There is nothing so binding and divisive as our own perception of how things should be. But what do you do, as Jeremy McKeen uncovers, when you are the majority of the world’s ruling niche?
What does a Hooters full of lesbians, a bus full of Princeton University alumni, and a beach full of dads have in common?
Answer: me, stuck inside each anecdote, trying to figure out of the core of my cultural being, which is not simply a layer of heterocentricity.
Let me explain.
What I said was simpler
In one of my Bergamot Ink columns, “Why All Men Hate the Beach,” I was accused by some readers of being too narrowly heterocentric in my approach, and this has lead me to some militant introspection. In my small niche of being a dad with fair skin and too much to do (and a busy mind), my dream of a day-off isn’t laying in the hot sun for 12 hours. I could have titled the essay “Why Many Men In Their 20s-90s Who Are Dads and Would Rather Spend the Day Not Baking in the Sun Hate the Beach” but it wouldn’t have been as funny.
But as a over-educated, tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, straight American W.A.S.P. (half-A.S. and former P., actually), I was handed the keys to the late, great Western Kingdom simply by being born and turning out a heterosexual. I am the demographic that the world sees, goes after, and rebels against in popular movies and culture. The Avengers, the whole American Pie franchise, Good Will Hunting, Fight Club, anything starring Ryan Reynolds or Bradley Cooper all have circles around the privileged, warm, Venn Diagram center that is, well—me.
Yet my progressive understanding doesn’t allow me to sit comfortably with such a reality, although it seems to be what the world wants. It wasn’t me (I swear!)—but it was hoards and gaggles of men like me who have disenfranchised women, minorities, homosexuals, and fringe groups for years to get things to where they are.
Blue jacket, khaki pants, and the Man
At the pinnacle of Western civilization are the well-educated, and among the well-educated are three types who assume they are the pinnacle themselves: the finest from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. It was at a wedding years ago that I rode a bus full of ’50s-90s Princeton grads (and other assorted life forms) between the wedding and the reception, and it was the conversation between two men in particular that I’ll always carry with me.
It was a conversation about basketball, and how the Princeton class of ’53 had such a superior team than anything they were seeing today. That was it. A handful of old men, on a bus, remembering their glory days as if they had ruled the world.
On one hand, it was sweet—there was nothing vile or insidious about their conversation, only the soft naïveté of saying that boys in canvas shoes who couldn’t dunk were somehow better than today’s basketball uber-athletes . On the other hand, it was indicative of a disconnect that has to exist from the top of each social plateau on downward; this cocooning preserves the ruling member from any outside force, threat, or differing opinion.
And it’s worked for years.
Damn the Man—oh wait, I am the Man
It’s pretty simple: for millennia men have ruled the world because men are (on the whole) bigger, faster, and more violent than women, and have literally geared all social institutions including mythology, history, and psychology towards heterocentric and patriarchal rule.
It’s still a heterocentric world—and as a heterosexual (who make up 80-90% of the average set of individuals), I’m still entitled to my view of the world, yes? If I force a worldview other than my own, what have I created instead? The challenge lies in incorporating as many views into yours as possible, and this, since the 1970s, has become the new normal, although it’s taken it’s time (and if it wasn’t for progressive universities like Princeton, we wouldn’t have the curriculum, texts, or education about this type of cultural criticism and interpretation). I am not only a man or a heterosexual or a husband or a father. But these characteristics do something to demand authority in the world we live in. We must be aware of that.
John Lennon’s “Woman is the Nigger of the World” still shocks us at first, but if we consider how women are treated in impoverished countries, or how we view rape culture in America, we easily see that the world still revolves around and kowtows to a heterosexual man’s mentality.
My wife, six lesbians, and I walk into a Hooters
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a vegetarian, his wife, and six lesbians walk into a Hooters.
I’ve been to Hooters twice, and both times happened to be with a group of close friends (the lesbians) and my wife, all while I was still a vegetarian. I know, I know, these jokes write themselves. It was more a geographical anomaly rather than a conscience decision. Suffice to say it was awful and uncomfortable, like a married vegetarian going to Hooters with his wife and a table full of lesbians. That should sum it up nicely, yes? If my mother and grandmothers had been there, I would have a better joke for you.
It’s not that I couldn’t have fun or relax that night—who am I kidding? I couldn’t have fun or relax. I couldn’t escape my heterocentricity. Or my vegetarianism (has the world really not figured out solid vegetarian options for every restaurant by this point?). It was just awkward, as progressive and liberal and judgement-free as we are, there are some things that just—for good reason—make you awkward.
The lesbians—they loved it. They were there for the same reason as anyone who is attracted to women in flesh-colored stockings and form-flattering t-shirts would be. My wife, not so much. Yes, women walk around all the time in form-fitting clothes, or—at the beach I hate so much—in essentially padded underwear. Yes, we see them. But we’re not always paying them to lean over to pour beer into frosty mugs. Sometimes we pay bartenders to do that.
No, I don’t have a Princess Leia fetish
Most movies that men and women my age grew up with (and into) featured endless heterosexuals and one token female—a courtesy not even granted now to the Minions (even the Smurfs had a Smurfette). For example, until recently we had a whole Star Wars universe of men with only a handful of females, one of whom had a Jedi for a father and brother, yet had no powers herself and ends up in a sexy slave outfit. The same went for Star Trek, Indiana Jones, and every movie that still makes adults my age set the D.V.R. Every female was either a helpless blonde to be saved or a whiny brunette to be brought along for the ride. The only media more heterocentric was the kind from each preceding generation, each featuring a slick, straight, white male saving the day.
This was the norm, as it has been from most myths, religions, and tribal tales since the first conquering village shared ale around a fire pit. And it’s just part of the dominant species’ wiring. It doesn’t mean it’s right, it just means it’s dominant. But the big, bad, dumb boys movies still do the best. Especially the ones with the cars and the exploding things.
At my core—brain, gut, chemicals—I’m not just a heterocentric lump or simply predisposed to a flurry of thoughts and characteristics found in every culture since the first men created the first club without wives. I am—you are too of course—so much more than the sum of our predispositions. But, if those predispositions are there, we must learn how to use them and react to them outside of a dominant historical narrative, while still maintaining that our point of view is the only one we can reason ourselves into.
And if you’re going to Hooters or the beach, I’ll sit this one out.
Photo: a passport portrait of the writer as a theatre student, 1999 (courtesy of the writer).
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