30 DAYS TO BE A BETTER MAN: BOYS WILL BE BOYS (Concluding Remarks: part II)

ROTTERDAM – Last post, I wrote about the universality of sexism and bigotry and about why it is that in almost every civilisation that has ever existed on this planet, patriarchy flourished while the rights, privileges, and movements of women were restricted.

I decided to write about this universality for several reasons: first of all, I came across the article and I like to write about what I read. Secondly, Ortner (the author of the article mentioned in the previous post) mentioned cultural analysis or anthropological research on patriarchy can take place on three different levels.

To refresh your mind:

  1. The universal
  2. Specific ideologies, symbolisations, and social-structure arrangements
  3. Observeable on-the-ground details

My last post was about the universal. I wrote about the culture/nature distinction and how women are usually perceived to be closer to nature, mostly because of their ability to, well, get knocked up. The transcendent act of culture “conquering” nature then explains why women are disadvantaged in the cultural hierarchy.

The idea that culture transcends nature is deeply embedded in every society. From the emergence of Homo Sapiens onwards, artificiality (e.g. of language) gave rise to social dynamics that in very many ways are different than that of any other species. The studies on human behaviour are by no doubt countless times more intricate than that of a family of bonobos (not to discredit the studies done on the behaviour of bonobos, but nationalism, ritualistic suicide, religious fervor, or romanticism does not take place in bonobo families).

So this transcendence is not just taking place now, even the hunters and gatherers from 12,000 years ago transcended nature in those respects. Let me again remind you that the culture/nature distinction is cultural in that it’s made up by people. Our conception of what it means to be human revolves around this act of transcendence regardless of its objective “truth”.

Anyhow, coming back to the topic at hand: the Modern Man. Any ideas of what masculinity is or should be is second-level analysis of patriarchy: the specific ideologies and social-structure arrangements, and it is within these confines that the Art of Manliness puts forth its version of the Modern Man.

We’ve seen that this man is cultured: versed in literature (MEMORIZE “IF”) and well-mannered (TALK TO 3 STRANGERS). He is humble (SHOW GRATITUDE), (financially) responsible (CREATE A BUDGET and START A DEBT REDUCTION PLAN), and takes great care of the people around him (RECONNECT WITH AN OLD FRIEND and PERFORM A SERVICE). He is romantic (TAKE A WOMAN OUT ON A DATE and WRITE A LOVE LETTER) and playful (PLAY!), but has strict ethical and moral principles (DEFINE YOUR CORE VALUES and FIND YOUR N.U.T.s). He is thoughtful about what he says and does.

Simultaneously, this kind and gentle soul is in excellent physical shape (IMPROVE YOUR POSTURE and TAKE THE MARINE CORPS FITNESS TEST) and makes sure he fits the bill (INCREASE YOUR TESTOSTERONE). He knows what he’s about and he can fix things (LEARN A MANUAL SKILL).

Most of these characteristics are admirable in any person, and nowhere is explicitly mentioned that women cannot have or achieve them.

Thing is, by referring to them as “manly” or “masculine traits” you are implicitly arguing that they are therefore not feminine or female traits. The argument that because I am a man, I should be independent, strong, well-mannered, etc. makes me wonder what the unasked question here is: what if I were a woman?

Of course, the majority of the 30 Days challenges are inwardly focused (e.g. they are focused on the individual that is taking them rather than on his surroundings). You need to be a real man, and by being one you will influence the people around you. They will be drawn to you, attracted to you, – you will forge close and meaningful friendships (with other men).

It’s just that gender roles are mutually exclusive and tend to be rather binary: any trait is either masculine or feminine and it really cannot be both. This is of course a very simplistic way of viewing gender, and it’s also not true. Gender is performative and with the emancipation of women, with the sexual revolution and now with the beginning acceptance of alternative gender identities (e.g. transsexuals or homosexuals) that are either variations on these binary gender roles or complete new conceptions of what it means to be a particular gender, this has been changed dramatically.

Let me just remind you how important gender definitions are: they govern the way we relate to our body, to ourselves. They occupy an important part of our identities and self-images. They pretty much dictate how we relate to our sexuality and someone else’s sexuality, too.

And it is on this stage that we find people who are hopelessly searching for a neatly packaged identity. It used to be easy: if you were male, then anything feminine was not your thing. But metrosexuals are still men, no? Even the Art of Manliness has detailed pages on grooming or on how to grow a handlebar moustache and properly wax it.

To make it even more confusing: we don’t even know when we’re men (or women). Do you become a man when you shave for the first time? Or a woman when you’ve had your first period? I had my first french kiss when I was 11. I kissed a lovely brown-eyed brunette on a summer camp just before I went to high school. I sure as shit did not french kiss a woman.

Someone once told me I was the “man she loved”. As lovely as that was to hear, no one ever told me I had moved on from “boy” to “guy” or “dude” to “man”. I usually use “boy” for any male that is substantially younger than myself, but when I say “that man over there” I usually refer to someone way older than me.

If I am sleeping with a twenty-something-year-old, am I dating a girl or seeing a woman? What do you do? Are you going to see ’bout a girl or are you involved with a woman? Are you seeing a guy or do you “only date men”? And if so, what’s your basis for making that distinction?

Many cultures have “rites of passage” for both men and women. These rituals mark the passage from child to adult, from boy to man and from girl to woman. We don’t have those anymore. We need websites like the Art of Manliness to tell us about what it means to be a man and how we can become one. That’s why we need guidance (FIND A MENTOR).

Similarly, for women, it’s pretty much every Cosmo magazine out there that explains to them what it means to be a woman.

So, this is how you’ll become not only a man, but a modern man, or a real man. These 30 days present us with a vision of what it means to be a man, and if we fulfill these challenges, we will become men (provided you own a penis, of course). This exclusivity of traits that are perceived to be masculine essentially “reserves” them specifically for this exact purpose.

The Institution of Men (or the oeuvre I referred to earlier) automatically excludes anyone who doesn’t fit the bill, and it is therefore a countermovement to the liquidity and performativity of gender. It tries to come up with a static set of values and norms that dictate who we are, how we became who we are, and from that perspective, how we relate to everyone else, the latter being highly dependent on who these “everyone else” are. Are they also men? Are they women? You forge friendships with the first, and you take the rest out on dates.

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