The Cult of Masculinity

Okay, folks, I’m going to the ranty place. Buckle up.

So, one of the latest bits of misogyny to make feminists on social media see red (and for good reason) is this commercial:

For the moment, let’s forget all the not-so-subtle subtext here. Let’s forget that something associated with being a woman is quite literally being equated to shit (he picks up the purse the same way a dog owner will collect their dog’s droppings.) Let’s forget that it’s saying that finding ways to cloak any un-masculine presentation is an endeavor worthy of applause, or that holding a woman’s purse for a couple minutes is so emasculating a task that he has to find ways to avoid being seen doing it.

When did carrying a purse become a purely feminine trait?

(The answer, for those of you who care about the history of fashion, is “sometime after the late 17th century, when men’s fashion started to come with pockets for carrying their coin, which was the only currency option back then.”)

Today, I was driving past the mall and I saw a man on the sidewalk wearing a very small backpack. Like, half as wide as a regular backpack and not as long. It looked something like this, but more canvas-like, not so padded and athletic:

In fact, in terms of size, it actually looked more like, well, this:

Titled on Ebay: “Cute women’s mini-backpack.”

Let’s face it, folks. He was carrying a “man purse.” And I hate that I have to call it a “man purse.” He wants the carry capacity of a purse, but he’s too manly to carry an actual, you know, purse.

Which is why I started wondering when carrying a purse became something unmanly. I mean, look at Scotsmen with their sporrans.

I mean, Liam Neeson here as Rob Roy is rocking long hair, a skirt, AND a purse, and I don’t care if you’re some freaky mutant hybrid made up of the combined DNA of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vin Diesel and The Rock, your poor, teeny-tiny steroid-shrunken penis is curling up and weeping in envy because it knows you will never be half so butch as Liam in this picture.

Do I have a point here? Yes, of course I do. It’s the fact that ultra-masculinity is held up as such a gold standard for existing that anything which even hints at femininity is treated as though it will TAINT that masculinity by mere proximity. (Seriously, how manly are you really if the sight of a box of tampons can make you squirm?)

Now, as a woman, as a feminist, of course this bothers me because femininity is viewed as being inherently and by its very nature inferior. It’s even codified into our vernacular. A guy who feels he’s being treated like a woman will complain about the implication that he’s “less than” a man. Less than. I’ve heard femme gay guys use that verbiage. Men who were feminists and who love and support the women in their lives and claim to have no problems with femininity, especially their own manifestation of it. They use it without thinking about what they’re actually implying.

Less than a man.

Let’s say we’re getting away from this idea of gender as a binary and treating it as a spectrum. It’s still being treated as a VERTICAL spectrum, with masculinity at the top and femininity at the bottom. And that’s not good.

As a writer of LGBT romance (m/m for now but that may change in the near future) this affects me because a subject that comes up periodically in the m/m romance community is the trope that the roles a guy plays sexually correlate to his gender presentation. In other words, the femme gay guy is the bottom and the butch gay guy is the top.

Now, this is an absolutely 100% valid criticism. These heteronormative stereotypes are no good for anyone. The assumption that all gay men participate in penetrative sex is no good. The assumption that anyone has any business knowing what role someone plays in their private sex life is no good, unless the concerned parties are happy to share and not pressured by intrusive questions. There is a lot of BAD about that trope and I absolutely support dismantling it, so long as we can do so without committing erasure on or belittling the femme gay guys who DO enjoy bottoming exclusively, or the butch guys who do enjoy topping exclusively. We have to respect their presence in the community as well and not eschew them just because they slot into an uncomfortable stereotype.

But the TONE of the criticism sometimes bothers me as a woman. Because, of course, gay couples get asked (rudely and unacceptably) “which one of you is the girl?” So gay men are lashing back (justifiably) saying, “don’t ask me what role I play in sex. Don’t assume I’m the top or the bottom.”

Which is great if the end of that sentence is “because it’s no one’s business but mine” or if the answer were, “maybe I top and maybe I bottom, or maybe I do neither, it’s not your business and anyway, what difference does it make?”

