Andrew D. S. James takes a look at his own personal views of masculinity in response to the debate sparked by Tom Matlack’s recent posts.
Tom’s piece “Being a Dude is a Good Thing” has troubled me. His narrative about how men, “get blamed for everything,” rings hollow to me. His description of masculinity conjures all sorts of antiquated demons I thought we had laid to rest long ago. I suppose not. So, I write this to present an alternative narrative — my masculinity.
I love my Father. He is my favorite person on this Earth. However, my Father is not the kind of man to raise a son to become a Feminist ally. He was born to a hard life on a farm in the poorest parish of Jamaica in 1927. As a Black man immigrating to this country in the 1950s, he faced his own challenges. As he marched and chaired organizations to lobby for the rights of persons of color in the United States he never connected the dots to see the interwoven nature of the struggle for gender equality – or, perhaps better stated, gender equity. To this day, he continues to lament the disproportionate nature of racial inequality while simultaneously insisting his third wife prepare all his meals, clean his house, and dutifully receive her monthly allowance from him to buy household necessities.
Given this role model I suppose you can see where my path toward masculinity headed. In school, I played every sport possible. I tackled hard. I talked trash. I dunked on people. I studied the martial arts. I beat people up. After high school, I joined the military. I freaking guarded nuclear missiles with a damn machine gun for God’s sake. For real. After the military I fought in full-contact martial arts tournaments, which occasionally included breaking the bones of complete strangers. I was a “real man.”
But you know what I also did during that time? I took courses on watercolor. I learned how to figure skate. I took salsa lessons. I played the violin for fifteen years. I became a classically trained opera singer. I developed an affinity for Shakespeare and Henry Fielding. I acted in several musicals and plays. I made love to beautiful women. I made myself vulnerable enough for these same women to make love to me. Now that can mean many things. If it sounds physical to you, sure, it is. If it sounds emotional and/or spiritual to you, sure, it’s that too.
I don’t know. I’m frustrated by this whole thing. I’ve never been nagged by a woman in my life. I’ve never felt belittled for being a man. I’ve never lived in the world of American sitcoms where capable, beautiful Women are happy to marry bumbling, shallow men, and I’m glad. The women I surround myself with respect me and themselves enough to never make that a reality. There’s been a tremendous amount of space here devoted to saying nasty things about Feminists. To those folks I would ask: have you ever actually developed any kind of relationship with a Feminist? Feminists can be amazing partners. The most significant relationship I’ve ever had has been with a Feminist scholar. She came to me from a place of power and understanding. We stood together as equals. Try making love to a Woman that is self-actualized like a Feminist. I promise you’ll never go back.
I’m not trying to say guarding nuclear missiles while learning watercolor is the only way to become a real man. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are several flavors of masculinity. My particular flavor happens to represent the ability to be physically and emotionally present. Where I feel Tom and I disagree is that to be emotionally present isn’t an indicator of femininity in my estimation; it’s an indicator of humanity. The gender studies Professor and Navy SEAL can be the same person. I hope I am proof of that.
Oh, and you may have asked how I was able to navigate away from my Father’s troubling performance of masculinity to craft my own, healthier version. The reason is simple: my Mother wouldn’t have it any other way.