Where Have All The Good Men Gone: Masculinity As Stupidity

Published on February 16, 2014 by   ·   6 Comments

In 0000 Masc Womenan 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.

0000 Masc Swag YoloWhen 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?

0000 Masc SupidityFor 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?

0000 Masc Drunk BabyFeminism 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.

0000 Masc SwagBut 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.

0000 Masc DrunkSo 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.

0000 Masc Yoda

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Readers Comments (6)
  1. Jacks Pratt. says:

    I think that there are a few different things that are happening that are causing the general failure to launch among a number of joe average guys.

    While women have been allowed to choose a number of different roles over the last few decades the roles for men really haven’t changed. They still boil down to protect, provide and worker bee. With women saying for years that they don’t need a man and that they can do it on their own they haven’t given men a role to fill in their lives. The men men aren’t acting like jackasses because this is their natural state. They are acting this way because adolescence (acting like a jackass) usually came to a close with getting married or at the very least, having a long term relationship. As this isn’t happening for more and more men they don’t have a role to step into outside of that because it hasn’t really been created in our society. There is no male equivalent to ‘you go girl’.

    • janessajaye says:

      I agree. The turning point for “growing up” just isn’t there like it used to be. And to be fair, there is also a certain drunken stupidity that can happen among young women as well. But with men it’s just so…out there and available and it’s hard to find men who can bypass that and find a stable, grownup identity.

  2. Gessika says:

    The center part, no part, or bald pneesrts a more balanced view in other words, the eye of the viewer is not drawn to either side all the time, and therefore will scan more equally. So the center parter will likely be perceived as more balanced. Over time, this reinforcement over all interactions ( interactional continuity ) will tend to make them more balanced in their character. For women, the effects on personality are not as strong as for men, probably for two reasons – they do switch their hair parts frequently, as opposed to men, who often wear the same hair part every day since they were children. Also women have a lot more going on style wise than their hair; they are assessed on more factors, thus the hair part contribution is not as strong its more of an accent. However, the effects are still present – you will see most “strong” women part on the left, or like Ms Creative, Martha Stewart is on the right. Check out the effect on If you are bored and want to play, try this – go to an important interview or business meeting with your hair parted on the left, then go on a hot date with your hair parted on the right. See how it works really well to get what you want. Now switch it the other way and see how it changes things! Then try the center part and see that you can still do either task pretty effectively, though you may have to work a little harder – your hair isn’t sending out such a strong signal anymore.This is the idea – hair parting “can” and “may” lead to definite changes in perception and how people relate to you. You can find many clear examples where it’s effects are obvious (such as the with the hapless worker always getting snowed out of his sandwich), but its not always true, so you could find examples of powerful people with right hair parts (like House Leader . But then again, the theory says that right hair parts lead to unusual behavior, which puts Boehner’s often emotional tears in new perspective!) So in general, while you probably will find some center/no part extremists, you will likely find more balance among center or non parters.When I first discovered this theory, I parted my hair on the right (and as per the theory, actually was pretty different than everyone else and perhaps why this theory is so extreme too?). I had a lot of trouble relating normally with my peer group, which I since discovered happens a lot with men who part on the right. When I switched to the left, a ton of positive feedback came my way from that very same peer group, and I thought I was golden. But about 4 months later, I felt very disconcerted, as if a part of me (the warm, sensitive, deep, studious and feeling part) was missing, and all I had was a flashy, popular and shallow exterior. I finally stumbled upon the idea of a center part, and eventually no part, and to this day feel that it’s much, much better…I can be strong or sensitive whenever I need to and either aspect is characteristic of what people expect from me –even if they don’t know me very well.

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  4. You actually make it seem really easy with your presentation but I in finding this topic to be really something that I think I might by no means understand. It seems too complex and extremely large for me. I am having a look ahead to your subsequent post, I

  5. Isn't it great? I am not done yet, as my reading time has diminished, but her writing is fantastic. I love switching between each character as Stockett developed them so wonderfully! Can't wait to see what happens.

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