When I was studying for my degree I discovered that gender is a social construct made up by an oppressive society to keep women in the kitchen, men out of high heels and everyone spending all their money on hob covers, fake eyelashes and customised number plates in order to feed the ravenous maw of the Grand Demon Capitalism.
I explored gender politics and learned how Patriarchal it is to assume we can label anyone as masculine or feminine based on their genitalia, and that the sin of ascribing a person any characteristics according to their gender is akin to nailing him/her to a board and hitting him/her in the brain with a Barbie until he/she begs for a boob job / off road vehicle / [insert gender-based consumable].
I’m being a bit facetious really, because I do believe that a lot of our gender ideas are at least partially socially constructed, and that a significant proportion of humanity doesn’t fit neatly into these constructions . I’m not the type of female human, for example, who faints at the sight of a flat tyre or is comfortable with devoting all my life to worrying about nail polish and/or breeding, and most of my male friends don’t demonstrate the visible testosterone overload that currently seems de rigeur for the male population either.
So I’m only too aware what cans of worms – nay, buckets of snakes – I’m opening in the hideous raging world of online gender politics when I say we need to bring back masculinity – or maleness.
I know. I understand what a stupid thing that is to say. I know that in intellectual circles there is no such thing. And in one piece of my brain I agree – it’s too loose and tautologous a term to mean anything real and fixed. But in another strongly embedded piece of my brain – the piece that was once a child with a good dad living around kids with other good (or good enough) dads – maleness is a very real thing. A good thing. A thing that we need to look at again because it’s not that idea of masculinity most often presented in the media – the one that gets itself into fights, is attracted to everything with an orifice for penetrating, or is, on the other hand, too stupid to clean a bathroom. It’s a gentler, quieter and stronger thing. A thing we could all do with learning, regardless of our biological proclivities.
Being a self-identified woman (ha), I hear a lot of the things that women say about men. When I was a traveller, for example, women often used to huddle together discussing their male partners. One had a man who perpetually went out all day with other women leaving her behind to look after their child on her own with no transport, electricity, toilet, running water or firewood to stoke up the range, and then demanded food when he got home. Another had a man who tipped up the bed and threw her on the floor when she didn’t want sex with him – another had one who punched her – another, one who was always drunk – another had a man who wouldn’t let her go on nights out without him. You get the picture. You can understand why women in a community like that could fervently believe that men are shit. They saw no evidence to the contrary.
But the thing is – the travelling world we inhabited was basically a re-enactment of medieval times but with trucks instead of horses. It valued qualities such as: wearing torn up clothes, never washing, drinking all day, taking drugs, burning things and playing with vehicles. That world inevitably attracts a certain type of male, and that type of male is not likely to be the intellectual, contemplative, constructive type.
The same applies to women who hang around with men who aspire to be gangsta or various other macho cliche types. It’s not logical for them to extrapolate data about all men from the samples they are subjected to. Some men are idiots, yes, and they treat women horribly. But what we often fail to remember is that some women are idiots too. Actually, quite an embarrassing number of seemingly perfectly reasonable women hold unexamined idiot opinions about men, and they treat men horribly without even realising they’re doing it. I gave an example of the kind of everyday things women ‘think’ about men here, and I see this all the time. Women at work, for example, drink out of mugs that proclaim:
And we are all familiar with the ‘men are stupid’ propaganda that’s being pumped out everywhere in a massive strawmanathon by advertisers trying to appeal to the egos of women by implying we’re all married to giant children.
I do think this unreasonable shit is some kind of backlash by women who feel they’ve been represented as useless, brainless breeding machines for generations, and is perpetuated by men who feel some kind of ancestral guilt about this. And in that sense, I think it’s a passing phase that will right itself, but it’s still negative. What kind of message is this sending to our impressionable trainee humans? My son attended an English A Level class where young girls who had experienced very little sexism compared to their mothers and grandmothers were being politicised through the literature of the past to see sexism under every present-day stone. Son had never had a sexist thought in his life until he hit theoretical Feminism head-on at college, and found it infuriatingly simplistic coming from its fresh-faced teenage proponents. They argued, for example, the 70s Feminism idea that pregnancy was a form of oppression. What was a young man to make of that? Now he is vigorously anti-Feminist, which on some level upsets me.
And these kinds of ideas are creating a generation of women who seem to think men owe them some sort of debt for the sins of Patriarchy. Women who believe they are so very precious for just owning a vagina that they can behave however they like and men have to put up with them. You will all have seen this monstrosity floating around Facebook on the pages of apparently perfectly lovely women who seem to think it’s cute and appealing, rather than what it actually is: slightly psychopathic.
No, women. NO. How can you complain about men being nothing more than big children and then proclaim crap like this? This is not the opinion of an adult human – it’s the tantrum of a two-year-old with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It isn’t the job of the man in your life to ‘handle’ you, or yours to ‘handle’ him. It’s the job of all adult humans to handle ourselves – to overcome the stroppy toddler within and nurture the latent rational grown-up. Grown ups want to be loved because they are interesting, entertaining and good company, not because they’ll shriek and throw a frying pan if you don’t bring them flowers.
And here’s the thing I think needs to be freshly recognised about maleness – maleness of the kind that isn’t caught up in ‘gangsta’ or macho or other kinds of bullshit – ordinary everyday maleness – it’s an astonishing thing. It unassumingly does put up with those kinds of feminine histrionics (even though it shouldn’t have to), and it quietly deals with all kinds of other things that would probably make me and other lesser mortals rail against the universe.
Maleness at its best can be the unacknowledged backbone of a family. The lucky among us have dads or grandads, brothers or uncles who model this type of maleness. Men who go to work every single day, sometimes in jobs they hate, never showing frustration because they so firmly want to support their families, and are still fully involved in life at home. Men who are radioactively proud of their children but can only show it in their deeds because they’ve been conditioned not to be openly emotional. Men who drop everything to mend the washing machine or laptop or to put up shelves or build furniture they have no personal interest in. Men such as my friend’s grandad who loved his wife so much that he overlooked her affairs and devoted himself to keeping their life stable for when she needed him emotionally. Men who are not always the life and soul of the party but stand back in contentment as their loved ones sparkle and achieve because they have been given the solid foundations they need. Men such as my friend who stayed with a violent alcoholic woman he didn’t love because he wanted to protect her (not his) children and give them a bit of stability they wouldn’t have if he left. When you step outside the world of macho idiots, you find this kind of man quietly and unassumingly getting on with life, and asking for little in return apart from a happy family and a partner who loves him.
Men like these are the ones who teach their daughters to value themselves for what they are and do, not for how they look, and show them what to look for in a life partner. Men like these produce sons like themselves, with the capacity for loyalty and strength, and show their daughters that they don’t have to settle for an idiot who will mistreat them.
‘Masculinity’ may be an outdated/mythological notion, but if I was going to define it anyway, this is how I would do it. As an academic I might mock my intellectual naivety, but as a human I think these men are bloody heroes and should be celebrated.