Tag Archives: toxic masculinity

Answering (And Understanding) Where The “Good” Men Have Gone

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Human beings are social creatures. We’re biologically wired to pursue social and emotional bonds. It’s one of the most fundamental traits for being human. Being a fan of romance, I certainly appreciate it. For that same reason, though, I think it’s telling when people encounter barriers in seeking those bonds.

In recent years, one particular question has been asked any number of ways. It’s often asked in many different contexts, which in turn inspires many different answers. The implications are still the same.

Where have all the “good” men gone?

Now, I put “good” in quotation marks for a reason. I hope that reason becomes apparent soon enough because adding that qualifier to the question frames it as a blanket statement about an entire gender. As a man, who sees himself as “good” by most standards, I feel I have a personal stake in addressing this question. However, I suspect the answers I provide won’t go over well with certain women and even a few men.

Before I answer, it’s important to add a specific context to what makes a man “good.” When the question is often asked, it’s often done from the perspective of women seeking men for marriage. We no longer live in an era where women have their spouses chosen for them or must seek marriage as a means of survival. Despite what some regressive individuals may say, I believe that’s an objectively good thing.

The complications arise when we start to establish the criteria of what makes a “good” man worthy of marriage. Most people, regardless of gender, understand there’s a difference between the person you hook up with and the one you marry. Ideally, this is a person you want to share your life with, for better or for worse. This is someone you genuinely love and go out of your way for.

The primary reason why this question is being asked, namely by women seeking a male spouse, is because they’re having an increasingly difficult time finding someone who meets that criteria. It shows in the data. According to Pew Research, about half of the adult population in America is married, which marks significant decline compared to what it was 50 years ago.

There are many theories as to why this is occurring, some more offensively absurd than others. Even the not-so-absurd theories have become mired in gender politics, which has a tendency to denigrate everyone in the grand scheme of things. I certainly have mine and I don’t think the answers are simple. Every person is different. People are complicated, in general, and so are the societies they live in.

However, this question about “good” men frames the issue a problem ascribed to men. It implies that the issue has nothing to do with a the overall desire to seek long-term romantic bonds. Like I said before, humans are emotional creatures wired to seek romantic bonds. The problem is that the men worthy of such bonds just aren’t there anymore. That’s why women are asking the question to begin with.

As a man, who hopes to one day find someone to marry and love with all my heart, I can offer my take on the answer. Simply put, those good men exist. They’re just not where you’re looking to find them. Even if you are, you might not even realize that those men are good because you don’t give them a chance.

Now, I understand that answer is basic and simplistic. It’s the sentiment of one person who just happens to contemplate romance than most straight men are likely to admit. Everyone’s situation is different, but there is a bigger forest to see and my opinion is only one of those trees. To see that forest, it’s necessary to understand the question better.

Thankfully, there has been research done on this topic. According to a study done in the Journal of Marriage and Family, a major factor driving this question could be a combination of demographics and math. To understand how, this is how they compiled the data.

Focusing their analyses on single heterosexual women, the researchers used data from the American Community Survey (2008-2012; 2013-2017) to predict the likely characteristics of these women’s husbands if they had husbands and then compared those characteristics to what’s actually available in these single women’s dating pool. More specifically, the researchers generated “synthetic spouses” for the single women in their sample by first matching them with demographically similar women (e.g., same race, education, military status, income) who happened to be married. The “synthetic spouses” were designed to reflect the characteristics of the husbands of the similar-married women. Thus, assuming women of similar demographics are looking for similar characteristics in their partners, this method offers a starting point for documenting the characteristics single women might be looking for in a partner.

The long and short of it is simple. The women in the study had criteria for the kind of man they want to marry. However, when that criteria was applied to the male population, there was a significant disparity. Over half the male population was eliminated on the basis of income alone. Essentially, the supply of men who meet this standard for marriage is not sufficient to meet demand.

That’s not to say that it’s the fault of women for having standards that are too high, although I know some have made that argument. While I agree that there are some women who make wholly unreasonable expectations of men, I think they’re the minority. I would argue those changing standards have less to do with gender politics and more to do social and economic factors.

Both women and men are able to be more independent today than they were 50 to 100 years ago. A basic consequence of independence is that you can afford to elevate your standards. When you have the money, time, and resources, you’re less likely to settle for less. It’s the same reason why you willingly pay extra for a better phone or faster internet if you have the means.

A much bigger factor, in my opinion, has to do with the economics and imbalances in marriage. Over the past several decades, the wealth gap has grown and the ability to make a comfortable living, which the women in the study prioritize, is getting considerably difficult. For a man, especially if he doesn’t have a college degree, it’s getting harder and harder to meet those criteria.

At the same time, the investment in relationships has only grown. It’s no longer enough to be a steady, dependable partner. Along with our newfound independence, men and women alike seek something greater from their spouse. That something often requires money, time, and resources. Between student loan debt and the rising cost of living, those assets have become increasingly scarce.

On top of that, the price of failure has gone up considerably as well. While both parties suffer significant loss when a relationship or marriage fails, men tend to take a bigger hit from a material standpoint. Between alimony laws and child custody, men stand to lose a lot if they don’t measure up to the woman’s ideals of a good spouse.

None of this even attempts to factor in the effects of other trends in gender politics, such as the anti-harassment movement. The criteria for a “good” man doesn’t even matter if it becomes overly difficult to be intimate with someone without fear of being accused of something. Even without such complications, the underlying question still evokes troubling answers.

