Tuesday 10 March 2009

The Truth About Men

I find gender stereotypes to generally be decidedly unhelpful.
We have lived with them since we learned to speak, so it would seem, in one form of another.
What those stereotypes were has seemingly varied, a product perhaps, of changing gender relations.

Time was when women were seen as kind of being imperfect men. An implication of early theology is that sex won't matter when we get to Heaven, because we'll be freed of our gender. Reading deeper, what that actually means is that women will be freed of the burdens of their child bearing bodies and become logical, like men. Men are made in the likeness of God, women are an afterthought, altered, changed to be bear young. Whilst their souls reside in bodies designed to serve men, they will always be subject his dominion.

Men thought like that a long time. Some still do. As if the fact that women carry young somehow pollutes the purity of their minds, warps them, makes them less capable than men of pure logic. They are the 'weaker' but 'fairer' sex, pretty ornaments, an addition to the world, the second sex.

What men thought, was the norm. Women who didn't fit in with men's expectations rebelled against nature. Against the image of the docile, domesticated, sexually placid, almost frigid, obedient wife and mother was cast the image of the intelligent, promiscuous harridan; or worse, the man hating lesbian. For so long any woman who stood up for women's right to be judged on their terms was cast as one or the other she demon.

And the real women, who was none of the above was not allowed a look in. It was somehow unnatural for a woman to have intelligence or sexual appetite.

That has changed. For the most part. We're not quite there yet. The danger is that as we move forward on oen front, we stay still, move back even, on another.

For now a new myth is being created, almost the reverse of the male superiority myth. In this myth, it is women who are the PERFECT humanity. And men who need the guardianship of women. Without women, they'd be sweaty, grunting Neanderthals who'd hack eachother to pieces.

Women are winning the right to be themselves free of gender sterotypes, whereas men are becoming increasingly locked into them. On the one hand the one men themselves created. And then the other, the newly arising one.

But men and women are different. Women are never going to piss standing up. The stereotypes don't help, because we're not really making any progress understanding eachother.

Past stereotypes have focussed on fairly trivial generalised differences and exagarated them, whilst ignoring very real temperamental and programming differences.

Men of course, have partly got themselves to blame here. In our bid over the years to emphasise our supposed superiority, we have emphasised a lot of traits some of which are genuine, though often not as marked as we have claimed and some being entirely cultural.

A good deal is tied up in the flippant and often misunderstood remark made by Mussolini that 'War is to men what childbirth is to women'. Misunderstood because once we know Mussolini said it, we interpret it as being a sexist, militarist remark. Which it wasn't. It was a simple observation that whilst the vast majority of women will suffer the pains of childbirth, war had/has provided an equal series of pain and horror for men. I don't think he meant 'It is as natural for men to go and hack eachother to pieces as it is for women to give birth, indeed that is what the sexes are for' as is now so often implied that he meant.

And we are in danger of course, of seeing men and violence the same way. That violence and killing are more of a natural pursuit for men than for women. When the reality is more that human history has thrown that nastier side of human history onto the male sex. Humanity as a whole has been pretty nasty to eachother. And when it has, men have been nasty to eachother. It is somewhat of a leap in logic to say that had medieval society practiced gender equality, people would have tortured eachother less.

It might, perhaps, be better to see Mussolini's remark as being more insightful than we perhaps give him credit for. In early days, life was nasty, brutish and short. One school of biological thought about why sex is such a survival advantage is that it frees fifty percent of the population from reproducing. Therefore the males of any species have surplus energy. In some species, such as the lion, they don't do much with it, but in those species where the males have decided to work as hard as the female, great things are achieved, such as with the insects. Human society achieved much the same.

The real reason why human history to date appears such a one sided story is up till now, is that all the efforts of womankind were focused on child rearing. These days that no longer needs to be the case, so we no longer need to write off fifty percent of our drive, our intellect, our passion, as a species.

So it would perhaps be fairer to see war and violence as man's share of the dirty work. I don't think in fact, most NORMAL men truly relish going off to fight and kill people.

By the same token, we're clearly programmed in a way women aren't to be able to switch into a warrior mode, hence our love of sports and other tribal activities. It's in us, yes. But to say that that is all a man is, is just as denigrating of all that a man is, as to suggest that all a woman is, is as a child bearing womb.

And yet we still seem to focus, perhaps more so than ever, on that side of men.

And perhaps in a kind of perverted resistance to feminism, men seem happy to embrace that negative image.
And it's not the real man.

Let's look back at REAL history. Let's look at what man did, when he didn't have to plough through fields of blood, when he didn't have to sweat his limbs off in coal mines, when he didn't have to plough fields from sunrise to sunset.

What did the men do, who had managed to free themselves from drudgery?

Did they- free men- decide to be ignorant, grunting, Neanderthals?


