Sunday, November 14, 2010

I'm not that sort of man.

One problem I see with masculinity is the tendency for the majority of men to engage in thoughtless gender expression (e.g., loudly dominating a conversation) leaving those that do not wish to engage with this performance feeling excluded from being able to perform masculinity. This has led to a sentiment I hear commonly expressed by men, “I don't like the masculinity package”, thus rejecting masculinity. This rejection seems problematic to me as these men are engaging with masculinity (it is an inevitable consequence of their social performance). My concern is that in de-identifying themselves from these disliked performances there is a tendency to non-consciously absolve themselves of any responsibility.

“I'm not that sort of man and therefore it is not my responsibility.”

In the majority of the discussions I have had men have said “I don't do this (problematic masculinity),” which does suggest awareness of this as an issue. However, they don't then proffer how they are working towards an alternative. I am not saying work towards a solution all of the time, but surely it would be better to be involved in a positive process that will affect the common experience of masculinity for the better, (Yes in this case there is a try here - Star Wars reference) rather than simply rejecting a negative.

"I don't do that, what he's doing over there"
The limitations I am suggesting that result from “rejecting masculinity” are twofold, firstly providing no positive alternative, and secondly tacitly accepting the common or problematic performance of masculinity as the only appropriate option. To address the first, I believe that as men we are responsible for the gendered spaces we move in, we share this responsibility with others but our personal role in this cannot be discounted. To address the second, I believe that we can make masculinity what we want it to be by performing it in different ways that we find more suitable for ourselves, our social spaces and society more broadly. It is only by taking this responsibility for the gendered spaces we are moving in and by creating additional performance options that we, together can reconstruct masculinity.

In no way am I attempting to suggest that by rejecting traditional masculinity you are removing your ability to be helpful. I am simply suggesting that you are potentially limiting your ability to change existing processes and spaces. I place this caveat as there are many men who reject traditional performance of masculinity and productively work towards changing the gendered spaces they exist within.

"I'm changing gendered spaces right now and loving it"

My assertions for the week are:
  1. You are a gendered individual living in gendered spaces (at least one of these is true).
  2. Examine whether your rejection of none/some/all tenets of traditional masculine performance, as you view it, results in your not taking action that would otherwise be congruent with your beliefs (e.g., egalitarian spaces).
  3. If you find your rejection is limiting then, take action to change this by reminding yourself of your responsibilities for helping with creating spaces that you would like to reside in and broader beliefs you may hold.
  4. Delight in these new spaces that you have helped to create and place this delight in the broader construct of masculinity.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

It's OK, women are present.

Intimacy is defined as the experience of emotional closeness. This experience varies between people though it usually occurs when we are emotionally open with another (in terms of thoughts, feelings, desires, fears). Often this emotional openness involves a component of feeling vulnerable. In general men are prone to experiencing difficulties with intimacy due to a mismatch between vulnerability and their perceived social role as strong, in control and independent. This is always a fun discussion to have in my experience as there is nothing men love to do more than conflate sex with intimacy, a conflation that is so amusingly wrong*.

Conflation = Amusing.
Gendered views of intimacy roughly break down into a masculine expression of intimacy as doing something for the other person, with males often report feeling closer to their partner/others when doing things for them. This makes sense as doing something for another person allows men to express their emotions in a manner which is congruent with social role norms. Unfortunately, if both parties are male and attempting to express intimacy by doing things for each other then (a) we are not doing anything together, and (b) 'doing' as expression has limits. When we function in this manner we need women present to facilitate intimacy by facilitating discussion. I have come across additional arguments for why intimacy is expressed in this manner, particularly a fear of being perceived as homosexual by expressing intimacy with another man either verbally or non-verbally (for example the “I’m not gay” hug or “man smacks”).

If its with a girl I do things for her, it its with a guy I do things with him.

The title of this blog post came out of a number of brief conversations I had with men about their views of men expressing intimacy. The general consensus (likely because of a sampling bias, i.e., I know classy guys) was that these men were intimate with each other in different ways than they were intimate with women but they still were having conversations with each other that involved emotional sharing. When I asked how an intimate discussion between men (without women present) would go, almost invariably, there was a clarification that these men were happy to express their vulnerability when talking about their partners, or people they desired. The conclusion mostly reached was that intimacy without women present for the majority of men I talked to largely involved discussions or participation in common interests. All of this simply led me to think about the different ways that I express my intimacy with women and men, what differences there were and whether I was content with these differences (I do realise that many men do express vulnerability and intimacy with other men in different fashions, I am trying to suggest that we should increase our participation in masculinity in that manner).

Men doing together.

What can we do differently? I would like to think that increasing insights into our masculine experience of intimacy would lead to different behaviours in a relatively natural fashion. The realisation that for many men challenging this idea of appearing in control and without vulnerability is (a) difficult and unhealthy to maintain, and (b) reduces our ability to feel bonded and intimate with our male friends.

* Conflation discussions were rarely amusing and more often involved me looking befuddled before I understood, then looking a little embarrassed.

P.S. Thank you to all who have discussed masculinity and their experience of being male with me over the last few weeks, these conversations have been incredibly helpful, intimate and aided me in my personal exploration of this topic.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Alpha Seedling II

Why start a blog about masculinity/performance?

In part because of the strong feeling that gender is being performed across a number of contexts with little critical thought. This is especially the case in male heavy social groups the best example of which I can think of would be sporting clubs. Whilst these contexts can be fun (most people seem to enjoy themselves) I often have the strong impression of a series of one-dimensional characters play acting their masculine roles. These roles are so artificial and appear so limiting that I wanted to talk about this with everyone's friend, the internet.

The first limitation that I wanted to talk about was the seeming limitation that is placed on male-male intimacy. So often these roles leave me questioning where is the intimacy? The vast majority of the time when I witness men trying to be intimate or even when I try to be intimate with another man I can feel a resistance. This resistance puts me in mind of old movies where the protagonist and crush desperately want to be together and they cannot touch or be seen together and so stop achingly short, like these two. 

This is really just a teaser post, I am going to be doing a little research and talking to some people about intimacy. Once this is done I will return to discuss in more detail.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Alpha Seedling

For a while now I have been thinking about creating a space in my life where it would be possible to discuss masculinity. Now I am aware that there are a variety of options out there already; educational institutions, casual conversation, etc. Despite these options there is something ineffable about the idea of discussing masculinity online.
I would like to use this space to discuss masculinity and more generally the performance of being male as I find these ideas fascinating, as a man, and more generally in a theoretical sense. At times it may be theory heavy, at times it may be stupid, and at yet other times it may get a little bit personal (cue dimming of lights). That said I think it is important for all of us to think about how we perform our gender and how this informs our broader identity.
More soon this is mainly just to get over that first hurdle of posting.