But sometimes the subtext of that conversation isn’t “don’t assume I’m the bottom,” it’s “don’t assume I’m the girl.”

To which I would have to reply, “Wait. What’s wrong with being the girl?” I mean, why is being the girl fine for me (as a girl) but not for you, unless you think that “being the girl” makes you . . . less?

Unfortunately, just as straight women who purport to be friends and allies of the LGBT community can espouse homophobic and transphobic biases they might not even realize they hold, sometimes gay men, even those who claim to love and support women, can be misogynists, too.

But here’s the kicker: MISOGYNY IS THE ROOT OF HOMOPHOBIA/BIPHOBIA/TRANSPHOBIA. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it a million times again. There would be absolutely nothing threatening about men and women who cross sexual and gender lines if those lines weren’t in place as scaffolding to uphold this notion of masculinity being superior to femininity, and if the commingling of the two weren’t perceived as tainting that superiority.

So, guys–straight, gay, and otherwise–rock that purse if you need room to carry something. If you do to the store for your girlfriend/wife/platonic female roommate/BFF, slap those tampons down on the conveyor belt with an utter lack of give-a-fuck. Stop trying to uphold your masculinity by distancing yourself from the “taint” of femininity. Harmful stereotypes, damaging gender roles, and homophobia doesn’t end until the taboo of femininity ends. Work on dismantling that, rather than dodging it.

Advertisements

18 Comments

Filed under Musings

18 responses to “The Cult of Masculinity

  1. Well said, and thanks for putting into words what I felt when I saw this disgusting commercial.

  2. Reblogged this on Theo Fenraven and commented:
    I saw this commercial on G+ a couple or three weeks ago. I was disgusted and appalled. Amelia nicely sums up what I was feeling, and why. Picking up a purse with a garbage bag? Any woman watching this commercial would be tempted to kick in the screen.

  3. Brilliantly stated. This perception that being a man is the ultimate state of being (she has balls to do that; taking it like a man) and being a woman is the lowest rung on the ladder (he’s such a girl; don’t be a little princess) is harmful to both genders in the end and really has got to stop being so entrenched in our vernacular and ideals.

  4. Jim

    I think that this idea of a man being lesser if he has something feminine on him is even perpetuated by women as well. Consider a man who likes to wear a skirt, say, just because he finds it more comfortable than pants. Many women would not like it (just consider how they would feel if their husband or boyfriend wore such thing) and would feel he is acting in a way that makes him less of a man. Somehow a man breaking gender stereotypes is making himself less of a man – even in the eyes of women. Let’s stop blaming men for perpetuating such ideas. It is in all of us, men and women. The way forward involves all of us being willing to confront our prejudices, and being willing to change.

    • Women are definitely capable of what’s known as internalized misogyny, and misogyny definitely hurts both women AND men. No good feminist will deny either of those facts.

      But.

      At the bottom of it all, it IS misogyny. Whether it harms women or men, it is an ingrained, culturally and socially sanctioned/reinforced set of beliefs and behaviors that place a greater value on all things masculine and devalues all things feminine.

      And while women can be and sometimes are complicit in helping to perpetuate misogyny (because its so pervasive that they’ve been brainwashed to do it) the simple fact is that cisgendered men are the primary–one might even venture to say the sole–beneficiaries of it, and women are the primary group harmed by it.

      And that misogyny has resulted in our culture being structured in such a way that the beneficiaries of misogyny are the ones in charge of and populating the institutions most capable of driving any change in our culture. Government. News media. Advertising. Etc. And since misogyny is benefiting them, by and large, the people in charge have very little impetus to take the need for change seriously.

      That’s not “blaming men.” That’s simply truth. An uncomfortable truth, if you’re a man, but still truth.

