I have a troubled relationship with maleness, or masculinity. I look at the things I feel society wants me to be, and it doesn't click into place. I feel like a stranger to the basic stuff that apparently makes up my sex.
Part of the problem is that the media pushes a version of masculinity that focuses on sport, cars, DIY, and getting drunk, three things that don't really appeal to men if I'm honest. I can do DIY, admittedly rather shoddily, but only to the extent of putting Ikea furniture together or putting up pictures. Basically, if you want nails or screws put into something I'm your guy. Beyond that, forget it. I'm not qualified. Cars have never interested me, it's only as I grow older that I think it would be a useful skill to have, but that's only if I get my dream home. I find it sad to see the way that the vehicle you choose/can afford is linked to your worth as a man, in the same way that I find it sad that the same thing gets linked to how many pints you can down. One of the things I like about CALM is that they're making an effort to break that chain, correctly identifying alcohol as a depressive drug rather than a euphoric one. As for sport, well any interest I had in that was pretty much crushed while at school, let's just say that having a Games teacher pull you out a scrum by the hair and call you a girl doesn't do much to foster an interest in running around getting sweaty. This, of course, links to violence, something I'm fairly uncomfortable with in any case, and which seems to be becoming ever more associated with those of us who have XY chromosomes. The Pink Stinks campaign highlights a growing tendency for boys' toys and clothing to have associations with war and violence, and it's notable that computer games and cinema are becoming ever more fixated with violence. Try watching something from thirty years ago and see how it compares on the gore and violence scales. There's barely a contest for which will be more violent.
I hope that this is just the Market (which we must all worship and revere because apparently the one thing humanity is really good at is making gods) talking and that in time it will pass, and that masculinity will begin to take on a new guise.
So what is masculinity if we strip the capitalist veneer away? Is it fair to say that it shouldn't be considered a one size fits all attribute, that one person may be masculine in one regard ,being very practical perhaps, while another might be masculine in another way? It feels like a slippery term once you've got past all the bollocks about drinking a lot and being tough. Most of the women I know are more practical than men but we still seem to associate that with masculinity. The same could be said of creativity, The word seems to carry overtones of toughness and resilience, of not complaining and shouldering your load no matter how unfair things are. Friends talk about the 'man card' or being a 'real man', which I don't fully understand. Grayson Perry talks about the 'man contract' here and it makes me sad as it seems to suggest that to be a 'real man' you basically have to be an emotional cripple. Perhaps that's why a lot of childrearing has been so dehumanising for boys in the past, something I think is finally changing in as much as humanity can change anything about itself. If you take the idea that man must be big and tough, then you raise your offspring to fit that ideal. That starts right from birth, arguably. There's evidence that baby boys are bounced more than baby girls are, and cuddled less.
This may extend out further, to take in the 'Alpha Male' as the pinnacle of that real masculinity. Of course, from my perspective, Alpha Males are dick swinging blowhards with massive egos and I find the whole idea particularly troubling because it rewards behaviour that's often quite regressive and autocratic. Part of that is that it feels like a memetic trap, another thing that restricts how men may behave and which seems to be getting stronger at a time when women are flexing their metaphorical muscles and spreading equally metaphorical wings. The other part is that I find myself wondering how this works, is it only perception based? Are you still an Alpha if every third Wednesday you vanish off to Miss Strict for a whipping and to be told you're a very naughty boy? If that secret got out, would you still be one?
That in itself suggests that there's an element of a glass house to the ideal, that it's actually incredibly fragile, and could be destroyed with relative ease. Perhaps that's one of things that turns masculinity toxic, it's very fragility. As men seek to confirm that they are so manly, they act out and become violent. Homophobia seems to be based on this, the idea that by loving and making love with another man will somehow make one less masculine, and as we've seen recently that can prove deadly in a climate where weapons are relatively easy to get hold of. It can also lead to domestic violence, something that's not helped by the fact that in our culture men are somehow meant to magic up oodles of self reliance, to be able to stand on their own two feet no matter what happens. This adds to the pressures and stresses that you're placed under and leads to a situation where you've got so used to bottling things up that problems arise. Worse, this is the kind of thing that becomes a habit, once you become a bottler you don't ever really stop and so when you do let things out it's often in the form of an explosion, hopefully just a verbal one. To return to the things society tells us men should be, at that point alcohol, which is often a crutch for men's social interactions, can be the catalyst for physical violence. In short, we create a vicious circle.
The problem is that, in order to sell more stuff, capitalism has started to push more and more gender exclusive items from pink everything for girls and women (right down to Bic biros for women) to sleek glossy black for men. They'd sell gender specific nappies if they could. At the same time, we have a lot of science about different brain types, using the terms 'male' and 'female' to make the distinction. This is hardly helpful because it suggests men and women think differently (I'm not convinced we do) and that if you're a man with a 'female' brain there's something wrong with you. In a society that's increasingly about divide and rule as elites turn us against each other to maintain their grasp on the population (or Hegemony, if you will). As this happens we're seeing the return to the idea of the genders/sexes as two discrete camps with little overlap, the rise of Trans rights seems to be only reinforcing this idea as this letter from the Guardian suggests may happen. We set a lot of store in biological determinism, seeking more and more division despite the fact that there aren't that many difference between the two sexes.
Nevertheless, the wedge is being driven wider. I shudder to think where we'll end up if this continues.
For myself, I tend to consider things in terms of energy and to look at the Yin Yang symbol from Taoism as something to draw inspiration from. Divested of gender shenanigans I can look at Yang and see it as a force of male energy, creative and life giving and I know that that's what I want to be. Thats' how I define my masculinity to an extent, through making things and being creative, I add knowledge of history and politics and the world around me (which is probably the closest I get to conventional manliness - putting the world to rights, even if that's usually via the internet). I suppose that in a way I've made peace with myself, even if I wince every time I see where this obsession with becoming ever more masculine is taking us.
I hope that will be enough.