Masculinity Isn’t Good It’s Grrreat!

Posted: January 5, 2012 in androgyny, Identity, Masculinities, metrosexuality

Toward the end of last year, I read an article in the UK newspaper, The Guardian, entitled ‘The Culture of Masculinity Costs All Too Much To Ignore’. But the url left clues as to a draft title which was even more damning: ‘Dangerous Masculinity Everyone Risk’. In the piece, two senior feminist academics basically blamed men and boys for all the trouble in the world. They wrote:

In 1959 the social scientist and policy activist Barbara Wootton looked at the crime statistics and remarked that “if men behaved like women, the courts would be idle and the prisons empty”. Half a century later the British Crime Survey and police crime figures bear her out. In 2009-10, men were perpetrators in 91% of all violent incidents in England and Wales. The figures vary by type of incident: 81% for domestic violence, 86% for assault, 94% for wounding, 96% for mugging, 98% for robbery. MoJ figures for 2009 show men to be responsible for 98%, 92% and 89% of sexual offences, drug offences and criminal damage respectively. Of child sex offenders, 99% are male. The highest percentages of female offences concern fraud and forgery (30%), and theft and handling stolen goods (21% female).

I was horrified by this misandry, being presented as ‘sensible’ social analysis in a national paper. But I was not exactly surprised. As I have written about here at GMP before, feminist-dominated gender studies demonises men, when it is not completely ignoring them:

Feminism has done three things, particularly in relation to masculinity, which relate to how gender studies has come to ignore and belittle men’s experiences and perspectives:any academic treatment of gender has been focused on the disadvantages faced by women and how women have been “omitted” from research, arts, literature, history, etc. Heterosexual masculinity, in particular, has been “pathologized” by some feminist gender academics, and taking an active interest in men and masculinity has been presented as “gay” in itself.

However, I prefer to look on the positive side of gender, and of men. This site is called the ‘good men’ project after all. What, in spite of the bad rep men get across the board, is good about masculinity?

The first word that jumps to my mind to describe what’s good, no great, about masculinity, is ‘change’. Men—and what is expected of them—are changing so quickly that possibilities keep opening up all the time.

One of the key areas of change for men in contemporary culture is style and self-expression. Gone are the days where men were limited to wearing grey suits or boring jeans. Men’s fashions have expanded and diversified so that boys can develop their sense of personal style and feel good about the way they look, just as women do. This is illustrated by things like the fact that in June 2012, London will host the first evermen’s week in the fashion show calendar. And by the fact that metrosexual sports stars such as David Bekcham and Rafael Nadal are known just as much for their menswear modelling as their sporting achievements.  Also, it is now possible to buy male beauty products and cosmetics, including make up, false eyelashes and fake tan.  Vanity, whether you think it is ‘good’ or not, is here to stay, and it is accepted now as a preserve of men as well as women.

Another way that men, and gender roles are changing is in terms of what is considered ‘man’s work’ and ‘women’s work’. These days it is much more acceptable for men to do jobs previously thought of as ‘feminine’ (or gay), such as nursing, childcare and performing arts. And in the home, men are more likely to look after the children and do the shopping and cooking. This marks the approaching end of the division of labour between men and women that was traditionally a key aspect of gendered inequalities.

Perhaps one of the most important changes for men has been in the realm of physicality. Recent research has shown that far from being cold, unfeeling, and restrained, men are becoming more affectionate with everyone, and in particular, with each other. Kisses on the cheek have replaced handshakes in greetings, and young men even ‘snog’ their male friends  as they might a girl friend. Nowadays, text messages and emails between men often end in an “x” (a kiss), and the phrase ‘I love you man’ is becoming more and more common. I think these shifts are great in and of themselves, but they also relate to social justice issues such as homophobia and LGBT rights. Gay marriage is becoming legal in many places, and likely to spread, and rights of recognition for trans identities are coming into being. This is all happening in a context where men are increasing their flexibility and opening up to new ways of being men.

Something that is sometimes overlooked by everyone, is that ‘masculinity’ does not just relate to men. One of the changes I have noticed lately that I celebrate, is how masculinity is being explored by a range of people of various gender identities, and is becoming more fluid as an aspect of gender. Drag kings have had a resurgence, as documented by writers such as Rachel White, and women in general are free to dress and act in ‘masculine ways’ in contemporary culture. Many of us women don’t think twice about wearing jeans or drinking pints of beer, but this has not always been acceptable behavior for ‘a lady’. Trans people are leading the way in blurring the divide between ‘man’ and woman’, ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. Some trans people make a point of expressing themselves in a ‘non-conforming’ way, and some actually call themselves ‘gender queer’ instead of trans. So if you have a stereotype image in your mind of an uber-femme trans woman in high heels and a tight dress, it is probably wrong.  Beyond trans identities, men such as Andrej Pejic and DJ Spanglish are rejecting the traditional expectations of masculinity altogether, and just being themselves.

I sometimes get accused of being a man myself, largely due to my anti-feminist stance in gender politics. But, far from the insult it is intended to be, I take it as a huge compliment. Partly because I love men and masculinity, but also because it shows how gender expression is transforming and, especially online, it is not always possible to tell who is a man and who is a woman. I’d like to live in a world where that distinction is meaningless, and from what I can see, we are on the way to that world being a reality.

Originally at GMP:

  1. Steve says:

    I prefer women to be feminine. I can’t stand them when they impersonate bloke behaviour. I think the distinction between men and women are good. I don’t want women to grow dicks or beards or whatever. Do you really want them to be ‘exactly’ the same?

    • Jonathan says:

      It’s not about everyone being exactly the same. It’s about human difference not being predicated by gender.

