On a recent open thread, Ozy posted a picture of her “steampunk rakish dandy” costume as an example of “what sluts wear on Halloween”. I was deeply offended. Speaking as a rakish dandy, I feel that this costume misrepresents my people, because the bottom two buttons of Ozy’s waistcoat are undone. You’re meant to have the bottom button undone, and all the rest buttoned. Never the bottom two, and never button the bottom one. I assumed everyone knew that.
Similarly, in our underwear thread, where men were discussing the value of genital freedom vs. genital support, and associated issues of binding, chafing, and getting stuck at a bad angle, we got a number of comments from women saying “Well fuck, this is all new information to me. I had no idea this was such an issue.” And why would they, really? It’s not something one learns unless one has to.
Back in the 1990s, I remember female-only IRC channels that would gender-test new entrants by quizzing them on feminine lore, the things women learn that men don’t. “What does a speculum do?” is one I recall. In those pre-Google days, that was considered a good-enough security system. I have no idea how they do it now.
So that got me thinking about masculine lore, the things men learn that women don’t. Waistcoat buttons, dick-arrangement protocol, and much more after the cut.
One of the a-ha moments for me in reading Norah Vincent’s Self-Made Man was in the opening, when she talks about how when she first went out in New York appearing to be male, her experience was entirely different. Men who would have stared at her before now just glanced, gave a brief respectful nod, and looked away. This blew her mind, and she writes:
To look away is to accept the status quo, to leave each man to his tiny sphere of influence, the small buffer of pride and poise that surrounds and keeps him. I surmised all of this the night it happened, but in the weeks and months that followed I asked most of the men I knew whether I was right, and they agreed, adding usually that it wasn’t something they thought about anymore, if they ever had. It was just something you learned or absorbed as a boy, and by the time you were a man, you did it without thinking.
I say it was an a-ha moment, but really it was more of that spooky shiver of the familiar seen from an unfamiliar angle. Because of course I do the street nod, I have since I can remember, and I’d never thought about it in any kind of coherent way. Nobody ever directly taught it to me, it was just something I picked up silently. Ms. Vincent is absolutely correct that it’s about managing perceived threat, too. The nod says “I acknowledge your existence and offer no disrespect or aggression” and the return nod says “Same here, dude.” If I ever gave the street nod to a guy and it was not returned, you better believe I’d keep one eye on that guy until one of us was out of sight.
At this point in this post, I suspect a majority of our male readers are thinking “Yeah, that sounds about right” and a majority of our female readers are thinking “Wait, seriously?” There are always exceptions, of course, but in a society divided by gender, you’re invariably going to get unspoken gendered lore.
Nowadays, of course, much of the lore is out in the infosphere, and you can even find handy charts like this:
Back in my day, of course, you just had to learn urinal selection on your own, and it was for damn sure nobody was going to explain it out loud. It was just part of the unspoken lore, the things you picked up.
Really, I think there’s a very important distinction between the spoken lore, the lore of waistcoat buttons and scotch selection and foreskin cleaning, and the unspoken lore of street nods and urinal selection and the dance of one-upmanship. My feeling, not based on any strong scientific basis, is that the unspoken lore is where a lot of the really toxic shit hides out. Guys, how many of you absorbed some of the following lessons growing up, not necessarily in a formal way but just as something everyone knew?
- Never show emotion or vulnerability.
- Always win. The worst thing you can be is a loser.
- Homosexuality is repugnant and a constant danger.
- Do not turn away from violence: violence is an obligation.
I could go on, but I think the basic routine is pretty familiar, no? Not to say there aren’t some worthy and positive things in the unspoken lore as well, but kind of by definition, those ones aren’t problematic. Might be worth talking about anyway, though, just to see if we can tease them out and put them into words.
So, readers, what are some of the forms of spoken and unspoken masculine lore you’ve absorbed in your life?