Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gender Eschews

I was driving to a football game recently with the lamented former blogger Chuckdaddy, and he confessed to me that he can't get out of a grocery store without calling Mrs. Chuckdaddy "at least once" to check up on the details of what he is supposed to be shopping for. I think I surprised both of us with my reaction. "When I see guys at the grocery store calling home on their cell phones," I told him, "I think to myself, 'that's not a real man."

Now that probably sounds like pretty big talk from a boy quilter with a certificate in Women's Studies who wrote songs for his cat. Yet having had something like that fall out of my mouth has made me think about what you might, if you wanted, call the "masculine virtues." You know, things like bravery, like owning up ("manning up"?) to responsibilities. Like decisiveness – that’s the one that seems comically violated by calls home from the supermarket – or acceptance of hardship, respect for the physical world, and protection, when possible, of those weaker than oneself.

Eventually, of course, I realized that these "masculine virtues" are really just the "grown-up virtues." They are qualities to be admired in anyone, regardless of the configuration of their reproductive equipment. Presumably they've been appropriated by us dudes as "masculine" the same way we scored all of the inexpensive, comfortable clothing. So yes, I realize that I am being more than usual of a buffoon here. But I didn't let that epiphany get in the way of continuing with this post.

Unmanly Things

So, whether it makes any real sense to deem something "unmanly," it's certainly a reaction I have from time to time. I feel it most, strangely, for men who bitch about their wives. That sounds preachy, I know, like I'm trying to line up adult masculinity with a personal code of values ("voting Republican isn't manly!" "Environmentalism is a MAN's issue!" "Real men read the L&TM5K"). But when I worked a few years ago with two men who spent much of the day bagging on their respective wives, my gut reaction was that they were pathetic little boys. Which is not to say it's a crime to be unhappy in a marriage, but come on -- you owe enough loyalty to your immediate family not to talk them down in public, don't you? Get with the show, lads.

It's hard not to bring one's own aesthetic to bear on the question, too. Prima facie, I have to admit a ingrained tendency to think that crying at a Hollywood romance is unmanly behavior, unbecoming of an adult male. The same with exhibiting an excessive interest in Olympic figure skating, wearing pink pants, or allowing one's partner to decorate the common areas of the home with hearts and frills without making some kind of equal-but-opposite imprint of one's own personality. But this is all just silly cultural programming. Or is it?

Complaint is very often an unmanly behavior in my book. It certainly is at odds with the "masculine virtues", after all, suggesting an unwillingness to endure hardship and often a reluctance to take on responsibilities. Often, though, I am rather at odds with the culture on this point. For many, nothing could be more macho than griping about referees, or taxes, or the other drivers on the road. But what I hear in those complaints -- when it's not me doing the complaining, anyway -- is poor sportsmanship (sportspersonship?), unwillingness to support the larger community that makes the accumulation of wealth possible in the first place, and an inability to remember one's own many errors of judgment behind the wheel. And I always want to say, "dude, don't be such a goddam WUSS!!!" But I don't, because I might get beat up.

Unmanliest of all? Complaining about service. When a man kvetches about how he was treated by some minimum wage clerk, waitress, cashier, barista, ticket taker, or housekeeper, I always feel kind of humiliated for him. Because, you know, who the hell cares if the waiter gave you the respect you felt due? How fragile is you, anyway? Learn to endure, my brother!

And one last one: In Dominion, Matthew Scully suggests that it is unmanly to privilege your petty appetites over your morality. To think that the way foie gras is made is horrifying, for instance, but to keep eating it because you find it delicious: to Scully, that's unmanly. The idea is just tossed out as an aside in the book, but I've found it a bit haunting when I make the dozen everyday choices between my ethics and my convenience. 'Cause I think he's got a point.

That's all for today, gentlemen.


Wednesday Weigh-In

Well, according to the old scale, 206, right on plan. But according to the fancy new "accurate to within .2 pounds" scale that I actually asked for and got for Christmas, 208.0. Careful what you ask for.


Cartophiliac said...

