men, masculinities and gender politics

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Manual Handling: Chapters in Change - A review of The Manual: The Complete Man's Guide to Life

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Cooper, Mick, and Peter Baker. (1996). The MANual: The Complete Man’s Guide to Life. London: Thorsons.

Move over Manhood, a new introductory reading about men, masculinity and the plethora of issues facing men in the nineties has arrived. The MANual is an entertaining , articulate and well informed book addressing men's issues from a critically informed perspective. And what a hoot! There's laughs and warmth on every page as the male reader learns about himself and the world around him.

The authors, Peter Baker and Mick Cooper, are two English men who have had a history in the men's studies and activities since the early seventies. They were both editors for Achilles Heel, the radical men's magazine in England and have now come together to chew the fat on men's issues in a nine chapter handbook for men.

The MANual addresses the social nature of masculinity and men's issues. By looking at the history of masculinity and the acknowledgment of power in men's lives we are provided with an ethical framework with which to consider our lives as men.

In the introduction the authors tell us stories about different men and their lives showing us how these men's loyalty to dominant masculine ways has provided problems for them in their lives. In a friendly and informative manner we learn what traditional masculinity means. A real man has a strong commitment to authority, he has status, he is in control, and he is highly active. A real man is clearly independent, dominant, fearless and of course he has to be a great lover. Sound like you?

I really identified with the expectations the authors write about in my own life, and I was happy to be shown that as men we can change. Peter Baker and Mick Cooper showed me that my "inner Arnie" (the man in head) could be identified and his practices questioned. When "inner Arnie" tells me to be strong, to act tough, not to cry or to have that beer with my mates instead of a soft drink I can say "Hey Arnie, butt out, It's my call and I want to cry" or "Asta la vista Arnie, I want orange juice and quiche for lunch!".

This discussion of the ways we respond to our masculine thoughts is then placed in the context of theory. Near the beginning of the book a short and easy to follow expose is given of the main ways of looking at men's lives. The authors suggest that masculinity is generally seen in two ways: resulting from biology (biological determinism) or resulting from society (social determinism). The strengths and weaknesses of these perspectives are outlined concluding with the suggestion that a mixed approach is best. The authors suggest that to put men's behaviour purely down to biology leaves us stuck in the nasty model of beer swilling, fat eating, girl hunting and world controlling while to put our ways of being purely down to the influence of society leaves us wandering through our lives like docile zombies shaped by the forces of the social world leaving us wondering how to change.

A useful approach is to acknowledge the use of both models and remain flexible in how we think about them. The important thing being to realise that any perspective can be politically motivated and become used to serve the interests of certain groups of people - for example the hunter/gatherer story used in a biological model has allowed men to legitimise their dominance over women for centuries.

Once we have been introduced to the ways we think and act as masculine beings Peter Baker and Mick Cooper take us through seven chapters covering the main sites of problems and concerns in most men's lives. We are shown how Arnie shapes our emotions, relationships, our sex lives and how we too easily fall back on violence as a way of dealing with our problems. Health and bodies are discussed, our identification with work and men's concerns and joys of fathering are analysed. Each chapter provides an easy to read, warm, inviting and fun way of looking at how we as men have grown up to rely on certain ideas of masculinity which are causing us a few problems. Additionally, there are useful practical exercises outlined in different chapters which give us ways of consciousness raising and becoming more aware of how "inner Arnie" suggests things to us which aren't so smart when we follow them through.

Mick Cooper and Peter Baker have written a warm and accessible handbook for men wanting a solid and ethical introduction to men's issues in the nineties. Highly recommended!

 

First published in the magazine XY: men, sex, politics, 7(1), Winter 1997. XY, PO Box 4026, AINSLIE, ACT, 2602, AUSTRALIA. ©Reprinted with permission.