Friday, November 21, 2008

Another ride on the Man-Wagon

Taking a short break from my rants about self-acceptance, I’m going back to another one of my favorite topics: gender. It was apparent from the response to my post, “Letting a man be a man” that I didn’t effectively articulate my point of view. So, I’m jumping back on my Man-Wagon to give it another go.

A quick Google search for “traditional male values,” revealed that authority, infallibility, virility and strength are common masculine attributes. Nothing shocking.

I’m not even going to begin the conversation about whether attributes can be shared by both sexes (I think they can) while preserving the gender differences that keep us from blending us into some weird uni-sex life form that reproduces through science and technology, instead of through “traditional” methods.

However, I will comment on the distinct discrepancy between the traditional definition of masculinity and the representations of masculinity we see today. The example that comes to mind immediately is one of my favorite TV Shows - Two and a Half Men. Charlie Sheen’s character is supposed to represent the Holy Grail of male life - an attractive, successful, perpetual bachelor who answers to no one and is free to indulge in beer, sports, cigars and women (usually significantly younger women) to his testosterone’s desire. While this is supposed to be a comical extreme of masculinity and male utopia, the relationship between manliness and innate laziness and uselessness, is growing in popularity. Married with Children and The Simpsons are other examples of the lazy, useless, bumbling idiot-man that come to mind.

I’ll admit that there are some shows with characters that portray positive masculinity. For instance, Brooke Shield’s character on Lipstick Jungle is married to a man who is sexy and masculine, yet supportive and communicative - hell, he stayed home and played Mr. Mom while she went out and rocked the business world. However, that show has been cancelled. Other masculine characters include Mel Gibson (not the person, merely his character) in The Patriot. Father, protector, provider and leader, the character respects and appreciates women, while embracing the role of homemaker and maintaining the essence of manliness, capability and purpose.

Sure, we're talking about fiction, and neither Mel Gibson nor Charlie Sheen are people I’d be psyched to hang out with in real life, but if I had to choose between the two characters, it’s a no-brainer - I’m going with the man on the horse, carrying the bayonet, who is willing to make room for me in his life.

It seems to me that while women are breaking out of stereotypical roles as mother, sex-pot and ingénue, and into roles as action hero, world leader, crime fighter and business tycoon, men are more frequently being relegated to roles as couch-potato-frat-boy, weak weenie-man, geekizoid and bumbling Neanderthal.

What’s most interesting to me is how these powerful female and negative male stereotypes might be influencing character development in the three-dimensional world. Some of us independent, successful types like to whine about how men are passing us up for the cleavage-barring, eyelash-batting poodle-types because they are “intimidated.” We snarl at men who want to provide for and protect us (even if they know we don’t need them to do either), without considering that these men might merely be seeking purpose in life beyond ESPN.

Have we cast feminism and traditional masculinity in the roles of Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort - enemies, incapable of co-existence? Could it be that one of the negative side effects of the feminist movement (please unclench, a simple criticism doesn’t mean I believe a woman’s place is as the submissive and nurturing compliment to her man’s leadership and authority) that allowed women to be valued for abilities beyond motherhood and homemaking, is also partially responsible for the male-bashing phenomenon and the fall of traditional masculinity?

Call me pro-masculinity (AKA anti-feminist), but perhaps the appeal of poodles is less about their eye-shadow application skills and more about their ability to let men feel that they are needed, that they are appreciated…that they have a general purpose. If we staunchly independent feminist types are guilty of aligning masculinity with the lazy, couch-dwelling, womanizing, beer-guzzling, porn-loving, Charlie Sheen-esque Neanderthal, should we be surprised that men aren’t rushing to hold open the door for us? Heck, for all they know, we might yell at them for it.

There are no stones being cast from behind this computer screen. I’m guilty of lumping men into masculine stereotypes. I find myself making excuses for my Guy Roommate, who is unconcerned with the fact that making dinner and leaving all the ingredients - usually meat, sour cream and cheese - out in the pan or on the counter for hours and hours on end, will inevitably attract bugs and create unappetizing odors. I find myself defending his distaste for picking up after himself to my Girl Roommate (for whom male-bashing, and alcohol, eases insecurities about her own appeal to the opposite sex) by stating that “he’s just a dude.” What the hell does that mean? Yes, a large percentage of men might be less genetically inclined to care if they are surrounded by clutter than most women, but I’m pretty convinced it’s also a function of the lazy man-slug perception that we’ve bought into. We let guys off the hook for certain behaviors that we consider a function of their masculinity. While deciding that vacuuming is the epitome of manliness might not result in men jumping off the couch and revving up the Hoover, I can see why, if their gender lets them off the hook for some less-than-fun chores, they’d go with it. Expecting nothing - or the worst - from men is certainly not going to motivate them to prove us wrong.


Kalaloch said...

I think Accidental's observation about men and expectations is on target. If we don't expect guys to be responsible for housework they won't be. No surprise to me. I mean, if I can avoid having to take my turn pushing the Hoover, why not?

What seems to be going on is that while girls and women have expanded their social roles, men have been much more slow to do so. No doubt being "man enough" still matters, even if the hyper masculine guy is not the universal hero he once was. And "man enough" just doesn't seem to leave room for a bunch of stuff--like using the Hoover.

I do notice some changes going on, though, even if they are coming slowly.

Anonymous said...

I think you are bold and insightful. I sometimes lay on the couch and don't want to clean up my mess. But. . I inevitably do because I can't cook in a messy kitchen. Aside from specifics about the kitchen I think that maybe, so many women saying they can do it all has left men to do less.