Ouch. That’s Not Fantastic.

Mr. Fantastic puts a shot across my bows. I respond.

In writing my vaguely sexist post on men in the kitchen I wasn’t as concerned with preventing emasculation as I was correcting a historical error, which led to a terrible thesis. People have a tendency to consider their particularity to be  normal. That’s an ossifying artifact of thought. It leads to inefficiency in gender roles, both by preventing women from doing things they might excel at, and by keeping men from trying things they might consider “wussy”.

I think the sociologist they’re quoting is greatly mistaken about the nature of manhood. He writes (and they quote):

“There is a constantly reoccurring notion that real manhood is different from simple anatomical maleness, that it is not a natural condition that comes about spontaneously through biological maturation but rather is a precarious or artificial state that boys must win against powerful odds.”

Is manliness something you can attain? I don’t think it’s like filling up a gas tank. Instead It’s more like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; it’s a state that you can enter and exit, depending on your conduct and circumstances.

The Time article I referenced was advancing a view of masculinity (and implicitly, femininity) that does a great disservice to both sexes. Instead of being fixed into arbitrary gender roles, it seems that families, communities, and societies could create much more valuable relationships if these kind of ‘norms’ weren’t so firmly entrenched. Interestingly, Jerry Brito makes a related point, in the context of music, over at Sometimes Right.

Think of Mad Men (since it’s such a definitive profile of a very specific historical concept of masculinity). Isn’t the first season narrative arc, closely following Don Draper’s swings from dedicated family man to professional to philanderer and back again, examining his masculinity? If you look at it in light of Maslow, isn’t that arc a roadmap up and down the hierarchy of manliness? At some times, Don is an inspirational role model, while at other’s I find him mildly repulsing. But he is always capable of redeeming himself and getting back on track. If you lose some masculinity you just have to go get it back. It’s not a zero sum game.

Don is really inspiring in the episode where Betty goes back to modeling; He’s a gracious spouse, he takes care of the children, and he also balances professional pressure, jealousies and relationships with remarkable poise. In another episode, his childish experiment with pot and the stupid village hippies is a disappointment. However, even at the end of that little narrative course, he begins to redeem himself, seemingly renouncing his mistress, and arguing for responsibility and creativity.

And yeah, I get emasculated from time to time. Nothing good lasts forever. But it’s not like a club you can never get back into.

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2 Responses to Ouch. That’s Not Fantastic.

  1. Mr. Fantastic says:

    I really like your point, that people have a “tendency to consider their particularity to be normal … [which] leads to inefficiency in gender roles, both by preventing women from doing things they might excel at” and vice versa.

    I’ve never heard a comparative-advantage argument against gender roles. It makes me think of the danger of over specifying roles in organization. Gender roles… Work roles…. No difference, really. 😉 Let’s say an employee was hired to be a marketer and all she has done so far is marketing: she might have a talent that makes her valuable for a non-marketing project on another team, but her title/mental model may subconsciously keep her or her boss from taking advantage of the role change.

    But really, my post was more in response to your girlishly high voice and tendency to wear make up when you work out (and only when you work out) vs. the post about cooking….

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