Friday, November 11, 2005

Boys & Their Toys

Mistress Krista is reading The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity. The main argument being that men's fear of women makes men more conservative.


First let me throw out the term "femiphobia" as a way of naming this anxiety. Femiphobia is the male fear of being feminine. The underlying premise of my book is that the most important thing about being a man is not being a woman. This imperative to be repudiate everything feminine – whether it's external or internal – is played out as much in politics as in personal life.

In politics – where there is an enormous potential for personal gain or ruin – what this leads to is a concerted effort on the part of candidates to disavow the feminine in themselves, and to project it on to their opponents.

OK, I'll go with this. This interview was posted about the time of the last presidential election, and watching Kerry and Bush play the "Who's the real man?" game was fascinating. When you run on a platform of fear and terror, being a "real man" is going to look attractive to a lot of people. The problem comes during peace time, when all those guys you taught that being a violent asshole meant he was a real man turn on the home team. I'd be out a lot of guy friends if they all bought into this view of masculinity.

The problem with our current notion of masculinity is that it’s a definition of manhood based on domination. The problem with definition of manhood based on domination is that domination can never be a permanent condition. It’s a relational state – it is dependent on having somebody in the subordinate position, which means that you may be manly today, but you’re not going to be manly tomorrow, unless you’ve got somebody to push around and control. This definition goes back to the ancient Greeks, and it makes masculinity a precarious and brittle achievement – which has to be constantly asserted. It has to be proven over and over again. It is the ultimate Sisyphean pursuit.

Yes. Much like trying to be a "real woman." If you buy into that bullshit, it's going to be something you pursue until you die, and because you're aging the whole time, and "real women" are forever young, you're screwed. It's why we've got botox and liposuction, and the boys are playing that game now, too. Remember what a big joke it was that Kerry'd been botoxed? A little too "fem" for some?

The worst thing an ancient Greek politician could be accused of is being a binoumenos, which loosely translated means "fucked male."

And we have similiar terms today. Funny, how the guy "playing the woman" is seen as less of a person. If women were seen as strong, intelligent, rational, capable people, would being told he was "acting like a woman" be seen as insulting to a man?

In American politics – both in the 19th century and in the present – it is a short step from seeming gilded to looking gelded. So there is an effort to adopt a persona of primitive masculinity. And the important thing to remember is that this is a makeover of style and not of substance. These are still wealthy members of the ruling elite, but their class is now camouflaged by virtue of this re-masculinization.

Which is an interesting point: Bush and the neo-conservatives tend to be all-talk sorts of men. Men with old money who'll never have to see war, violence, poverty, or a battlefield. As much as they tote the idea that they're not "girly men" I know a great number of women with more "masculine" attributes than these guys display. Going fishing does not a warrior make. And a good thing, too, because unemployed warriors tend to make trouble.

Have you seen that movie "Fight Club"? That’s a movie about white-collar men who are unable to affirm their masculinity, [men] who live in a corporate hierarchy, and need to appropriate brutal pugilism that is their fantasy of working class masculinity. I think it relates, in part, to the inchoate sense that working as a paper shuffler, or as a bureaucrat, or in a cubicle, that there’s something unmanly about that. The popularity of boxing in the 19th century is actually about middle-class men who were drawn to the sport.

I'll agree that that's what part of Fight Club is about, getting back a sense of self in a world that tells you you're shit. But I don't know that that's all about men. To me, Fight Club was a reflection on our buy-more, be-better culture. We're being coddled and told that if we have enough Ikea furniture, we'll be whole, healthy, and empowered individuals, when in fact, what some of us may need to do to feel whole is sell everything and go backpacking the world for three years and help AIDS orphans in Lesotho. These guys just so happened to find strength and purpose in beating the crap out of each other. Judging yourself in how well you can respond in a fight is a pretty classic measure of your self worth, whether (I would argue) you're male or female. Knowing you can defend yourself if threatened, not just intellectually, but *knowing* because you've been in a fight, inspires a real confidence in a person. It's confidence you can't buy for $49.95 from an infomercial.

This is where his inarticulateness actually becomes an advantage – because in American culture, there is a disdain for intellectuality. And that disdain is a gendered disdain – men who are intellectual are seen as somehow less manly. And so if somebody speaks too well, or too articulate, his masculinity is called into question.

This is a sad, sad, time for America if this was really true. If all men disdained intellectual pursuits, I couldn't stomach sleeping with a guy ever again, let alone have any guys friends. There is nothing so unnattractive as somebody who doesn't think about things. And that bothers me about the culture of American masculinity. You see more and more guys blowing off college, and yea, they'll often make just as much money as a woman with a college degree, but not for long. She'll likely go up, but if he's fired, you just look and see how many jobs out there that pay more than 20K a year that *don't* require a 4-year degree. There will still be an old-white-boy club at the top, but if the trend of "boys being dumb is cool" is really true, you're going to get a lot more male have-nots at the bottom.

The gender gap is about men becoming more conservative. It isn’t about women becoming more liberal. Now, the feminist movement, in a way, did effect a kind of liberalization, especially when it came to issues of gender. But I think, in many ways, presented as another kind of threat to men. What you see is that men become significantly more conservative...In other words, men are much more conservative than women are liberal.

The argument confuses me. So, women are staying the same in their attitudes, but men are becoming more conservative? Does this mean women were always conservative? Or are they really not conservative at all, but faintly liberal, as a whole? I'm also interested that he believes the feminist movement only effected a "Kind of liberalization" that seems to only have effected issues "like gender." So, like, "those gender issues" aren't important?

And all the trends I've heard have put America as a whole moving more toward the conservative, not just men. I could be totally wrong, and I'd love to be, but I haven't seen anything in "the real world" to back up this argument of boys-only conservativism. If this was true, women could turn all the elections liberal.

We have an administration that is, almost, congenitally incapable of acknowledging any mistake because to acknowledge a mistake is to really risk their manhood. To acknowledge a mistake, especially a mistake that involves failure to listen to advice – the proverbial refusal to ask for directions – imperils their manhood. And so, instead of this kind of behavior being pigheaded arrogance, it’s framed as manly resoluteness.

Which I call "idiocy."

You poor boys, growing up thinking you've gotta be assholes to get respect. Much like us poor girls, thinking we have to be idiots to be loved.

Crazy world. It's good to be grown up now.

I keep hoping everyone else will do the same, soon.

2 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

elbowlina said...

I agree with the Fight Club bit. I get really angry when men tell me that's a movie for me. I got something out of it, it spoke to me too. 

Posted by Emma

Ide Cyan said...

Which I call "idiocy." 

They'd be fairly horrified to read that Rebecca West called that "the female defect" a few decades ago. 

Posted by Ide Cyan