In a world of movie-star masculinity, Josh Bowman wonders how to reconcile what he thinks is “manly” with the man he truly is.
I can see myself standing in the middle of the town, like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, or countless other Western cowboy archetypes. My calloused hands rest loosely on the mother-of-pearl Smith and Wesson revolver handles, jutting out rebelliously from my snake leather belt. I’m squinting like Eastwood does, to block out the noonday sun. My skin is dark and tanned. I’m chewing on a toothpick. I’ve been wronged, and there’s only one way to settle the score. It’s him or me, and it sure as heck ain’t gonna be me. We draw. I fire first, one hand pulling the trigger, the other hand working the hammer. The dust swirls up around me, as my opponent falls to the ground. I tip my hat and slowly saunter away. I’m a real bad ass, and nobody messes with me.
There is something to be said for ‘Masculinity’ (with a capital ‘M’). It’s dirty, sweaty, tough, honest. As we enter another Hollywood blockbuster season, where tough leading men will formulaic-ly beat the crap out of aliens, monsters, and other assorted baddies, I can’t help but be reflective and a bit jealous. You see, I’m a young, white collar, politically liberal, pro-feminist, university educated man. I have sensitive skin, and work in theatre. I have lots of emotions, I joke around, and I suck at confrontation. I haven’t been in a physical fight since elementary school, really (I’ve been close from time to time, but I’ve cleverly and diplomatically avoided fighting for most of my life).
The thing is, I rightly or wrongly associate hyper-masculine men with all kinds of values and beliefs that I find politically and socially abhorrent: misogyny, homophobia, conservative politics (or no political beliefs at all), being mean jocks, and liking Nickleback. I’m also kind of afraid to get into a fight. I have no interest in being stabbed, shot, or beaten to a pulp over somebody stepping on my shoes or being rude on a streetcar. At its worst, I see hyper-masculinity leading to near psychopathic behaviour. Then again…
I’m often deeply jealous of those guys who seem so at ease with their identities as men. So comfortable punching each other on the arm, yelling in public, burping, farting, and generally being morons. I find it very difficult, as a left-of-centre softie, to justify my desire to become just a bit more Cro-Magnon; get drunk, fist-fight a guy in a downtown parking lot, and then go home and have rough sex with my woman.