Sunday, 14 July 2013

What is Masculinity?

It is a question that, as I read more and more things about Feminism, I really begin to wrestle with. I just don't actually know what it is and how it can be measured. I mean, femininity has been very much defined and carefully mapped. Everywhere I look online I can find definitions - some of them are very much what you would expect and fit the notions of what it is to be female in circles such as those that this blog moves within: that is, women are ethereal and giggly. There is a femininity that embraces light fabrics, bright colours, delicacy and lace, long hair, long nails, make up etc. There is, within this trope, the accompanying steel of the strong characters in TG fiction who know their own minds and desires to impossibly large amounts. Powerplays are made and male-esque roles are assigned the dominant females, some are even described as 'alpha' and there is an assumption that powerful females can operate as much as males as anything else. Like the main character in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo what we are essentially reading is a cross-dressing male - the mind of a male protagonist altered to cope with the fact that this character has a vagina.

Would you like to see how far the rabbit hole goes?

So, in that sense, there is a definition of masculinity that is rooted in control, dominance and power. An underlying threat of physical violence and an assurance that stems from physical, rather than mental, prowess. Where there are non-physical skills they are measured in the same way, it's almost as if to be male is to be O'Brien in 1984, to exercise power for the sake of exercising power. Masculinity is a boot stamping on a human face, forever. We see this all around us, in the marketing of masculine products and the creation of male myths and identity. In fiction we see this in the 'one man against a world gone mad' trope, and it's always one man. If women are involved then they are really men cross-dressing in a body with a vagina, where the physical steel and mental dominance are the key things.

In the same way femininity is equally parodied back to us as weak and submissive and without substance. Vacuous and open, blank and smiling, a kind of watered down version of humanity that fits more a Victorian perception of 'dumb animals' than it does a well-rounded individual. To escape this there are other tropes for females - those of sluts, who are mostly feminine but enjoy sex and may or may not be promiscuous; or essentially male. Bad-ass sassy females who stalk the screen and page with female dress sense but a male perception of power and mastery and imposition.

But I find both of these ideals, these definitions, are lacking something, they do not seem to suggest that there is truth in them. I speak to men who are sporty and thoughtful, however, and I am disturbed by what I see. I see an acceptance of these definitions and a belief that there is nothing more. Women are the same: a fear of being too feminine and a fear of being a slut, a desire to be more male in how they work and operate. That is, to be hard and tough and hard-bitten. To make it in a 'man's world' it appears as though women must, in fact, become and be more masculine than the males around them and the method changes only a little despite outwardly being different. That is, the outward examples of masculinity on a building site would differ from those in teaching, for example. And yet, the underlying ideals are very much the same. It is the application of power and intimidation for the sake of power and intimidation. It is still O'Brien and that boot is still stamping on a human face. On the building site it is through the misogynistic jokes and culture, the overt objectification of women and femininity, the shared concept of 'her indoors'. In teaching it is through the way children are dealt with - nurturing being expected of females and harsh shouty discipline or laddish friendliness expected of the males. Men dress in shirts and ties and women have two modes: strictness with suit like apparel or overt sexualisation of their role. Sure, some come in dress that does not obviously seem to fall within those confines but... well, on closer inspection it does. Be male, and be harsh or laddish, or be female and be sexualised and a 'role model'.

And I am neither. At least, I don't want to be either. And the dichotomy upsets me.

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