Masculinity and the New Millennium
By Kody Fitzpatrick
There's a gray zone on the scale of masculinity somewhere, between Interior Decorator and Football Player, between Fashion Designer and Fighter Pilot, between Gay Hair Stylist and Convicted Serial Rapist, where most men, including myself, fall. I don't wear bows in my hair or play with Barbie dolls, like my wife does, but I don't fight fires or crush empty beer bottles on my forehead like my macho next-door neighbor Bruce. I don't go on and on about the hot guys in N'Sync while I brush my girlfriends' hair, like my daughter does, but I don't throw back ten beers, put on steel-toed workboots and stomp neighborhood cats, like my son. So where does this leave me? Am I considered masculine by today's standards? Or am I just, as my son says, a sopping wet pussy?
First, let's make it clear where I'm starting from. I am well aware that ideas of what is "masculine" and "feminine" are purely societal constructs that differ from generation to generation, culture to culture. (So all you femi-nazis and dykes out there can save your hatemail.) For example, at one time it was considered effeminate to know how to type; today it's standard practice for all people in our society who don't want to haul garbage or work in sewers. In some cultures it is considered manly to draw faces on blocks of mozzarella and screw them in public; but no man outside of the Minnesota border would be caught dead performing such an "effeminate" act.
The cultural and age differences regarding gender roles illustrated by these examples point out just how subjective our notions of masculinity, and it's inferior counterpart, femininity, truly are. In reality, there is no such thing as a "manly" or a "girly." You can't hold either in your hand or trade it for a beer. Moreover, there are no such words as "masculinette" or "femasculine," but there probably should be because they make me giggle. Am I making myself clearer, I hope?
It has been well known for some time in psychiatric circles that men in our culture have taken a serious hit to their egos and self-pride in recent decades. In movies and television shows and in plain old everyday converstion, "macho" has become equated with "stupid." "Manly" has been equated with "arrogant." "Pervert" has been equated with me. These are all very unfair and potentially damaging notions to a young boy or a middle-aged man. It's almost impossible to know nowadays whether you should shake a woman's hand when you meet her or piss on her shoes.
This confusion is symptomatic of the how today, we American males are being constantly bombarded by mixed messages about what is acceptable masculine behavior and what is not. In the '70s, it was downright macho for men to get perms; today, the only men I see wearing perms turn out to be women in pants. In the '80s, it was okay for men to drink wine coolers; today men beat up men for drinking wine coolers. In the very early '90s, it was okay for men to drive minivans; today men have to be driving either a pickup truck, a Jeep, or an SUV that guzzles as much gas as a jetliner and has more steel than a small tank if they want to avoid my taunts and verbal abuse.
But at the same time, we are being told that things that were once considered feminine are now masculine. Men can wear earrings now, and necklaces, and some even go so far as to have long hair. Men can now use products that only women used when I was a child, like nail polish and shampoo and toothpaste. Plus, men are also seeing their bodies idealized and eroticized by the media, like women's are supposed to be. Should I encourage my son to look like a finely fit and toned CK model, or should I pump him full of steroids and make him look like a linebacker? Should I push him to become a model or a marine? Which is the better career path? It is questions like these that are frightening to me. Making the right choice could put my son on the path to success, and making the wrong choice could get him labeled a fag. I get so nervous that I haven't spoken to my son in two years. He thinks I hate him, but he's only partly right.
Conversely to all of this, how should I raise my daughter to fit into her gender role in today's society? Should I encourage Lisa to vote and study math and learn the computer, or should I tell her to stay home and clean the basement? I know that as a good father I should probably be supportive my daughter's intellectual pursuits and dreams, but my basement is very, very dirty.
I'm starting to believe that the media can't tell me what is and isn't masculine in today's crazy world. Nothing makes sense anymore. Did you ever try to watch Seinfeld or Friends? It's just nonsense. I think that the best thing any man in my position can do these days is just be the best father he can be, and trust in his own primal gut instinct. Right now, mine is telling me to hunt a bore. It just goes to show that two-hundred years of human evolution hasn't gone entirely to waste.
Yes, I know there are no simple answers to many of the questions I have brought up today. A lot of the issues I touched on are only the tip of an iceberg big enough to sink a turn-of-the-century luxury cruise ship named Johnny. I know that even though I have made a resolution to start trusting in myself more than society or the media, once I am done here today I will probably keep searching for the one true answer to many of these questions. I am a man who won't give up. It is very likely that I may never find any sort of definitive answer to any one of the queries I have posed, but in the mean time I know I can at least continue to avoid my son and keep my basement messy. And maybe that's what being a man in the new millennium is all about.
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