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Friday, April 7, 2017

Masculinity as Sin

Sir Charles Grandison, the very model of a man
In the March 30, 2017 National Post I read an article that I would normally have thought was an early April Fools Day joke, if it weren’t for the fact that I work at one of the world’s most leftist universities, and have therefore seen just about all the antics of the lunatic left that the most fevered Marxist imagination could possibly conceive of. The article was headlined “University of Regina’s ‘Masculinity Confession Booth’ invites males to ‘come and share your sins’”. Apparently, a group calling itself “Man Up Against Violence”, a group campaigning for healthy masculinity, has set up a confessional on campus where passing men can come in and confess their sins of “hypermasculinity”.

Here, three questions immediately arise. First, who funds groups like this? After all, in my experience, these sorts of radical do-gooders rarely perform their good works using their own money. Indeed, rarely do they have money, since few of these activist warriors are people who work for a living. Second, to whom is one confessing, or from whom does one receive absolution? A priest? A woman? Some obliging man-eunuch playing the radical feminist to get lucky? How can one be assured that confessions are not being recorded for some lunatic leftist publicity stunt? No reasonably prudent and self-respecting man would go into one of these confessionals, and any man who does so suffers from cretinism, not hypermasculinity.

Reading further in the article, we learn that there is no confessor physically present, though passersby may come in and listen to your confession. My immediate concern about cameras turn out not to be paranoia after all: according to the article, the booth “is just a curtained-off area with a camera, where penitents will be asked ‘prompting questions,’ and their answers possibly used in future promotional videos. There is not a confessor, as such, but people may speak to each other in the confession booth.”

The third and most troubling question is, what exactly is hypermasculinity, and who gets to define it? In the article, it is described as “an exaggerated view of maleness in which emotion is suppressed until it explodes as anger.” Not a helpful definition. For one thing, it is based on questionable dime store psychology: Do all suppressed emotions get sublimated as anger? Is anger not sometimes a primary emotion? Is anger never appropriate or useful? Is the suppression of emotion never socially beneficial? (Some would say it’s a precondition for civilization.) Is it only men who suppress their emotions, and is it only men who get angry as a consequence? I could go on. My point is that this sort of facile psychological pseudo-theory is, well, frankly bullshit.

Underlying all this claptrap is the fear that anger, particularly male anger, may sometimes become violent. True enough. The same may be said for female anger — I’ve experienced plenty of that violence myself growing up. In my childhood it was female anger that posed the greater threat of physical violence. Perhaps because of this personal experience, I’ve always been rather skeptical of the popular notion that anger — and by extension violence — is a peculiarly male trait. It should also be noted that women’s shelters house their fair share of women who have been abused at the hands of their lesbian partners.

As for the question of who gets to define hypermasculinity, apparently women do, or in this case one particular woman, Roz Kelsey, professor of kinesiology and the founder of Man Up Against Violence. Although I have no reason to assume that she isn’t a perfectly sound kinesiologist, as a psychologist her credentials seem dubious at best. In any case, Prof. Kelsey’s cure for this supposed disease of hypermasculinity is for men to “emote” more (her choice of barbarisms, not mine), because again, men suppress emotions. But presumably, by “emoting” she does not mean “get angry”. That feeling is implicitly excluded from the acceptable palette of male emotions. Presumably, men are only to express emotions that women are comfortable with. Is “contempt” an allowable emotion to express? Because that’s what Prof. Kelsey’s endeavor makes me feel.

I am not comfortable allowing women to be the privileged authority on what constitutes “healthy” masculinity. No more so, if I were a woman, would I be comfortable allowing men to be the privileged authority on what constitutes “healthy” femininity. I can only imagine the reaction I’d get if I pontificated to my female friends on what kind of women they should be (“You should sit with your legs crossed in an upright posture, and your skirt should never be higher than your knees…”). To do so among the females I know would effectively be a method of suicide. And when they constantly clog my Facebook newsfeed with pictures of their ugly children, are they guilty of the sin of “hyperfemininity”, for which they must seek absolution through confession? One begins to see the absurdity of it all.

In any case, it seems to me that in the West our society suffers less from hypermasculinity than from its opposite: hypo-masculinity. This often comes in two forms: feminized or infantilized hypo-masculinity. Of course, they are not mutually exclusive. The feminized version is the more socially acceptable (by women), and is indeed encouraged by our culture, which constantly engages in the social shaming of masculine traits. One sees a mixture of the two types represented with alarming frequency in advertising. Here’s a little exercise: watch television for one hour in the evening. During the commercial breaks, count the number of “male” characters in the commercials who are portrayed as dumb, lazy, clueless, led by the nose or actively deceived by their wives, or held in contempt by their children. Indeed, the more challenging version of this game is to find a single example of a male in a commercial who is not hypo-masculine, whether feminine, infantile, or both. It is a rare feat indeed.

