Thursday, June 24, 2010


I'm a fan of masculiniy, but I suspect that masculinity is one of those words that means different things to different people. One of those topics that if debated will be constantly prone to definitional retreats: 'Yes but you must understand when I say masculinity I don't mean misogeny and homophobia, I mean chivalry and loyalty...' etc.

It's an undefined term. So when my facebook buddy friend Ben (the 2nd most ethical guy I know) posted a link to this article. I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing.

Why? Because its complicated, and I probably can't give you a better reason than that.

For example, the author of that post doesn't formally define the phenomena of masculinity, thus the implicit definition is a pretty misogenistic and negative one, which doesn't make the definition invalid. And accepting that definition I'd agree with just about everything he wrote.

The thing is, that like Michelangelo I see a lot of beauty and merit in the performance that is masculinity, as well as a lot of problems. Generally my attitude to the problems is ascribed to the artlessness of the performance of this masculine role.

I'd be curious to know what the standard taught theory on gender-roles is in most university's gender-studies courses. That is how much of gender is ascribed to nature and how much to nurture?

I'm inclined to think its both, and would probably lean towards some arbitrary split like 40:60 nature:nurture. Like for example, the brain's developmental exposure to testosterone results in 'thought patterns' (whatever they are) that are more literal than abstract. Hence you find disproportionate representation of men in engineering courses etc. I probably haven't explained that well, I'm just trying to say that quite aside from the right for women to become engineers, there are genetically/hormone coded preferences for certain things that has nothing to do with how we are raised that contribute to gender roles.

So forget it, lets talk about the 'nurture' component of masculinity, those masculine ideals - toughness, resilience blah blah blah as well as those negative aspects like 'not being a sissy' or 'not acting like a girl'.

My position is, you can be born male but that doesn't necessarily make you a 'man'. A purely psychological ideal, that like our shifting moral zeitgeist should be put through a total-quality-management aspect.

Allow me to demonstrate what that means. Say we come out with a prototype man, man 1.0.

Man 1.0 is brave, doesn't show fear, doubt, or any visable signs of weakness. Hides his emotions and this is what allows him to step up, take responsibility for a group and assume the risks.

Useful? Anthorpologically speaking yes. Perfect? far from it. So over time this ideal of manhood is upgraded to Man 2.0.

Man 2.0 understands his emotions, acknowledges them and takes risks when necessary in spite of them. This mindset allows him to step up, take responsibility for a group and assume the risks.

Man 2.0 we can see is streamlined. We have reduced the internal conflict by acknowledging that a man will probably have all these weaknesses, and acts 'manly' inspite of them. But he doesn't spend significant psychological, emotional energy trying to combat useful emotional responses. Man 2.0 feels the fear and does it anyway, instead of maintaining a facade.

Can it get better? yes. Am I going to push through the iterations here? no.

I as a 'man' aspirant do feel threatened by the suggestion that men should be 'more feminine' insofar as these suggestions tend to come from people using definitions of gender roles that lump all the positives and negatives together, and ascribe a 'male oppressor' role to masculinity and I feel raise femininity as an ideal.

I've never once believed a suggestion that men are 'less emotional than women' for example. And the convenient definition of masculinity I like doesn't include that premis either. This masculine role is about using reason to override your intuitive emotional response when there is a pay-off for the reasoned behaviour.

Furthermore, as this masculine role is a performance - a philosophy of behaviour if you will - I see no reason to ascribe it particularly to women or men.

That's right, I think if you are going to say 'men should be more feminine' then in turn 'women should be more masculine' which is to say: 'people should be effective.'

What I see though is a condemnation of toughness as being bad in all situations. I would agree in an ideal world, but the world is not ideal. Toughness is one of those great buffers that can promote greater equality when used right. For example toughness is great for confronting bullies.

To say that 'bullies shouldn't act tough in the first place, then good people wouldn't need to be tough' is true, but it is disempowering (is that a word). If faced with a bully the only thing you can control is yourself. So if toughness pays dividends, be tough.

If you find being tough draining, and the demands of putting on a brave face and puffing yourself up in front of a potential threat, by all means go home, throw up and have a cry. Nothing wrong with that either.

I like to call myself a feminist, I enjoy Black Sheep a lot though, so I'm not sure if I can. Anyway, part of calling myself a feminist is acknowledging that women have been thrust unjustly into an inferior and wretched place in society.

That in turn supports the argument in the original article of the misogenistic nature of terms like 'being a pussy' 'sissy' or 'faggot'. It's really indefensible, but my marketing training suggests to me that over the course of time, rather than these terms losing their negative connotations, they will be more likely defeated by losing all resemblance to their original context.

Like Southpark episode 'The F Word' where the southpark kids have no idea that 'faggot' has any association with being gay. To me 'a cunt' is a particularly unsavory guy, I don't naturally associate it with vaginas because I almost never use it in that context. If it is offensive to women, then I acknowledge it shouldn't be used.

My point is though that if the 'feminine' gender role is this wretched and degraded position, then why is that the solution for men escaping the cage of masculinity? To me it strikes me as akin to saying 'slave owners should be slaves' it is no solution to the gender divide. You get free by raising up.

Again the old joke is 'Why do women wear make-up, why do they wear perfume?' answer 'because they are ugly and they stink' is the old sexist joke that I feel encapsulates the role of 'femininity' as it is used to oppress. Being feminine I feel means feeling ugly, insecure and vulnerable all the time. This femininity is what progress is being made on in encouraging men to drop their masculine facade.

Put simply it is designed to sell make-up and perfume to men who in past lives would have been too self assured to buy them.

Acknowledging emotions - yes! Feeling ugly and old and fat - No! that's where women have to act more like men, not vice versa.

It is my hope that in 50 years when one girlfriend tells her girlfriend to 'man up' they will not find it funny or ironic in any way. They will be completely ignorant that men used to be male only.

Not my best argument to be sure. But as I said, its complicated.

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