About the show: Dave Pickering takes us on a personal journey through gender as he tries to explain masculinity both to you and to himself. Part true storytelling, part TED talk and part apology, the show looks at how the patriarchy hurts men too; how the patriarchy has hurt him, and how he has hurt people because of patriarchy. Drawing on an anonymous survey of 1000 men, feminist theory, internet memes and his life experience, Dave will explain the conclusions he Read More ...
A guest post by Kevin Queer
I knew that flouncing about on stage would get me into trouble. It was a pretty strong feeling: as a boy, if I joined the theatre club I would be different. And yes, I got teased. Other boys were playing football or learning martial arts but I went to act and dance.
I made a distinction between those two. As I was learning to be a wife beater (Bill Sykes in Oliver) or a gruff boss (Mr Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors), I was keen to tell family members and other kids that I was less interested in the dancing than the acting. This is factually true, and I was less good at the dancing too. But I look back at myself then and think, What was it about that 10-year-old me who knew that dancing wasn’t really the right thing for a boy to be doing?
I probably would have been one of the boys who didn’t get invited to the birthday party of Respondent 992 to Dave Pickering’s survey about masculinity. “When I was a kid, I invited all the boys in my class to my birthday party, except the two boys rumoured to be gay,” he says.
The survey collected over 1,000 responses from men and the results are compelling. One of the things that struck me most is the amount of ‘gay panic’. This is the anxiety men feel about being seen to be gay, and it often leads to mockery and violence. When I was a boy into am-dram, it was my own gay panic that made me insist, “Oh, but I only go for the acting, not the dancing and the singing.”
Respondent 992 looks back on the invitation list for his birthday parties and says: “I still cringe with shame every time I think of it.” Good on him. He knows what he did is awful, just as I know now that it was silly to defend my membership of the theatre group in the way I did.
Respondent 787 (who I like to think of as a Boeing airliner) says he feels like he has been blocked from “emotional intimacy with male friends” because he isn’t conventionally masculine. He says he’s not gay but has been the victim of homophobia and the enforcement of “normative masculinity” (this is a bit like how I felt when my mum gave me a watch because it “looks nice on a man”).
Respondent 787, who is not gay, shows that you don’t actually have to have sex with men to be the victim of homophobia. Homophobia isn’t really a rejection of a certain kind of sex; it is a way for men to prove that they are men in the conventional sense. As the thinker and campaigner Michael Kaufman says, boys internalise our definition of a ‘normal’ or ‘real’ man, which includes having a penis, being strong and hard, and not being soft or weak, or yielding, sentimental, effeminate or passive.
One of the reasons why suicide is the most common cause of death among men under 35 is because they have depression when they cannot live up to this standard. Men get depression when they can’t find work (they are no longer an active part of the economy) or when their health takes a turn for the worse (when they must passively receive help from others).
We usually avoid this kind of passivity by becoming homophobic. Boys and girls are socialised to become homophobic as a way of reinforcing the non-passive version of masculinity. “As a child I went to an all-boys grammar school, which…couldn’t help but be a hothouse of chauvinism and homophobia,” says Respondent 596. “Growing up and trying to fit in meant acting like an arsehole.” Respondent 536 adds that he is a “reformed shitlord” who used to promulgate harmful stereotypes by making homophobic jokes.
It is not hard to see how these views lead to the violence we see between men. When a man doesn’t behave the way you want him to, and or in a way that you think could restrict his chances of being a man, you can try and persuade him, you can taunt him, or you can whack him. “I’ve taken a fair few beatings,” reports Respondent 1002, a bisexual and effeminate man.
This guy says that before he admitted his sexuality he used words like faggot a lot—I presume this means that he tried to distance himself from his own homosexual desires by taunting other men who behaved in weak or effeminate or passive ways. It’s a classic approach: remember Randy Boehning, who kept voting against gay rights while looking for men to sleep with? “I think I was just being defensive,” says Respondent 1002. Too right.
Kaufman says that the majority of men have had sexual or quasi-sexual relationships with other men (brothers wanking together is apparently very common). He explains that it requires a lot of energy to repress these memories or the good feelings we have about them, so men have instead created institutions that enable men to be with and admire other men: boardrooms, fishing trips, war, football…
All of these rituals allow men to be active. Even fishing, which is really just about sitting and waiting, has an elaborate method of learning techniques, developing technologies such as rods and, of course, going out into the wild and beating nature.
Respondent 887 knows that these rituals are ways of reinforcing masculinity. “Apparently if you don’t wanna watch 22 guys chase a ball round a muddy field, then [you’re] obviously ‘gay’ which for some reason is seen as being less of a man,” he says.
