2.28.2005

on gender I.

The reelection of George Bush threw a large rock through our expectations of democracy. That is, the best systems of decision-making we've come up with thus far, designed to iron out irrationality and promote moderation, failed. They failed completely. The worst possible outcome occurred. The crazy radicals on the margins, myself included, are both elated and terrified. Turns out all our worst predictions are coming true. It becomes clear that the only thing that once kept us from rabid fascism was a silly sense of propriety. Clinton didn't torture people because he didn't have to. Silly propriety. Now the die is cast. The precedent has been established. The system will not return to sanity, the system will refuse to cripple itself thus. It's got a taste for power and it won't turn from the banquet; not unless it is chased. But all that is the future.
But if the reelection was an insurmountable challenge to democracy, it was also a challenge to manhood. The demographics of Republican voters drive this point home. The American male, I assume, desires to see in himself the best traits of manhood. Courage to face challenges, a thirst for honesty and virtue, impatience for bullshit. The American is a modern-day cowboy, shoots straight, looks you in the eye; he's gentle when it's warranted, hard as iron when it's not. Yeah, I know. Quit laughing. These are the men that vote for George Bush. And in the process of doing so, they pissed on anything of worth left in being Man. Honesty becomes delusion, forthrightness becomes analytical blindness. These are the bastards that believe we should "just nuke 'em"; they see the world with all the perspective of an ant farm. They redefined courage as aggression, as the frothing hyena instinct that circles and kills whatever target is wounded. And in America, it was the usual targets. Homosexuality, immigrants, France, Sean Penn... I couldn't invent this shit even if I wanted to, even if I still thought it was funny. Paranoid, xenophobic, eternally suspicious and eternally insecure, masked by the grin of a salesman. This is Man. A cowboy in his SUV, stuck in traffic, stuck in that traffic as it crawls into the polluted sunset, forever, screaming along with the hate-talk radio station. That is Real Man.
And that qualifier, 'Real', that's important too. It's the 'Real Men' that sway lesbians from their wayward path with one swagger of their hips. (as in: "hey baby, you just haven't had a real man yet.") 'Real Men' that sweep across their town's frontier, on the lookout for the 'Unreal Men', which I guess is the rest of us. Real Men eat at the Keg, order their steaks bloody, drink Manly drinks devoid of little fruits hung on swizzle sticks. Yes, even a slice of lime could be an object of derision. The way of the Real Man is fraught with peril, seeing as how the modern world is populated with people who either aren't Real Men or Real Women. Real Men have never known, will never know peace.

Females, you think you have it bad? Let's review gender starting with biological determinism: as vessels for genetic code, neither of us have a distinguished role to play. Females are responsible for... well, they are baby factories. Women are responsible for multiplying those potential streams of evolutionary progress.
Men are responsible for natural selection. We are more violent, more prone to disease, more successful in our suicide attempts. Our role in evolution is to die, to weed ourselves out of the gene pool before our dead-end sperm can pollute it. And if any one of our number survives the petty squabbling, the duels, the rodeos and the bullfights, this lucky buck goes and tends to the herd. This is fucking evolution.
Fortunately, the human race jumped that ship many years ago. When enough of us start surviving long enough to fall in love, natural selection slows and the process of evolution stops. At least until the next plague.
This is what happened to us. Around the time of the neanderthals, we find evidence that humans within tribes helped each other. Those who were elderly or crippled were often carried whenever the tribe relocated. Those individuals who were less useful to the group still shared in the bounties of the hunt. I can Thomas Hobbes groaning from his special place in hell. Calling me a dirty hippie. Suck it, old man. This is the truth. There is no evolutionary directive at play here. None that the Darwinists can perceive, anyway. You do a search, and you find that mutualism and self-sacrifice are widespread in the animal kingdom. For every athletic predator, there are a thousand bees and flowers.
At this point in our history, we are all happy little indians. A female has no real disadvantages when it comes to hunting with a spear or bow, and thus no reason not to participate in the hunt. Females can build traps, harvest crops, gather roots; they may not participate in wrestling a feral warthog, but if you ask me that is to their credit. So far, there is no reason for gender inequalities to arise.
None except a female's disadvantage in hand-to-hand combat.
When humankind discovers scarcity, when tribes run up against other tribes and there is an outbreak of hostilities, this becomes an issue. Male infants become more valued than females. Infanticide is the oldest form of contraception in the world, and it is the female babies that are 'aborted.' Females become scarcer than males.
If there are fewer of one gender than of another, it's easy to see how monogamous relations between them may become something that isn't guaranteed. Scarcity creates value, value creates commodity.
One morning and the woman wakes up, and she is considered her father's property. And her father will not give her away to just anybody, no... for his little girl, he will accept nothing less than a Good Man, a Real Man, one who is a great fighter and provider. A Good Man is one that will risk injury and death to fight for the self-interest of the tribe. Sex becomes the first political economy. And on the morning that the woman finds herself a commodity, the man finds that he will never be secure in his manhood again, that he may not be a commodity himself, but he has the potential to become worthless. Woman is reduced to servitude, man is reduced to breadwinner. Their fates are drawn tight together, and the lovers anxiously watch each other from across the hut. They have been placed in opposition to one another; those two that should be closer to each other than anyone else on earth.

