Masculinity, part 1 of 2: Who’s afraid of the penis bandits?

Traditional (in Western cultures) masculinity is not very popular, often for good reason, among people who blog about things like traditional masculinity.

  • Men are emotionally repressed.
  • Men aren’t allowed to express any emotions but anger.
  • We need to talk.
  • Why do you never show me you care?
  • Just ask for directions already!
  • Why won’t suicidal men see a doctor?
  • Our culture glorifies male violence.
  • …dick-measuring contest…

I don’t think they get it.

Masculinity, for people who say “We should communicate more about boundaries” with a straight face, is somewhere between a personality trait and a silly point of pride. They do what they like and think is best, and if it happens to be masculine that must make them a masculine person. Or they deliberately act masculine or unmasculine to prove a point: yes, a woman can be a tough biker; yes, real men wear pink.

For most men, it’s more than that. We don’t go around thinking “Mwahaha, I’m a stupid sexist idiot, so I’m going to make myself miserable adhering to an impossibly narrow standard.”; we’re genuinely scared of the penis bandits.

Real Men (which includes women who are “one of the guys”) are basically the people you can have status fights with. You can befriend and love and be loyal to women, and flamboyant sissies, and very young children, but interaction with other people in your club is always flavored by this hierarchy. Friends and relatives are also allies and rivals.

You can’t half walk out on that. The feather boa is not just a garment; it means forfeit. You’re no longer in the race, you’re no one’s ally or enemy or friendly rival or superior or threatening inferior; you’re out of the club, with the literal and metaphorical pussies.

If you want something unmasculine, there are only two options. You can defy the local norm of masculinity. “Yes, I’m secure enough to do this and still be a real man. You got a problem with that?” Or you can decide that masculinity is a scam and you should go and be yourself, that there’s no shame in it and if it’s unsafe the problem isn’t on your end. Neither is easy.

So that’s why people are so terrified of not being man enough. In part 2 I’ll talk about what masculinity implies for emotions and communication; it’s not as simple as “boys don’t cry”.

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