About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Friday, August 17, 2012

I am a fake man

When I was young and relatively clueless about the social realities of patriarchy and intersectionality, I was already annoyed by the myth of the 'Real Man'. I thought - and still think - it is dumb to say there can only be one type of real man, implying anyone who doesn't meet these standards is somehow not worthy of respect. What angered me even more was that so many women bought into it. True, for a while lady magazines ran with the 'New Man', the guy who does household chores and watches chick flicks, the Metrosexual, who is basically the non-gay flamboyant man, or the Übersexual, the man who is even too flamboyant for gayness. These cycles alternated with cries for the return to the 'Real Man', but the key message was the same: there's only one way to be a man, only one way to please the ladies. 

Needless to say, to my teenage self, this was incredibly confusing. What's worse, I blamed women for this confusion, not the overarching social structure where it's actually other men who dictate what being a man is all about. Men have a disproportionate amount of power in all facets of life, in the past more strongly than they do now, but it's still undeniably here. So, it's not really a surprise many women buy into the idea of the 'one way to be a man'. Needless to say, the image of the ideal woman is an even bigger bag of cultural schizophrenia: mother, whore, free, demure, object, agent, etc. I'd probably drink myself to death if I was a woman, with all that pressure piled on me.

The past decades have seen an ebb and flow of women's rights, but mostly a steady flow forward. One bad consequence: as women pour into spheres traditionally dominated by men, men retreat. In fact, they label those now mixed spheres as 'female', call it a day and move to a sphere where they still dominate. This is now why, as opposed to a few centuries ago, the arts, teaching, libraries or dancing are tolerated as part of a man's life at best, derided as being unmanly at worst. The worst consequence is that it has made certain groups of men anti-intellectual and hostile to culture. I mean, we live in an era where a buffoon with questionable points of view like Newt Gingrich is considered an intellectual, and Donald Trump is seen as a successful businessman.

By the way, make no mistake, even the arts are still dominated by men. The most famous contemporary writers, directors, chefs, teachers and bookkeepers are men. It's just that these areas of life are less overtly hostile to women than, say, construction or engineering.

So, the image of what a 'Real Man' is, has considerably narrowed within macho circles, especially among the less educated. Hand in hand with an increased focus on bodily ideation (companies discovered that men can be made to feel just as insecure about how they look, news at 11), society has created a subset of caricatures that hyper-emphasize traits like assertiveness, self-confidence and pragmatism until they become aggression, arrogance and dullness. This is a problem, and a problem that guys need to address. No amount of whining about certain women who actually like guys like that is going to help - and by the way, women who do like these caricatures are often caricatures themselves.

Instead of trying to expand or change the definition of a 'Real Man', as some magazines and writers have attempted in the past few years, we simply need to do away with the idea that there is a 'Real Man'. It's horseshit. What's more, it implies a form of misogyny, too - 'unmanly' men get ridiculed with gendered insults that carry the underlying assumption that women are weak, governed by emotions and have a low self-image.

A few months back, on my smoke break I encountered a colleague who, when he saw that I hadn't shaven for a week or two, snidely remarked that I had 'finally decided to become a real man'. I replied that I hadn't felt any lack of manliness in me before that. Admittedly not a brilliant comeback and a bit of a 'you had to be there'-moment, but I do think that's the spirit in which remarks like that should be addressed. Don't try to redefine what a man is. Just don't play that game.