Sunday, 23 October 2016

Try being human

The artist Grayson Perry has written a book about the destructive nature of "mascul-inity". Like other men who have explored the same subject, he doesn't think we should junk the concept altogether. He says it just needs a bit of tweaking, a bit of adjustment, to make it more positive.

He thinks there's a more tender, sensitive version of masculinity, typified by men like Barack Obama and David Beckham, that should replace the cold, brutal stereotype many men still aspire to.

I think that's a cop-out. To my mind, however you define masculinity, however you try to soften it and purge its unsavoury reality, it'll never totally lose the underlying nastiness. It's so strongly linked with sexual aggression, emotional stunting, domestic violence, competitiveness, arrogance, egotism and dominance, it's hard to see how it could ever be positive.

I think the whole idea of masculinity is obsolete. It's of no benefit to anybody, either women or men. It should be consigned to the history books. It should be given a decent burial.

The answer to the problem of toxic masculinity is so simple. Instead of searching for some less tainted version of "masculinity", men should simply act like human beings. They should be kind, considerate, generous, supportive, emotional and loving. They should treat other people as equals to be valued and cherished. They shouldn't see weakness, vulnerability and fear as things to be exploited.

Could any version of "masculinity" ever embrace that sort of behaviour? However advanced your definition, wouldn't it still be a bit dubious? Wouldn't it smack of sissies, softies, slop-bags, wimps? Wouldn't it be something for you and your mates to sneer at? Wouldn't it be laughably "effeminate"?

Men can redefine masculinity till the cows come home. It will still be a millstone around our necks. It will still reek of entitlement and belligerence. But human beings are always welcome.

22 comments:

John Gray said...

I think many men do not have a clean sense of masculinity any more
It's fashionable for what they do have to be bashed by some....

CheerfulMonk said...

It would be nice, but not likely. We've been lucky to live in a long era of relative peace. But there are too many aggressive people and countries in the world for it to last for much longer, I'm afraid. With climate change, overpopulation, competition for resources, mass migrations, etc. there will be a lot more conflicts in the future. I would love to be proved wrong!

Nick said...

John: There are positive qualities attached to "masculinity", like practicality, DIY, technical know-how etc, but these are all qualities that women can excel at too if they wish. So they don't really count.

Jean: Was this comment meant for the previous post? (In any case, I rather agree with your gloomy prediction)

CheerfulMonk said...

I assume you reject the idea of femininity too? I would be happy to see that one go. :)

"the quality of being female; womanliness.
"she celebrates her femininity by wearing makeup and high heels"
synonyms:womanliness, feminineness, womanly qualities, feminine qualities
"she was a woman truly comfortable with her femininity"

That doesn't sound like me! I'm me, that's more than enough.

Nick said...

Jean: Not sure about femininity. It seems a lot more positive than masculinity, though of course it's still a stereotype that women can find oppressive. But the idea of femininity as softness, attractiveness, sensitivity etc seems okay to me, as long as it doesn't turn into a sort of simpering submissiveness.

Rummuser said...

But of course there's a more tender, sensitive version of masculinity, typified by men like Barack Obama and David Beckham, that should replace the cold, brutal stereotype many men still aspire to. And it is also true that for most men nature and nurture do give an underlying nastiness under the mistaken impression what a male should be like.

Your solution in toto is acceptable but it is difficult to change into such a person. One should have had an early start with undertstanding family members bringing up a male child to be like that.

Nick said...

Ramana: Very true, a boy has to be encouraged to behave like a "human being" from the moment of birth, or the rot sets in pretty quickly. The traditional idea of "masculinity" is so widespread that by the time a boy is grown up, he's usually bought into it quite heavily.

kylie said...

As a woman I don't want to see masculinity forgotten. Masculinity as it should be is rare but it exists.
I dont think femininity is a more positive word, it's just different and women can be equally confined by stereotypes.

I like to think I am a wonderful version of femininity not because of frills and heels cos I dont do them and not because I am completely independent because i haven't learnt any traditional "male" skills but because I am nurturing, persistent and strong

Nick said...

Kylie: Nurturing, persistent and strong sounds good to me. Exactly what men should also be in fact. I agree the idea of "femininity" can be equally oppressive when it refers to awkward, uncomfortable clothing or gushing "likeability" or domestic subservience. But where femininity means friendly, supportive relationships with others, I'm all in favour.

Anonymous said...

Who are educating all these men? Mothers , that's all I can say. And nevertheless I do not think we should make a stereotype of men. My husband is from Morokko and is tender, caring,polite and respectful. So for me there is no typical man !
Mia More

Nick said...

Mia: True, there's no typical man, and the stereotypes are pure fiction - but very influential fiction. Good to know your husband is a decent guy, unlike some others of his gender.

helen devries said...

Masculinity seems to be a stereotype...because men themselves are so varied...just as are women.
I suspect creation and use of the stereotype to sell something.

My father was not someone you would wish to meet in combat - whether mental or physical - but in his daily life a person who gave respect to all who needed help or support.

Nick said...

Helen: Masculinity is indeed a stereotype, but one that a lot of men follow because it's been drummed into them since birth. In reality as you say men are infinitely varied and may totally up-end the stereotype. I think that mix of publicly combative but privately supportive is very common.

tammy j said...

an interesting topic!
i was raised by a john wayne type of man.
he spoke little. was strong and expected much from himself AND us. i respected him greatly but there wasn't much warmth there.
i married a man who was literally fun. we laughed a lot. through our whole 17 years together.
and yet he was romantically very masculine too. in the sense of sheer chemistry.
he never took himself so seriously as some men do.
for me it worked.
i would put a sense of humour right up there in importance.
for men OR women!

Ms Scarlet said...

I agree with Kylie.
Plus, I think I see people via personality first. I think. I think I will have to think about it!
Sx

Nick said...

Tammy: Your father sounds like a very typical "masculine" man - the strong silent type! Yes, I think a sense of fun and a sense of humour are both essential to an enduring relationship. And qualities not confined to either men or women, but just natural "human" qualities.

Scarlet: So you're nurturing, persistent and strong? And not keen on frills and heels?

Ms Scarlet said...

Ha Ha!!! No, I'm probably not that part of Kylie's comment - though I never wear frills and heels. I am ordinary. And I like a laugh.
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet: You're ordinary and like a laugh? That sounds all right to me. Plus you're a calligrapher extraordinaire, you like old TV adverts, you like books on chairs and you've had some disastrous moving experiences.

Bijoux said...

While there has been a subtle shift towards the promotion of an androgynous society, I think that the majority of women still prefer a masculine male and men still prefer a woman who is feminine. It's all in the degree.

Nick said...

Bijoux: Unfortunately I think you're right. The pressure to conform to the gender stereotypes is so strong that it's customary to fancy someone who is the "opposite" of yourself. Otherwise you're sure to get curious glances and questions.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I don't think we can, or even should, through out the idea of masculinity and femininity. I definitely prefer the "redefinition" idea - celebrate the good qualities, discourage the bad, and acknowledge that biologically there are some differences.

Nick said...

Agent: It seems to me that the good qualities attached to "masculinity" are the same good qualities we would expect of women - resilience, determination, leadership skills, initiative etc. Or again, just what you would expect of a mature human being. Physical strength is not necessarily a male trait either. I read somewhere that boys and girls are equally strong when they're born, but girls are not encouraged to develop their physical strength.