They painted. They wrote poetry. They sang songs. They laughed, they loved. They were- sensitive, caring, sometimes rowdy, sometimes impassioned, but when given the chance, they were neither the grunting stereotype of muscle rippling barbarism that the more man-critical women throw up as a bugbear and yet other woman for some reason still like to hold up as an ideal. Nor were they the 'New Man' that some women THINK they'd like to create, which is in my view just as degrading to men as the nineteen fifties housewife ideal was to women.

The 'real man' is not Conan the Barbarian, but nor is he a Eunuch.

So- what actually is a man? What is manly?

Firstly, let us trim away some of the non-sequiters and the red herrings. Physical prowess has nothing to do with masculinity, any more than physical weakness has anything to do with femininity. Yes, it's true, men tend on the whole to be physically stronger, but it's still decidedly irrelevant and hardly a particularly USEFUL difference. So, you can lift that box on your own and I can't. I'll just call someone over to help me. It's really no big deal.

It's also interesting that one would certainly get criticised for promoting an ideal standard of women which implied that only women with a certain figure were to be admired. Yet both men and women seem to think that it's ok to do that with regards to men. Why are men not entitled to the same respect as women on that score?

Myself, I get quite angry that such a completely irrelevant criterion should be considered something by which men should be judged. I have the figure of a teenage girl and I'm damn proud of it. Over the centuries, artists have championed the more elfin male form for its beauty, just as they have championed the more rubenesque female, yet today I see many campaigns to reclaim the glory of the 'fuller figure' female as against marketing stereotypes favouring the thinner model, but no such campaign to champion the ascetic appeal of the elfin male against this obsession with the Arnold Shwarzenegger figure.

Another total non-sequiter is sexuality. What annoys me is how even many gay men buy this. They feel that by being openly gay, they have to deny themselves all their masculine urges. I think I have described before how annoyed I got with a gay friend when I asked him if he'd seen a match at the weekend and he replied 'I'm gay, Joe!' as if that somwehow had something to do with football. Gay men do not want to have sex with men because they're actually women trapped in a man's body and gay men shouldn't buy into this. Surely they themselves know that they aren't transgender, they are male. Clearly comfortable possessing a penis. So why buy into the prejudice of homophobes? Alexander the Great was about as masculine as they get and he preferred men, quite clearly.
Of course, I'm going to be controversial now and say that it takes a real man to admit that he's to some degree bisexual (all men are deep down, I think), but still very much a man...

Other things that are associated with masculinity, yes I can buy into. We generally drink more, indeed CAN drink more, though I'm not sure that's actually a point to brag about, as such. It's simply a point of metabolism. We cost more to get drunk and we tend to do more of it. Sport, we get more into, We get impassioned by things like that, yes, I think that's generic. But are those defining characteristics of masculinity, or secondary characteristics?

I don't think so. I think over the last thirty or so years, when women generally have finally allowed us to get off our high horses and stop hiding in the suits of armour we once had to wear, we haven't culturally responded as well as we might. We haven't sung the good points of being a man. We've hidden our light under a bushel. Allowed ourselves to be presented the wrong way. As being imperfect versions of women.

Women see us as insensitive, as uncaring, poor communicators. How on earth have men allowed this perception to happen?

Because in my opinion, that is at the heart of what men TRULY give to humanity. You want to see a real man? Read some Keats, read some Shelley, read some Shakespeare. Women do not have a monopoly on sensitivity or on ability to communicate, nor is their sensitivity deeper and their ability to communicate more potent than that of men. But it's markedly different. True, men and women seem these days not to be able to communicate with eachother, but I refuse to believe that is because men are less sensitive and don't communicate as well. Were that to be true, Sales wouldn't be such a male dominated sector.

Partly, I think it's still true that men are afraid of being revealed to women as just as sensitive as women, deep down. And not actually that different. When women start getting all emotional with us, we get uncomfortable. Because we don't feel comfortable reciprocating; we only talk the way women do to us to other males. In front of whom, we're more comfortable showing our fragility and vulnerability. We'll cry in front of our best mates, but not in front of the women we love. That's the reality.

But read what men have written over the ages. And then tell us we're insensitive. And can't communicate.

Back out there on the Savannah, men had to do some horrid things, but we moved away, we progressed. And we did that BECAUSE we men could emote to eachother and communicate with eachother.

The feminist revolution was needed, because women needed to get a message across in a world in which old burdens could be lifted. In a world where different sexes no longer had, of necessity to fulfill markedly different roles, women could say 'Now we don't need to play act any longer, see what we really are'.

And we found that women were far more like men than we'd realised, but yet- still just as feminine as they always had been.

They were as intelligent as us, had as powerful sexual appetites as we did, were as witty as us, as psychologically tough as us, as logical as us, there was very little we could do that they couldn't- except piss standing up and read maps (JOKE!!!!). And yet they remained just as beautiful, just as desirable, just as wonderful. They lost none of their femininity by the revelation.

