So, today I read Chuck Wendig’s post “MANLY MEN TALES, SWINGIN’ DICK STORIES, AND HAIRY-CHESTED HISTORIES“, then Sam Sykes’ post “What Is A Man?“, and, of course, Paul S. Kemp’s post that started it all: “Why I write masculine stories“.
Of course, they all got me thinking.
The first thing I noted was how much effort both Chuck and Sam put into emphasising that they weren’t dissing Paul in any way. They were just making their own comments on top of his.
Then I noticed how well-written Paul’s post was. I found it very reasonable. What do they say? “Horses for courses”?
And then I got thinking even deeper… and, while I usually stay out of these discussions, I just felt that I wanted to bring my own perspective. For one thing: I’m female (Gasp! Run for the hills, male readers! Oh, wait, what? You mean my readers aren’t sexist? Oh, lovely. Carry on, then). For another, I studied Zoology at uni, and I find that lends a certain perspective to my views that I don’t feel was covered in either blog response or in any of the comments I read.
I think the major point Chuck and Sam were making was to question: if a trait is considered “masculine”, is its opposite considered “feminine”?
Now, if one were to answer a flat-out “Yes” to that, then, yes, I would take offence, ’cause, hey, let’s look at that list…
They drink a lot
Heh. Have you been to New Zealand? We have a “drinking culture” here… it does not discriminate on gender. I’ve been known to drink a lot. Does that make me masculine?
They sometimes womanize (or, womanise in UK/NZ speak)
There are women who… manise?? I know several ladies with a bit of a history, and one or two who are still attaining it. Do I consider them masculine? Nope. Do I consider them sluts? Nope. I consider them people at a stage in their life where they are free to play. And, if they do so responsibly, I’m all good with that (for all that my opinion even matters!).
They answer violence with violence
Um… Have you seen some of the viral videos of school girls getting into each other that go around now and then? I’m not saying answering violence with violence is always a good thing, and I’m not saying it’s always a bad thing. What I am saying is that men don’t have a monopoly on it.
They’re courageous in the face of danger.
Have you ever seen a mother… anything protecting her young any way she can? Whether that’s through attempting to defend against the predator directly, or placing herself between the predator and her young, or acting injured to draw the predator away? And it’s not just animals. Humans are animals, and a mother will do just about anything for her child’s safety. As would a man, I would hope. Are mothers masculine?
They’re stoic in the face of challenges/pain.
Alright. So, we’ve all seen videos, either in sex ed, TV or the movies of women giving birth. Yeah. Not so stoic. But have you been in labour? I have. Ask my husband how he thinks I went for the first two days of true labour… I think you’ll find he says I did remarkably well on very little sleep. OK, fine, so I started taking gas after two days, and sure, when my body tried to push my baby through my only partially-open cervix, yeah, I complained about it. And, yes, I finally opted for the epidural. But leading up to that? I talked myself through most of it. Again, I’m not commenting on women who cry or scream during their labours. Every one is different, and there are so many factors that go into them that one simply cannot judge another.
My son cries over the silliest of things. A rogue piece of firewood flew out from my husband’s axe and struck my shin the other week. Did I cry? No. I wondered around until the pain finally kicked in and then I stated that, yes, it hurt… and then I took my chance to head back inside, because I had been dragged away from my writing in the first place.
Fine. So my son is 3. But I think that is part of the point. The stoicism comes with adulthood, not gender.
Parents face challenges every day. If they flipped out over everything they’d just freak their children out and raise nervous wrecks. So, every day, parents are taking a deep breath in the face of ruined sofas and broken treasures, and they’re deciding whether it was an accident or purposeful, whether or not punishment is required and what form it should take.
And if someone does breakdown over something seemingly small? Who’s to say what’s been going on in their life leading up to that moment? Perhaps they’ve just had a string of tragic events, deaths, or accidents and the blown light bulb in the toilet was simply the last straw.
I think what I’m saying here is: stoicism is not proof of masculinity.
They have their emotions mostly in check
See above about stoicism. I think we can safely assume that emotional control comes through maturity and general mental well-being as well.
On the flip-side, does a man really have his emotions in check when he gets home to find that his flustered wife, while she may have cleaned and tidied and vacuumed and cooked dinner, has failed to pick up one of the toys their child was still playing with as he walked in the house and chooses to slap her? (Or worse). Really? Is he masculine?