And from that day forth we are polluted with Real Men. Men can never just 'be', they must ever be 'Real.' Women are taught to shave their legs, dress nice, to increase their commodity value in order to attract a 'Good Man.' Women starve to death for such a thing. A man is taught that their only worth is in their purchasing power. A woman, at least, may find social worth in what they are. A man will never be granted this small dignity. His only social worth is in what he has. And since he is only worth what he has, it is always vulnerable to being stolen. When a man cheats on a woman, there is bitter betrayal and emotional upheaval. When a woman cheats on a man, she is launching a direct attack on his position in life.
Let's dive down into the depths of hell. Woman and Man live in a bachelor apartment in North York. Man is abusive to Woman. He wonders where she goes at lunch. He reads her email. Keeps her car keys. He wonders if she's cheating on him. He watches her friends, sees a thousands nonexistent flirtatious gestures in her movements. He insults her, tries to strip her of dignity. To keep her in his house, emotionally dependent on his approval as well as materially dependent on his labour.

Does it sound like I've been trying to claim victimhood for mankind? I hope not, that is not my intention. But maybe you can spare some pity for this Man. The reason is this: Man, whose only worth is in the things he keeps, cannot love. He knows the word, and he will whisper it to Woman when she finally, mercifully, leaves him. She will hear the word in the receiver of a payphone. He may believe it himself. No. This thing called Man cannot know love. The thing he craves is her gaze, her adoring focus, riveted on him so that he can never leave her sight. The thing he craves is a brilliant shining acceptance. The thing he craves is dead enough to fit in a box. That is not love. That is a thing to be pitied. Woman may have to share a cardboard box of an apartment with him. She doesn't have to live with him inside that skull, listening to the monstrous insecurities that make him what he is.

It is less acceptable in our pasturised society to engage in violence. The image indelibly remains, etching onto our retinas, but the actual act is now taboo. Fistfights carry the stink of blue collar desperation, and so the bourgeoisie settle for less, settle for the images of violence and for the rituals of aggression. Watch an episode of Fear Factor: a team of Californian bodybuilders has just defeated another team of Californian bodybuilders in a competition that involves spitting bull semen into a bucket. High fives all around! And the winning team turns, screams 'booyah!' carries out a number of pelvic thrusts. This is the petty, the impotent aggression that modern man settles for. America's military is composed of technicians, sitting at a desk inside a B-52 and pressing the proper buttons when ordered. The Republican Party is composed of baying shitheads that will threaten you with death over the internet, but don't have the stomach to kill their own meat. The mass of America reclines and gathers obesity. And all along its shores, men blow themselves up only to kill six neighbours at a checkpoint. By their own revolting standards, America's men are no match for the outside world.

I bring this up because I am asking the question: can Manhood be salvaged?
Part II soon.

4 Comments:

At 7:13 AM, Anonymous jesse said...

Your argument is good and I would agree that gender roles restrict all of us to a large degree. But your comments on womenhood and woman's experience with gender highlights a certain lack of knowledge for women and how their gender has been constructed in Western civilization.

A woman, at least, may find social worth in what they are.Social worth being what a patriarchal society allows her to be. Men can do what they please more often and not be so readily critiqued for coming off as doing something inappropriate to their social gender roles. For instance, if a woman becomes a CEO in a large corporation, society often constructs her as a frigid bitch who acts like a man, instead of accepting her as a powerful woman. Though it is complicated, much of the social pressure exuded upon men to be "Real Men" is, in some part, deeply internalized misogyny - the fear of
"not being man". Man, who in western culture, has been defined as whole and complete and the default of human for too, too long. I can have pity for men - to an extent. But please realize that Western culture has been built to the benefit of masculine genders by the hands of masculine people through their views. As a man, you have certain restrictions on your gender, yes, but you do have privilege. Accept responsibility for the power imbalance and your privilege rather than trying to give lip service to the concerns of other genders.