      • Jim

        Misogyny doesn’t benefit all men. It benefits in some ways a portion of men. It also harms them psychologically and in other ways. You say, “the beneficiaries of misogyny are the ones in charge of and populating the institutions most capable of driving any change in our culture. Government. News media. Advertising. Etc.” You surely realize that only a tiny subset of men are in fact in charge of these institutions. Most men, just as most women, have little power to change our world. But they do have some. I think it would do better for women to join hands with men who want the power imbalance between men and women rectified, and the stereotypes that perpetuate it ended, and recognize that those stereotypes are not just in the minds of men, but in all of us. We’d do a lot better, all of us, if we all stopped wanting men and women to be different. I think if men lived their lives in similar ways, it reduce the urge in all of us to think of women as lesser and encourage us to start recognizing as most important our shared humanity. If instead you go around telling men who basically agree with you, well, look, you’re a man, and you benefit from this arrangement, and it’s men who control the institutions that could change it, so it’s up to you to change this, you’ll just leave potential allies separated from you. Especially as many of those men don’t feel like they’ve personally benefited from it that much and are aware, that despite ways it may have helped them, it has harmed them in many terrible ways also.

        • Oh, you did not just do that.

          *sigh* Here we go.

          First of all? Paragraph breaks. Use them. See that enter key on the left side of the keyboard. Hit it twice. I mean it. Get on that. Organize your thoughts into coherent points and separate them out. Seriously, dude. Your post becomes almost unreadable after a certain point because your thoughts are one big jumbled muddle instead of divided up into logical segments.

          Secondly: You’re strawmanning left, right, and center here. You’re arguing against shit I never said. Knock it off. It wastes my time.

          Thirdly: Do not. DO NOT. DO NOT DARE come on my blog trying to deny male privilege. EVER. You don’t get to do that. It’s not allowed. Stop it now or go away, because unless and until you can accept the fact that YES, cisgender, heterosexual men have oodles and oodles of privilege over woman and transgender and homosexual men and women, NOTHING IS EVER GOING TO BE FIXED.

          It’s pretty much common fucking sense to know that you can’t solve a problem until you acknowledge its existence. What you’re doing here? Is denying the problem exists. Your kumbaya, we’re-all-the-same-can’t-we-all-just-get-along, privilege-denying bullshit may be nice in that fantasy-world you have the luxury of inhabiting because your privilege gives you that luxury, but for the rest of us stuck out here living under a system of oppression that tells us we’re less than you? That shit doesn’t fly. Try again.

          “Misogyny doesn’t benefit all men.” You’re right. Trans men get the short end of the stick there by a long shot. And homosexual men have to deal with homophobia. You know why? Because misogyny. As far as cisgender straight men are concerned though? Yes. Yes it does. Full fucking stop.

          I don’t care that “most men don’t feel like they’ve benefited from it that much” because you know what? Those men? They’re lying to themselves. They’re turning a blind eye to the advantages they have, the advantages that come to them as a matter of course on the backs of the oppression of others. Until they face that reality and work with it, nothing is going to change.

          “If instead you go around telling men who basically agree with you, well, look, you’re a man, and you benefit from this arrangement, and it’s men who control the institutions that could change it, so it’s up to you to change this, you’ll just leave potential allies separated from you.”

          If a man is so out of touch with reality that he doesn’t realize that yes, he DOES have a burden to hear what women are saying, be mindful of his privilege, and work from his position as a privileged party to dismantle the scaffolding that holds inequality in place, then he isn’t a potential ally. At all. He’s ignorant and he’s one of the oppressors.

          And please tell me you didn’t just subtly go there with the “if you’re not nice to us and don’t make the struggle about our poor little feelings, we won’t help you.” Just don’t.

          • Jim

            Don’t lecture me about how misogyny hurts people. I am a cis-gendered man, but that does not mean that misogyny has not harmed me. You don’t know me. As a young child, I was quiet, introverted, shy, and not tall. I exuded a sense of weakness. As a result, I was picked on, attacked, and more, much more. I went day after day through elementary school in utter terror of certain extremely violent kids, until it started seeming like forever. And it happened in lesser ways elsewhere. To say I was bullied is to give out an extreme euphemism. And it all happened at a very young age, peaking at around age 8, when I had little or no psychological defensives. I know what it is like to be harmed by misogyny. And I am not gay or transgendered. It can happen to cis-men, too. Because of it, I came into adulthood with little self-confidence and had to struggle to gain any, and to change. At 61, I am not the person I was, but I don’t think I go through a day without thinking of the memory of what I went through as a child. And it harmed me not just psychologically but, I think, also in being able to achieve all I could be in more external ways. I’d gladly have given up the privileges I had as a cis-man for the sake of having been treated with respect as a child, and not a piece of shit.