Those answers still aren’t complete. There are still going to be women out there who cannot find a suitable partner for reasons beyond her control. There will also be genuinely good men out there who struggle just as much to find a partner of their own. As a romantic, I believe love does inspire people to make these connections, even when we insist on making it more difficult.

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Bachelor Parties, Masculinity, And A (Much Needed) Feel Good Story

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There’s a lot of bad, depressing news in the world. There are just as many depressing trends in terms of politics, society, and the very world we live on. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. We live in an imperfect world and, thanks largely to our own refined survival instinct, we pay more attention to the bad news instead of the good news, which is there.

Every once in a while, though, some news emerges that strikes all the right chords, evokes all the right feelings, and reminds us that humanity can still be pretty darn awesome. I’d like to share one of those stories that I believe is just that awesome.

It involves masculinity, bachelor parties, and a happy accident turned into something incredible. It’s one of those stories that we need right now. In case you haven’t been watching certain commercials and the visceral reaction to such commercials, the state of masculinity has been precarious, to say the least. While I’ve made my opinions on the subject known, I don’t deny the debate is ongoing and exceedingly frustrating.

Then, a man named William Novak came along and showed just how amazing men could be when given the opportunity. The story, which went viral for all the right reasons, started with a wedding, a bachelor party, and an email typo. Not even three “Hangover” movies could’ve created a perfect storm like this.

Angelo Onello was getting married. His brother, Devin, was responsible for sending out the invites to the bachelor party. By complete accident, he misspelled an email address and sent a message to William Novak in Phoenix, Arizona, who was not the same Bill Novak that he’d intended to invite.

Now, most people probably would’ve just deleted the email or let the sender know that it was a mistake. William Novak of Phoenix, Arizona is not most people. He’s a cut above the rest. Instead of just deleting the email, he replied and said he’d love to attend. He would help Angelo, a total stranger, have the best bachelor party he could possibly have.

Let that sink in, for a moment. Novak doesn’t know this man. He doesn’t even live in the same time zone. Angelo lives across the country and the bachelor party was in Vermont. That’s a hell of a trip, just to help out a total stranger. Most people will make excuses to avoid any drive more than an hour for a blood relative.

Again, Novak isn’t most people. He’s more awesome than that and people respond to awesome. To pay for the long trip, he actually started a GoFundMe page. He was only trying to raise about $1,000. He ended up raising over $5,000. When someone announces they’re going to go out of their way for a total stranger like that, it’s hard not to support them.

By all accounts, the trip and the bachelor party that ensued was a success. Mr. Novak helped a total stranger enjoy himself. He also showed that when given an opportunity, men will go out of their way for one another and for all the right reasons. Mr. Novak’s story resonated so much that even late night talk show hosts like Seth Meyers took some time to tell this amazing story.

It’s a story that deserves to be told. It’s a story that shows that men can do amazing things for no other reason than because it’s amazing. You don’t have to look too far to see heart-warming stories about people helping strangers. This one is just one of those stories that came along at just the right time.

Men, women, and everyone in between can appreciate the gesture that someone like Mr. Novak demonstrated. He’s not just a decent husband and father. He’s the kind of guy who will help another guy have a memorable bachelor party. Regardless of where you stand on gender politics, that’s the kind of masculinity that’s worth celebrating.

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Masculinity, Feelings, And The Taboo Of Expressing Emotions

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Real men don’t get all touchy-feely with their emotions. How many times have you heard that said in one way or another? Maybe that’s the wrong question to ask. Maybe a better question would be why is it that men can’t get emotional without it being a flaw?

Whatever way you frame the question, it’s hard to deny that there’s an unspoken taboo when it comes to men expressing emotions. A man who gets emotional is seen as weak. He’ll get called a sissy, a wimp, or a pussy. Their ego takes a hit. Their reputation and sense of worth takes a hit. As a result, men have little choice but to suppress their emotions, which is objectively unhealthy.

Conversely, a woman who gets emotional tends not to get criticized. For them, showing emotions is normal. We don’t think it’s wrong for a woman to cry during an emotionally distressing experience. We don’t see that as a sign of weakness. If anything, we would be more concerned if they didn’t show emotion.

It’s a strange, but impactful dynamic. One gender is allowed to express a wide range of emotions without ridicule. The other is expected to suppress those emotions. For men, the only acceptable emotion, it seems, is anger. Men being angry is the only emotion they can show that isn’t entirely taboo, although even that is changing.

The same regressive attitudes that create meaningless terms like “toxic masculinity” adds even more constraints on men’s emotions. Now, a man isn’t even allowed to be angry anymore. His anger just identifies him as another member of a toxic culture that hates women, despises minorities, and wants to create a patriarchal world where they’re all Don Draper.

I hope I don’t need to explain why that notion is wrong, misguided, and just plain asinine. That’s not the purpose of this piece.

I bring this topic up because, as a man, I’ve felt the impact of these attitudes on a personal level. There are a lot of stereotypes about men and masculinity that don’t bother me because the effects are usually overblown or exaggerated. This is one issue where I’ve felt genuine distress.

As I’ve said many times before, I’m a big romance fan. I love romance in comics, movies, TV shows, and even video games. I’ve been a fan of all things romantic since I was a teenager. However, a young man who admits that enjoys romance is likely to get a lot of odd looks from men and women. Nobody ever told me that it’s uncool for men to like romance, but that’s the impression I got.