      Or to put it another way: no matter how much gender barriers are broken down (if they are), no matter how many masculine women (and feminine men) there might turn out to be, there will always be milliions upon millions of feminine women for you to prefer.

      • HI Steve – I think Jonathan sums up my view.

        What I find so oppressive is this false but powerful ‘binary’ that separates people along the lines of ‘men’ and ‘women’ so rigidly.

        Some women would still be ‘feminine’ in your perception in the post-gender future, but so would many more men.

        • Dan Holloway says:

          I think I’d go further and say that I find all binaries, and the idea that finding your identity is answering a series of either/or questions, are more than faintly absurd. It’s ingrained, of course, down to the level of language itself – for language to be meaningful we have in some way to accept the notion of category, and as soon as we accept the notion of category we are afced with the question of whether or not it applies in this instance.

          Did I ever send you my paper on binaries, matrices, and identity that’s one of the appendices to “Songs from…” by the way? I’ll e-mail it over in case.

          Of course, the upshot of that paragraph (the first one, not whether I sent you an e-mail), is to question whether language is an appropriate medium for us to use to consider our identity, or whether identity is, simply, something we unfold by living. I think saying the latter wuld probably be considered fairly uncontroversial as it relates to some kind of utopia but the reality of hate forces us back to the conceptual question, and so the issue becomes how we cope with our ambivalence to the notion of category (which sounds rather like what Kierkegaard would say about anxiety)

          • Hi Dan sorry I didn’t respond to this – I think we had a chat on email instead.

            I think I said that I don’t know if I’d say without ‘hate’ there would be no identity but maybe without power/repression/conflict there wouldn’t.

            Utopia in other words might be pretty boring.

    • typhonblue says:

      You can’t stand women when they show integrity, respect, loyalty and emotional stability? Or are you talking about the ‘bad man’ stereotype of ‘bloke behaviour’?

  2. Jonathan says:

    Nice piece QRG. I can especially relate to the “gender queer” bit – and this:

    “but also because it shows how gender expression is transforming and, especially online, it is not always possible to tell who is a man and who is a woman. I’d like to live in a world where that distinction is meaningless, and from what I can see, we are on the way to that world being a reality.”

    It’ll be interesting to see how well that goes down at GMP. I tried propounding something similar – that inherent gendered difference is relatively small (with reference to meta-analysis, Cordelia Fine, and so forth) – and got called as a feminist mantra spouting dupe. Good luck 🙂

  3. Nickkemptown says:

    I agree with everything you say, until it comes to the bits about fashion. I don’t think that men having cosmetics and a bigger range of clothes is a good thing at all (particularly in a world of limited resources, but thats an environmental argument).

    [EDIT: Large chunk of supporting argument deleted because I remembered they’ve been put more succinctly and funnier by David Mitchell in this trio of videos, number 2, especially]

  4. redpesto says:

    Meanwhile, ‘Body image concerns more men than women, research finds’

    A cynical part of me wonders whether this wasn’t the outcome they expected.

  5. I’m very fond of the gender-queer concept because a lot of transpeople get accused of being trans because theres something they want from the other sex or gender that they can’t get from their own rather than accepting that the motivation isn’t usually so minute and specific.

    Now, it’s super nice if someone goes “I love wearing platform heels! What, no, I’m just a guy who loves wearing platform heels,” but if someone was out there thinking “Gosh, I love platform heels, mincing when I walk, pink, perms, am only attracted to women taller than me, prefer being penetrated to penetrating…” or whatever and they just get to the point where identifying as a man starts to just not feel right, (and it’s too bad they feel that way) I’m glad they don’t have to default to “I’m a woman!” for things that don’t even equate to woman. Then when someone says, “No, seriously, I don’t want to play dress-up, I’m not after a type of sex , and I’ve never ‘minced’ in my life – I’m a woman,” maybe people won’t try to deflate their position those sorts of arguments.

    Options, gotta love ’em. I uh… just wish I wasn’t total shit with the weird pronouns.

    • I like to do it the other way round, too jay and kind of ‘refuse’ the identity of woman. Even though I have breasts, and a vagina and don’t identify as a ‘man’ or even ‘masculine’.

      • One thing that always tickled me about the concept of ‘gender failure’ is that often the failures are often even more gendered than the supposed successes. For instance – if men are supposed to prefer physical pursuits versus mental pursuits then most of the scientists are? Well, if men prefer logical pursuits versus emotional ones most of the great musicians are? Well, men prefer to produce, not indulge in things that have no obvious productive purposes so the gender that is more into sports and video games is? Men thrive in discipline so the great criminals should be?

        Those types of examples are probably largely enabled by the attitude that great professionals should be men, but we take stereoptypes about how men are more less apt to indulge in bright colors, flamboyance, open emotion, physical intimacy, their own appearance. Which group is the current stereotype as the most colorful, flamboyant, theatrical, physically narcissistic bunch of human beings in the world whether they deserve it or not? Gay men.

        Women are supposed to be less willing to express their opinions : who’s dominating the blogosphere and online networking?

        Maybe it’s just a case of noticing anomalies. 🙂 But I remain skeptical.

  6. I love this quote:

    “If men behaved like women, the courts would be idle and the prisons empty.”

    It puts me in mind of the Dead Kennedys’ song ‘Kill the Poor’.

    Personally, I’ve noticed that a lot of the most evil people in the world have brown eyes. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if they behaved more like us blue-eyed people? *sigh*

    • it’s great isn’t it?

      also it is celebrating a quote from the 1950s. and the recent obscenity trial has involved people (including a few feminists) saying how ‘archaic’ the obscene publications act is. but feminism also relies on archaic and outdated notions.

  7. […] Masculinity Isn’t Good It’s Grrreat! […]

  8. Derek Banks says:

    Its comforting to read this as a man who is masculine it really hurts to feel like a freak

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