Monday, February 11, 2008

The Constricting Suit of Manhood

After reading the Quote of the Day from Salon and the corresponding article on the New York Times website, I started thinking about something I've pondered in the past, but have never really taken seriously. Despite many of the social benefits that come with masculinity, we men also must accept the much narrower yoke of masculinity that comes with it.

There's no doubt that there are more acceptable selves for a young girl to choose from and grow into than there are for her male counterparts. You can look to fashion where boys get to choose some combination of shorts or pants and either a shirt with or without a collar while girls get to choose everything from skirts, to dresses, to pants and shorts and even clothes with no discernible difference from clothes designed for men without hurting their feminine image. Girls who play sports are no longer thought of as automatically lesbian or ungirlish, but there's no real objection by society if they choose to be girly instead. Girls can be aggressive, retiring, bookish, boy-crazy, athletic, or even any combination of those qualities and more if they choose while boys must be competitive, must do things that are proper for boys or their dads and often moms freak out and worry about their souls.

I'm not trying to say that it's bad that girls have all these extra options in creating their own personas for themselves that they once lacked. It's a good thing that girls no longer have to dress girly and choose marriage and kids over career and a life. Despite some of the complaints of the childless women I know, as long as you stay away from rural church functions and the suburban breeding colonies, most of society accepts a woman as being perfectly healthy and normal when she chooses to delay or reject entirely what was once a feminine necessity. It just seems a little constricting that boys have such a narrow path to tread before being considered abnormal and submasculine.

Of course, we as a gender are mostly to blame. While women were busy changing our minds about feminine gender roles and convincing us that it was OK if they chose cleats over stilettos (or choose to wear both depending on the occasion), we were too busy deciding whether or not our decorative nooses should be wide or skinny and whether or not being interested in academics made you automatically a sissy. Of course the real question is whether or not this narrow definition of masculinity we've set for ourselves is a real problem, or just an artificial difference between the genders. Sure, it makes us as a less gender less adaptable and more rigid, but it's not like we're two competing species and the more flexible female race will overrun us with their more adaptable sense of self. It would be nice to be able to reject aggression and violence outside of a religious setting and not have to give up some of your masculinity to do so.

But really, I think it'd be nice to wear a nice flowing dress and a pair of pumps to accentuate my awesome legs and still be able to have sex with women. But, alas, it just doesn't work that way for boys.


Julie said...

Obviously, you don't play enough video games. Many of the most hardcore manly gamer men that I know choose the Japanese Punk Rock School Girl as their Guitar Hero alter ego.

Courtney said...

Interesting post. I am glad to have more fashion choices than men, but being a girl comes with its own boundaries and expectations, mind you.

Meaghan said...

You could just go drag every now and then. I've proofed quite a few "Dear Abby" columns where the wife wrote in because her husband liked to dress like a woman. Abby thinks it's no big deal, and she knows her stuff (not really).

But yeah, Courtney is right. We have our own shit to deal with.

Mickey said...

julie- Hardcore manly gamer men? There's an oxymoron in there somewhere. Or maybe just a moron.

Jacob, you do have a killer pair of legs and we've all seen you work a dress like nobody's business.

Jacob said...

What? No one's going to call me out for a crappy post?

Chris said...

Crappy post.

Chris said...

Actually, I think it's an interesting point you raise.

But personally, I could care less about the restricted range of fashion options. And I think the expectations of aggressive and "manly" behavior vary a good bit depending on the people you hang out with.

I've never gotten the sense that my family or friends expected me to be especially tough, rugged or stoic. Then again, I never showed much interest in ballet, either.

Em said...

Actually, I think this is a great post. You should blogwhore it over at Shakesville. Jeff Fecke over there does a lot of writing on gender in a similar vein.