Masculinity is So Fragile Sometimes

On her blog Brute Reason, Miri wrote a fantastic post about an encounter she had with a jerk in Central Park:

“Excuse me miss–”

“No thank you, I’m not interested.”

“Whatever, bitch.”

He started to walk away towards a couple sitting on a bench, but I whipped around like a woman on fire.

“What did you just say to me?”

It’s happened plenty of times, but it still surprises me because it feels so far from where I’ve been. My voice came out clear and strong. I faced him, looked right at him, as the couple on the bench watched on.

“I asked if you’d donate to–”

“No, after that.”

“I said have a nice day.”

“Sure you did.”

The post’s title is “They Lie So Easily”, and she goes on to explain that this small example should be remembered when considering the immediate and stalwart denial of larger violations, like harassment, assault, and rape. It’s also full of beautiful photographs that serve an important purpose in the piece.

Without this post, I wouldn’t have thought twice about something I overheard that same evening…

It was Halloween yesterday, but I wasn’t going to a party or hanging around the apartment with candy to give out. I was going to Atlanta’s Bands of America Super Regional Championship. This event is the culmination of an entire fall semester’s-worth of work for my sister’s high school marching band(1)Which I also played in for four years. They did great! Their show was called “Compass Rose” and had some intriguing music that developed over time, some cool marching that showed off their skills, and the occasional dance move. It also wasn’t overwrought with extraneous features, like tons of props, voiceovers, or more dancing than marching.

With my sister’s performance done, I watched the remaining bands perform. The very last group started bringing out gravestones and props clad in orange in black. A boisterous man behind me started talking loudly about how the “Halloween theme is so overdone”.(2)Conveniently two parents in front of me were from that school, surely hearing this.

Then more of the props were set up: radiant colors strung between poles, flags and guard uniforms that took on that neon hue reminiscent of the Mexican Day of the Dead. Two men (including Boisterous) started discussing the large picture of (what I now think is) a Mexican marigold on the field.

Marching_Day_of_the_Dead

(Flower on the right)

The conversation went something like this:

Boisterous Man: What kind of flower is that?

Man 2: I don’t know. Some symbol of the celebration.

B Man: It’s interesting.

Man 3: What’s interesting is that you’re talking about the flower.

B Man: [Sarcastically] Yeah, I’m gay.

…Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

After a beat, I turned to look at the loud man. Just for a moment, just to see who he was and to let him know someone heard that.

I didn’t dwell on the moment for too long before the performance started, and I might not have thought about it any more until I read Miri’s article. Until I recognized that small exchange could represent so much more.

So obviously the first man conflates male homosexuality with femininity. That’s the only way to bridge a flower discussion to gayness so immediately. He quickly limits his point to only stereotyping gay men, not condemning their existence. Great.

What strikes me, then, is this immediate, knee-jerk response, nigh requirement, to shake off any semblance of appreciation for “feminine” subjects or ideas. It is too toxic to masculinity’s upkeep to even glance, momentarily, at a flower and talk about it. It must be shut down immediately.

Meanwhile masculinity postures itself as tough, formidable, strong, and perseverant? It really loses that meaning when a second of softness jeopardizes the entire concept. Inflexibility makes it seem more of a fearful front than a comfortable identity.

Mexican_Marigold

From Wikipedia

Another small but illuminating example that’s been on my mind is the male hug. When women hug women, when women hug men, or when any kind of people hug each other that aren’t strapped down to concepts of antiquated masculinity, they warmly, fully embrace.

When many men hug, it is a temporarily violation of masculinity in favor of showing a bond. Latent in so many men, myself included, is this discomfort in showing feelings, or even buried homophobia. It’s a learned distaste over time, not innately linked to our physiology, to be afraid of holding another man in your arms.

What’s the solution? Introduce micro-violence, of course. WikiHow instructs people on just about anything, including having a special article just for how to hug another man, as a man. A lot of it is pretty disappointing:

[Step 5:] The pat. This is the crucial part of a man hug, separating it from a traditional cuddle. With your left hand pat your buddy 3 or 4 times on the back. This demonstrates you are still men – you may be affectionate but you can still dish out some pain. If you still feel this is too effeminate for you then give a light, double punch instead of a pat.

Those back pats, those violent smacks interrupting a moment of sincere togetherness, are a sign of weakness, not strength. They come from fear and insecurity. I struggle to resist doing it every time, because it seems a comforting reassurance that you’re still a Guy. That you’re still a Man.

That’s not the manhood I want to have if it requires such fear, though. That’s not what I want to uphold, to perpetuate, or to identify with. I want a new masculinity that doesn’t recoil at flowers, but embraces them.

What that looks like we’ll have to figure out going forward.

Notes   [ + ]

2 thoughts on “Masculinity is So Fragile Sometimes

  1. Kirbmarc

    “So obviously the first man conflates male homosexuality with femininity. That’s the only way to bridge a flower discussion to gayness so immediately. He quickly limits his point to only stereotyping gay men, not condemning their existence. Great.”

    It’s called “humor”. You might have heard of it sometimes. Using stereotypes as a source of humor is a staple of every human culture under the sun.

    “[Step 5:] The pat. This is the crucial part of a man hug, separating it from a traditional cuddle. With your left hand pat your buddy 3 or 4 times on the back. This demonstrates you are still men – you may be affectionate but you can still dish out some pain. If you still feel this is too effeminate for you then give a light, double punch instead of a pat.”

    And this is called “teasing”. It’s not simply a matter of “masculinity” , it’s way to ease legitimate concerns about physical contact through some gentle ribbing. The pain you dish out is a way to signal that you’re not actually physically threatening. It”s a way to say: “I’ll go this far, and not more. Follow the same rules, please”

    One thing that you should remember is that physical is actually frightening for most people, men and women, if they come from a culture where it’s unusual for people to touch each other. There are very good, rational reasons why our societies evolved different ways of greeting each other that do not include hugging. It’s extremely easy for someone armed with a knife or a gun to kill you or injure you while hugging you.

    In late medieval and Renaissance years people had a very legitimate fear of been stabbed with a dagger, and this is why hugs and pats were substituted with the handshake, which shows that you don’t have any weapons in your hand.

    Women were less likely to go around and stab people, so they were greeted by hand kissing, which exposes the kisser’s neck.

    Reply
    1. Ross Post author

      I understand humor. Just because using stereotypes for humor is common doesn’t make it universally okay. This man was clearly not gay, given his second comment. This effectively means he was punching down towards a marginalized group. That’s not positive humor.

      So after your historical analysis of greetings and hugging, what is your conclusion? That we should continue perpetuating the echoes of these gender roles in the modern day? I hope it was evident in the post that I absolutely feel the tendency to reject male closeness, but I don’t respond to that tendency by accepting it. I examine it and wonder if it has any good basis any longer. I don’t believe it does.

      Reply

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