Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Myth Of Manliness

A few years ago a man was hiking and camping in (I think) the canyon-lands of Southern Utah. He found himself pinned by his own perilous machismo. His arm or hand trapped under a rock too large for him to move. The reason this story got big headlines, was his cutting off of his trapped limb to free himself. I remember at the time thinking that his “heroism” should really have been called “stupidity,” and the story would have been about what not to do in the wilderness, instead of deifying this reckless man. Mostly male reporters and pundits told this story with slavish admiration for such a manly man. I feel far more sympathy for the wolves and coyotes who gnaw off their legs to free themselves from traps set by cattlemen and ranchers on mostly forest service lands leased out for chicken feed. But that’s another story.

I have, over the past couple of years, heard Tucker Carlson whine on TV about his fear that we, the America people, would see ourselves as “unmanly” if we leave Iraq before we’ve finished “the job.” And the first thing out of my mouth as I sit there listening to him say this crap, is “Jesus Christ Tucker, are you so insecure in your manhood, your manliness that you would continue this stupid slaughter just to protect your notion of yourself as virile? “ Tucker, your fear and loathing of the feminine is showing. Wouldn’t we be better served in the world, and in our own eyes, if we were seen as smart and careful with our awesome might, not just reckless and blundering as we have been in our nearly eight years of macho politics and policy, led by the “manly” “cowboy” “from Texas?” I put those last three in quotations because they are inventions, designed to make a rich boy from Connecticut, sent to the best schools money buy can buy, (and who claims to be proud of his gentleman’s C’s or B’s and his inability to speak the English language with anything amounting to grace or intelligence), who was reckless and foolish in youth, avoided real military service during The Vietnam War, a man who never succeeded at anything without the connections his family and his class provided to keep him from being a total embarrassment to them and their peers, steal an election and put him in office as the PRESIDENT OF THESE UNITED STATES! !?? Where the hell is the manliness in any of that. That looks like cronies making sure cronies get richer and stay that way.

Tucker, I’m not picking on you. I just happen to prefer MSNBC over CNN, but other than Keith Olbermann, you have all become unwatchable. Chris Matthews can’t ask a question of one of his guests or panelists without interrupting or talking over the guest and answering the question himself. He is so damned rude and dismissive of anyone who doesn’t share his own prejudices that he has become a joke. I got so sick of having him describe our only female candidate running for President as “strident” and her laugh as a “cackle” that I had to stop watching him. Do either of those things have anything to do with her fitness to be President? Are we really that shallow? His manliness is showing a little too much, and it’s embarrassing to look at. Ditto Lou Dobbs on CNN with his rabid hatred of “illegal immigrants.” Is Lou Dobbs descended from Native Americans? I am. And I look at all you white guys as Illegal Immigrants. A pox on all your immigrant ancestors and their manliness behind a gun, spreading “Democracy” and calling it Manifest Destiny (just a code word for pillage and plunder, as far as I can see) in their quest to rape the world of all it’s gifts. Take your manliness and shove it.

I’ve been married three times and when I wasn’t married I usually had a lover. I can speak with some experience about men and their strength. Let’s take illness and the way we cope with it as an example. Every man I lived with and/or loved has taken ill at one time or another. Their illnesses have, for the most part, been minor—colds and flues. But my last husband had serious illnesses throughout our relationship. But in all the relationships there is a common thread when it comes to nurturance. When my loved one is sick, I provide the comfort and care. I get the pail for my love to puke in and put it beside the bed for him. I get the cool damp cloth to soothe his fevered brow. If he needs and wants bathing, I run the bath, wash his back and shampoo his hair and whatever else needs washing. I provide the clean bed clothes. I change the sheets that I washed. I fix the broth or chicken soup. I serve it to him in bed. I do these things out of love and simple human kindness. But God forbid that I get sick and need care and comfort. If I’m sick enough to need that pail beside my bed, you can bet your ass I’m the one who gets it. I have never been nurtured by a man. Not one.

This is not to say I haven’t been treated with kindness or generosity by a man. There’s a difference. I have observed that, in illness and pain, women are far manlier than men. Women take care of themselves, and their family members, and their friends. Women seem to see themselves vitally, profoundly connected to a larger world outside themselves in a caring, careful way. Men seem to see the world as an extension of their egos. Are they manly enough to control it, shape it to fit their image of themselves? Conquest and acquisition seem to be the male model for manliness. Capitalism is the perfect model of a manly economic system. It is brutal, has little regard for any value other than the acquisition of wealth, and it requires an underclass to do the work. It also relies on Family Values (code words for unpaid labor by women, and control of women’s bodies). Capitalism would come to a screeching halt if we gave a monetary value to the slave-labor of women in families. And now that it takes two or three incomes for the working poor to survive in this brutal system, most of these women (so cherished by the right-wing fundamentalist white males who have been our ruling class) now get to work for nothing at home, and for minimum wages in the work place, usually without health care, unless their husbands are lucky enough to have some kind of benefits package that covers family members. That is, if their husbands have not abandoned them and moved on to their trophy-wife phase. Think of the fine example set by Rudy. Think Newt. Think Fred (Law and Order) Thompson. Think McCain. These are manly men. Yeah, right.


Utah Savage said...

It's K's birthday today.

Kentucky Rain said...

Happy birthday K!