            I realize that mine is an extreme example. But I truly believe that everyone is harmed by what you are talking about, some more and some less. And yes, some benefit in some ways.

            You wrote:

            If a man is so out of touch with reality that he doesn’t realize that yes, he DOES have a burden to hear what women are saying, be mindful of his privilege, and work from his position as a privileged party to dismantle the scaffolding that holds inequality in place, then he isn’t a potential ally.

            I don’t know where this is coming from. I have no problem to hear what women are saying and emphasize with what they go through, and know that I have not had the same hardships (though I have had other hardships). And I have no problem working from my position, whatever it is, to change it.

            You go on at the end with this statement:

            And please tell me you didn’t just subtly go there with the “if you’re not nice to us and don’t make the struggle about our poor little feelings, we won’t help you.”

            I would try to end oppression of women whatever you say. I view it as a struggle for justice. You can join hands with me to try to end it (and recognize that even cis-men can be harmed by this system even if it gives them other privileges) or not. I’ll still fight against such injustice.

            It is you are in denial if you think that the scaffolding that holds inequality in place is just about men controlling things that they can simply change. And what’s funny is that your own original post is talking about how the way we think of things, really all of us, helps maintain the system of oppression. Part of the change you (and I) are looking for lies in cis-men using the power they have to change the system. But some of it lies in all of us changing our ways of thinking of men and women.

            And do you really view women as so weak that they need cis-men to change these things? The only thing I will agree to is that all of us who recognize how pernicious these things are need to join hands and work together to change it. But to attack people with such venom that you don’t know because they belong to some very large group of people you view as oppressors (cis-men, in this case) is really not right.

            • Okay, time and again, you’re taking this issue and making it about you. Your hurt feelings. Your sad childhood. As tragic as these things are to you, the fact is, you’re still here wasting our time trying to rap me across the knuckles with this “not all men wah wah wah” riff.

              But when was the last time you:

              1) Wrote to your Congressmen in favor of the legislation supporting equal pay for women and closing the wage gap?

              2) Stepped in when one of your peers was using gendered slurs and informed him that wasn’t cool and to knock it off?

              3) Spoke up to stop a woman from being harassed on the street or in your workplace?

              4) Actively and publicly made a point of promoting products and media which don’t pander to cis male consumers?

              5) Stood on a picket line in support for a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions?

              6) Refused a promotion in favor of a more qualified female coworker?

              7) Checked to see if the women you work with are actually being paid the same as the men you work with for the same work, and protested if they weren’t?

              You’re more interested in talking over me, in telling me about YOUR struggles and trying to get me to join in on your self-pity party, in MAKING IT ABOUT YOU. You’re so interested in making it about you that you’re arguing against things I never said so that you can work in arguments that are ABOUT YOU.

              It’s not about you. Stop trying to make it about you. Shut up. Listen to what women are saying. Don’t argue with them about their experiences. Don’t try to one-ups them with YOUR experiences. Signal boost their voices.

              If you’re the feminist ally you claim to be? That’s what you’ll do. Stop wasting your time here trying to play oppression olympics about who is hurt worst by misogyny.

              And by the way, I’m not attacking you with such venom because you belong to the privileged demographic. I’m attacking you with such venom because you’re here denying your privilege and bickering and quibbling with me over your poor widdle hurt feelings instead of actually being out there doing something about it.

              • Jim

                I was responding to two of your statements:

                YES, cisgender, heterosexual men have oodles and oodles of privilege over woman and transgender and homosexual men and women

                “Misogyny doesn’t benefit all men.” You’re right. Trans men get the short end of the stick there by a long shot. And homosexual men have to deal with homophobia. You know why? Because misogyny. As far as cisgender straight men are concerned though? Yes. Yes it does. Full fucking stop.

