I've put off finishing this piece because of things happening in my life, and I have to admit finding the momentum to tackle something so giant again was difficult. The more I learn about this topic the more frustrating and insane it is. I've also had a pretty cynical trip to The Red Pill Reddit, which was a real shame. I found granules of pretty true things that I think would make good fodder for public forum, but they were lodged in genuine misogyny and fear of femininity. You have no idea how depressing that sentence was to write. Red Pill logic about as helpful to the genuine concerns of men as the phrase "toxic masculinity" is to the concerns of women. That's going to have to pop up at another time though. I just shouldn't have done that to myself. This is off topic, we were talking about identity.
Up until now, I've only been attempting to define what the problem is, and it took so damn long because it's so insanely tangled and vague. Let's take two steps forward before taking one back, I'll tell you a little bit about femininity from my own misconceptions about it.
I am, or rather, was, one of the "All my friends are guys," girls that you meet in your life. I think I've always had friends of both sexes but I typically favored my male friends because they were a little more straight forward. I don't read social cues very well, and the concept of gossip was absolutely mortifying the first time it happened to me.
The first time I learned about back talk was in fourth grade, I made friends with a girl on my block who told other girls in my class that I didn't wash my hair, which retrospectively was probably true, I was still enjoying being a little monster. It was just the idea that she had been nice to me and said that for the sole purpose of making other people judge me, and therefore making me feel bad about myself that I didn't understand. (I remember my best friend at the time, also a girl, was quick to put a stop to any bad feelings I had about it, but that didn't register with the same intensity to me at the time) The whole experience was awful and I didn't understand why it happened, and I was keenly aware that no boy had ever tried to spread a rumor about me. The concept of dealing with any one else's social life seemed as alien to boys in my class as it did to me, ergo, I made more male friends. Whether that's my own experience or a truism I can't tell you.
Whether this trend continued because we shared more common interests/communication styles or attraction came into play is debatable. I remained relatively asexual for most of my teenage years, but I did grow a pretty dark affinity for rejecting people who asked me out. If I ever did feel inclined towards someone, I was usually the one who pursued. Again, I had no ability to discern social cues, I had older brothers and most of my friends were male, so the concept of wooing someone was lost on me. It still kind of is and this has inadvertently led me to becoming one of the weirdest teases unless I have this borderline autistic conversation with people about what friendship is first.
The reason I bring this up is because I don't know how much I had in common with a lot of the boys that I hung out with as a teenager/through college. I didn't have a lot in common with anyone. Usually if I did, it was drugs, particularly ones being done at the moment. Drugs were a potent social crutch for me for a long time. I got in the habit of lying and becoming manipulative strictly so I didn't have to feel so alienated. Over time I picked and chose which lies worked better and got me closer to people I felt comfortable with. I never used it to get higher social status, not to the detriment of any one else, anyway.
That's the only common ground I had with either sex, and for whatever reason, I tended to gravitate towards hanging out with men, if for no other reason than the social situations made more sense to me, until the moments they really, really didn't. I'm telling you this because women also may share a fear of the feminine, or being perceived as feminine. It's equally ill defined and socially shunned. Many women hold the same bias about what femininity means which makes it more difficult to explain let alone exonerate from misconception.
Trying to explain what is femininity is going to be as difficult as explaining what is masculinity, and I can't offer up another 5 part essay for it at the moment. We can use the same basic acknowledgements, though: That the word "feminine" should refer to traits referring to women, that the traits that are inherently female (and again, there are) are equally ill defined, and we're relying on these ancient, ill defined models of what is feminine, and because of how we've progressed as a society, we don't really know what these models mean any more.
We have to assume that we don't necessarily understand femininity any more than masculinity, but we are much more free to be afraid of it, because it's not a goal and lacks the mystique of something you're trying to attain. In a lot of ways, femininity is to be avoided at all costs.