K McKiernan said...

Thank you for the birthday wishes. I toyed with posting a new photo and inviting guesses on my age. Then, I thought better of it.

I have been trying over and over to write this reply. I had paragraphs written and then deleted them.

I guess the bottom line is that most constructions of what is a man... and what manliness is, is in fact mythical (as you point out Utah).

There are many definitions of what a real man is... and to each person defining it would be different. They would merely be someone else's constructions.

And, it depends if you mean literally "what is a man" (biologically) or what do I think a man should be (personal traits I like to have near me).

What is our current state of societally constructed manliness? self entitlement.

What do I view real manliness as:...shit, its a constructed word, how do you define such a word?

In short, a real man.. a man with real "manliness," knows who he is, likes who he is, but is open to people really knowing him and does not feel entitled to anything he does not earn or provide balance and respect for.

Ex: Can J revert to being a baby when he gets sick. Yup--dead right, Utah, but the great and manly thing about J is, that he insists on taking care of me as well. If I try to work through illness, he begs me to let him take care of me.

That balance, that respect for what I do... well, it allows him to keep his "manliness" (just maybe not in the middle of the whines).

TomCat said...

Happy birthday K!! How many spanks?

If the man in the wilderness used a knife as a tool to cut off his hand, why didn't he use it to hollow out the area under his hand so he could pull it out? The most manly thing a man can do is to use his brain.

On Tucker, he should move to Faux Noise. It would be a perfect fit for him.

On nurturing, perhaps some men do not know how to nurture a sick woman, because they never learned to nurture themselves. Learning to do so was one of my most difficult lessons in life.

Off topic, Utah, when you stopped by PP today, you apparently missed the second article. Would you please check it out? I think you'll find it of personal interest to you.

K McKiernan said...

38. I will be sore when J is done.

God, that sounded really really bad.

J McKiernan said...

Yeah, K, that DID sound bad.

Made me sound like a real man.


So, another intriguing piece. I think the most interesting aspect to the 'myth of manliness' is the construction of it all. The 'myth' has been set in stone by society from the start of the American Revolution, and it has gone in a cycle ever since--a cycle which makes men feel as if they are in a constant struggle to "claim" or "reclaim" their masculine identities.

There is also a "frontier" element to this issue of manliness. America is constantly reinventing the very masculine "frontier" in nearly every corner of society. Some would say the traditional idea of the frontier went out the window when Hollywood stopped producing Westerns on a regular basis. But in reality, the concept of a frontier is one where men stake their claim on a "territory." And in today's world, every entity is a territory waiting to be claimed.

The 'myth of manliness' exists in a larger 'myth of losing identity.' Men are made to feel as if they must be constantly warring with the world around them in an effort to reconcile their masculine identities. It is the precise reason why--and Utah, bravo for touching on the subject in this post--George W. Bush was born on the east coast, received an Ivy League education, never actually "served" the country militarily, but decided to ship out to Texas, buy a ranch, and turn himself into a cowboy. It's all an illusion...a pure fantasy creation. Why? Because Dubya set out to claim his claim his masculine identity.

Last Fall I wrote two essays that were immersed in these masculinity issues--one on the "struggle" for masculine identity, the other on the ever-present frontier. The overarching themes run much deeper than simply film, though I draw parallels to very influential filmmakers who have perpetuated these ideas...namely Nicholas Ray and Sam Peckinpah. To study the films by those two directors is not simply to study is to study a culture and a society which breeds men to believe certain things and act in certain ways.

Look for both of those essays to appear on Cinema Squared soon. I will try to have them both up sometime tomorrow. I think they both touch on vitally important subjects. And they both discuss the issue of masculinity much more clearly than I just did here...

Utah Savage said...

J! You the man! Thank you for your careful reading and thorough, thoughtful analysis of this particular myth. I look forward to reading your posts.

K McKiernan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K McKiernan said...

I had a lovely day yesterday... in part from having new friends like you all expressing interest in my writing and wishing my day happiness.

Thank you. I hope its the beginning of.... its become cliche now... but you know what I want to say.

TomCat said...

Utah, the only one you missed was the one I most wanted you to see. Look at the 'E for excellence' post. Back later today or tomorrow.

Blank said...

First of all, Tucker is worried about not being seen as manly? This is the guy with the little bow tie and baby face? I don't know if I can define manliness, either, but I do know he's not it.

Secondly, to further compound Chris Matthews' unwatchability (I maybe invented a word) problem, he always has spittle flying out of his mouth and pooling in the corners. SWALLOW YOUR SPIT, MAN!

Then there's the whole giving birth thing. Talk about manly!

Good post, US.

Utah Savage said...

Scarlet, I think I love you.

Stella by Starlight said...

I can't think of Fred Thompson, but Sam Waterston is a nice liberal.

K, happy birthday belatedly. As you all know, I've been tremendously busy.

Utah, no one nails it like you. It's so simple: once women work together and gain the equality they deserve, the Manliness Myth will become revealed for what it is.

In many ways, I feel like men have had a difficult time as women, especially because they can't "talk" about their feelings. I don't buy this different but equal crap. Only the equipment differs. Interesting article on women's and men's brains.

Stella by Starlight said...

J, a real man admires his wife for her wisdom. K, a real women is wise and intelligent.

You two rock. Great comment, J.