I spend a lot of time thinking about masculinity and what it means to be a man.
It’s a natural consequence of the job, to be honest; a lot of dating is caught up in the ideas of traditional gender roles, of the man as aggressor and female as receiver, of male and female sexual roles and attitudes and so on. But at the same time, much of the obsession with masculinity is the root cause of so many problems men face, not just with dating but in their lives as a whole.
I’m about to go into a digression here; stick with me, this will all make sense in a moment.
As I’m writing this, the entire US is getting excited about the Super Bowl.1 I’m not a big sports guy. Never have been. I just don’t have whatever internal doohickey that makes me go nuts over the idea of competitive team sports. I can get into boxing and mixed martial arts to a limited extent, because I’ve studied them and participated in tournaments, and I enjoy the artistry of pro-wrestling when I happen to watch it. But team sports like hockey, football, soccer or baseball just leave me cold.
Of course, I’m a geek, and not being into sports is almost part of the definition of being a geek2 because of the jock/nerd divide. That jock/nerd divide, however, also depends heavily on ideas of masculinity; jocks are seen as inherently more masculine than geeks because of the emphasis on athleticism and aggressive attitudes and forceful behavior. Jocks, we are told, are “alpha males”, the dominant of the pack. Geeks – who are generally (but not always) more cerebral and usually more passive – are “beta”. We are, so the theory goes, lesser, doomed to be ignored by women and laughed at by society because hey, geeks aren’t real men.
Except those jocks aren’t just trashing nerds for being betas, they’re just as often trashing their fellow jocks – guys who are just as athletic, just as “alpha”, supposedly, who spend their time destroying their bodies in the name of their team – for being “pussies” who need to “man up”… presumably by letting them be provoked into throwing down. And those who don’t are castigated by their teammates and the public for being “pussies”.
There’s an obvious question here: if even their fellow teammates aren’t “man” enough, who the fuck is?
The traditional view of masculinity, especially as espoused in the west, is an identity that’s reaffirmed through the use of bullying and violence, while punishing others for being insufficiently macho. Sometimes the definition of “man” is wrong. In fact, sometimes it’s not just wrong but actively harmful.
Maybe it’s time to take a look at just what we mean when we talk about “masculinity”.