As a result, I was downright secretive about my love of romance. I wouldn’t mention romantic sub-plots in movies or TV shows among friends or family. I often had to seek out romantic media covertly. There were even occasions where I would be watching something with heavy romance on TV, but change the channel as soon as someone entered the room.

At times, I treated hiding my fondness for romance with the same tact as most men would in hiding their porn stash. If anything, hiding porn would’ve been easier because most people expect men to enjoy that. A man admitting he watches porn won’t surprise anyone these days. A man admitting he enjoys romance doesn’t have that luxury.

That sounds melodramatic on my part and in hindsight, it probably was. However, being a man, I didn’t want to deal with that extra scrutiny. Growing up, I already had other personal issues to deal with, including a terrible acne problem that killed my confidence for most of my youth. The last thing I needed was another reason to feel like a freak.

Eventually, it helped when I found online communities full of romance fans who were men, women, gay, straight, bisexual, and everything in between. That finally gave me an outlet and it’s a big reason why I started writing sexy stories. While I’ve come to appreciate that outlet, it was still frustrating having to hide the fact that I liked romance. If I weren’t a man, it wouldn’t have been a big deal.

As hard as that was, the cost of managing emotions as a man can get much higher. Just this past year, I’ve felt the extent of that cost in ways I honestly can’t put into words. It started with the passing of my grandmother. Saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done before.

I had to go through so many painful feelings during that process. I couldn’t tell you whether I handled them well. I like to think I did, but I can’t say with a straight face that I successfully managed my emotions through that whole ordeal. There was a lot I had to either temper or suppress.

It wasn’t because someone was stopping me. There weren’t a cabal of other men actively shaming me for feeling sadness, sorrow, and grief. There weren’t teams of women questioning my masculinity because I dared to show unmanly emotions. As a man, I just didn’t know how to express these feelings. There was just a sense that this wasn’t something men did.

I think it’s only getting harder as masculinity, itself, faces more scrutiny. Nobody can seem to agree on when it’s okay for men to get emotional or how they should go about it. We just know there’s a high price for screwing up. Think about the kinds of criticisms men face if they don’t put on the tough, confident poise of James Bond.

A man who shows too much anger is just a product of toxic masculinity.

A man who cries openly is overly sensitive.

A man who is overly romantic is either whipped or domesticated.

A man who shows sadness is weak and incapable.

A man who tries to talk about his feelings is either mansplaining or whining.

Given all these pitfalls, how is a man supposed to go about expressing his emotions? Just being strong isn’t enough anymore because strength has steadily become more gender neutral. While I think that’s a good thing for men and women alike, I also believe that dealing with emotions is a major blind spot in the world of gender politics.

That’s not to say this issue is being ignored. In wake of the anti-harassment movement, there has been some efforts to re-evaluate how we think about men and emotion. A few tech companies have even formed private men’s groups where men can get together and do more than discuss these issues, among other things.

I can already hear some men saying those groups are for wimps. Some might even doubt the masculinity of the men who participate. That’s understandable. These kinds of attitudes don’t change overnight. However, between the growing suicide rate among men and the impact emotions have on mental health, this is an issue worth confronting.

I won’t say yet whether these groups will be effective at helping men with their emotions, but I believe it’s a start. I also believe that this is one issue in which men and women can come together on. Other parts of the anti-harassment movement and modern feminism are bound to be divisive. This can actually be a unifying force.

Human beings are emotional creatures. No matter how masculine you are or how feminine you are, you’re going to experience a wide range of emotions over the course of your life. If one gender can’t even figure out which emotions are socially acceptable, then how can we hope to forge emotional bonds with one another?

I don’t doubt that emotions are difficult to deal with. I’ve learned that the hard way this past year. I know plenty of other men who are going through the same struggle. In the end, being able and comfortable expressing feelings should be one of the most gender-neutral aspects of the human experience.

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The (Not So Secret) Sex Appeal Of Ron Swanson

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What is it about certain men who seem to attract women without even trying? What’s their secret? What are they doing that other men aren’t? These are questions that many self-proclaimed love gurus and pick-up artists have attempted to answer. Since many of those gurus are frauds and many pick-up artists are assholes, I wouldn’t put much stock into those answers.

As a man, I’ve known men who can attract women so easily that it seems second nature. I’ve also known men who can barely talk to women, let alone attract them. Most men, and I would put myself in this category, fall somewhere in the middle. Whether you’re a hopeless romantic or a Don Draper level womanizer, it’s worth understanding the qualities that attract women.

That’s where Ron Swanson comes in. If you’ve watched every episode of “Parks and Recreation” like I have, you know why just saying that name out loud fills the immediate area with greater masculinity. That’s because Ron Swanson is a true man’s man. He has more masculinity in his mustache than most men have in their entire bodies.

I’ve cited Ron Swanson before as someone who embodies a type of masculinity that even self-proclaimed feminists can get behind. He’s strong without being a bully. He’s assertive without being cruel. He’s stern without being heartless. While he doesn’t always exercise good judgment when it comes to ex-wives, Ron reflects a level of manliness that men, women, and everyone in between can respect.

