men, masculinities and gender politics

Authors

Hey, guys, want the job? Then drop the hyper-masculine bullshit.

My partner and I recently bought a house that is over 120 years old. Among the “joys” of getting a home that age included the need (according to the insurance company) to have the whole place rewired top to bottom. While I am pretty handy, there is a fair amount of home renovation that is well beyond my ability. And sometimes even I manage to admit that fact before it is too late! Rewiring a whole house was, I had to acknowledge, well beyond my level of skill. So getting the task done involved soliciting bids from licensed electricians.

One crew lost the job the moment they arrived.

Macho ooze. The men roared up in two large, testosterone-fueled pickup trucks, having just ripped through my quiet, residential neighborhood at breakneck speed before coming to a (nearly) screeching halt right in front of the house. They left the trucks parked illegally on the wrong side of the street, leaving a very constricted path for any other vehicles that might want to get by.

As the men walked toward the house you could just feel the macho oozing out of their pores. It was pretty repellant.

Now, even though I am a straight guy, I can acknowledge there can be something very beautiful and compelling about a man who moves through the world comfortable in his own body. Who walks with confidence. Who carries himself with assurance.

But none of these guys was that guy. No, these dudes strutted. Like peacocks. Or like tom turkeys, their chests all puffed out. Like they owned the whole damned sidewalk and the street beyond. Like they owned the whole damned neighborhood. Like they owned the whole damned world. Like they were doing me a favor by even bidding on the job. Like they probably thought that even giving me the time of day was doing me a favor.

I mentioned to the pack leader that they were parked illegally. (I didn’t know if they had seen the NO PARKING sign.) I was concerned that they were being inconsiderate. And I was afraid they might get ticketed by the police.

The guy just looked at me and shrugged before heading toward the front door.

Ooooh! A badass who parks illegally!

Ooooh! A badass who disregards the rules!

Oh no! A badass whom I am considering hiring to rewire my house.

According to the legal code.

This is not looking promising.

Inspection or invasion? The men quickly fanned out through the house, like a Hollywood version of a SWAT team or special forces unit rushing in to secure a situation against the bad guys. (In real life, SWAT and special forces are of course far more cautious -- and a whole lot braver -- because they face real threats.) But these guys stormed through like the old house was just one more foe to be conquered. And even as they tromped all around, they never lost their way-cool strut.

And when they returned to issue their recon reports, they did so with in that tedious, condescending tone that is the usual hallmark of a man who wishes to assert his unparalleled expertise about something... about anything… about everything. Like Moses coming down from the mountain top, these men descended the staircase and issued their commandments about what was needed. As if their word was God’s law.

Thus speaketh the Electrician.

The bottom line is not always the bottom line. When their formal bid came back several days later, it was higher than the bid we ultimately went with. But that wasn’t what cost them the job. To our minds, they had lost it before even writing up their offer. And what cost them the job was their arrogance, their patronizing attitude, and their general disrespect for socially acceptable behavior... like parking illegally right in front of the house… like blocking the road… and not giving a crap they had done so.

Rewiring an entire house requires attention to detail. A willingness to do things right. And these men just couldn’t seem to find it within themselves to show that they cared all that much. They were too busy trying to come across like big shots. But to me they felt a lot more like bullies. And I’ll be damned before I choose to hand over any of my money (and the keys to my house) to a bunch of macho bullies. I have dealt with enough of these guys in my work with abusive men. I sure don’t need that type of attitude or behaviour in my own home.

A “real man” doesn’t worry about it. When I was 14 years old, a coach told me that a “real man” never really worries about whether he is “manly” enough. He accepts himself for who and for what he is, and he takes his degree of masculinity for what it is as well. He knows that he is simply as masculine as he is ever going to be -- and that there’s no point in much worrying about it. Or in adopting a macho pose. Because no matter how masculine he is, a real man knows that he is always man enough. Just as he is.

I wish at some point during their development that someone had told the crew of electricians who came tromping through to drop the damn pose. To get the heck over themselves and lose the idiotic posturing. There was just nothing genuine about these guys. Their true selves were so fully enshrouded in what the pro-feminist writer John Stoltenberg has referred to as the “manhood act.” The “manhood act” is a pose, a way of interacting that is utterly artificial and totally constructed. It represents unquestioning adherence to a model of masculinity that is external, phony, and ultimately at odds with one’s own humanity.

Because this bogus identity is totally external to one’s true being, and lacks any authenticity whatsoever, it is both immensely fragile and constantly under threat. When you are always trying to be the biggest man around, the top snarling dog, then there is always the threat that someone will come along who is a bigger man than you. A dog that is more aggressive. And if your entire sense of self is pegged to being superior to others, then you will always feel under siege. You will wind up spending immense amounts of time and energy patrolling the boundaries of your manhood domain, trying to ensure that your walled defenses remain impervious to any possible breeches by the enemy -- by a marauding stranger who comes along in the night, determined to knock you off of your masculine pinnacle.

You can’t stay on top forever. Another bad thing about being “the best” -- if you ever even get there – is that you can’t keep it up for long. Just ask any aging male athlete. Maybe he was the best at one point in time, but at some point he lost his position as top dog. As we all will. We get long in the tooth. The young pups grow up. And one day, one will come, wanting to claim the position of top dog for himself. Some day we will have no choice but to abandon that high ground. To surrender it to some other dog.

And, unlike with athletic success, there are actually no medals or trophies for successfully performing the fiction that is hypermasculinity. No autograph requests. No hall of fame. And the few people who do admire your swagger will simply shift their gaze elsewhere when someone with a steadier gait comes along. This is a game of “King of the Hill” played on a pile of loose gravel. Before long we all come sliding down.

The winning bid. The guy who won the bid to work on our house was every bit as strong as the crew who did not win. This guy works hard for his money, and he is as tough as they come when he needs to be. But unlike the fellas and their superior posturing, he is down-to-earth. He is helpful. Collaborative. He makes suggestions rather than issuing commands. His emphasis is on having happy clients who provide good references (and possible repeat business) rather than trying to prove what a big man he is. He shares his opinions freely, but he lets you know that it’s no big deal if you don’t follow his advice. He is secure enough in himself that he doesn’t need other people to be awed by his “awesomeness.”

He manages to walk without having to strut. He is a man who is tough enough to be kind. Secure enough to be gentle. And he doesn’t waste his life energy trying to adhere to some bullshit macho image.

Perhaps he knows that the battle to maintain a hyper-masculine identity is lost even before it even begins.

Perhaps he knows that it is just not important enough to waste his energy on.

Perhaps he just doesn’t worry about it.