Tuesday 20 May 2008

What Does it Mean, to 'Be a Man'?

Let's start this post with a simple story.

I worked with a guy once who could have given Graham Norton a run for his money, maybe even Julian Clary a run for his money, in terms of exaggerated campness for the sole benefit of ensuring that no one, for a split second ever made the mistake of thinking he liked to sleep with women.

Nice guy. Funny guy.

But one day, I lost patience with the act.

Crushed: Did you watch the England game last night?
Julian Emulator: Crushed, I'm gay.
Crushed: I didn't ask that. I know that. I asked you about a game of football. Where you like to put your penis is not related to your enjoyment of a game of football.

And it isn't. It's gay people responding to an outmoded linkage between sex, sexuality and gender. Gay people are NOT men trapped in women's bodies. People who feel themselves to have a different gender to their bodily sex, are not homosexual. The idea that gay men are NOT masculine but feminine, is a ludicrous stereotype- a blast from the past- which the gay community could do with dropping, such as this idea that being gay and liking football are somehow mutually exclusive.

The fact is, campness is an act. It is an act developed over the ages when being gay was socially unacceptable, for like minded people to find eachother. But it IS an act. And one that a number of straight men have learned to mimic very well, for their own purposes. I should know. I'm one of them. I roll it out when it needs rolling out, so well, that I can fool most gay men into thinking I'm one of their own. And often, in social situations, it pays off. It's non threatening and if not done too ridiculously, it puts the majority of people at ease very quickly.

And it's no less real- or no more fake- than when most gay men do it. The fact is, it's a proven way of behaving that's disarming. Men behaving in a non threatening way to members of both sexes. THAT'S the secret behind the social success of gay men- and the straight men who learn to practise that way of acting, when it suits.

Quite obviously, it's put back in it's box when I stride into The Star...

I've heard it said that ALL sexuality is a social construct. I agree. But that doesn't prove that any one sexuality has been invented. What it proves is that the boxes we've created are just that, boxes.

My own view is that we still live in the shadow of sexual taboo. I don't see anything wrong with being gay, and I'll go further than that.
I've never slept with a member of the same sex, nor ever really considered it. But I'm more than willing to bet that that is largely down to believing it to be fundamentally unnatural for all my early years. I think most people in fact, are bisexual to some degree, and in most cases it's just we have a definite preference. I think most of us heterosexual males have been conditioned to be 100% heterosexual males, when perhaps, if sexual taboo hadn't still had a residue as we grew up, we'd be 70%, 80%, or 90%, inclined towards heterosexuality.

I don't think the REAL gender differences have anything to do with sexual preferences.

Men and women ARE different.
But how?

Well, as I often say in RL 'Bottom line is, they'll never p*ss standing up'.
By which I mean, of course there are programming differences. Often not the ones men believe, but there are differences in our programming.

And I think women are ACTUALLY more aware of what those differences REALLY are, than men are.
Not that feminism hasn't created it's own myths. I'm not quite convinced, for example that women are better communicators. And I think that statements such as 'All men are rapists and murderers' are profoundly unhelpful.

But how helpful are traditional ideas of masculinity? How often do any of things that make people say 'Be a man', have anything to do with masculinity?
Does physical strength and endurance make you a man?

I mean, I could come down on the side of ability to consume six pints and still be sober enough to answer comments on this blog as proof of being a man- because it suits me to do so, and there are men who would say that being able to drink a lot, makes you a man.
But it's a total non-sequiter, really.

So what IS being a man?


I have a Lesbian friend who often comments that in spite of some of my girly ways, the way I think is very male. Note she doesn't say MASCULINE. Male.

Perhaps her own sexuality enables her more than other women to recognise EXACTLY those qualitative differences which separate the male psyche from the female.

But I think I know what they are as well.

I'm going to say something now which could potentially destroy my pro-feminist credentials, so I'm first going to state that I think that since Women HAVE been allowed a role to play in scientific advance, many have made HUGE contributions. Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Lise Meitner stand out. But the point is, what type of contribution. The women of twentieth century science made advances by meticulous methodology, by pinning down details and persisting.

It is always said that one of the great things about human progress has been Man's ability to spot patterns. Making conceptual connections between seemingly unrelated facts, searching for order in seeming chaos.

The great breakthroughs. Einstein's mental leap of trying to combine laws of energy, with laws of matter.
And that, will always be a male trait.

That's how men think. Men think in terms of spatial relationships and patterns. Women observe details. That's the difference.
Highly strung males exhibit OCD by obsessing over how things are aligned, women exhibit it by cleaning.