As such, Ron is in a unique position to provide insight into the world of masculine sex appeal. There are multiple instances throughout “Parks and Recreation” in which Ron attracts women. Whether he’s in a serious relationship with Diane Lewis or whipping a crowd of women into a frenzy as Duke Silver, it’s well-established that women find this man attractive.

While that probably isn’t surprising, considering Ron’s character is played by an equally-manly romantic in Nick Offerman, I feel it’s worth scrutinizing the particulars of that sex appeal. I believe there’s insight to be gained from Ron’s masculinity and how it attracts women.

Now, and I wish I didn’t have to disclose this, I don’t mean to imply that this assessment speaks for all women. I am not a woman, nor do I claim to know the various intricacies of the female thought processes. I understand that women have a variety of tastes when it comes to men. Not all of them are going to find Ron Swanson attractive.

When it comes to high standards of male sex appeal, though, Ron checks more boxes than most. That’s why I feel he’s worth singling out in the interest of scrutinizing the most attractive traits associated with masculinity. In doing so, I hope other men can learn from his example.

There are many ways Ron demonstrates these place throughout plays out in “Parks and Recreation,” but one episode in particular encapsulates the essence of his sex appeal. That episode is entitled “Lucky.” It takes place in Season 4 while Leslie Knope is in middle of her campaign for City Council, but Ron’s role in the side-plot to the campaign drama is where there’s more action, including the sexy kind.

That plot involves April Ludgate trying to hook up overly-energetic, exceedingly-dramatic Chris Traeger with Andy’s female professor. It’s not out of the goodness of her heart. Anyone who is familiar with her mannerisms knows that’s not her style. Her intentions are more self-serving because Chris recently suffered a break-up and April believes finding a new love interest will make him less annoying.

Her plan seems good on paper. She invites Andy’s professor, Linda Lonegan, to lunch with her, Andy, and Ron. There, they just happen to run into Chris, who’s eating alone. At first, everything seems to be working. Chris, through the charisma of Rob Lowe, shows a keen and overt interest in her.

While he’s doing this, though, Ron is sitting right next to Linda. He’s showing no romantic interest in her. He’s at a restaurant. His only interest is in how much steak he can eat and how many vegetables he can throw away. Ron does have a romantic side, but he also has priorities, especially when steak is involved.

It’s also worth noting that Linda is a women’s studies professor. In previous episodes, she makes very clear that she identifies as a feminist. I also have to note that she’s not the kind of radical, man-hating feminist that loves to fuel outrage culture. I would categorize her feminism as a healthy, balanced brand of second-wave feminism that dealt with more overt forms of gender inequality.

While Ron doesn’t bring those issues up, they’re a big part of Chris Traeger’s efforts to attract Linda. He effectively filters everything he says to Linda through a feminist lens, going out of his way to use the kind of rhetoric that demonstrates he understands her worldview and embraces it. Initially, Linda does seem interested in him.

Even though he’s very sensitive with his rhetoric, Chris is no beta male. He’s very masculine in his own right with how he takes care of himself and pursues things so energetically. He’s also played by Rob Lowe, who certainly has many traits of an attractive man, even by Hollywood standards.

Despite those traits, Linda ultimately rejects Chris’ invitation to join her for some land kayaking, which isn’t nearly as sexy as it sounds. Then, shortly after Chris leaves, she turns to Ron and invites him back to her place for activities that don’t involve kayaking. Ron, having had three steaks at this point, accepts and it’s overtly implied that they make love, as evidenced by him wearing his red polo shirt the next day.

To understand why Linda chose Ron over Chris, though, it’s important to break down how Ron acts in this scene. Even though Ron wasn’t attempting to attract Linda, she was still drawn to him more than Chris. According to some of the science behind the traits women find attractive in men, that actually makes sense.

From the moment Ron joined Linda in that scene, he was his usual poised self. He didn’t ask for specials from the waiter. He knew what he wanted, which was a porterhouse steak, medium rare. He was confident in his decision, as well as polite and assertive. Those are traits that are both attractive and respectful.

In addition to his demeanor, Ron’s mannerisms reflect confidence and certainty. Even though he eats three steaks, he’s not a slob. He conducts himself in a way that feels approachable and unimposing. Even if he doesn’t try to attract Linda, he does everything necessary to avoid repulsing her.

Beyond what he does, the way Ron speaks is just as powerful. He’s a man of few words whereas Chris will literally go overboard with adjectives and adverbs every chance he gets. His persona is endearing, but he also comes off as intense. For many women, including Linda, that can be a turn-off. Intense men tend to be complicated men and many reasonable women don’t have the energy for that.

On the other end of the spectrum, Ron is much simpler and transparent with his wants and desires. He says it himself in the early episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He likes pretty, dark-haired women and breakfast food. That kind of simplicity makes him easier to understand and easier to work with. From Linda’s perspective, keeping up with Ron is much less tedious than keeping up with Chris.

Even from a physical standpoint, Ron conveys more raw masculinity than the health-obsessed Chris. While Chris may have six-pack abs and a very healthy resting heart rate, Ron has a manly mustache and studies show that women find facial hair more attractive. While the presence of facial hair probably wasn’t the determining factor for Linda, it likely played a part.

In the end, Linda found herself between two very masculine men. She ultimately went with the man who demonstrates the most attractive masculine traits just by being himself. Her decision doesn’t just highlight the many ways in which Ron Swanson is personifies manliness. It singles out the traits that appeal to women on a basic level.