Fear of femininity appears to stem from a couple of key factors: One, that women aren't capable of controlling their emotions, and practice manipulation and other acts of "social violence" to borrow a Red Pill phrase, and Two, that because we are women, we face no repercussions for these. These are just the top of the list, but again, femininity is to be avoided, so other undesirable traits are assigned to us as well.
Those are both true and false statements, by the way. Some women can be manipulative or commit acts of "social violence" but they're true and false for goddamned anyone depending on what situation they're in. Those are methods of communication for betterment of social position at the cost of someone else, which is something that fucking everyone in a social structure does.
Assigning these traits to women allows men a little bit of reprieve: they aren't inherently the awful thing known as feminine. Unfortunately, if they don't live up to the social standard well enough, they can become "effeminate." This term robs them of that expectation of masculinity, which means they have been lowered down the hill they have to climb in order to be considered a successful human. The identity politics of being a man rides on the idea that you're not portraying characteristics of a woman. Essentially, if you don't live to the standard, you're out of the club, whether or not you have a penis.
This creates a complicated boundary, once you're (involuntarily) kicked out of your gender identity there's a lot of confusion as to where you're supposed to go from there. Assuming you don't believe you're a woman, your only other socially prescribed option is homosexuality in terms of the social identities you've been raised with.
Again, the nuance of this tends to surface with time as you meet more people who have wrestled with and understand this. To my knowledge most of the people I know who went through this did it between the ages of 16-22 or so, which are pretty malleable times where everyone is trying to figure their shit out. I'm not going to say it gets better, but it gets a little more certain as you start witnessing how other people handled it.
When an identity is imposed on you but doesn't accurately define you, you're left with a lot of frustration. Frustration is one of the masculine-approved feelings, which can probably seem further complicated because you've just got one more tally in your "but-wait-I'm-not..." column. Despite their experimentation with the same sex, most of my friends had a few girlfriends, and from what I know, most of these relationships were toxic and only served to further their beliefs that being "feminine" was awful and plunge them further into doubts about their orientation. It's not a difficult leap to imagine. If you're with a girl who drives you insane, and your whole life you've been told you're not supposed to like them anyway, it lends credence to that confusing cultural message.
(Side note here. That pliable age range, 16-22, most people do awful things in relationships because we don't really know what we're doing. Learning how to not do those things and recover from damage is how we work out a lot in terms of what we want in our partners and how to maintain a sense of individuality in our relationships. Everyone has bad experiences and the fact that some people had girls be mean to them doesn't reflect on women as a whole so much as it does that age range of brain development.)
Assume that you have the burden, secretly or not, of wondering if you're homosexual despite not feeling attracted to the same sex. Add to that assumption some chaotic, often times controlling relationships with women in your formative years. You begin to lose faith in your concept of your own masculinity even further because part of that is shaped by your success with women. If you can't maintain relationships with them, you are again portrayed as less of a man. You start hating women because they're fucking up your social status despite the fact that's all in your head. Your relationships become even more complicated and strained as these feelings knot up and solidify in your neural pathways. Every time you feel attracted to a woman, behind it lurks a beast of expectation, self doubt and double standards. When she fucks up, it's because she's a woman, a crazy, manipulative woman, despite your own manipulation based on your lack of self-understanding.
Part of your identity rides on her, so you fault your own insecurities based off of your reactions to her behavior. She becomes responsible for your lack of masculinity, because she is feminine, and she is the embodiment of the things that you don't like (or have been told not to like) about yourself. Men in this situation begin to resent women a great deal, and often exhibit behavior that are paradoxically equivalent to the flaws they assume are female: they become emotionally abusive, manipulative and unstable as they attempt to protect their sense of masculinity in light of the cultural view of it.
So your relationships suck, you're desperate not to be considered gay, and you develop the idea of the "Holy Grail" woman. She is the positive aspects of femininity and has no flaws: she is nurturing and kind, at home where you don't need to see her be pursued by other men that will challenge your status, she is not manipulative, she is docile. She is the beta to your alpha. She will give you that social appearance of masculinity because she is the stepladder of femininity that you can use to achieve the regular assumption of masculinity.