Your understanding of Neolithic cultures needs a little work too. It has been proven that women did hunt as well as men and that many prehistoric societies were more genderfluid than modern Western cultures. Which isn't to say things were better, no. But people probably didn't divide tasks so much by gender roles because it wouldn't have made sense to do so. In a hunter-gatherer culture where people struggle to survive, no-one is going to care if the person who can kill a deer is a man or a woman, because that person is an asset to the tribe. Similarly, a person who can weave baskets or build huts is an asset irregardless of gender. It was not a matter of roles but survival and who could do what.

If you want an interesting view of history from the position of the non-male genders/"vanquished", than I highly recommend "Transgender Warriors" by Leslie Feinberg.

In all though, a decent argument and I look forward to the next installment.

 
At 1:44 PM, Blogger eric said...

hi jesse,

Thanks for your comment. To respond:

My purpose in this (somewhat hyperbolic) essay was to try and get away from the dichotomous male/female concept of gender. Specifically, I believe that Maleness is something that is defined by degree. If women are historically relegated to the status of commodities, and men to the role of consumers, then you have a class interpretation entering the picture. Thus, the concept of the Real Man, the individual most able and willing to distinguish themselves in war or in productive value, followed by everyone else. Far from this hierarchy being a response to 'deeply internalized misogyny', as you put it, I believe it a construct created outside the individual; a system of coercion that usually operates subtly, although there is the occasional outburst of brutality, such as in the case of Matthew Sheppard.
Now, when I wrote this line: A woman, at least, may find social worth in what they are, I was working under the vague assumption that only males have to 'legitimize' their gender in this way; for me, the phenomenon of being considered more or less of a 'Real Man' is much more obvious on this side of the fence. My experience with Manhood is that it is the most unstable of genders; it's something that can forever be called into question, it's something that society demands that you 'prove.' As you quite rightly pointed out though, women have to operate in much of the same environment of 'staggered gender.' An assertive woman is often ridiculed in this society.
So my 'class analysis' falls apart and we are left with a whole spectrum of gender. Women who demand independence are shunned, men who opt out of fighting the state's wars are physically beaten. Heretics of all genders were once burned at the stake.
So our alternatives are to either redefine gender in some way that destroys the political economy of gender roles, or to abolish genders completely. The latter might be a little impractical for the time being. I think part II will be a call to redefine manhood. And if everyone falls somewhere on this 'spectrum of gender', it becomes important for feminists to participate in the process. Feminism has already undertaken the task of reclaiming womanhood. We could definitely make use of their expertise.
As for the pseudohistory of gender roles in pre-coercive societies, I was doing a sloppy summary of some of Marvin Harris' theories of how we moved from matrilineal societies to patrilineal. Sorry, it came out pretty rough. I'm not great at writing academic essays, so I settle for a "gonzo rant" essay format. But I'm definitely going to look for "Transgender Warriors" in the library.
Thanks so much for the feedback.

 
At 3:28 PM, Blogger JackietheBlade said...

My comment is related to your skewed politics. I am a conservative male and NOTHING like the one you described. I simply choose to educate myself. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying you are not educated, I am simply saying that in reading and understanding, the only positions that make true, logical sense are on the side of the Republicans. I HATE war. I hate it with a passion. Why anyone would actually want war...want our fathers and sons to die...I don't know. But what I do know, is that I am willing to defend our Nation at ALL costs. Liberals would rather keep talking. Guess what...the towers came down and almost 3000 innocent lives were lost. I don't need to tell you that. Liberals would like to talk about it. BANG, YOUR DEAD!...no, lets keep talking...BANG, YOUR DEAD!...no, lets keep talking...and before you know it, we don't even have a nation left to defend or "talk" about. I don't know about you, but I don't want that for my grandkids. There is too much to discuss here. Visit my blog at jackietheblade.blogspot.com

 
At 5:04 PM, Blogger anna said...

Your blog is great. It's hard to find blogs with good content and people talking about Cheats these days. I have a Cheats Exposed if you want to come check it out.

 

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