Ron Swanson is assertive, protective, frugal, stern, loyal, dedicated, and hard-working. He would function just as effectively as a hunter in ancient times as he does as the Director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Pawnee, if not more so. He’s someone who could still care for his lover if civilization collapsed and zombies overran the cities.

It’s here where Ron’s sex appeal goes beyond simply attracting women. Unlike egocentric pick-up artists or hyper-sensitive ladies men, Ron Swanson conducts himself in ways that men and women alike can respect. In turn, he treats men and women with similar respect.

He doesn’t hold women to a different standard. He treats Linda as an equal and not a prize to be won. He leaves it up to the woman to decide if she finds him attractive enough to be with. In the end, he made Linda’s decision both easy and appealing. It’s the kind of masculinity that men, women, feminists, men’s rights activists, egalitarians, and Americans of all stripes can get behind.

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Recalling The Time I Felt Most Emasculated

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Everybody has a few low points in their lives that they would prefer to forget. Even the richest, most privileged among us have moments where they feel like a wounded deer in a den of hungry wolves. I’ve certainly had my share of those days. While the pain they’ve caused me has waned over the years, I still remember them as clearly as they day they happened.

Talking about those moments is never easy. Most are content to keep them buried in the past and not think about them, a tactic favored by eccentric mad scientist cartoon characters. However, I believe there is some therapeutic value to revisiting those moments. Some of them can even offer insights that are more relevant today than they were when they happened.

In that spirit, I’d like to share one the greatest low points I ever had. What makes it relevant, though, isn’t that it was just especially bad. This one particular point marked the time in my life when I felt most emasculated, as a man.

Seeing as how I’ve talked a great deal about masculinity, from the way it has been demonized by ongoing social trends to the double standards that affect it, I think moments like this stand out more than they would have in previous years. I’ve even found myself recalling these moments more lately, but this particular moment tends to hit me the hardest.

To understand this memory and why it left me feeling so emasculated, I need to establish the situation. It takes place back when I was in grade school, specifically the fifth grade. That’s an important detail because this is a time when most kids are on the cusp of puberty and just learning what it means to mature from a kid to an adult.

Even before this particular event, I wasn’t handling that transition as well as I’d hoped. I had some attitude problems back then. I wasn’t much of a troublemaker, but I had a nasty habit of getting defensive. I would take things way too personally and overreact way too easily, even by the standards of a fifth grader.

As a result, this left me with few friends and more than a few enemies. I won’t say they were outright bullies, but they were close and I did everything I could go to goad them. My social skills were just that poor and my insecurities were just that great.

All those issues culminated near the end of the school year when my class took part in this big Civil War project that was supposed to be fun. The way it worked was we all picked names out of a hat to represent notable Civil War figures. Then, we would act out those roles in a make-shift activities, the last one being this big mock battle outside using water balloons.

It should’ve been fun. It was late May, the weather was warm, and we’d have an excuse throwing water balloons at each other. For me, though, it turned into one of the worst moments of my pre-adult life. I still consider it one of the most damaging moments of my life, to date.

Back when we were picking names out of a hat, I had the misfortune of picking the name of a woman. The name of the woman was Louisa May Alcott and, for all the wrong reasons, I’ve come to shutter at that name. That’s not to criticize her place in history, but picking that name really made that project a nightmare.

I tried to get another name, but my teacher wouldn’t let me. In hindsight, I could understand why. There were a lot of girls in that class stuck with male roles and there were only a few female roles to go around. I couldn’t even trade with someone. She basically told me to suck it up and go with it.

That, alone, was tough because I was the only boy in that class stuck with a female role. Needless to say, I got made fun of pretty quickly. Thanks to my attitude and immaturity at the time, I did everything possible to make it worse.

Throughout the project, I felt very uncomfortable playing this role and didn’t do a very good job. No matter what I did, I just gave everyone another reason to make fun of me and I reacted in a way that just gave them more incentive. In many ways, it was my fault for letting it get that bad. There were easy solutions, though, and my teachers never did a damn thing to help me.

Finally, on the day of the water balloon fight, it all came to ahead. I had already been in a bad mood that day and I did a lousy job of hiding it. As a result, I heard some kids talking about how they’d gang up on me and target me alone with their water balloons. It left me genuinely scared that I was going to be completely humiliated.

That might have been paranoia on my part, but it was more than enough to make me sit it out. When we were lining up to start the water balloon fight, I slipped away and sat down near the back wall of the school. I don’t remember if I told my teacher. I’m pretty sure I got knocked down a grade for not participating, but I wasn’t thinking about that.

However, that wasn’t the worst part. Shortly after the water balloon fight started, some of the kids from my class started mocking me from far. They started calling out, “Hi Louisa!” None of them ran up to me and threw their water balloon at me, but the damage had been done.

It was at that moment, all those kids laughing at me and calling me that woman’s name, where the distress I felt turned into outright emasculation. Make no mistake. There is a difference. Just being embarrassed is hard enough for anyone. Being emasculated, though, feels much more personal.

Regardless of how you feel about gender being a social construct or the faults in masculine standards, our gender is very much a part of who we are. Being a man is part of who I am, more so than me being a comic book fan or an aspiring erotica/romance writer. When I feel like that part of me is under attack, the damage runs much deeper.

