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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