Whenever I am about to do something that others might consider not "macho", I just point out to them that "I am secure in my masculinity". that usually shuts them up.

Dan Nolan said...

At the risk of being labeled a WUSS by L&ToM5K, that call at the end of the half in the Blazers-Celtics game was bullshit. The Blazers scored with 6 men on the court (only allowed 5 in basketball) and the refs counted the hoop despite noting the infraction. In the end, they won by 5 so it doesn't matter, but allow me to indulge my feminine side and bitch about it.

I'm joking of course (not about the call - that was bullshit), but it does bring up an interesting question: if complaining is unmanly, then is complaining a feminine trait? That's a little insulting to women perhaps. I think if you polled a cross section of men and women in the US, both would be happy to provide you with a long list of things that the other gender typically complains about. Also, it's kinda funny that those guys who get together and bitch about their women, probably consider it male bonding, which, if it doesn't include pink pants or crying at "chick flicks", is probably considered manly by them. Maybe bitching should be taken of the linear manly to unmanly spectrum altogether. Ultimately, "manly" probably shouldn't be considered in the traditional linear sense. After all, what's more manly than a man loving another man? There's a lot of man in that proposition. Also, I've known some pretty butch dykes who would not appreciate being called manly. But of course, this heterosexual cowboy should get off his high horse, because I'm guilty of gender stereotyping too. Most of it is culturally imprinted though. If given a reasonable argument to counter any stereotypes that I'm guilty of, I'm usually capable of looking beyond them. (I'm more a slave to reason than gender stereotypes).

There's only one thing that is truly "manly": football. Where guys play together in tight pants, smack eachother's butts, and complain about the refs.

Chance said...

M5, I am with you all the way. I think a lot of what is touted as masculine today (by iron-pumping frat boys) is essentially immature behavior conflated with what is actually misguided femininity (obsession with hair, clothes, looks; grudge-holding). Genuine "manliness" of the type that might be recognized by, say, an Old west sheriff includes things like: being able to buy your own food; cleaning up after yourself; taking on responsibilities without bitching about your sad lot in life; and so on.

I personally think that teaching kindergarten is very manly, for related reasons.

Elizabeth said...

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think-and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And-which is more-you'll be a Man, my son!

- Kipling

Anonymous said...

I think virtue is unrelated to gender. "Manly" qualities are but the vestiges of old cultural bias.

Except where women are concerned...a woman of low virtue is to be, of course, admired.

Kritkrat said...

Virtues? What are those?

Anonymous said...

I think you're right in the first part about manning up being gender neutral and those virtues in the second part are likewise equally applicable. I know because I feel guilty for complaining and felt guilty again when I read it because I do complain often. Ha!

I think the old scale is better calibrated. :-D

margaret said...

New scale must be defective. At least you don't have a leftover 15-pound baby buffer just above your hips.

Bridget said...

Interestingly, when you described some of these behaviors (complaining about the wife, complaining about service) my inner Southerner piped up and said, "Well now, that kind of behavior's just tacky, no matter who you are!" Somehow, growing up with a southern family, Tacky always felt like the ultimate in bad behavior . . . you know, like you could kill someone in a fit of rage, but letting your toddler run around in the front yard wearing nothing but a saggy diaper - eek! TACKY!

d said...

i find it a little ironic that in this post, you're complaining about people who complain.

just sayin'.

i do agree with you on a lot of it though. as a society we leave a lot to be desired. both on the feminine side and masculine side. most of us are looking for the easy way out or our rags to riches story as if, just because we were born one day, we deserve something special without really having to do anything to get it.

this leads to a lot of 'wussy' behavior from a lot of folks.

Rebel said...

I agree with the 'manly' qualities just being 'grown up' qualities. But I have mixed opinions about the complaining thing. One of my great joys in life is complaining... but there's a time & a place. If I'm griping about something I could easily fix - what's the point?

Bitching about poor service gets me though. A couple of the guys here have got serious entitlement issues and if the waitress isn't up and pouring them another wiskey (from the bottle next to the table) the minute they finish the glass - they'll yell clear across the restaurant at her. It was mortifying. Not manly at all.