Hearing those voices from my classmates and the laughter that followed didn’t just make me feel upset, sad, and angry. I suddenly felt less than human, lacking the qualities of men and women alike. I had no sense of worth, dignity, or identity. I felt like a wounded animal, just waiting to get eaten.

I tried to shut it out. I just kept my head down and stared at my shoes the entire time, trying with all my might not to break down and cry on the spot. I managed to avoid that, thankfully. I don’t doubt that would’ve made the moment even worse.

I’m also grateful that one of the school counselors stopped by and sat next to me. I think her presence was what stopped the chanting. She talked to me, but I don’t remember her saying anything that made me feel better. I just sat there and waited for the day to end.

Eventually, it did. I got through it and moved forward, but that moment still left quite a few scars that took a long time to heal. After that day, I became much more of a shut-in. I stopped talking in class. I stopped trying to make friends. I basically shut myself off as much as possible, saying as little as I could to get through the day.

I’m not saying that moment was completely responsible for my poor social skills, which would carry on through high school where a terrible acne problem helped compound my situation. However, I do think it set the tone. It damaged my sense of self, both in terms of my gender and of the person I was growing into.

It took a long time and a lot of work, complete with the undying support of my friends and family, to recover from that moment. When I think back on it now, I feel like it has greater meaning at a time when masculinity is seen as inherently negative. Having had my masculinity attacked at one point, I understand how damaging it can be.

These days, it’s not uncommon to hear people decry and demean men, as a whole. There have been women who advocated for the outright murder of men. They’ve been brushed off, not unlike how my teachers brushed off my discomfort on that fateful day. However, if a man even shows a hint of misogyny, they’re outright vilified. Just ask Henry Cavill.

That gives the impression that it’s okay to make a man feel emasculated, but you’re an outright monster if you make a woman feel offended in any way. It’s as though our gender determines how much compassion we get. That’s not just unfair. That’s unjust to an egregious extent.

I’ve since come to terms with what happened that day. I acknowledge that I was responsible for how parts of it played out, but there were also factors I couldn’t control and it hurt me on a deeply personal level. I don’t doubt for a second that plenty of men out there have found themselves in similar positions, feeling so low and utter unmasculine that it’s downright traumatic.

Nobody deserves to feel that way, regardless of their gender. I hope that by sharing my experience, other men will feel comfortable sharing theirs as well. There may still be those who hear stories like this and roll their eyes, thinking a man’s pain just cannot compare to that of a woman or someone who is transgender. To those people, I would say that pain is pain. It doesn’t care about your gender. It still hurts all the same.

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Profiles In Noble Masculinity: Robocop

robocop

Even in an era where masculinity has gained way too many negative connotations, there’s plenty of room for men who distinguish themselves in respectable, honorable ways. There are countless male characters in popular culture who attempt to set themselves apart. Sometimes, it brings out the worst in men. Sometimes, it brings out the best.

I’ve made a concerted effort to focus on the best aspects of masculinity. To date, I’ve profiled two characters, Joel from “The Last of Us” and Hank Hill from “King of the Hill.” I’ve cited both characters as examples of noble masculinity. It manifests in different forms, but it helps bring a unique strength to their characters.

They have a wide range of traits, some of which aren’t distinctly masculine. When those manly characteristics do emerge, though, they don’t just reveal the greater subtleties in who they are. They demonstrate just how powerful masculinity can be when it’s channeled. In that spirit, I’d like to highlight another character who channels that kind of masculinity in a way that’s compelling, memorable, and full of memorable one-liners.

That character’s name is Alex J. Murphy of the Detroit Police Department, but most know him as Robocop. He’s not just a cop who got caught up in a greedy corporation’s agenda. He’s not just a man in a machine carrying out the duties of a cop. When you take in the entirety of Robocop’s story, including the Jesus connotations, you find a character whose masculinity shines even in the R-rated violence that is Detroit.

Now, before I go any further, I want to establish that the version of “Robocop” I’m citing here is the original 1987 version played by Peter Weller. This profile will not draw from the 2014 “Robocop” played by Joel Kinnaman. I’m not saying that version of the character is without merit. I enjoyed that movie. However, it did not come close to demonstrating the level of noble masculinity that the original conveyed.

On the surface, the original “Robocop” wasn’t that groundbreaking for its time. Stories about urban decay and dystopian cities were already popular thanks to movies like “The Terminator” and “Blade Runner.” In terms of substance, though, “Robocop” achieved something profound in terms of crafting a memorable male character.

The core of Alex Murphy’s character, even before he became Robocop, is that he’s a good, honorable man in a city that doesn’t have many of them. This version of Detroit, which is sadly very similar to the real-world version, is full of deviant criminals and corrupt business types. The very company that creates Robocop, Omni Consumer Products, is full of ruthless individuals who see crime only as a hindrance to profits.

A man like Alex Murphy is a precious rarity in that world. As such, it doesn’t take long for it to get snuffed out. On Murphy’s first day on the job, he’s callously killed by a gang of sociopath criminals led by Clarence Boddicker. All that innate nobility and idealism Murphy had was literally shot to death within the first twenty minutes of the movie.

However, that was not the end of Alex Murphy’s story. It was only the beginning. When he’s turned into Robocop by OCP, who see him only as a means to further their business plan, the extent of the noble masculinity he portrays only grows. The fact it does so while he cleans up Detroit’s rampant crime is a nice bonus as well.

