As I sit here weak and weary, in a café somewhat dreary, sipping coffee highly pretentious, I feel a judgement quite contentious, a group of people sat before me, their fashion styles shouting; “don’t ignore me!” Each one enacting a certain gender role, seemingly to obscure from their own tender soul. Let me not judge those I have yet to know, but what can you know beyond what they’re willing to show?
Sorry, the nancy little coffee shop I was in had someone reading fucking awful poetry – it kind of seeps in. It’s amazing the effect of what you hear, even from those you try not to pay attention to can somehow have an effect on your psyche. One of the biggest lies we were ever told was that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” It has reached the point that I can only assume that this was merely a pre-emptive effort to shield our little ones against the true effects that the uttered noises we spew can truly damage those who hear it. Just as words can excite, intoxicate, anger, and comfort, they can also leave impressions far deeper than what’s first seen. We never know how tough someone is until the symptoms reveal themselves. A footprint leaves a greater mark in flour than it does earth.
There’s a belief that the more you hear a phrase, the less it affects you. As cute as this is, it may only be because you’re no longer aware of the effect these words have because they’ve already become so deeply seeded. It’s in that same vein that I finally get to my point: the mutual acceptance of casual sexism. We all know that sexism is bad. We also all know that McDonalds is unhealthy. And yet, McDonald’s is still the most successful restaurant. Hurting others can hurt yourself. Just as anger builds up the more it’s expressed, and sadness intensifies the more its indulged, engaging in condescending phrases creating oppression. The need to lash out and hurt others is demonstration of the speaker’s weakness. As thus, the hyper-masculine need to detrimentally comment on the masculinity exemplifies the idiotic and counter intuitive foundations of the masculine concept.
What is masculinity? Is it chugging five beers in a row? Is it high fiving for going home with a different girl every night? Climbing a mountain? Winning a fight? Or is it even the deliberate cheekiness of wearing a pink tutu and openly feeling no shame? I raise the latter question to raise yet another one: why does there even need to be the question of shame? Is there some inherent lack of masculinity in doing something considered feminine? Perhaps. But if masculinity seems to be something based entirely on the presence of self-assurance, then surely confidence in anything is manly. And, at the same time, not manly at all. This isn’t the place for men who deliberately wear pink to postulate their over confidence in their sexuality. Those are fools just further destabilizing their own self confidence. This also isn’t a question of whether women could do the same as men without being considered betrayals to their own sense of self. Of course they can. The issues surrounding those concerns however, bleed into a very different issue – the criticism of women in this world is also a criticism of men.
No doubt you, being the incredibly worldly person that I’m sure you are, have encountered such base phrases as “grow a pair”, “man up” and “don’t be a sissy” and have all commented on the complete stupidity of these phrase. Stupid, yes. But their significance in the construction of male identity cannot be undermined. Just as the threat they pose can’t either. Every time a male human being (and I’m using that term lightly) calls another a wimp, a sissy or a little girl, he’s not only demonstrating a clear and disgustingly misogynistic approach to women. We’re all aware of that and its need to be wiped from the map. But he’s also breaking down the addressee’s sense of self. By relating to something in his character as feminine and thus lesser, the speaker is also making the boy feel like a lesser being. Boys are bullied for their apparent kindness, for their willingness to express emotions, their ability to be artistic and creative and for their ability to do anything considered “unmanly”. Lad culture dictates that all this is banter, but it has become so seeded that actual abuse, especially that told through comedic genius such as the “lad bible”, is fracturing the issue of gender roles and pushing them further apart rather than healing the issue. We like to laugh over the fact that every man looks at himself in the mirror and is impressed by what he sees, whilst every girl hates her body. This is a laughter through fear, for being found out that almost every man in existence has looked at his body, or the body of another man, and felt incredibly inferior. But these topics he dare not talk about and these stupid fucking feelings must be ignored.
We miss the point. Every day the point flies towards us and we duck, for fear of enlightenment. Seeing a man comically dress up as a woman can be funny. Yes, it can. Because it’s a detachment from the expectation of what a man typically looks like or wears. But that point gets missed. It becomes a statement. It misconstrues what funny is because its “feminine” or the male counterpart for universal femininity: “gay.” No. That isn’t funny. But well done, because no one will ever admit that. Instead, we will continue to think that if a man gets beaten up by a woman, he’s inferior, and that girls can call guys pussies because they don’t fulfil whatever abundantly masculine role that guy should be satisfying. Social revolution doesn’t happen overnight, but before the true leaps can be made to help female equality, to have them not be the synonym for inferiority (and we are getting there) we must first look at why females are considered this and erode this insecurity from the mentalities of men. It’s a common belief maintained through our vernacular that it’s the man who fucks the woman – that he accomplishes something. No, pal. The woman lets you do it. You aren’t a strong army invading a new territory – you’re a starving puppy being given food. And any man who thinks otherwise is just fucking himself over.
Words by Laurence Williams