In June of last year I wrote about some of the various aspects of how to behave and/or be in order to achieve "real" manhood...or...as Judith Butler would phrase it "perform" being male. She views gender and even sex and sexual desire as acts that we learn to perform rather than some core element(s) of our developing being that unfold as we mature.
In other words, we feel and perceive in various ways and instead of us being free to figure out how to deal with those feelings and perceptions, our culture tells us how to think about and understand those things. Heck, our culture even tells us how to exhibit (or hide) such behaviors and feelings and thoughts. And...if we don't follow the cultural "rules", lots of pressure is invoked to get us follow the "party line".
Something that I struggled with on an ongoing basis for years was my realization that I didn't particularly care to be around most men...looking back now I can see that it was mostly white men I didn't much care for but while it was going on I simply perceived it as my being rather put off by most males. I simply didn't like them very much and found their company unpleasant. I did have some male friends but there were only a very very few men that I enjoyed being around. Probably in my lifetime I've known no more than 2 or 3 white males that I actually felt comfortable with and fairly consistently enjoyed being around.
On the other hand I noticed that I more often enjoyed the company of women and found, again in general, that their company was much more pleasant and interesting to me. That enjoyment would sometimes get complicated or distorted by my being sexually attracted to a particular woman...but...there were a number of women that I wasn't particularly attracted to sexually that I found that I greatly enjoyed interacting with. Women are, on average, just niftier...to me anyway.
Numerically, lets say, out of 100 women I would find 10 or 20 that were pleasant or interesting company...and that I felt comfortable around, out of 100 men that number would shrink to 1 or 2 who were experienced by me that way...if that many. We all differ to some degree from one another but for me...on average...women are spiffier.
I noticed this about myself over the years and wondered about it, but not too deeply or persistently.
It really came to the front of my awareness as a result of my time in the military and then my time in graduate school. The Air Force put me in a position where I met and lived around hundreds of guys, mostly my age.
I found a few guys that I sort of enjoyed interacting with but on the whole, having to be around men all the time was stressful and unpleasant for me. Mostly it pretty much sucked. Looking back at that time from years later makes me shake my head. Then, I vaguely wondered whether maybe was something "wrong" with me. What it was...I didn't know...I just knew I felt uneasy and uncomfortable and at the same time thought my feeling that way wasn't how I was supposed to feel. Aren't guys supposed to like to hang out with guys? That's what I was taught, but that wasn't how I felt.
My discomfort and unease persisted as I aged. In elementary school and even high school I had guy friends and hung out with guys but the older I became the more uneasy I found that I was whenever I was with most guys. Not that I was fully aware of this at the time, I'm thinking and writing about it now, many decades later, and it is apparent to me now but I couldn't have clearly articulated it then...I just felt it and lived it.
A few months ago some of my confusion resolved itself. In part because some reading I have been doing of the works of various feminist authors...Kimberle Crenshaw, Patricia Williams, Audre Lorde, Andrea Dworkin and Dorothy Allison come to mind.
One of the things that popped into clarification was that women...all women no matter their race...have to live in and learn to survive in male dominated culture. That's totally true here in the U.S. where there's a core component of our society that's driven by something some call 'toxic masculinity', which refers, in part to: "...a specific model of manhood, geared towards dominance and control. It’s a
manhood that views women and LGBT people as inferior, sees sex as an
act not of affection but domination, and which valorizes violence as the
way to prove one’s self to the world."
It's creepy and scary to think about this, but the fact is that most violence among humans is male violence. For instance, this article quotes the statistic that men account for about 80% of those arrested for violent crimes in the U.S. Think of it, if we look at the total population and don't consider the children and women, then 80% of all violent crime arrests come from about 40% of the population (males are about 50% of the population and about 20% of that 50% are 14 or younger...so...about 40% of the population is male and older than 14). And, about 90% of all murders here in the U.S. are committed by males, so that 40% of the population accounts for 90% of all murders.
Toxic masculinity is harmful to men...but men are violently harmful to others.
Men in my family rarely if ever act out violently...but...many of the stifling components of "being a man" are inflicted on the male children.
For instance, years ago, I was probably in my 30s, I was out one afternoon tossing a football around with my cousin, who's a couple of years younger than me and his young son...who was maybe 7 or 8 at the time. The youngster tried to catch the ball and it hit the end of his fingers on one of his hands and jammed them. If you've ever had that happen you know how much it hurts and the kiddo started crying because of the pain.
My cousin...who was someone I was quite close to most of my life...started getting all over his son because he was crying. Telling him to shut up...that boys don't cry and all that crap that gets drizzled all over most little boys. I vividly remember being furious with my cousin...I can feel the anger even now as I write about it decades later.
That memory sort of epitomizes some aspects of my repulsion and rejection of that crap about being a "real man". Men don't cry...which is stupid when you think about it...why would we have tear ducts if we don't cry? I almost hated my cousin at that instant...I had always been pretty close to him but that changed it all for me. I never looked at him the same way again...ever. It's one of those moments that stay with me. It sort of summed up so many of things I'd been taught and exposed to in my life about being a "man".
I love my cousin, I had known him my whole life but that moment brought a distance into our relationship that hadn't been there. I saw him differently from there on. We still visit sometimes but I know...and he knows too...that we comprehend and view the world around us rather differently.
If you're stuck into being raised as a guy, there's little freedom to genuinely express how you feel (without fear of retaliation or ridicule or ostracism)...you have to follow the rules...men don't cry...men are "tough"...crap like that.
I was lucky in that I didn't grow up in a family where men were encouraged to be violent, but many boys aren't so lucky. Even if families don't encourage such harmful behavior, we're all exposed to movies and television and books where male violence is lauded and praised and admired and promoted....male violence is "normalized" and encouraged.
And then we're shocked and horrified when boys or men act out violence. Duh.
FYI, I work at not thinking of gender without also considering race...in the U.S. all "men" are a "race" and all who are "raced" are also assigned a gender. It's a false notion that we can clearly and accurately think about "female" (or "male') without also considering which racial group that female or male has been assigned to. Because, you'll get socialized differently based on both those factors, there will be similarities...but there will be important differences too.
Both of those aspects of identity are (almost invariably) assigned to us from birth and we experience U.S. society from those positions simultaneously. It's misleading to think about them separately, even though that's the "norm". It's incorrect to do so. I am working on figuring out how to think and write and speak about this without sounding as if I think there's something like a "woman" without a race or a racialized human without a gender.
So...excuse where I've failed to make this clear...I plead guilty to being unskilled at it. I've been taught to think about "women" and "men" as existing outside of racial groupings instead of viewing race/gender as being inseparable and overcoming that erroneous conditioning is an ongoing project.
(As always, I'm floundering around
trying to figure this stuff out and...I'm limited by my being socially
positioned as a white male...therefore...my comprehension/understanding
is necessarily constrained by that positioning. So, any omissions,
errors or screw-ups you might detect in this post and that you're
willing to let me know about will be respectfully appreciated. Thank