From the moment he awakens as Robocop, we see what looks to be only a shell of a man. In fact, OCP goes out of their way to remove as much of the man as possible, not bothering to salvage his hand or anything below the neck. The only part of Alex Murphy they keep is his brain and part of his face.

It’s a total deconstruction of a man, ripping away the very flesh that makes him masculine and yes, that includes his genitals. To OCP, he’s a machine who just happens to run on human parts. They try to filter out the humanity in hopes of creating an obedient commodity that they can then mass produce, market, and utilize for profit.

It’s dehumanization to an extreme, more so than what characters like Wolverine endured. For a brief while, it looks like OCP succeeds. Initially, Robocop carries himself like a machine, confronting Detroit’s worst criminals with an efficiency that wasn’t possible as Alex Murphy. He could’ve become a perfect example of reducing all men to machines, devoid of emotion and focused only on a task at hand.

Then, the story takes a more human turn and Robocop suddenly becomes more man than machine. Despite everything OCP took from him, including his body and his free will, Alex Murphy still emerged. Even after everything that made him a man was deconstructed, literally in some cases, he fought to regain control.

In the process, we get to see Robocop learn about the man he used to be. We see glimpses of his life as a father and a husband. We find out just how good a man he was to his wife and his son. It contrasts heavily to the ruthless criminals and callous business people that affect much of the story. That’s critical in terms of establishing Robocop as someone who conveys a heroic brand of masculinity.

From the outside perspective of the audience, Alex Murphy’s home life seems mundane and even a little corny. However, when put into the context of a crime-ridden urban dystopia, it becomes instrumental in elevating Robocop’s sense of duty. They make his prime directives more than just base programming. By adding Murphy’s humanity into the mix, they gain greater meaning.

It’s an inherently masculine trait, protecting those who cannot otherwise protect themselves. Murphy already embodied that trait because he was a cop and a family man. However, he could only accomplish so much on his own, as his fatal encounter with Boddicker proved.

By becoming Robocop, that role is elevated because technically speaking, he’s better equipped than any man has ever been. He’s got a human mind, but he has a robot body, complete with bullet-proof skin and the ability to shoot with inhuman accuracy. Instead of stripping him of his masculinity and his humanity, becoming a robot actually enhanced it.

That, more than anything, is what elevates Robocop’s noble masculinity to another level. An act that should’ve utterly dehumanized him ended up making his humanity even stronger. It had to be in order to overcome OCP’s control and uncover the plot to exploit him as just another product. The fact that OCP tries and fails in the sequel to recreate him further reinforces just how unique Robocop is.

Through that journey from utter masculine deconstruction to total reaffirmation of his identity, the line between Robocop and Alex Murphy blurs. The line between carrying out noble acts and following basic programming blurs as well. In the end, Robocop isn’t just a machine following a program. He’s a man inside a machine, doing the same job he did as a man, but with much better weapons and more memorable catch phrases.

Robocop” is hailed as a classic for many reasons. Robocop, as a character, continues to be an icon, despite sub-par sequels and a failed reboot. I think a big part of that appeal comes directly from how the first movie managed to portray the best traits of masculinity within a setting where the worst often thrived.

Even in a contemporary context, beyond the current state of Detroit, Robocop conveys a powerful message that men and women alike can appreciate. You can put a good man in the worst situation, destroying and deconstructing him at every level. That same man will find a way to re-emerge and do what needs to be done.

It’s a testament to the strength of manhood and our willingness to protect innocents in an unjust world. Robocop combines the spirit of a man with the power of a machine. One need not subvert the other. In fact, one can supplement the other and, dead or alive, the criminal element of any gender doesn’t stand a chance.

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What It Means To “Man Up” And Why It’s Changing (For The Worse)

man-up-and-military-press

It wasn’t that long ago that parents and peers emphasized the importance of “manning up” to young boys. There would come a point in a kid’s life where he was encouraged to do more than just grow up. He was expected to push himself in a unique way, fighting and sacrificing for those who couldn’t. Sometimes, those expectations were unreasonable and a little unhealthy, but it was part of the overall gender dynamic.

That dynamic has been changing a great deal over the past several decades. I’m young enough to have grown up during many of those changes, but old enough to remember the old traditions associated with “manning up.” The sheer breadth of that change has been remarkable, but not entirely in a good way.

For the most part, I was never pushed too hard to man up by others. My friends and family encouraged me to push myself, but never to the point where I felt pressure or anxiety. I often ended up pushing myself, whether it involved going to college or moving out of my parents’ house.

That’s not say I didn’t feel any pressure to “man up” at any point in my life. Beyond my friends and family, I was as vulnerable to expectations surrounding masculinity as anyone. Most of the time, those expectations involved little things like stepping up to fix a problem, helping out those who were physically limited, and enduring pain or discomfort in the name of a particular goal.

Overall, I feel as though these expectations were either healthy or benign. Some of those standards could’ve been gender neural. When you see someone in a wheelchair at the grocery store struggling to get something from a shelf, it’s neither masculine nor feminine to help them. That’s just common courtesy.

In recent years, however, the whole notion of “manning up” has gained new a new complications. Some of them are ideological. Some of them are politically motivated. It’s because of these various nuances that I put the term in quotes because its meaning keeps shifting, gaining and losing connotations year by year. At some point, the term itself may become empty.

