Quiet Riot Girl responds to Eliezer Sobel’s discussion of masculinity.
“Is it time for masculinism?” asks Eliezer Sobel.
My short answer is: no.
My longer answer is as follows:
The first thing to strike me about Sobel’s interesting piece on whether or not men need ways to help themselves become “MEN” again, was the poem he quotes at the beginning.
From “Desire,” a poem by Stephen Dobyns:
Why have men been taught to feel ashamed
of their desire, as if each were a criminal
out on parole, a desperado with a long record
of muggings, rapes…?
I am in 100% agreement with Sobel, and the spirit of this poem, which asks why men’s sexualities have become pathologised and made out to be inherently bad, “as if each were a criminal out on parole.” And, I agree with him that feminism has a lot to answer for in this situation. Because feminism, and its focus on women’s objectification as inherently oppressive, as a part of “rape culture,” makes out that women are always and inevitably the potential victims of men’s unhealthy predatory natures. We get the message, says Sobel:
“It’s not okay to objectify females, to see them as a conglomeration of body parts, to speak to them as if there is a microphone nestled between their breasts… So we got it. Women are not merely sexual objects of desire. But what happened to men in the process of their feminist education?”
This is a question I, a woman, have been asking myself for a while now. What happened to men? And what saddens me, is I seem to be in a minority when it comes to women, and maybe even people, in asking it. Whatabouttehmenz? is a term of derision, used against anyone, whatever their gender identity, who dares to ask anything about how men may be doing in this feminist–oriented culture in which we now live. Particularly anyone who dares suggest that men may suffer gender inequalities as well as women.
Sobel presents an interesting contradiction whereby many women are very clear that they want men to be “good.” To work hard, be “nice,” share chores, and be basically “feminist.” But when it comes to sex, being “nice” doesn’t always cut it. Most sexual relationships (if not all) involve a power exchange, including some degree of domination and submission. How does this basic human need fit in with the discourses of gender “equality” that prevail today?
It is in attempting to answer this question that I part company with Sobel. For one, his article focuses entirely on heterosexual men and women, and mainly on people in long-term relationships. So, whilst I am keen to hear heterosexual men’s perspectives, as I think straight men are possibly demonised the most by feminism, I think it is unhelpful to devote a whole long article about “men” in general, that misses out gay, bisexual, and trans men, and does not adequately consider sexual relations that stray from the straight/married norm. Take Sobel’s question for example:
“How to bridge this gulf, in which men are men, women are women, and raw, primal desire is real and allowed, yet not cross over into the world of inequality, rigid roles, objectification, and pre-feminist values?”
What does a situation whereby “men are men and women are women” mean to a bisexual man? Or a trans man? Or a man who is submissive sexually? I think that the whole notion that once upon a time, life was all Me, Tarzan; You, Jane, is completely wrong in the first place. And what Sobel really means is: how can men demonstrate their full, red-blooded heterosexual masculinity, in this age where gender roles and identities, (and sexual roles and identities) are becoming increasingly blurred and fluid?
As Mark Simpson, author of Metrosexy has said, “metrosexuality,” men’s desire to be desired within consumer culture, has changed all the rules about what makes a man, a man. And, for some Americans, the “feminine” aspects of metrosexual men, who love to look good and scrub up and wear nice clothes just like women do, is a bit too much to take:
“After Bush’s victory in 2004, down in no small part to his ability to rally the Republican faithful against metros and gay marriage, some admen tried to cash in on the anti-metro backlash amongst older consumers. Using slogans such as ‘reclaim your manhood’ to revive stick-in-the-mud brands such as Hummer, Dodge, Miller Lite and Burger King—these ads ridiculed metrosexuality and aimed to associate the client brand with ‘real’ masculinity. Essentially making a virtue out of their obsolescence. Meanwhile books giving men advice on how to avoid being metro and instead be retro, complete with self-defeatingly prissy lists of ‘manly’ ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, hit the best-seller lists.”
I am inclined to agree with Simpson, that this search for ways to “reclaim your manhood” in a post-modern adaptation of Robert Bly’s Iron John movement, is just men expressing anxiety about the (metro)sexual revolution, that Won’t. Stop. Happening. No matter how many fish you catch or how many beers you sink. Even Marty Beckerman’s recent hit and soon-to-be-film, “The Heming Way”, which sends up Ernest Hemingway’s “retrosexual” uber-masculine (uber-camp?) manliness, is a faux-ironic cry for days when men were men. When tanning and cocktails were not part of a man’s daily schedule.
In fact, again as Mark Simpson has pointed out, campaigns for “real manhood” actually mirror the misandrist, pathologising of men that feminists are so keen on. He quotes Stephen Biddulph, an Australian “real manhood” campaigner:
“Alcoholism, suicide, marriage breakdown, poor parenting, violence, crime – pretty much everything that’s going wrong in the world has got that male unhappiness behind it.”
The idea that men and masculinity are problems seems to underpin most gender campaigning these days, from SlutWalks to anti-Street Harassment projects, to the masculinist movement. The average, contemporary man going about his business, wearing Armani and drinking skinny lattes, is somehow seen to be not good enough. Not manly enough.
At the end of his article, Sobel duly reproduces a “self-defeatingly prissy list of manly dos and don’ts” as given to him by his model of “full-blooded” masculinity friend, Charley.
My advice to Sobel and his friend Charley, if they really want to enjoy their masculinity together, with their partners, or even alone, might be to keep an open mind, because nothing about gender roles in this world is set in stone anymore. And that, to me, is great for men, women, and anyone who identifies otherwise. Oh, and don’t forget to moisturise!
—Photo Steve Snodgrass/Flickr