Man made the trains to carry heavy loads. Man made electric light to take us out of the dark. – James Brown
Masculinity is a multifaceted and often confusing topic. If men do it does it make it masculine? It’s like a Cheshire cat. It’s tricky because it covers such a wide diaspora of qualities, which in turn cover the spectrum of good and evil. A pedantic minefield. Thus it is difficult to define it in a palatable fashion. Screw fashion. A deliberate turn of phrase on the topic to be sure…
A recent study by the ad agency M&C Saatchi (Australia), have found that men have become conditioned to believe they are wrong, to such an extent that they have “gender issue laryngitis.” (See first sentence). It is, so-not-worth-it to say anything – guys just tend to shut up, smile and nod. The Saatchi white paper professed that men are not emasculated, then they acknowledged that men “have to ask permission for all and any man time or activities.” Further, “Men have to use covert trade-offs to get man time permission from women.” So, clearly men have their masculine identity, they just have to get permission first. Flip the script on that one.
Our perceptions of masculinity (because we’re English-speaking), come from the English-speaking world, and the English-speaking world is at war, and pretty much has been for centuries. And the traditions of the English-speaking world, although at the bottom of a long and precipitous decline,were about occidentalization, manifest destiny, and in a word – conquering. One has to take into consideration the spirit of the age in such situations. People like Golda Meir, the first Iron Lady who lead Israel in the Arab-Israeli war, and the other Iron Lady who led the British to war over the Falkland Island colony in 1982, were under the same ‘ether of the age’ when they went to war. Just a caveat here, if this were written in Mandarin the perspective would be Chinese. The tack I’m sailing on, and the link I’m obviously making is between war, and men as the warrior-conqueror, a trait traditionally and uniquely reserved for men. In spite of the two masculine ladies mentioned above, and the occasional Joan of Arc type, in the main it was, and is still, the preserve of men…there are exceptions to rules. For feminist philosophy to brand patriarchy as violent misses the point of connection to the zeitgeist. To say that patriarchy is responsible for the zeitgeist leads me to, dare I write it, Social Darwinism…
There’s a compelling belief that scarcity causes violence, and it does. Whether it is scarcity of oil, food, needs or intelligence, scarcity throws the switch in the ‘primitive’ part of the human brain, among other animals. Whether it was scarcity or greed, or the belief in the God-given right to dominate and control other cultures, or again – ‘Social Darwinism’ – just the ability to do so was permission enough for man to exercise control. Men seek to control as much as they can. Some call it progress, it’s at the beneficent end of the aforementioned spectrum. America, Australia, Canada (among others), were occupied lands, and white men (and women), conquered them through technology, (navigation etc), force, intimidation, coercion and persuasion. At one point in history those were masculine things. Today, technology is changing the way aggression is perpetrated. In the once, almost exclusive preserve of men, it’s become just as easy for a woman to kill in warfare, at the controls of a drone for instance, as it is for men.
Thus the realm of ‘acceptable masculine’ is shrinking. Is war acceptable? There is, of course a great section of society, if not the democratic majority, that say it’s not – yet it happens. It certainly reads as if I’m trying to justify violence, or put it on a pedestal, I’m not. I’m trying to point out that all nations and governments have what they do, based on violence. From Democracy to Aristocracy to Oligarchy, they are all rooted in violence. So what? I suppose the point is, that patriarchy isn’t going away – ever. Indeed there is an argument to be made that it’s not at all about patriarchy at all, but about capital – money. It’s not men in charge, it is money in charge, and neither man nor woman is immune to its charms. That’s what power is – money, and control of it. And there we have a dark door of greed. “He who controls the cash box controls the world,” so said a character from Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol. So there is a fight to get control of the cash box, wrapped in a pretty pink ribbon of justice and equality…
Open control/manipulation, force is no longer fashionable, yet still readily used in society every day, but it’s gone ‘underground’. Women don’t want to be controlled, and in particular they don’t want to be controlled by men. Men and women don’t want to be controlled. Fair enough. There are so many questions and so few satisfying answers about masculinity. And there is a concerted effort to change the idea of what masculinity is. And that effort is focused on creating a society that wants neutrality – equality; neither hot nor cold – tepid, neutered…or so some may feel. There is a segment of society that thinks they can find a non-violent gender identity based in the philosophy of idealism. That’s not going to happen.
It is not so well-known that women are as likely to initiate domestic violence as men are, yet it is true, aggression is not the exclusive preserve of men. Is beating up a woman a masculine trait? No not at all. It’s at the dark end of the aforementioned spectrum. Rape is an internationally recognized and banned weapon of war. Is it a masculine trait? No, again, it’s at the traumatic end of the spectrum, and one that is reprehensible. Is conquering, subjugation and control a masculine trait? I’ll take the 5th on that.
