Unseen strife: Commentary takes different angle on gender woes

Milam’s Musings

I’ve never much considered myself a “tough guy.” Even though I exist within a culture that is permeated with and privileges masculinity, I’ve never quite known what it means to project masculinity or what defines its contours.

Traditional masculine traits are not things I can relate to, like being assertive and aggressive, non-emotional and presenting a hard exterior — the “tough guy” image.

Here’s an example since it’s Halloween season: There are few things I find more grating on the pet peeve scale than the tough guy going through a haunted house. The guy that has to act like this whole thing is stupid, yells back at the costumed actors and laughs throughout the experience. The same holds for the tough guy watching a horror movie. “Nothing can scare me!”

Come on, “bro.” Even if horror isn’t your thing, there’s no need to present your hard exterior, your toughness, when going through a haunted house. If anything, it comes across like a faux-masculinity to me, an unneeded projection to protect oneself from appearing less than manly.

As for myself, I enjoy so-called “chick flicks.” For instance, I watched a good one recently, “The Spectacular Now,” with two of my favorite young actors today, Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller.

I have no problem shedding tears at certain scenes in Harry Potter books (or really any artform, if it’s done well). As I’m re-reading the series again, this also happened recently. In particular, the scene in the fifth book when Harry, Ron and Hermione meet Neville in the hospital and learn the fate of his parents, tortured into insanity. It’s heartbreaking.

Taylor Swift, fashion and makeup, the Lifetime channel (not as much anymore since I “cut the cord”), pedicures (which I’d highly recommend) and so on, are areas likely thought of as “feminine,” that I have no problem showing interest or participation in.

However, when I do express those interests or, more broadly, when I proudly label myself a feminist and discuss feminist issues, I have been accused by other men of trying to pander to women.

And of course, the other, more unsavory ways of expressing disapproval of my form of masculinity, such as: “Don’t be gay,” “Don’t be such a pussy,” or “Don’t be a bitch.” Notice what all three of those things have in common? The worst thing to call a man is either gay or something traditionally associated with women. (Hat tip to Jessica Valenti’s “Full Frontal Feminism,” which inspired this bit.)

But here’s the thing that’s troubling to me and gets a bit meta: even in rejecting traditional masculine traits, I still find myself questioning and wondering if I’m manly enough. It’s hard not to when you’re surrounded by it everywhere you turn. There’s probably a name for that feeling one gets when you still feel like a boy compared to the men around you.

Now back to the point about faux-masculinity and projection. This isn’t me merely spouting off my own psycho-babble here. Michael Kimmel, a sociology professor at Stony Brook University, specializes in studying men and masculinity.

Kimmel wrote a provocative article titled, “Masculinity as Homophobia,” wherein this projection is one of fear -— the fear of humiliation. There’s an utter horror in being “unmasked, emasculated and shown to not be a real man.”

To avoid that unmasking, aggression and toughness predominate and often manifest into violence.

I think it’s for that reason that it’s worth trying to understand masculinity and conversely, what it means to be emasculated.

There must be something to the fact that most school shooters are men, most terrorists are men, and just generally, most violence involves men. In fact, according to the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, “The majority of all homicide perpetrators are male — approximately 90 to 91 percent.”

In other words, in a society where masculinity still reigns supreme, it’s worth looking at not just the obviously oppressed, but the not so obviously. Men.

Naturally, you don’t have to search long and hard to find some men’s rights groups and the like pointing at the culprit for this emasculation: feminism.

But that seems dubious at best since the problem of violence among men has been around longer than feminism.

Unfortunately, this is a column where I’m just pointing out an issue without knowing what the solution is. The one good thing, which I’ve mentioned numerous times in my musings, is that violence of all kinds has been trending downward for the last twenty years, and not just in the United States.

I have no idea how to define masculinity, but know I reject showy displays of bravado and toughness.

If guys stopped worrying so much about appearing less-than or gay, I suspect, they’ll find new worlds opening up to them.

Like pedicures. Seriously, guys, you’ll be wondering what you’ve been missing out on. And those massage chairs should be mandatory in every home.

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