…they act in accordance with a code of honor of some kind
Is femininity dishonourable?
I’m struggling to pick a particular character trait and call in feminine to then ask if it is dishonourable.
But I can’t. I’m unimaginative like that.
I’m going to pause in this analysis here and go on to the point that actually made me want to write this post. And this is a point on which Paul and I agree. Here’s his point:
When the Costa Concordia sank, there were stories of panicked men who rushed into the lifeboats ahead of women and children. I mentioned this on Twitter and said how I found it entirely inconsistent with the idea of honorable manhood, which (in my view) requires that women and children go first. A follower took issue with this, essentially arguing that there was nothing inherently unmanly about it and that equality of the sexes required that some other method be instituted for selecting the order in which people would be evacuated.
My view on this comes from my Zoological background. I’m not saying I’m right, I’m just saying I have a reason for my belief on this aspect.
To me, the idea of men rescuing the women before saving themselves comes from a different kind of sense of preservation than the points made above.
Let’s pretend we still live in small tribes. We’re all reasonably closely related (Hi, cuz!). Something big happens that puts everyone in danger, but, if we act swiftly and decisively, we can save some of the tribe. Now, if we save 20 men and one woman, how quickly will we save the tribe? One baby in the first year… and hopefully they take the time to make sure that first child survives while they set about making a second. I’m not holding out much hope. I don’t even want to go into the potential of this situation. Let’s just assume all the guys behave like kind uncles and love the little tike and all is well… yeah… that works.
Now let’s flip it. Still not ideal, but 20 women and one man… Whoa! That’s (up to) 20 babies in the first year right there!
Guess which tribe rebuilds quicker?
Guess which survival strategy gets inherited?
Ideally, of course, you’d save about a 1:1 ration of men and women. But, if hesitation risked the loss of everyone, then swift action is called for, and in the face of having to make a fast decision, having “rules” in place helps. Then, if you “only” save all the women and 20% of the men, you’re still in a good position to rebuild the population. Save all the men and 20% of the women? Well, it depends on the size of your tribe…. Well, I want to say that, but I think even a bigger tribe is in trouble. I really don’t want to go into men fighting over mates and the dangers of rape, etc, but I think it bears mentioning.
Thing is, the “women and children first” rule makes species/tribal level sense… just sayin’.
The other behaviours act at a more personal level.
Drinking isn’t about preservation at all (except maybe in alcohol), so I’ll skip that. Womanising (or manising) is about spreading one’s own genes. Well, actually, it’s just about fun, and the gene-spreading is a side-effect, if one lacks means of contraception. Of course, in the case of STIs, it’s not self-preservation, either… just fun, then. And humans have always liked fun. And we sure don’t hold the monopoly on having sex for fun, either (dolphins, bonobos…).
Answering violence with violence is self-defence, is it not? Self-preservation.
Courageous in the face of danger? Depending on the danger, either self-preservation or familial (gene) preservation.
Men can tend to be risk-takers, too. But that’s another matter. Courageous? Not necessarily. Sometimes it’s just a matter of proving something to your “buddies”… which is a fear in itself: a social fear.
Sometimes, risk-taking occurs when a man doesn’t have his emotions in check… hmmm… It seems classically “masculine” behaviour can occur in contrast to other classically “masculine” behaviour. Surely giving in to fear in the face of (OMG!) social humiliation is cowardly? Or being “brave” because you’re falling apart inside?
I think the conclusion I’m drawing here is that we need to reconsider this “Masculinity” label. Some of those behaviours are good, in either gender, in certain situations. Some of those behaviours are not constructive behaviours, in either gender, under certain conditions.
“Womanising” can be about spreading one’s seed, or a disease. Where disease abounds, it’s not a smart idea. Where “getting around” can occur under relatively safe conditions, well… why not?
Let’s just say a character is brave or cowardly, without suggesting that bravery is masculine while cowardly isn’t. Sometimes, being “cowardly” is the smart decision, which could be a matter of remaining stoic and making the right decision at the time. Where is the line of masculinity there?
So, yeah… let’s say our characters are brave, heroic, drunkards (which can be a weakness for many), stoic, emotionally unstable, manic, depressed, happy-go-lucky, thoughtful, pessimistic, optimistic, etc, and let’s not ascribe a gender to these traits.
That’s where I stand.
I finally figured it out.