It's the age old stereotype that women can't read maps. Stereotype, but true. And from personal observation, I've noticed that women just do not have the same inbuilt sense of WHERE they are, geographically. Go to a town where you have never been before, they soon lose track of where they are SPATIALLY, in relation to the car. To get back, they'd have to retrace their steps, only they can't remember. You don't. You actually know that going down this street on the left SHOULD lead BACK to where the car is parked. And as you go along, you point out a building 'See? That's the back of the yellow building we passed earlier.'
And they say 'Is it?'

Because out on the savannah, Homo Erectus thought 'That's the back view I had of the rock I saw from the front when I went out hunting this morning'.

Territory, positions, strategy, patterns.

It's how the male mind works.

We have found so many more useful and amazing things to do with our hunting skills. And so too have women with their nurturing skills, their homebuilding skills, their community cohesion skills.

But the instincts of the male, remain those of the hunter, the predator.

It is the joy in bonding with people- male and female- for it's own sake, the compulsive need to belong to a pack, it is the roar of triumph when a goal is scored, the passionate hugging of your friends, it is the snarl as you turn round and face off another predator 'Get off my territory!', whether done with iron fist or velvet glove, it is the obsession with games of strategy, be they chess, backgammon, pool or football, it is doing the Telegraph Crossword, it is the compulsive desire to put everything into ordered tables in clear positions, League tables, Periodic tables, classification systems, the desire to see something through.

To the exclusion sometimes, of the details.

Isn't that what women mean when they say 'Typical man'?

Testosterone and Adrenalin.

I think we all see Feminism the wrong way.
Feminism HAS been about empowering women, yes.

Because we recognised our previous conceptions of what made men and women what they are, was wrong.

Men gripe about Feminism, thinking that women now have the upper hand.
Yes, they do. But not in the way men think.

Women are coming to terms with who they are, not as men want them to be, but as they really are. Human beings, with intelligent minds, healthy sex drives, needs and desires.

And men just sit back and throw their rattles out of the pram at having LOST their power over women.
Gender relations will regain some sanity when men repeat the same exercise themselves. When they seek to learn what MEN are and come to terms with it. Not as the gender invested by God with the mastery, but as one of the two sexes into which humanity is divided, two sexes which on their own are a nightmare, but together make this species what it is.

Masculism- if we choose to use such a word- should be about finding a way to recognise and celebrate the positives in being male, the things which men should justifiably celebrate- so BOTH sexes can move forward together in equal partnership.

Then maybe we can just get on with the business of loving eachother.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post Crushed, you've made some good points here. The bit about maps made me chuckle, I've always been good with them, and also with direction, kinda like I have a compass upstairs. I was nicknamed "Maps" by one of my best friends years ago (and he was useless with them). I used to direct my parents on our family holidays through the big cities.
But when I went to Australia, I lost my directional mojo for about a month (must have been the coriolis effect). But once I got it back, I could find my way around better than at least one native I know...

Anonymous said...

(1) I would buy that campness is an act, if we also saw such things as enjoying football or other masculine acts as just as much an act--for they are.

I'm not sure where the "fay" aspects of the gay community come in, but I do believe that you're right in that someone's blurring the lines between sex, sexuality and gender. I would propose, however, that it probably wasn't homosexuals. If one of the ways society marks masculine and feminine is by sexual preference, then the understanding of who an individual is becomes a question mark. If maleness means screwing women, and a guy doesn't want to screw a woman but another guy, then the social construct he has to fall back on is that of the anti-male--and the closest we can conceive of this is female.

(2) Dovetailing with the previous point, your closing comments on males reassessing what it means to be male is a fine point. But what you get when you do this might also mean really reassessing what is masculine.

Case in point. I was talking with a student of mine who described himself as an effeminate gay. The thought occurred to me, and I said this out loud, was that he wasn't being effeminate at all. If he's male, his behavior is masculine by definition. If anything, he's demonstrating that masculine behavior has a very wide range.

(3) If the range of masculine behavior and feminine behavior thus overlap, then at what point do we distinguish the two? You bring up differences in spatial acuity, but I've known women who could read maps very well, and men who couldn't. Once again, there's too much of an overlap to be comfortable with the stereotype.

Anonymous said...

well I thing you waffle on like a woman - a old woman at that!

You really should try to be more coherent and succinct in your posts, your average post is too long by about one less word than it contains.

Anonymous said...

I live by maps. I have a huge carton stuffed with maps and city plans of where I've been, where I want to go, where I am... I bet I'd beat you at orientation any day, you MAN! ;P

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post Crushed and for the most part I was nodding my head while reading it.

However I do think that, as x.dell said, many of the stereotypes of female and male characteristics do a lot of overlapping in real live examples of the two genders. (I'm very good with maps, let me tell you and have an excellent sense of direction.)

I totally agree that most of us are more capable of bisexuality than society would like to admit, whether it is acted upon or not.