That is a goddamned awful way to see other people. That woman also does not exist unless she has been crushed under expectations that her job is to be a wife and she never questions that. In modern society, that step ladder personality has been given a lot of opportunity to self examine and evaluate, and not choose that shitty life of subordinance. For many of us, I promise you it is shitty and not a choice we'd make willingly.
Even if you did find that step ladder person, you would never truly feel fulfilled, because you're one shaky day away from that relationship falling apart and crashing back into your lowered status of not being able to "keep a woman." (We have our own version of this as women, but again, for the sake of keeping this closer to short, we're only focusing on men.)
My friends were usually in this "pedestal" stage when I met them, believing that the women they'd meet were the ones that completed them in the most hopelessly romanticized sense as these angel-women would be able to save them from their self doubts. Because this expectation is unreal, their relationships crumbled, some of them became embittered to women, others opened up about what made them feel so much pressure and stopped looking for women to make them feel whole and instead looked for people they enjoyed spending time with.
It makes a crazy difference, and once their partners weren't subjugated to the role of being enough of a woman to make them a man (can you read that without going cross eyed? It's insane!) they could begin to have the real intimacy that does make a relationship work. If she's not a tool, she's a person with positive traits and flaws all tangled into one critter, you can have a dynamic relationship that will leave you fulfilled regardless of what society thinks you're supposed to do or how masculine you are, and alleviate the doubt you had that you weren't supposed to be with women in the first place.
That all comes with time and understanding of self. Unfortunately for guys in this position, my only knowledge is that you have to suffer through it. Hopefully reading this helps someone figure it out a little faster and you can skip some of the experiences my friends went through. My advice would be, that if you feel insecure or that you've been faced with this question about yourself, be up front about it with any romantic partner you have. If she seems disgusted or disturbed by it, bow out; she's not equipped to handle it and you're not doing either of you any favors. If she's been through it, or met someone who's been in that position, or open to talking to you about it, see where the conversation leads. Chances are, part of the reason you're in your position because you've been told to shut off your emotions, which is something women aren't told (not in the same way) and can therefore navigate pretty well if open to it.
You should also be able to talk to your male friends about it. I admittedly have no idea how that goes because by nature I wouldn't be able to be in the room when those conversations take place. You would be experiencing male intimacy, which isn't gay no matter how much those two words next to each other might make you cringe, it's a bond between people who know what each other are going through and can relate. Whether or not we're open to it, that's not something you can get from women. Your sense of fulfillment comes from connection you make from people, and people who understand your gender and sexuality struggles will be able to make you feel more comfortable with those struggles. Having positive male influences in your life can give you better, more realistic models of what masculinity is and how it balances with femininity without all the media and social pressure.
I don't know if this helped you, but I hope it sheds a little light on it for you. Also, this article was not written for everyone, it's written for that specific problem. I could have gone off in volumes about gender fluidity or other sexual identities, but this is for a particular kind of person, it's a letter to a problem, I guess. I hope it helped. If you've experienced this, you're not alone, and it's not as governing of your life if you don't let it. Good luck out there, boyo.
This article was written over multiple parts to make it a little more bearable. If you just jumped in, you can review : Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
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Undeniably, cultural influence goes a long way towards shaping how you think of yourself. Hypermasculine and hyperfeminine ideals are hurtled at us from every direction within a few months of being alive, but it's not hopeless. Humans are relatively susceptible to influence, particularly when we're young, but we're also incredibly curious. We don't have to take anything on face value if we have the interest to dig deeper.
And while you're sifting through all of this new social information, you have two hyperbolic figureheads, your own personal heroes, that let you know how to interpret all that crazy symbology. They have the ability to give you insight to the world around you. Not only that, their acceptance or rejection of any otherwise socially held standard will have a huge bearing on your own opinion of those standards.
