So to recap, your sexual orientation is a part of your identity that you don't choose. However, you start to assign traits, negative or positive, to sexual identities as you come across them. For example, it's acceptable in the US to idolize the straight, white man, and you chiefly identify him as masculine. Shortly behind, as long as she's riding sidecar, would be the straight white woman who is identified most significantly as feminine. Race plays a huge part of identity, both personal and perceived, although I'm going to have to just acknowledge that and move along if I don't want to end up writing a novel.
Beyond the heteronormative, to borrow a buzz word, we can include a few different stereotypes we assign to other sexual orientations, though the list of recognized sexual orientations is growing. For the scope of this article, we're going to focus on the stereotypes of these first two mentioned, as well as the stereotype of gay men and women because of how they help highlight this issue as one of perception and not of inherent value.
To start off, here basic traits assigned to each, by default, in US Culture:
Straight Men are assigned the culturally appealing trait of being masculine.
Straight Women are assigned the culturally skewed and moderately negative, trait of being feminine.
Gay men are also assigned the culturally skewed, moderately negative trait of being feminine. They are also maligned as having "given up" or possibly "not achieving" true masculinity that's available in/to a straight man.
Finally, gay women are assigned the culturally appealing trait of being masculine, but they are maligned for being women who could never truly "achieve" masculinity, because masculinity is again, only available to/part of a straight man.
Okay, American Culture, so you assign some traits to each persona (which is now my shorthand for identity/orientation), and there's certainly more we could add. Right now, we're only focusing on those pertaining to masculine and feminine.
So what is it about masculinity that our culture considers appealing, and why is it only available to one out of four personas listed, regardless of gender or orientation?
Masculinity and femininity are complicated vocabulary; we don't necessarily know what these words mean when we say them, let alone when someone else does. They apply to us, but we don't always know how, or for that matter why. Why would being confident make me appear masculine, why was my friend's emotional sensitivity considered effeminate? Those are interpretations of exhibited traits, which is exactly the reason why masculinity and femininity, unlike gender identity or sexual orientation, are mostly (but not entirely) cultural constructs. They primarily exist because of comparison and observation; Particularly, observation of how heterosexuals successfully attract one another.
The fact that masculinity and femininity are portrayals of heterosexual attraction helps frame why the possession and distribution of the idea of masculinity can be so oppressive, why it's so exclusive and sadly, why it's effective as cultural dogma.
I want to stress that there is nothing bad or wrong with masculinity; far from it. In order to work my way back to that point, there's a little shit talking that I need to do in the form of a history lesson: the rise of the Patriarchy.
Here's the short version: Patriarchy arose with the development of agricultural domesticating animals, and by proxy, owning territory that needed to be defended. Societies that remained hunter-gatherer based were typically more egalitarian, matriarchal in some cases. Ancient Greece went a long way into establishing patriarchy, with philosophers like Aristotle making such bullshit assumptions as women having "colder blood" which is why they couldn't "become men".
This wasn't strictly true across all civilizations, but there's far more examples than exceptions, and for the most part there's some level of subordination to the woman's role.
So what was a woman's place in a stationary, agricultural society? Child rearing, making babies that could help do farm work and defend the land, not to mention being bought and sold via marriage in order to establish treaties and merge family wealth. In order to buy and sell members of your species, you'd have to believe they're not as worthy as you, and so, long, long ago, before any one who reads this got close to being born, humans developed attitudes that females and things that are attributed to females are worth less. Because they were worth less as individuals, it made someone worth more to have many of them as property. Think of the early view of women as the pawns no the chess board. Only that one that might make it across and become queen would be of real value. The rest were sacrificial, literally or figuratively.
This isn't a comfortable truth, nor is it one men should feel responsible for: a lot of your traceable ancestry wasn't around while this was happening. This was very, very early in human civilization, and perpetuated with a lot of momentum until a few short lifetimes ago. Without learning this kind of history, however, we can't really do anything constructive about its effects in the present, never mind the "doomed to repeat it" thing.
So, here's my best guess as to where the ancient kernel of this dilemma arises :We're still working with an archaic framework for what defines masculinity: typically, a virile man who can attract the best mate, who will make the most and best offspring, offspring who can help him maintain his territory and possibly take more territory from other, weaker men.
As you might have noticed, the world we live in looks nothing like the ancient world where this idea developed. Does that mean that in modern society there is no masculinity? Before you can even look at that question, we have to start smaller : What is masculinity?
To be honest, I don't know if I could define, or find any one person who could definitely tell you, what masculinity "is": We could only maintain a list of things that are masculine.
Beards. Strength. Cars. Aggression. Fitness. Math. Video Games. Fathers. Confidence. Bearskin Rugs. Guns. Mustaches. Anger. Suits. Decisiveness. Wood Pipes. Whiskey. Ambition. Lumber, probably.
Wieners? Usually, but not always.