Now did any feminist ever say that all men are rapists and murderers? I don't think so. Why does that statement get attributed to all feminists? Now it's true that the majority of rapists and murderers are men. Plus acts of violence are more likely to be committed by men than women but that doesn't make all men violent.

I just wish that statement would not get trotted out every time someone talks about feminism.

Still a very good post.

Anonymous said...

There are some very interesting points, here, Crushed, and I am very sympathetic to the idea that sexuality may be better seen as a continuum rather than distinct categories.

However, to offer a different point of view, a gay friend of mine maintained that, for him, his lack of interest in football, or other subjects traditionally associated with masculinity, had everything to do with his sexual preference. It's not that he didn't feel able to admit liking football, it's just he genuinely had no interest, and that was fundamentally intertwined with his identity as a gay man. He was talking about a gay set of sensibilities that interpreted the whole gamut of experience, rather than being concerned solely with the shape of a person's genitals and not applicable in other, ahem, spheres. Sure, mileage varies, as other commenters have said, but I wonder whether it is helpful to try and divorce sexual preference from one's way of seeing the world.

Anonymous said...

Some women are loud, brash and in your face type of people, I thank extreme feminists for that.

Anonymous said...

> The fact is, it's a proven way of behaving that's disarming. Men behaving in a non threatening way to members of both sexes
Ahh.. I see. agreed.

> Not as the gender invested by God with the mastery, but as one of the two sexes into which humanity is divided, two sexes which on their own are a nightmare, but together make this species what it is.
*nods* have thought a bit about it before. They do need each other; breeding is the simplest example….

Anonymous said...

I do see sexuality as a kind continuum with a bell curve with a normal distribution - some people may be extremely at one end or the other but most people are in the middle ...

I for one have never been very secure as a heterosexual. Thats just the way it is... you wrote another very good post . Thanks for your help the other day by the way.,..

Anonymous said...

Fusion- I instinctively tend to know what direction I'm facing in, or can at least work it out from remembering how I got somewhere.

It's been useful in the past. Although Brum has a million people, the city itself occupies a few square miles- you CAN cross it in just over an hour if you walk quick.

Many were the times I rolled out of a strange house at five AM wondering how to get home (having no idea where I was- I wouldn't really have been that focussed in the taxi). But I usually made it.

x-dell- Stereotypes, yes, but there are genuine differences, or we wouldn't have people feeling in the wrong body. Inherently gay men MUST feel comfortable as men who like men. They don't seek to become women.

I would agree with you on the range point. Yes, it does mean re-assessment, to some degree.

I DO have a biological explanation for all this, which may get an airing this weekend.

Baht At- Oh well. Can't please everybody, eh?

Heart- I collect Antique maps. In fact I find maps generally quite interesting. I kep a Road Atlas of North America in the living room for when I watch American films.

jmb- I'm not sure, to be honest any serious feminist ever used it, I first came across it being dismantled in Desmond Morris, but I'm not sure where it orginates- or if it orginated in the minds of anti-feminists.

I think we probably have to accept that men are going to be more prone to violence and strong emotion than women. The evidence suggests our ancestots did eat eachother from time to time, and I suspect it was the males carving the flesh from the bones of the dead. This is course, has no bearing on the ethics of such a situation.

We need t acknowledge differences, but still apply the same moral code to both sexes as far as is possible.

Ian- But doesn't that still make iot a construct? He's been conditioned to accept a community set of values. I'm not disputing he is comfortable doing so, it's the values of that community by adopting an attitude that segregates them from 'straight' men, that I just find unhelpful.

Of course it affects how one SEES the world, but I really don't see how that affects football. Alexander the Great was homosexual, yet master tactician that he was, I bet he'd have LOVED the beautiful game.

Nunyaa- And in some ways, that makes them MORE women, not less. That's what feminism is, allowing women to be women, not 'ladies' as constructed by men.

To me, the ladette, in her free-sprited girliness is more feminine than say, the Queen.

Eve- Hence it's success. It's just a behaviour mode, a secret code NOT in fact, remotely linked to sexual preference.

Exactly. And I have an interesting take on that- which will be appearing shortly.

Mutley- Heterosexual is a word which will exist for about two hundred years, methinks- and its already 120 of them.
A transitional phase in the history of human sexual identity.

I think more and more people are coming to terms with that.

Not a prob- I know the feeling when you feel you really SHOULD tell your readers what's up.

Good to have you back anyway!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Crushed, I must have expressed it badly. By gay sensibilities, I don't mean a socially-accepted/imbued way of assessing things, but the framework within which this particular person viewed the world, finding some things rather than others of interest, from a time, as he told it, before his adolescence even (and certainly way earlier than his entry into gay subculture[s]). Now, I know that this is only one person's view, and that others will have different experiences, but he was passionately persuaded that his gayness informed much more than just his sex life. Yes, football included. Or, rather, not included.