Who are those two figureheads? Mom and Dad.
Writing this presents a couple of significant challenges for me. There's a few things I'll just go ahead and say outright, because I may inadvertently come across offensively on these fronts. Let me establish this:
I am not, by any means downplaying the insane struggle of being a single mother or attempting to chastise women in that position.
I am not blaming good men of being bad fathers because they uphold the standards that they were held to.
I am not stating that these people alone are responsible for this kind of pressure on a growing individual.
Your mother and father won't be the only people to assume that figurehead, particularly if your own weren't around for whatever reason, and you don't get to live off of blaming them without making any changes to yourself if you're struggling with your own identity. Your identity is your job.
Still with me? Good.
Being a parent in a monogamous culture means two things: One, the success of your relationship will be a model for your offspring, and two, having two parents provides a more well rounded view of how functional adults should work and what they achieve. You also have both a male and female perspective to help you discern the influx of information about gender.
Loren Eiseley suggested in "The Immense Journey" that we encouraged this monogamy in our earliest origins of evolution because our brains spend so much time developing. Because our childhood is so long, we're able to form neural pathways over a longer span and become more complex organisms. To become that complex requires the protection and resources that a single parent raising its offspring would have difficulty providing. Again, this is evolutionary perspective; developing homo sapiens did not have established shelters, grocery stores, and so on in order to make survival simpler. It was no contest; two parents meant better survival for a long and complex childhood.
We further solidified the importance of monogamy, and therefore, dual parenthood, with agriculture, religion and patriarchy. Monogamy became important in order to keep track of whose offspring belonged to whom, and therefore who was deserving of sharing of a family's resources. Over time, and with our development of agriculture, we further shifted towards our individual interest and systems of ownership, so preserving our resources for our kin, rather than being egalitarian, became even more important as we attempted to distinguish our success from the success of a community as a whole. We established miniature monarchies within households, with the father figure being at the very top.
We built a culture around two parents being successful, and successfully rearing a child, with the dominant male being something of a pack leader. In order to be a pack leader, one had to do what all animals do, defend their territory and establish dominance. Animal nature creeps into our supposedly sophisticated creation of social structure. Dominant males could express this by having more, achieving more, and being better, stronger, smarter and more successful than other rivals. We are no different than any other animal in that regard.
Relating this back to the family, a father is faced with two quandaries: one, how does he demonstrate to his progeny that he is, by social standards, a successful man? Secondly, how does he prepare said offspring for the competitive world in which he must strive to be as close to the ideal standard of manliness as he can? Just like playing music in the womb, the typical solution was to start early. I sometimes wonder if this is leftover from our historically shorter life expectancy.
Little boys were taught to become men, which, as you may recall, means fuck all from an objective manner of speaking, but it means a lot to a developing little boy, and even more when it's something not only desired, but expected from him by his parents. At whatever age a boy is told he's not allowed to cry, effectively, he's told he's not allowed to express that he's in pain, which on some level is telling a child he's not allowed to feel pain. If you're not allowed to feel something as basic as pain, you're going to struggle greatly with openly feeling anything else. There's no wonder there's a rage epidemic.
One of the roles of a father figure, or any strong male role model, is to give an example as to how a member of your own sex treats the opposite sex, to embody the ideals of "masculinity" and encourage and recognize those in you. If your father figure imparts ideals of masculinity as emotionlessness, rage, and violence, and you rapidly begin to notice that you don't embody any of those qualities, you're going to have to wade into whatever your society dictates masculinity is to find it for yourself, and you may find nothing there. You may find that the fact that you have feelings, want to have bonds with men, and have no real desire to express yourself exclusively by breaking things will somehow align you to being effeminate, and therefore gay, whether or not your orientation resides there or not.
Because you have qualities of "the other" then you must be "one of the others," and this has been propagated seemingly forever.