And now, perhaps, we need men to have the same chance. We need play act no more. Men need to admit to themselves- and then demonstrate to women- that we're far more like women than they realise- but still as masculine as we've always been.

We're just as sensitive, just as good at communicating (once we finally feel comfortable enough to let women see it), just as vulnerable, just as fragile, just as caring. And yet we'll still be- well, whatever it is women see in us!
And I don't think we'll lose any of our masculinity by the revelation.

Many men, I think feel threatened by feminism. Feel men are now at a disadvantage.
Yes, because women are starting to be honest about who they are, and we men are still play acting.

My view is that women have come a long way over the last thirty years. And men need to catch up.
Because we're not an inferior sex, though as things stand, we're coming across as one and frankly, it's because more often than not, we behave as one.

It's time we rose to the challenge modern woman is setting us and started acting in a way we haven't done yet- as her equal.


Sue said...

I have the best in all worlds with my man it seems. He is definitely "all man" (no gay tendencies at all). He is built like a rugby player (which is my preference) but he is the most sensitive man I have ever met. He's loves fashion and often buys me clothes which he KNOWS I will like. He never comes home without a pressie for me (however small).. and he constantly tells me he loves me..

He says "men are simple creatures, good sex, a good meal and good woman is all we need"... :)

Reeny's Ramblin' said...

Interesting post. I have never been a fan of blatant stereotyping to the extent that you end up pigeon holing a whole group. I admire men who don't allow someone else’s definition of what masculinity should be rule them. This goes for women too. I do however believe that the world would be a MUCH different place if women were allowed to be in power positions earlier on in HIStory.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post!

The woman in me appreciates the man in you.


Candy Minx said...

Wow, that was a lot of mileage to cover. Very interesting stuff. We've found out that actually...the difference between genders is minmal, a few hormones and about 10-15% body strength and endurance. We found this out when the fad of marathon running became so popular in the 1970's. We found out that previous distinctions of strength differences were false...and women could keep at par with men physically.

We've also explored the idea that it wasn't just males who hunted on the Savanah (as you say) but humans will use "occams razor" the lowest economy to accomplish the most benefit...and it was entire tribes that hunted...using nets! Using a net to captue a large animal is something all ages and genders could help with. The divide wasn't as big as we previously had assumed.

I think you would love the books "Making Sex"


and "The Nature and Evolution of Female Sexuality" by Mary Jane Sherfey. It's out of print now...but I got my copy online.


Judith said...

I think you should subscribe to the blog feministing.com and maybe read a few books by the contributing writers ("She's a Slut, He's a Stud" immediately comes to mind) then come back and report on how far feminine gender types have come. What I like about the feministing site is they are very inclusive and definitely not man haters. But I'm not ready to cry on my cornflakes over the sufferings of the patriarch yet.

Sue said...

You'll make a great husband and dad one day :)

Crushed said...

Sue- Well, in a sense we are that simple, I guess that lies at the root of our basic needs...

I don't know, I'm still not entirely convinced that the full range of a man's needs can ever be fulfilled by one woman, or the full range of one woman's needs ever be fulfilled by one man. Individuals are far too complex, it's asking too much, I think.

I would say 'good company' is always crucial, first and foremost.

I think differences between specfiic men and specific women are far greater than between men and women generally.

Reeny- Well, I have never bothered pretending to be a 'working out' kind of guy.
I do like football, but purely as a spectator.

I'm not sure, my own interpreatation of seeing women in power throughout history is they have tended to be no better or worse than male rulers, certainly no less bloodthirty.

Sweet Cheeks- Who's he then? ;)

Candy- Up until recently, the earliest evidence of Human habitation in Europe was actually devoid of human remains.

They found a site in Spain somewhere, which had been a swamp a million years ago. and they found half elephants. As in, half in the swamp, the rest gone.

It seens our ancestors used to stampeded the herds into the swamps. If this was so, then one would guess that the entire tribe might be needed to direct the herds.

Its woerth noting that Dimorphissm- the phenomenon of disparate body sizes for different genders- is unmarked in humans, whereas it exists noticeably in other primates, including Australopithecine fossils. This is an interesting evolutionary point, I instinctively feel.

I shall have a look for those books.

Vicarious Rising- I shall check the site out.

I think the patriarch is kind of dead, but what does seem to be emerging now is kind of a curious idea where women are Homo Sapiens, whereas men seem to striving to be Homo Neanderthalensis. Not good, in my opinion.

I'm not saying we should cry in to cornflakes, I'm suggestring that women are frankly discussing what gender really means and men aren't. And that needs to happen.

Sue- Marriage is unlikely ever to be something I'll ever take up, but as to the second, I hope so. I really do.