In contemplating that meaning, I thought briefly about the connotations that term had back when I was a kid. I doubt my interpretation was definitive, but I like to think it captured the spirit of the term. When someone told me to “man up,” this is what I took it to mean.

  • Grow up and mature
  • Take responsibility and solve your own problems
  • Stop whining and start doing something about it
  • Quit being satisfied with mediocrity and push yourself
  • Be stronger and tougher in difficult situations
  • Work hard and endure for the good of others who can’t

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of these same traits associated with superheroes, as espoused by the comic books I read and the cartoons I watched. They might have colored my perspective on masculinity and “manning up,” but I suspect these ideals were still consistent with healthy masculinity. The fact that characters like Wonder Woman and Storm of the X-men had some of these traits was just a bonus.

Now, as I contemplate the meaning of “manning up” in its current context, those don’t seem to have the same prominence they once did. There are also a new host of expectations surrounding the term that are fueled, in part, by identity politics. Some even conflict with others, which adds even more complications.

To get a feel for those complications, I posed a question on Reddit on what “manning up” meant to them. The response somewhat surprised me. Most wouldn’t have found their way into the comic books or cartoons I consumed as a kid, to say the least. They involved ideas such as this.

  • Checking your privileged and making way for those your kind has oppressed
  • Acknowledging the crimes and guilt of your gender, as a whole
  • Sacrificing any advantage or benefits that being a man might have once conferred
  • Subjecting yourself to greater degradation in the name of greater equality
  • Learning about all the ways men have ruined society and the world
  • Accepting that the things men love are unhealthy, damaging, and detrimental

None of these are very positive traits for those being told to “man up.” It’s basically a less overt way to tell them that them being a man is “problematic,” a term that has also gained one too many complications. It’s a term reserved for those who appear to be benefiting too much from being a man who isn’t subject to the rigors of childbirth, rampant sexism, and a long history of exploitation.

Never mind the fact that no one alive to day is directly responsible for the injustices their ancestors committed. They’re also not responsible for the injustices their particular race, gender, or ethnicity committed. It happened in the past. Yes, parts of that past were horrible, but punishing people in the present doesn’t make it less horrific. If anything, it just tries to fight one injustice with another.

This is where the concept of “manning up” really loses whatever positive connotations it once held. It’s a sentiment that many responders to my Reddit question shared. When they contemplate that term, they interpret as someone telling them that they need to endure, suffer, or overlook a particular aspect of their identity.

A few posters went so far as to say the term can be replaced with “serve my interests” and carry the same meaning. While I don’t entirely agree with that notion, I can understand why it would feel that way. Being a man, I sometimes feel like I’m expected to get to the front of the line when the time comes to sacrifice. I won’t go so far as to say I find it oppressive, but it certainly feels like I’m held to a different standard.

Sometimes, that standard can be unreasonable. That was another common theme of the responses I got. The notion of “manning up” denotes operating in a way to avoid a particular stigma that others wouldn’t incur for the same behavior. It’s not always ideological, but the pressure is there.

A man who is too emotional is considered a sissy and has to “man up.” A woman or even a gay man who does this won’t face that stigma.

A man who is reluctant to sacrifice for the well-being of another group is considered selfish and should “man up.” A woman or another minority who show a similar reluctance can do the same, but won’t face the same stigma.

A man who shows his pain when he’s harassed is told to suck it up and “man up.” A woman or minority who is harassed can expect plenty of supporters who will cheer them on. Even if men are subject to more overall harassment, they don’t get any sympathy. They’re told to “man up” while everyone else is allowed to seek social support without much scrutiny.

This, I feel, is the ultimate tragedy of the concept. A term that once use to reflect certain ideals for men has now become an instrument of ridicule. It’s no longer a lesson for boys to learn. It’s a rhetorical shortcut that allows someone to hold an entire group of people to a different standard, one that requires them to go out of their way for someone else.

I don’t doubt that there are instances where it’s good for society that some people go out of their way to help others. For those who are disabled, elderly, or ill, it’s just more just and compassionate to set a different standard for ourselves. We don’t ask someone who is missing a limb or suffering from ALS to “man up.” We go out of our way to help them.

It’s the extent of those instances, however, that seems to be damaging the notion. It’s no longer sufficient to just have a particular ailment or shortcoming. Just being someone who isn’t a man who can claim some sort of injustice, be it historical or contemporary, is sufficient.

I believe that’s a dangerous precedent for men and women, for that matter. It sends the message that in order for there to be more justice and equality, an entire group of people need to sacrifice to an extent where they have to be the villains. They have to come to the table, surrender unconditionally, and admit they were wrong and they were the cause of the problem.

That may not be sentiment of those telling someone to “man up,” but that’s how it’s being interpreted. It’s less a masculine ideal and more a shaming tactic, one that is more likely to incur a backlash rather than get someone to reconsider their understanding of gender roles.

I still feel like there’s a way to recapture the positive elements of “manning up.” Gender dynamics is one of those concepts that’s always evolving. Sometimes, there’s progress. Sometimes, there are setbacks. At the moment, I think masculinity and femininity are going through some growing pains as they adapt to a changing world. That process is likely to involve plenty of conflicts and controversies along the way.

In the long run, though, I think society will find a healthy balance with respect to “manning up.” I think there’s a way to use that notion to bring out the best in men and women alike. It’ll likely take plenty of work, toil, and sacrifice from everyone involved in gender-driven controversies, but it’s definitely worth doing.

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