In an earlier blog post, I talked about the Bronies and how this (mostly) male fandom was giving us new ways to think about masculinity (if you missed it – shame on you! You can catch up on your slacking HERE). Since that post, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we got to where we are now in terms of men and masculinity. Perhaps it’s just that I’m a bitter 30-something divorcee, but I don’t have a lot of hope for the males of the species (most of them, anyway); as our cultural ideas about men and women have changed, women have slowly started gaining more access to professional and educational arenas that were previously forbidden and have given women more ways to be and do (though femininity still has some challenges – but that’s a whole other post waiting to happen!) while men’s roles and expectations seem to be devolving into this steaming pile of eternal frat boy antics and suspended adolescence. What happened to the dapper and chivalrous gentlemen of yore? Nowadays they’re all in South Beach and Cabo getting into bar fights and roofie-ing drinks while flashing stupid hand signs and yelling, “YOLO!” before passing out in a puddle of vomit, their own or occasionally someone else’s.
When did masculinity become code for stupidity?
Masculinity has always had its challenges; the image of the silent Marlboro Man is one that prevents men from exploring, let alone expressing, their internal emotional lives. But at least the Marlboro Man had some quiet strength, a butch realness that didn’t involve drunken antics that lead to YouTube videos on Tosh.0 or Ridiculousness. I think that men, like women, should have more ways to “do” their gender. But rather than opening up more options and more ways of expressing themselves, men just seem to have a license for stupidity.
This new suspended adolescence doesn’t feel like a move forward. If anything, it seems like another deflection: in a world altered by identity politics and the advances of feminism and the gay rights movement, where gender is shifting and changing, men are refusing to grow up. It’s a sort of cultural hand-over-the-ears-yelling-I-CAN’T-HEAR-YOU reaction to a world in which we’ve started to do away with the paralyzing stoicism of last year’s masculinity but haven’t found anything particularly attractive or useful to replace it with. And perhaps therein lies a great deal of the problem: what other alternatives have been offered?
For all that we gender trouble-makers have done to twist and shape our understanding of gender in new ways, we’ve neglected what I think is a very important question: what about people whose personalities or temperaments lead them to embrace traditionally recognized expressions of their gender identity? What do we do with cisgender men and women who just happen to like our good ol’ fashioned expressions of masculinity and femininity? There is a lot of new space for people who don’t “fit in” with these traditional notions, and that’s a breath of fresh air and long overdue – and we certainly aren’t done yet! But how do we continue to open up new spaces without scapegoating or demonizing the old, familiar spaces?
Feminism has never really come to terms with femininity. For all of the strides it has made to open up new doors for women in all avenues of life, it still doesn’t really know what to do with women whose life ambition is to be stay-at-home moms or Martha-Stewart-esque domestic divas. There seems to be this uncomfortable disbelief whenever a woman looks at all of the available options and still chooses to embrace traditional femininity, in look and action. For those of us who’ve spent big chunks of our lives feeling suffocated by the gendered expectations that surround us, it’s hard to imagine someone feeling comfortable or, dare we say it, fulfilled by the very roles and behaviors that were the source of our torment. Because it didn’t work for us, we queer folks sometimes assume that everyone is struggling within their gender or sexuality. It’s a horrible catch-22, just like in Adrienne Rich’s ground-breaking essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality” where she argues that women should be able to choose from any and every available life path, but then pretty much says that any woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home wife and mother has been seduced by the dark force of the patriarchy. Feminism, for all the good it has done (and make no mistake, the cultural changes that have come about because of feminism are monumental and absolutely necessary, and we are immeasurably better off because of them), has at best a complicated and difficult relationship to femininity.
But for women who are moving into more traditionally masculine territory, they are generally moving in the direction of greater cultural power and recognition. Not so for masculinity. We’ve scapegoated traditional masculinity as part of the problem, as representative of patriarchy and all of the social ills it contains, but the image of the post-feminist “New Man” is characterized as feminized and emotional, hampered by our culture’s distaste for anything feminine. Face with this proverbial “rock and a hard place” (or perhaps rock and a soft place is more apt), it’s not surprising that masculinity has adapted instead into a type of juvenile rebellion.
So it looks like we’ve still got some work to do. We need to start having conversations about gender and sexuality that broaden and help redefine the available options without scapegoating or placing the blame on traditional expressions. I think that if we really dug down deep we’d find that most people have some sort of discomfort with their gendered expectations or have had times when they’ve felt a little confined and constrained by what society expected from them because of their biological plumbing. Once we can talk about that discomfort in bigger and more productive ways, we can maybe start to find solutions that allow us queer, non-traditional types to feel like we can fully express ourselves and be part of the cultural landscape without faulting the specific roles and behaviors that made us feel disempowered, and allow people who are more comfortable in that familiar territory to exist without feeling like the locus of our rage and hurt. And once they feel more comfortable, maybe they can talk more openly about times when they’ve felt confined and constrained without us queer folks jumping up to say “See, that’s what traditional masculinity/femininity does to you!” And as these conversations grow and expand, maybe our concept of gender expression will grow as well.
So maybe masculinity doesn’t have to be mired in stupidity. Maybe we just need to give it the opportunity to grow up.
Tags: Adrienne Rich, Bronies, Compulsory Heterosexuality, Culture, Delayed Adolescence, Feminine, Femininity, Feminism, Frat Boys, Gender Expectations, gender norms, gender roles, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Juvenile Rebellion, masculine, masculinity, masculinity as stupidity, Miss Jaye, My Little Pony, My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Ridiculousness, Scape Goat, Scape-Goating, Scapegoating, Society, stupidity, Tosh.0, Traditional Femininity, Traditional Masculinity