How does war affect society? Here’s a common thought, it is ideological hyperbole, in this case by an English woman – “Men in our patriarchal societies have a perennial sense of entitlement to women’s bodies. They are brought up, even in the most peaceful of times, to identify manhood with a readiness to exercise authority over women and to wield force, against women and other men. In war-time they are further trained, and rewarded, for the practice of wounding, raping, killing. Often this experience traumatizes men as well as their victims. And it shapes their behaviour after war, for the disposition to violence is not readily put aside with demobilization.” I’d agree social engineering is a challenging task. Turning off programmed behaviour is not as easy as flipping a switch. Soldiers are often used a in throw-a-way fashion. Again it’s about the power of money that prevents compassion, and if you think compassion is free, try paying for PTSD counselling with compassion.
The thinking expressed in the above quote by Cynthia Cockburn, the feminist honorary professor at City University London – irks me. It’s irritating because I don’t believe that half of an entire society actually believes that they are entitled to women’s bodies. Although it may seem like that to some women, based on male oafish behaviour. It seems to be an exaggerated claim, and one that is difficult to take seriously. I could say that women in our feminized society feel they have the perennial right to control men’s behavoiur, according to the Saatchi report, they in fact do. To be fair, Cockburn was writing in reference to the lack of reparations for the thousands of rape victims, both men and women, in the Bosnian war. The Yugoslavia breakup and ensuing massacre was not started by the English-speaking world, but the English-speaking world took the lead in putting ‘paid’ to the conflict. And according to Cockburn, did so too soon, without tending to its lingering maleficent echo. Namely the failure to compensate the victims of rape, and provide sufficient counselling. And according to Cockburn, it is the patriarchal court system to blame. So would a matriarchal court system ignore the capital-zeitgeist and dish over millions of dollars to the victims? Not very likely.
Thanks to technology, the ‘masculinity factor’ of war – is diminishing slightly. Ten years ago, Time Magazine put the American Soldier as the Person of the Year on its cover. Front and centre was a woman warrior, flanked by two men. And in spite of military casualties being more than 90% male, the architects of culture were promoting ‘equality.’ Appeasement propaganda? Absolutely – 101. So the point of the words above and below is the suggestion that there is an encroachment on the territory of masculinity, how can it be masculine if it is shared with women – right? So, is there a scarcity of men’s space? Yes. (See the Saatchi excerpts above). And men who feel threatened are arguing back, as is evidenced by the primal rumblings in the so-called manosphere.
There is still very little, if anything so far on the page that gives definitive answers as to what masculinity is. We know what it was, we know what it isn’t. But what the hell is it now? Hopefully in the lines above there is a ‘gestalt’ type of description – a general form of masculinity – which may act as segues to ideas of how we got to where we are, in the so-called momentary crisis of masculinity.
Below is a rough list of ideas which, at first glance seem logical, but are they? Staying with the metaphor of violence, don’t waste your arrows on the messenger – in the best traditions of democracy – the loudest voices will tell…
- Tough is a label that results from withstanding some actual or perceived act of violence. It does not have to be physical violence, it could be intimidation which is arguably an act of violence. Tough is a masculine trait.
- Al Pacino at 72 has a 33-year-old girlfriend. Right on Al. Is that an aspect of masculinity? Power is an aphrodisiac… To paraphrase from the classics, Goethe specifically, ‘I am old, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not old. The effect of age is nullified by the power of money.’ I’d say it is about masculinity.
- Can a guy be masculine and powerless/subservient? Poverty is emasculating, frustrating, marginalizing, contemptuous and undignified. How can the growing numbers of impoverished men express masculinity?
- If we look at the macrocosm of international politics, countries are ‘respected’ because they have power over other countries. The power comes from violence and the threat of violence. Take the Iranian sanctions for instance. It was an act of aggression that impoverished a nation to prevent aggression. Disgruntled groups very seldom get what they want by chatting, they get what they want by threats. They get what they want by threat of some harm to the party that prevents them from achieving their aim. Scarcity breeds violence.
- Responsibility? That is an adult trait, although in legal terms women seem to be less responsible in the eyes of the law, when it comes to the same crimes as men, women consistently receive lessor sentences. Bad patriarchy.
- What about the idiom, “Take it on the chin?” It equates to taking full responsibility. It’s a masculine idiom/trait, mainly because it is violence based. “She took it on the chin,” just doesn’t sound right.
- A warrior type of mentality encourages men to carry on through pain, which extends to suppression of emotions. It leads to physical and mental health problems. Men die earlier than women from preventable disease at significantly higher rates because of such socially inculcated norms of masculinity. Do we embrace death as a masculine trait? Seemingly so.
- According to Dodge RAM advertisements, being a man is having more answers than excuses. Potency vs impotency. In other RAM commercials, trucks were promoted by telling the viewer that they had the same type of transmission as a Abrams Tank, clearly they are using violence (a tank), to sell power/strength, a decidedly male trait.
- Being free to express yourself – that’s not a masculine trait, it’s discouraged by women, and society (see Saatchi report above), it’s a free speech issue.
- Saying ‘man up’ is more than a statement, it’s a command. It is about facing a pending unwelcome reaction – so ‘manning up’ is a masculine trait.
- Unwillingness to communicate pain or vulnerability. Decidedly masculine, yet lethally unhealthy.