I needn’t say much about the infantilized type of hypo-masculinity. We are all familiar with it: the grown “man” who lives in his parents’ basement, who wears a costume to a comics convention, who would rather play video games all day than work or volunteer… This comic strip by the fabulously witty Canadian cartoonist Kate Beaton neatly encapsulates what can be expected from him in old age, should he ever be lucky enough to find a woman to love him:

There are too many of these hypo-masculine man-babies around. What’s worse is that these man-babies are having babies of their own — though I confess to not understanding why any women would reproduce with one. I guess, you take what you can get when the pickings are slim. What sort of parents do these “men” make?

Ye shall know them by their fruits: One night, as my wife and I were sitting in a pub with a couple of friends, two couples walked in with their children in tow. First off, children do not belong in pubs. Period. And especially not at night. I cannot stress that enough. Pubs are an adult space. So these people were already in violation of a hard rule of mine. What made matters worse, their little savages were running around the place, screaming, climbing all over the furniture, and jumping on the pool table. All the while, their parents did nothing. Our table could not have a conversation. Indeed, we couldn’t hear ourselves think. So, I “lost my shit”, to use a current phrase. I “emoted”. I got angry. I stood up, and I shouted at them to be quiet and sit down. Their little jaws dropped in shock. They immediately stopped what they were doing, went back to their seats and sat down. They obeyed me. I expected the parents to raise an issue, but they didn’t. Perhaps they were content to outsource their parenting to strangers. Or perhaps I seemed so angry that they daren’t say anything. Thinking about it afterwards, I realized the possibility that my action was so effective because mine was one of the only authoritative male voices those children had heard in their short lives. Certainly they were not hearing it from their hypo-masculine fathers, who seemed to keep their testicles in jars in their wives’ purses.

The story should also serve as a lesson to Professor Kelsey that anger is sometimes constructive, and sometimes there needs to be a “hypermasculine” man in the room.

The hypo-masculine male is so ubiquitous in our culture, that I’m not sure anyone really has a handle on what “healthy” masculinity (neither hyper- nor hypo-) even looks like. To me the very model of a man, and of healthy masculinity, is the title character in Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison (1753). Grandison is an excellent swordsman and can fight when necessary, though he avoids it assiduously, even when goaded into it, partly because he loathes violence, partly because he knows his opponent would be no match for him. He is compassionate and sheds tears when moved by appropriate circumstances, and he feels no shame in doing so. He is both physical and intellectual, without being too much of either. He is capable of incredible feats of self-control, to the point of sacrificing all possibility of personal happiness to his sense of duty. He is protective of women while still respecting their individuality. They all swoon for him, yet he only has eyes for his beloved Harriet, a woman who is the object of his admiration. He values personal wealth only insofar as it enables him to appear decently in society and to do good for others. His mixture of upright morality, wisdom, and manly strength shine forth from his countenance in a way that literally shames lesser men in his presence.

Alas, the 18th century has passed, and I am afraid we shall never see Sir Charles Grandison’s like again, not even in fiction. Instead, he has been replaced with this creature, which I encountered this morning on the way to work:

There, on the subway, he sits, managing to occupy three seats for his special self. He wears a baseball cap with a flattened visor, tilted at an angle that is less rakish than toddler-like. He is listening to music, one earbud in, one dangling idiotically over the other ear. His head is moving rhythmically to whatever shitty machine-music he’s listening to, humming along, gesturing with his arms as if he’s in a hip-hop video. Despite his cracked front tooth, his expression is serious, as if what he’s doing and listening to actually matters profoundly somehow. He’s doing his best impression of a person possessing thoughts and ideas. In reality he is no more than a solipsistic little bundle of appetites. His face is a burlesque of self-importance; in his mind he’s the star of his particular nano-drama, which is as full of meaning as a Pepsi commercial.

Then one notices the vacuous eyes, which, like little boarded-up windows, shadow forth the decrepit economy of his mind, the vast mental wastes of the congenital cretin. He is clearly of substandard genetic quality. Or perhaps his father pissed into his mother during conception. The train slides into the station. He gets up. He’s still rapping, posing at his reflection in the train’s door. One notices his trousers, the waist of which hangs on his buttocks. This, along with the ball cap and his exaggerated gestures, give him, again, the likeness of a human toddler. Then, thankfully, it is gone. To where? For what? What does such a creature do? Clearly nothing good can be expected from its existence. Society will be lucky to just break even from this genetic gamble. Does it have parents? Could they possibly be proud? Can this thing be called — a MAN?

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