, Flynn Martin’s controversial rant started out unassumingly: a young white guy sitting in his car, baseball cap and grey T-shirt, speaking conversationally. He meanders for the first few seconds with caveats and prevarications, but his next sentence sets the app aflame. “Is it actually OK,” he drawls “to be a white straight male? Because I was born this way.” Cue thousands of stitches and duets ripping Martin to pieces.
I watched the original TikTok video – which has since been deleted, along with his original Phlinmartin account – with a sort of sick fascination. As he ranted about emasculated feminist men, who he characterised as being fat and unfit, I wondered what had caused Martin to snap and spew this nonsense out on the internet.
While others mocked his views and pointed out the obvious flaws in his logic, I couldn’t get past the naked insecurity of this young guy who genuinely seemed to feel a sense of persecution simply for existing as the straight white man he is.
Having experienced actual discrimination as a brown person and as a woman in the patriarchy, I could see an anger in Martin that is reflected in myself – it’s just his idea of oppression and my experience of it are worlds apart. Why? Because the frustration he is reacting to is entirely bound to the social sphere, whereas the racism and sexism that have dogged me are embedded in every system of society – school, healthcare, work.
Martin, who is Australian, is not the first of his kind to take to social media to vent their frustration at what they see as the woke police ruining everything for straight white men. Online influencers like Andrew Tate, who Martin references in the TikTok, make their living off fuelling the directionless rage of young men, and in some ways I have to hand it to them for appropriating the victim narrative so effectively.
But what Martin and other young men of his ilk don’t seem to be aware of is that even as their social capital dwindles, straight white men are still winning, as far as tangible indicators of wellbeing go.
If you’re white in Australia, you’re already statistically ahead in terms of life expectancy, education and health outcomes when compared to First Nations Australians. If you’re a man, you’re statistically more likely to access leadership positions, less likely to face sexual violence, and will likely earn more than women in the same position as you. And if you’re straight, you won’t face the higher likelihood of experiencing workplace discrimination, sexual harassment or violence that LGBTQ+ Australians may.
Perhaps the only caveat I would add is to tack on the words “middle class” to Martin’s laundry list of complaints, because class privilege intersects with other privileges and opportunities.
But although these inequalities remain entrenched, progress towards redressing these imbalances has stalled at the acknowledgment phase. Those with the most social and political power (including many who lampooned Martin’s original video and indeed Martin himself) are busy ranking who is the most marginalised or who has the most privilege, while the people who face the tangible impacts of inequality struggle on alone.
It would have been easy to join the hordes and mock Martin, shake my head at his supposed ignorance and move on. But I actually felt a little weary that the message of understanding systemic inequality and privilege has become so distorted that we’re now focusing on explaining to straight white men that they’re not somehow victims of the same system that has been designed with their needs in mind, instead of advocating for meaningful policy measures to address the inequalities we’ve identified for minorities.
Would Martin and his mates actually object to, say, making childcare more accessible, or increasing the affordable and social housing supply, or funding better health programs to reduce smoking-related harm in lower socio-economic communities? I bet if asked these questions outside the context of identity politics, they would at least consider the merits of each solution.
Instead, it’s very likely that the backlash to his video has done nothing but reinforce to Martin that the easily offended snowflakes online do unfairly hate straight white men. And we actually really need straight white men – those with the most power – to be on board if we’re going to change anything for the better.