In this circumstance, men wanting male intimacy aren't exhibiting any kind of homosexual desire, they're exhibiting humanity. Human beings are social animals, and having to live in a culture that encourages this suppression leaves them nothing but frustration. Their fathers were raised in much the same culture, and can't provide a healthier example for their children, because so far as they're aware, that's how it works, and no one was ever encouraged to ask why or if it was a good idea.
So where does mom fall into this? Well, she can end up with a number of different masks, we'll find out, which is the peculiar burden of women, because we *are* socially allowed to feel, because we're not expected to run anything.
I should point out that these ways of thinking are becoming archaic, and that these figurehead analogies aren't completely solid. As time progresses, they will break down, because we're seeing the cracks in the system. This is a snap shot for the time we're in, however, and for the people that I've seen raised in it. The more you learn about these kinds of social systems, the more power you have not to become part of it.
At least in my generation, there is a staggering lack of father figures. Interestingly, this has led to a well-deserved increase in attention to the father's role in court cases. Originally, deadbeat dads, while not necessarily a prized role, were at least socially recognized. Mothers weren't offered the same "out" given a woman's biological attachment to a child's development. Men could get scared and leave their families, or be unfit to participate in them. Women had no such luxury.
Mothers play a nurturing role and have a very complex influence over our sense of validation for that reason. If you think of your father as the guardian, the caretaker, the person who goes out into the world and demonstrates how people behave, then the mother, the nurturer, the person who takes care of you as you grow and develop, is the person who demonstrates how you become an adult. She essentially affirms that your feelings are okay, or not, and she has to come up with something to fill the vaccuum of ideals that are associated with your father's role. I don't care how incredible your mom was, having to raise a child, support them financially and play both parental roles is a level of effort that I simply don't think is achievable to the same standard as having two parents in the household. It will, in some way, inevitably effect your psychology not to have a father figure, or to have too many, or negative ones.
If that's not a fuck ton of responsibility for one person, I don't know what is. For some mothers, they have to assume both roles, attempting to nurture and demonstrate development while also providing for the family that has no second contributor. I can't imagine the burden that could place on a woman and her son, particularly the way we're set up socially.
Most of the people I know who have struggled with this particular mental anguish have also had strained, difficult, or even nonexistent relationships with their mothers, and even worse so with their fathers. They had no direction, no way to compare or to feel self assured in themselves versus the fluid cultural definitions they were offered.
This isn't meant to blame either parent for this particular situation, but I think it highlights an important role of adults in our society when it comes to the impact they have on children: If you lack adult role models that help illustrate the kind of person you want to become, you will be forced to discern that information from people your own age, who haven't figured that out yet.
This is just a touchstone of the points I've made: your reaction to how culture views masculinity is going to be compared against how your parents view masculinity, and how they praise or reprimand you based on it will have a lot of value on how you see yourself in that larger context. As you get older, you learn to contextualize your parents based on their own upbringing and experience, but that's barely an option to consider when you're developing during your internment of adolescence. Even if you were able to create that kind of elaborate critical thinking, you're not really in a position to express or exercise any changes based off of it.
I don't know that I could offer any solution to the parental aspect of this. All people are flawed and are often flawed based on their own interpretations and experiences and traumas. You can't blame your parents for doing what they probably assume was the right way to raise someone to be a successful adult. You just have to find other successful adults to model off of. I think this gets a little easier with time, only because you become an adult, and therefore your peers can become people you can both look up to and relate to, and they can help unravel the complexity of your upbringing a little better.
Well, that was fun, and we're almost finished, but there's still one last piece to this. So far we've gone into why thinking you're gay based off of your personality and not your actual orientation is a cultural misstep, and it's one that's reinforced by your upbringing. Lastly, we've got to address the cause of why this dismissive approach towards male intimacy and sensitivity exists: a fear (and, as much as I'm loathe to say it, suppression) of the feminine ...
This article is broken up into sections : Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
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