Saturday, February 7, 2009

Gender Part 1: Defining Manhood

It's been awhile since I've done any work or research with men's issues because my focus has primarily been on women for the past year. Writing these posts has brough it to the forefront of my brain, and in the words of Celine Dion: "It's all coming back, it's all coming back to me noooooowwww...."

Gender Part 1: Chapter 3: The Men & The Boys Cont'd  (I expect this one to be short.)

Manhood. It is a term associated with a certain stature in society. It is something that boys are told they must (and must want to) achieve. To not "be a man" is to be of lowly status, to be worthless, to be shameful. 

But manhood is not something that, once reached, is permanent. It can be taken away at any point - through the loss of a job or income, lack of a significant other (or one who leaves), loss of hair, sexual impotence or infertility, expressing emotion in public. and myriad other things. A "real man" is always in control of himself, his family, and his emotions. A "real man" doesn't have those problems. 

Compare this to womanhood. Sure, womanhood is also a goal and sign of stature. But it is not something that can so easily be taken away. A woman might question whether she is a good spouse/partner, mother, employee, scientist, daughter, etc., but very rarely does she wonder whether she is, in fact, a "real woman." It's not something that can be stripped of us. When a woman does question her womanhood, it is nearly always a result of issues with infertility. If a woman cries at work, she might berate herself for losing control in front of her superiors and co-workers, but she will not say to herself "Stop it! Be a woman!"

Manhood is something that is bestowed on boys by other males. The constant threat of losing that aspect of their identity requires many men to overcompensate for other areas where they feel their manhood is threatened. This idea of manhood as impermanent is very likely what fuels locker room comments such as "You're gay" and the like. Because in the heterosexual standard of manhood, gay men are not "men." They provide a comparison point for men by which to judge their own manhood through that hierarchical mindset I referred to in my earlier post. There are also the "ultimate" men - action heros, sports stars, Hugh Hefner - no one ever questions the "manhood" of these men. Think of the things they symbolize, and you will get the picture of what American manhood ideals are. 

And think about what happens when an action star or major sports figure comes out as gay. The whole fucking male world goes into upheaval. How many openly gay men are there in the NFL? Now statistically, think about how many gay men there probably ARE in the NFL. There are VERY few openly gay male public figures, period. 

Why is it kept so secret? Why would men who are in a position to be role models and to defy stereotypes, thereby helping the gay community choose to hide it? Because there are major, major consequences for them, including the loss of their "manhood" in the eyes of others. 

Now think about how many openly gay or bisexual female public figures we have. Does anyone question their womanhood? (Beyond the superficial looks/voice comments that are so common.)

Some food for thought. Discuss....


Ambivalent Academic said...

Yet another great post!

As far as examples of women questioning their about woman who find that they are infertile? Or those that have mastectomies or hysterectomies? It's my understanding that the fear of losing their "womanhood" is the primary cause of resistance to these procedures, when they are clearly a matter of life or death.

This of course, does not at all detract from your point that men are in danger of losing their "manhood" for far more frequent and trivial matters...just thought that I'd draw some parallels. Interestingly, both men and women feel threatened in their gender identity when reproduction or the possibility of reproduction is at stake (yay Darwin!)...but men are subject to a whole slew of other perils.

JLK said...

Thanks AA!

I did mention infertility in the post, but I'm glad you brought up mastectomies and hysterectomies because those are also incredibly important examples. Both for the fact that they illustrate how women can feel the same threat, but also to help women imagine how men feel when their manhood is threatened.

You always add so much to the discussion! :)

DuWayne Brayton said...

Please excuse the drug remenisce, but it's an important part of my point. Mainly illustrating that this didn't just hit me out of the blue.

Fuck. You know, this may just require a full on blog post.

Short version - while on acid one night, I realized that what I loved about wearing skirts (something I did for the first time a month or so before this).

While I was always rather peculiar, I was in many ways a very "masculine" guy. I hunted and became quite the woodsmen (with the guidance of a couple awesome men in my life) fairly young. Most of my friends were the "losers" because they made the most loyal, dearest friends, and because I didn't have the faintest clue that I was fucking hot. I spent a bit of time hear and there, kicking some serious ass on behalf of said friends - never been fond of violence, I was always known to be quite capable nonetheless. Thinking there was something wrong with me, when all the guys were bragging about sexing their gals, I started sexing some of their gals - though mostly girls I met at the college library, researching for debate (that was my "sport," along with solo and ensemble). I developed a reputation as the goto guy for first timers. (girls who really didn't like me, would recommend me to their virgin friends - like me or not, I was rather fond of them:)

I was very much a "manly" sort of boy.

Fuck it. I really can't make a short version. I'm heading home to post this.

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