Saturday, July 16, 2005

Narrowing down the subject

So I was talking with a trusted friend last night about the subject of my last post. He didn't see that masculine identity was such a big issue and was curious why I’d suddenly become obsessed with it. Anybody who’s known me for awhile knows that my obsession isn’t sudden. But it’s as I wrote previously – I’m thinking about creating a Top Ten List of Things Every Single Guy Should Own and can’t understand why that topic has stumped me. But then I realized, I can’t identify what men should own if I don’t even know what a man is.

“This a crisis... why?”

“Because I find that the single largest issue in modern romance is that men and women, BOTH, don’t know what it means to be a man anymore. If you take the image of a yin-yang symbol, it’s as if the feminist movement has adjusted and moved one portion of the symbol, say the white half, but that the male side of the symbol, say the dark half (don’t read anything into this, I randomly picked the colors), has stayed exactly where it was before. So now there’s a gap between the two shapes, where previously they were harmoniously flushed. Is it any wonder that men and women have such a hard time getting together these days? Men don’t know how to act around women and women are no help. If we’re inconsistent in our demands - don’t cry but be sensitive; dress nicely and keep a clean house without being gay - it’s because we don’t have a clue either.”

He said that his experience hadn’t matched mine. Yes, he’s seen those mixed messages from women and yes, he’s seen men struggle to adjust to those inconsistencies, but he didn’t attribute it to gender.

“It’s not a matter of men or women being fickle, but that PEOPLE are fickle. One day you get turned on by your woman’s brains, the next, you want her to give you a lap-dance in a g-string and blonde wig. What people want from day-to-day is as changeable as the wind.”

He added that women have been adjusting the definition of feminine for awhile and that it’s been his experience that men are just adjusting along with it.

“Do I want to go shopping? No, but I do it anyway because I think it’s what my woman wants and I know that she’d do the same for me.”

At this point, I asserted that he could not remove gender from our discussion.

“The feminist movement has expanded women’s roles and choices. One is a woman regardless of whether she wears a skirt or pants; stays home to raise kids or becomes the CEO of a corporation; gets breast implants and dyes her hair or joins the army. The choices have expanded, but gender is always present. We take for granted how much our gender informs our identities and choices. If you were to ever encounter anyone who’s struggling with homosexuality, transvestism or transexuality, you’d see what I’m talking about.”

But my friend held firm, pointing out that all these choices can be made regardless of gender. A man could just as easily stay at home or become a CEO; wear a skirt (see kilt) or pants; devote all his time to his looks (Metrosexual or Smoothie) or join the army (become a warrior).

I repeated, “You can’t separate gender out from any choice one makes. A female warrior looks different than a male warrior. By virtue of their genes, one will fight differently than the other despite the fact that they’ve both devoted their lives to combat. So, essentially, gender cannot be separated from our identities and by extension, our behavior and choices. I mean, look at the moment of conception. The very first question that’s answered, even before we’re capable of breathing for ourselves, is what are we? Male or female?”

My friend, who’s in medicine, still disagreed, describing the first moment that cell combines with cell as being about procreation. The question answered – male or female – is a biological one, not a philosophical one. So there it becomes a spiritual, chicken ‘n egg question: which came first, the philosophy or the body? Which is like asking which came first: God or man? So there we had to agree to disagree, but in his point, I found an epiphany.

“I guess the question I'm strugging with is not what is the new definition of masculinity. While women complain about changing gender definitions, they still adjust when needed. Men, on the other hand, resist change. I mean, why do you think there are so many more women than men in therapy?”

“Because men aren’t culturalized to talk about their feelings.”

“Maybe, but I think it has more to do with the fact that therapy would CHANGE them, and they don’t want to. I mean, human beings in general don’t like to change. But women are still better at it than men. We have to be, to put up with menstruation and child-bearing. I guess the real question is not what is the new definition of masculine, but why are men resisting changes in the definition of masculinity? For instance, it’s been my experience that most men do know what women want, they just don’t want to do it. They become resentful. They want things to stay the way they were, man brings home the bacon and woman stays home and takes care of the man.”

He conceded that I had a point and theorized further. “Well, if you’d been the dominant gender for centuries and you saw the other gender changing, you’d get scared too. It’s been easier for women to change because in that change, they’ve gained privileges. For men to change, it means losing privileges.”

”Well, that’s where I disagree. Just because women are gaining privileges, that doesn’t mean that men HAVE to lose them. In some cases, yes, there is a loss. Perhaps more competition for jobs. But I think men disserve themselves when they forget everything they’re gaining. Men’s choices increase as well; I know lots of men who chafe under the pressure to bring home the bacon and would love to stay home and raise a baby. Isn’t it possible for men to embrace a change in the definition of masculinity because of all the possibilities it opens up to them?”

“Yeah, but it’s not about choice. All biology procreates. Men fear that if they change, they’ll become obsolete. Men are afraid that women won’t need them anymore.”

And we come back around to that first moment of conception. Male or female? Will there be enough of both so that the species will continue?

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