It is homophobic to dismiss a man who doesn’t like football, or doesn’t tend to like many of these institutions that are about reinforcing masculinity. Kaufman says homophobia is a means with which men can try to cope with their repressed attraction to other men or any passive sexual aims they might have, since these are not seen as masculine. Homophobia isn’t so much an individual thing; it’s a way for our whole society to maintain the idea of a man.
It doesn’t matter how many countries follow Ireland’s wonderful lead in voting for equal marriage, as long as our version of masculinity is not allowed to be passive, homophobia will exist. The first step to breaking this down is for everyone to see masculinity for what it is: as a way of showing the world that we’re not passive, masculinity is nothing but a performance. It’s a lot like when I pulled on Bill Sykes’ heavy Victorian overcoat and stepped out onto the stage as a boy, anxious in the spotlight.
This guest blogpost has been submitted by a man who wishes to remain anonymous. If you would like to submit something either anonymously or with full attribution email firstname.lastname@example.org
I don’t usually go in for writing about anything serious online, at least not without obfuscating it under enough weird metaphor to camouflage it as nonsense, but I’m going to make a brief exception as I’ve been directly asked to.
Specifically, I’ve been asked by Dave Pickering, @goosefat101 on twitter, to write a guest blog in response to his survey of 1,000 men on their understanding of patriarchy and masculinity.
I suspect he has asked me because of a DM conversation in which I explained why I, and possibly a lot of other men, would rather chew off our own wrists than venture a public opinion on patriarchy and its effects. It’s not because of the mean old feminists waiting to jump on us; it’s because we’re a bit worried that speaking up might make everything a bit worse.
One thing I think I can say for sure about patriarchy is that women get the worst of it, and another is that part of the problem seems to be a cultural bias towards the male voice. Because of these two things, it feels uncomfortable at best, part of the problem at worst, to pipe up with another male opinion.
There have been lots of times when I’ve been about to pile into a discussion, and stopped myself on realising that beneath my superficial belief that I’m helping to Make Things Better, I’m actually just looking to do a big old bit of virtue signalling in the hope people will think I’m a better person.
As such, I’ve taken the personal decision that it’s better to sit down, shut up and listen to people – overwhelmingly women – who are actively trying to sort out a horrible cultural mess, than spend time making sure people know how *I* feel.
Having listened, I’ve found I have changed an awful lot of my behaviour – by recognising there are things it is better not to say. For someone so prone to being loud, loquacious and inclined towards thinking they have something worthwhile to venture as me, silence is a challenge; it’s action rather than apathy.
A small example: despite having once been an enthusiastic user, I almost never say the c word anymore, unless I’m directly quoting the fruit vendors I hear roaring it at each other on the way to work every day. If it hurts other people when I use it, and it doesn’t hurt me to stop, then doesn’t it make sense for me just not to say it?
(Of course, this logic should extend to telling other people when it’s not cool to say things, but challenging other people takes a different sort of courage to challenging yourself, and I’m often poor at it.)
Having said all this, I’m now breaking the habit and telling you all what a good chap and what a great ally I’ve been. Surely my medal is in the post, right?
Well, if my understanding of Dave’s project is correct, it’s consciously surrounded by huge parentheses and prefixed by towering capital letters saying “READ IF YOU WANT TO” – and so I’m only saying all this within the electric fence of that particular Jurassic Park. And anyway, this is an anonymous post, so nobody will know who to send all those wonderful medals to anyway.
Having read a lot of the survey responses, it seems I’m speaking for a lot of other guys whose growing consciousness of patriarchy has prompted them to try and be much less noisy cultural presences.
In fact, I’m quietly confident there are plenty of men who have gotten so good at this that they didn’t respond to the survey at all, even though it was anonymous.
Whether this stance is a constructive attempt to show rather than tell, or just an exercise in cowardice – whether we are quiet bat people, or whether this is just the projection of a lurid Virtue Signal onto the underside of Gotham’s clouds – I’ll leave to other people to decide.
Suffice to say though, while we may or may not be helping by not speaking, we’re at least doing our best to listen.
This is where I’ll be writing posts about the #ManSurvey and about the What About the Men? live show. I also welcome guest blogs from other people. The Survey is an open source resource and I encourage other people to use it to write their own blogposts and do data analysis and other developments. If you do write anything, and/or if you’d like to write something for this blog, drop me a line on goosefat101 @gmail.com.
If you have suggestions for how I could improve this site or ways you think I should develop this work in general please put them in the comments below.