The opposite of man is boy

We’re in Missoula, wrapping up a visit with my sister, nephew and brother-in-law in this splendid Montana college town.

My column at GMP this week: The Opposite of Man is Boy, Not Woman.

The conclusion:

If we really are in a “man crisis” in America, I suspect it’s rooted as much as anything else in this fundamentally mistaken belief that manhood needs to be about rejecting anything that smacks of the feminine. With fewer and fewer all-male preserves left in our society, guys who cling to this outdated notion of what it means to perform masculinity will indeed feel themselves at a loss. But if we understand masculinity as something we choose to perform—and grasp that at its core, that performance is about distinguishing ourselves from immature boys rather than women—we can still find something pleasurable, meaningful, and redemptive in acting like “real men.”

Managing editor Lisa Hickey responds here.

4 thoughts on “The opposite of man is boy

  1. From the article:

    In a world where women go to war—and play hockey—men who believe that true manliness lies in doing what women can’t are forced to create ever more-violent activities from which females can still be excluded. (This explains the rising popularity of the most violent video games, as well as MMA.)

    Um, what? Setting aside (although I’d be interested to know if there’s any actual data to support the assertion) the question of whether there is any rising popularity of “the most violent video games”, women are obviously as free to buy and play them as men are. It’s not especially difficult to find male-only sports teams and there’s still significant (but shrinking) numbers of male-only military roles, but good luck finding a video game that no woman ever plays.

    That, of course, is in the unlikely event that someone would actually care; playing a single-player game by definition excludes everyone else, male or female, from the immediate experience in any case. And in multiplayer, most of the time you’d have little idea what the real gender of the other people are, however violent the game.

    As for MMA, as far as I can see the vast majority of places which teach martial arts of any kind are perfectly open to female students, so I’ll presume you’re referring to the fact that the most highly-publicised professional contests are largely (though not exclusively) male-only affairs. This might MMA’s rising appeal were it not for the fact that you could say the same of virtually any other professional sport. Anyone desperate for a fix of male-only athletic competition can just as easily opt for the NFL, NBA, NHL etc., they’ve no need to seek out MMA.

    Just as in the Joel Northrup case, the “men are running scared from any female involvement in ‘their’ activities” hypothesis seems to lack much evidentiary support or explanatory power.

  2. Hugo,

    you know, sure most gendered behaviour is “performance”. But there’s a siginificant problem with the term “performance”, and it’s unfair to tell people they are “acting”, mostly because the terms are conceptualized differently by people who are reading Judith Butler and those who don’t, which is a pretty huge majority. Performance and acting, to most people, implies an ability to “perform differently” or “act differently” in ways that are simply not available to most people with respect to their “gender performance”. Their performance has become such a deeply engrained part of themselves that they can’t simply choose to do it differently, whatever part of their behaviour is cultural, they have internalized that role and are *always* in character. Put differently, that part of their character has become a part of themselves, indistinguishable.

    Gender performance is both right and wrong. It’s right on a macro level, explaining cultural differences with a micro link, but it’s wrong when it assumes that a specfic gender performance is not “real” for the performer in the way that non-performative behaviour is. You may increase awareness of performance by education, and if you do that *while* helping people not to lose their identity, which is often based on that part of the performance which you are attempting to describe as “unreal”, then you may succeed in allowing people more degrees of freedom.

    Sadly though, most of the times when I read things like this, it’s about taking people’s identitiy crutches away and not giving them anythign to walk on in return, particularly when it comes to the main arena of gender interaction in people’s lives: mating.

    Masculine and feminine are things that are, partly, defined by difference. If one changes, so will the other. If only real men can wear pink in the future, women who are looking to be feminine, won’t. And chances are whatever will become an identifier of the feminine will become attractive to men who are looking for women. As such, it will (more or less) become identified as an integral part of “woman”.

    We cannot abolish this dynamic as long as there is sexual reproduction, at which point there would probably evolve about 33 different genders and no one would care too much. But it’s probably not going to happen, and such, all we can work for is to both allow people who feel constrained by gender norms to break out, and, which is usually forgotten, as the first part of the sentence is usually identified with social justice in this respect, to help people who do need strong gendered identities to not feel a lack of orientation in a gender-hacked world.

    It’s a difficult thing to do, of course.

  3. I don’t know that anxious masculinity has a lot of explanatory force for the (hypothesized) increase in the level of violence in video games. I would, however, strongly suggest that anxious masculinity is behind some of the hyper-exaggerated machismo and virulent misogyny and homophobia that are endemic in the video gaming community. It seems to me that pretending to be a soldier or a hero is pretty close to, in Hugo’s construction, a boy’s activity rather than a man’s. So, to ward off the specter of femininity, some of the more immature folk amongst gamers feel the need to proclaim their masculinity in no uncertain terms.

  4. I’ve seen exactly what Hugo is seeing, though perhaps not in the video game arena. Just tonight I was over at The Spearhead and there was much talk of masculinity defined as not-feminine. And I have been hearing this all my life from various men and from society as a whole. Maybe for some men it’s like being the fish in the water, or the person standing in a room with a foul smell in the air whose nose has finally gotten accustomed to said smell. You’re immersed in it so much you forget it’s there.

    This is why so many radfems reject masculinity. Because so often it’s defined as not-female-ness. And really, if you look at the biology of how male and female fetuses develop, the whole process of becoming male involves becoming-not-female, but that’s really no excuse for calling a man a sissy little girl when he can’t fight in MMA as well as his friends.

    In the end, as Hugo said, becoming a man isn’t about becoming not-a-female. You already did that before you were born. Congratulations, you have working XY chromosomes and androgen receptors. Yawn. Now what you have to prove is that you’ve gone through puberty and are no longer a child. Newsflash? Women aren’t children either. (Get used to it.) So men will just have to get around to admitting that being a man isn’t about not being a woman, and be done with it.

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