                I guess I don’t understand why you make such a separation between trans and homosexual men on the one hand, and cis-men on the other. Whether some of us get privileges from it,misogyny hurts us all, even if we are not aware of the harm done to us. That was all I was originally trying to say. You seem bent on denying this simple fact. If you don’t want to discuss that in a civil way, then I’d prefer to just stop talking.

                • Since I’ve already acknowledged (multiple times) that misogyny hurts men as well as benefits them, I’m really not sure what you’re on about anymore, so buh-bye. Go find more constructive things to do. Toodles.

              • Jim

                The venom and ridicule you’ve directed at me is uncalled for. I was careful in everything I said to treat you with respect. You have not done the same back. And I only brought up the example of my childhood to counter your claim:

                “Misogyny doesn’t benefit all men.” You’re right. Trans men get the short end of the stick there by a long shot. And homosexual men have to deal with homophobia. You know why? Because misogyny. As far as cisgender straight men are concerned though? Yes. Yes it does. Full fucking stop.”

                Just as trans and homosexual men are negatively affected by misogyny, so can cis-men be so. This statement seems to be directly denying that. In hindsight, perhaps I should not have mentioned my case, though it seemed like such a perfect counter-example.

                Try calming down, and grow up.

                • Do you seriously not have anything better to do than stalking my blog? Didn’t this conversation end two days ago when I told you to run along and take your manbaby-hurt-feelings whining elsewhere?

                  I agreed, in my VERY FIRST RESPONSE TO YOU, that misogyny harms men. Emma Watson gave an entire fucking speech on the subject a couple weeks ago. No feminist worthy of the name would deny it.

                  So seriously, what the fuck are you ranting about?

                  Yes, misogyny harms men. But misogyny also benefits men. ALL men (except trans men and gay and bisexual men, by virtue of the fact that homophobia and transphobia are rooted in misogyny.)

                  It even benefits the cis men it harms. Wow, there’s a concept: Something can be both harmful and beneficial at the same time. Fancy that. SO YES, MISOGYNY BENEFITS ALL CIS MEN. And it harms women MORE, and it is the root cause of homophobia and transphobia, and thus it harms people on the LGBTQIA+/MOGII spectrum far far FAR more than it harms men.

                  So. Here’s my issue with you.

                  First of all, I have no idea what your fucking point is. You’re arguing against stuff I’m not saying and ignoring what I am.

                  You acknowledge on one hand that you have male privilege, and then deny that you’ve benefitted from misogyny. Those are two mutually exclusive claims. I makes absolutely zero sense. MALE PRIVILEGE IS THE SYSTEMIC, ACCULTURATED WAYS IN WHICH CIS MEN BENEFIT FROM MISOGYNY. That is its very definition. They’re the same thing. You can’t pretend you’re not denying male privilege when you deny you’ve benefited from misogyny as a cis man.

                  So here now, you’ve come onto my blog, a blog in which I, as a feminist, discuss feminist issues, and not only have you denied that misogyny benefits men, but you’ve gone on to try to make my feminist post about you, a cis-man.

                  You claim that you support women and support feminism, but here you are, a cis-man, talking over a woman and a feminist, trying to make feminism about you, not listening to what a woman and a feminist is saying.

                  Stop it. Stop now. You’re not being an ally or a male feminist. You’re being part of the problem.

                  Go do something useful.

                  Go stand up to victim-blaming rape apologist men. Go stand up for women who are being paid less than men for the same work. Go stand up for a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions. Go stand up for women being harassed in the workplace and on the street.

                  Stop bickering with me about how not all men benefit from misogyny because at some point in your childhood, your poor little feelings got hurt because someone didn’t think you were macho enough. Instead, go try to dismantle the culture that fostered your bullying.

                  Or, you know, just go away. You’re wasting my time.

  5. Jim

    Added another note so I could sign up to be notified of replies, as I forgot to do so with the previous post.

  6. I think this was an excellent post and would just like to jump in and recommend R. W. Connell’s book Masculinities for further readings on the connection between misogyny and homophobia, as well as social construction and organization of masculinity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s