Real Men

Catherynne Valente recently posted two essays about gender issues, both of which are worth reading.[1. Actually, everything Cat writes is worth reading.  Why aren’t you following her blog already?]

“If you watch these ads, and mainstream sitcoms, you see this place. This place where men and women can barely stand each other long enough to have mutually unfulfilling sex and procreate. Where women are the sole source of everything irritating and wrong in a man’s life, plus she’s never hot enough, plus you have to, like, interact with her sometimes.”

It’s gotten me thinking about masculinity and what it means to “Be a man” in this culture.  The way we’re taught to act with other men and with women, the roles and responsibilities we’re supposed to take on, the things we are and aren’t supposed to worry about….

What a bunch of insane, contradictory crap.  Here are just a few of the “rules” I’ve come up with.

  1. Avoid traditionally feminine activity.  Dishes, laundry, diapers, vacuuming — these activities generate massive quantities of femions that cling to your skin and cause penis cancer.
  2. Hanging out with women is a chore.  Women only want to shop and go to chick flicks.  Men should hang out with other men, being manly together.  (But in a totally heterosexual way.)
  3. Holding a woman’s purse makes you temporarily gay.
  4. Much like the light of a red sun robs Superman of his power, pastels drain a man’s masculinity.  Beware the power of baby blue kryptonite.
  5. Sex is a competition.  (Seriously, WTF people???)
  6. Homosexuality is a fate worse than death.  Lesbians are hot.  This is not a contradiction.
  7. Your daughter, being a girl, will be completely incapable of taking care of herself.  Meet any potential boyfriends at the door while carrying a shotgun.
  8. Your place in Heaven is determined by the size of your penis and the amount of hair on your scalp.

I was planning to transition into my own thoughts about being a man.  What I think a real man should be.  A healthier, better list.  But it didn’t work.  Say you go with “A real man takes care of his family.” Why does this have anything to do with gender?  “A real man protects those who need his help.” And a real woman doesn’t?  “A real man respects women.”  No, a decent human being respects women.  And men.

But I did come up with one guideline.  Because a real man can speak out against sexism and homophobia, and be heard in a way that women speaking those same words might not be.  Because women complaining about sexism are dismissed as ball-busting feminazis with no sense of humor.

I’ve watched it happen again and again.  A woman writes or speaks about a topic and gets ignored.  I or another man speak out about the same thing, and there’s an outpouring of support and agreement.  I still get blown off, but not as often or in the same way as I see happening to women.

Being a man means I’m given certain advantages, including the power to speak out and be listened to.  Being a good man means using that voice to fight this hateful sexist crap.