Even stupidity could be considered something of a masculine trait. In the media, it's usually used as an Achilles heel to exonerate or explain undesirable side effects (such as misjudging one's confidence) of characteristics that are still only attributed to men. Any word that "masculine" applies to should be a word that can be put in front of the word "man" and still give the same impression: Confident Man, Bearded Man, Strong Man, all similar in how they conjure our mental image.
(Wiener Man? Again, not really.)
Search the internet and you'll find a pretty expansive scope as to what manliness or masculinity is. There's a lot of scholarly papers written on the topic, the ever popular "Art of Manliness" franchise and let's not forget the myriad of men's magazines to help define it for you.
The simplest definition is in the dictionary, where the word masculine is defined as "pertaining to the characteristics of men."
What makes this adjective so troubling is that we use it like it's effectively tangible, and distributed exclusively to some people, as in men, and they must pertain to all men. Why do these qualities only pertain to men and not women? For that matter, do they really pertain to all men? We can easily establish that not all men share the same characteristics, but how does that make them any different in terms of being a man?
Those questions are frustrating enough, but the frustration could only be amplified given that we've never really toned down the importance of "being a man" since the days where that meant you had the most oxen or could wrestle a bear off of your pregnant wife.
At one point in time, your survival, your social status, and your family's well being was directly related to how good of a provider you were. How good of a provider you were was not only a trait of masculinity, but it was considered a result of it, as well. As the social climate progresses and we learn more about one another, including the diversity of sexual and gender identities, the idea of masculinity continues to play a huge role, but nobody has a fucking clue what that role actually is.
We developed cultural masculinity; ideals based off of our social values of being a man, that often have little to do with the actual qualities of being a man. We're taught these when we're very young and they're reinforced for the rest of our life. Our only reprieve is by meeting people who don't fit the mold that trigger some further understanding or acceptance.
American culture has further tailored the quality of masculinity as something ascribed to people in power, possibly because that's partially where the ideas originated. Today, power comes in different forms: money, success, and in this model, sexual prowess. Additionally, it's often preached (religiously or by social norms) to the middle class that "success" involves having a family, settling down, getting your own house, etc. Lifestyles that deviate from this idea of success are often viewed as also deviating from the qualities of that success, such as masculinity.
In order to keep it in the hands of the powerful, we've had to adjust the relevance of the word; masculinity can't apply to men who don't uphold the adapted power structure, nor can the favorable traits that are identified as masculine be considered inherent to the women who challenge it.
So, to challenge men who don't fit the social structure by claiming they lack masculinity, and therefore must be homosexual, goes back to those outdated power structures that are slowly cracking. A man who isn't masculine, who doesn't fit the stereotype that would lead them to the current patriarchal power model, must therefore either be sexually unfit, or gay (a social status which is still fighting for equality, and which is still considered by some groups of people to be a form of sexual deviancy).
If you don't think you're gay, and at the very least hope you're not sexually unfit, but you lack the prescribed traits of masculinity assigned by our culture, you're forced to make some very difficult judgment calls. Without doing anything besides having your personality, you're forced to figure out what kind of person you are, and how you fit into society as a whole, because you aren't the kind of man that culture dictates you should be. It's no wonder my male friends struggled with this for so long and felt frustrated and isolated; it took me hours to come up with that sentence and I only kind of think it makes sense.
Is that a fucked up social perspective? Sure is. Is the solution to stop putting such an elaborate cultural emphasis on masculinity? Yes and no; it's not that simple. First off, it's still not clear what our collective definition of masculinity even is. And again, there's nothing wrong with or bad about being masculine, and it shouldn't be discouraged in people who exhibit it in the traditional sense. The problem lies in the level of pressure we put on men to live up to what's ultimately an arbitrary definition of who they should be, and offering no alternative or recognition of diversity. That's idiotic.
Factor in a discouragement of diversity and the frequent lack of positive male role models a lot of my generation has, and you're left with confused, angry men who feel like they should hate themselves more than they actually do, but don't understand why. There's a million ways that kind of anomie can become dangerous.
Also, there's no point in celebrating femininity at the risk of snuffing masculinity out in some reverse chauvinism. This is usually the fear of people who have had poor introductions to feminism at large, and ironically could be argued would be by women exhibiting "masculine traits" such as confidence or aggression, in the name of feminism.
So far, we've established three things:
1. Sexuality and Masculinity (or femininity) aren't concurrent.
2. As a culture, we still overly value the idea of masculinity due to completely outdated social constructs.
3. Because we've changed so much as a society, we're pretty fuzzy on what that idea that we value so highly actually is.
Now that that's established, we have a new question: How is a person going to attain that social value if he doesn't know what it is? Essentially, how does a boy become a man?
About A Blog
I'm a Denver Comedian, occasional cartoonist and person of interest to someone, probably. These articles are really too long.