Friday, January 06, 2017

Man Up

Oh, did this article ever piss me off.

"Dear feminists", it starts, and no good ever came of a beginning like that. "Male vulnerability isn't a virtue."

I know what's coming, said my blood, as it started to surge most unpleasantly. Somewhere in here I'm going to see the words 'man up'.

There are good reasons why generations of fathers have taught their sons to “man up,” and it’s not because young boys are blank canvases on which the patriarchy can paint its oppression. It’s because men in general have essential natures that are different from women. We tend to be more aggressive, more energetic, and less nurturing than women...

Oh, where to start, where to start. How about at the beginning?

I cried a lot as a kid. Too much, really. I don't mean to belabour the point I've made over and over and over again, that other people's pain always seemed as if it was my own, and even the destruction of inanimate objects caused me to break down.

There were a very few other kids in my orbit when I was a young child, and I was raised to be on my best behaviour when I (a) was a guest or (b) had guests. Once school started, though, and I was exposed to other children's unthinking (and sometimes very much thinking) cruelties, well, the waterworks ran overtime. Which became a perpetual cycle. What do we do with the crybaby who cries? Make him cry harder. Cry, crybaby, cry.

Vulnerable. I was the very definition of it. And yes, I got the "stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about". Girls get that too, I'm told, but not with quite the same threat level.

Because boys don't cry, right? It's unmanly. Boys shouldn't express their feelings, because that's weak. Also gay, and that's even worse.

I want to talk about that for a second.

I have had family question my sexuality in hushed undertones I wasn't meant to hear. That questioning has come (I'm led to believe) because of my sensitivity.


I know gay guys who are the furthest thing from sensitive. And watch gay porn sometime...the word "sensitive" doesn't (ahem) enter into it.
I have never had cause to question my sexuality overmuch, despite entirely too many of my peers doing it for me. My parents whispering about it made me more angry than questioning. Because just like the other kids, they didn't seem to understand me.

I was really close to a man named Kieron in grade 13. We spent a lot of time together; he even came up north to my dad's place, something only two other people before Eva have had the honour of doing. I wrote in my diary at some point that year that being around him gave me a very warm, comfortable feeling...while explicitly disavowing any sexual attraction. I made the mistake of telling my mom and stepdad about that feeling. Well, you'd think I brought home a signed first edition of The Confirmed Homosexual's Guide to Fellatio, or something.

See, feelings for other guys -- even platonic feelings -- are still feelings, and therefore they're part of the subset of things you don't talk about if you're a man.  No matter what.  Domestic abuse around you? Dying sibling? And yeah, those horrible, pernicious gay thoughts? Turn It Off.

Maybe that's why male suicide rates are 1.3 to three times higher than those for females. You don't have to hold a Master's degree in psychology to figure out that bottling up your feelings out of some engendered need to appear 'strong' has disastrous consequences.

Back to the article.

Here is the key question — what better equips a man to confront a difficult and challenging world? Is it more tears? Or is it more toughness? Is it teaching men to be compassionate or to be objects of compassion? The vulnerable male’s cry is “help me.” The masculine male’s quest is to become the helper. 

There is this tendency. It seems to manifest EVERYWHERE, and it drives me nuts. If you're not one thing--fully and completely one thing--you must be fully and completely the other.  Let's deconstruct:

more tears? or more toughness?

Why not both? Tears have their uses: they're cathartic, cleansing, and above all perfectly normal.  It doesn't mean you cry 24/7. It means you cry when you have a need to cry.  You can be very tough and still cry on occasion. Also, this applies whether you are male, female or any one of 61 other genders.

compassionate? or objects of compassion?

Again, why not both? We should all be compassionate, which makes all of us objects of compassion.

The vulnerable male’s cry is “help me.” The masculine male’s quest is to become the helper. 

I have this to say to that. Or rather, Bill Withers does:

Lean on me, when you're not strong  
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long 
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on. 

Anybody who knows me even peripherally knows that I am a helper. I've had more than a few people tell me that. I'm far from the only one, and one thing all of us helpers have in spades -- we have to have it -- is mental toughness. There are times I'm dealing (at a remove, of course) with the emotional trauma of four or five friends at once. That takes a lot of energy.
That mental toughness comes from making myself vulnerable--which is something a good helper has to do. I share deeply and widely of myself because it helps establish the kind of trusting relationship a helper needs. If I didn't do that, I'd be fundamentally different. Not actually a person I would want to know.

No matter what feminists say or do, boys will be boys.

And so will a lot of middle-aged men.  I've seen something going around Facebook:

BOYS WILL BE BOYS held accountable for their actions, just like girls.

Feminists can’t change hormones and brain chemistry, and they can’t alter the fundamental biology of the human male. Boys will continue to be stronger and more aggressive than girls no matter how many peer-reviewed articles decry biologically based gender stereotyping.

Conservatives seem to believe that human nature is base and brutish and there's no sense in trying to overcome it. Which I find patently ridiculous. Men once had absolute power over women by virtue (?) of that 'strength and aggressiveness'. Again, there is a happy medium between simpering weakness and aggression, and that point is called assertiveness. It's an important quality to cultivate in all human beings irrespective of gender. Aggression? That's not a quality we should be encouraging, much less exalting...and yet we do. Our entire society is structured so the bullies win.  One just won the presidency of the United States. He's not the first bully to hold that office,  only perhaps the most blatant of them.

And I question, vociferously, the notion that men are stronger than women. On what scale? Sure, most men can bench more than most women. And run faster. And punch harder. But withstand pain? Compare men and women sick with colds. Most men I know, we're all ready to call whine-one-one and summon the wahmbulance. Imagine if men had menstrual cramps. Or had to go through childbirth. Or let's talk about emotional strength, and consider that the nurturing role demands considerably more of it.

Here's what the article suggests "being a man" is all about:

Deny self. Don’t indulge your weakness. Show courage. Avoid the easy path. 

The last two, I have no problem with whatsoever, with the caveat that "your" path may in fact be the easy one, and there's nothing wrong with that. But that directly contradicts the first direction, to deny self. No. Don't deny yourself. Shakespeare said it first (to my knowledge) and said it best: "to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." Polonius is a Don Cherry level blowhard, but he gets that one right.
And "don't indulge your weakness" is great advice...if we know what "weakness" is. As I have said, I disagree that being vulnerable in any way denotes weakness. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Being vulnerable is, among other things, the only way to love. And loving, to me, is the only way to live.

No matter who you are.

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