In the first of these posts, I explained how “masculinity”, whatever it means to those who care about how much of it they have or who is threatening it, doesn’t seem to matter to me at all. In this post I’ll explain why I still want to understand it.
Is it a relief or is it a shame that I have instilled in myself the belief that I am not like other men? Is the solution to dissolve the competition entirely or to make people like me feel accepted into it in future?
I really don’t know the answer to that one. As a rule of thumb, if there’s a thing people typically enjoy doing, I don’t do it. But if I then said, “The answer here is that everyone should stop doing things I personally think are dumb and participate in the things I only enjoy,” I’ve gone too far, and maybe shouldn’t even have started.
Maybe the principle is this: if people are enjoying themselves (the unrelatable joy of masculine competition), leave them to it. If we can use each other’s lives as examples of how to stop caring about things that add suffering to our lives, yes, let’s do that. But playing someone else’s game when you don’t care about it is a waste of time, for reasons I explain later.
See the thing is, it’s not even the fault of other men that I don’t feel part of the competition. A lot of them still think I’m in it, in fact. But men so rarely talk about it, so how was I supposed to notice or even formulate, until now, my thoughts on what it is and why it doesn’t matter to me? And how were they supposed to know that there exist men who don’t care about masculinity? And how was I supposed to know what a threat to masculinity looks like and when I was making one?
Me threaten your masculinity? We really do live on different planets, mate.
It’s a weird backwards compliment if I ever get accused of trying to be more masculine than someone else. It’s a bit like someone saying, “You have a small face!” with enthusiasm. You think, “Do people actually care about face size? Interesting. I’m not going to start, but it’s nice that from their perspective, they just gave me a compliment.”
So, thus far I haven’t cared about being seen as masculine or not. But, if masculinity is something someone else respects, and thought I had it, I took the compliment. Only so I didn’t insult them.
The insult is probably like this:
You compliment someone on their lovely eyes.
They say, “Thanks, but I never really thought that mattered.”
And you think, “But I’ve always thought my eyes were one of my loveliest features. In her world, that doesn’t matter. Does that mean she sees me without the loveliness of my eyes? I’ve relied on that so heavily that I don’t know that the rest of me is sufficient.”
I meant to end the example there, my point being, it’s mean to reject the compliment, and that’s why I haven’t rejected it so far. But what if you extend the implications of this apparent insult?
(This is where I wish I’d chosen a more substantial example than “lovely eyes”, but it’s sufficient for you to get my point anyway!)
You’d probably get the following: “Even though she has dismissed the loveliness of my eyes, perhaps there is some loveliness to me, some other quality of mine, that she values as highly as I value my eyes. Some aspect of me, currently hidden, that others appreciate, and that I can feel proud of. Just as I value eyes and she doesn’t, I’d bet she has some equivalent feature or property that she values highly—whether I ever find out what it is or not. But, I would like to know what it is, so that I can learn what matters to her and give her compliments and encouragements in the areas of her life that she cares about. And I would like to know how I fare in these previously hidden arenas. Because, perhaps those times I was beating myself up about not measuring up to my own chosen criteria, other people saw me excelling in areas I hadn’t even seen. Once I discover and reveal these previous blind spots, perhaps I will see that I was more competent than I thought. There is also the possibility that I am less competent in hidden arenas also. But the more information I have, the better I can be and the richer the life I will lead.”
A strange kind of humbling and enriching experience, then. This is the interesting challenge of hanging out with people who aren’t like us, and the benefit of talking openly about our experiences and remaining curious about one another.
That’s the apparent double bind of masculinity, then. If I were a straight man who valued my masculinity, who would I talk to about it? Other men? They’re my competition! And maybe not my girlfriend, because if she laughs at me, that’s a threat to the masculinity. Or what if she learns what I value and exploits it?
I can’t talk on the female experience of masculinity. Of course that’s not here, and it’s worth pointing out. Not only don’t I know much about masculinity myself, but a gay man writing about masculinity was never gonna pass the Bechdel test, was it?
And by the way, as always these blogs, and basically everything I do, are invitations for you to contribute, and a female perspective on masculinity is indeed missing.
What I do know is that those who are aware of the importance of masculinity can and do exploit it. I’ll give an example in the next blog post.