Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Aspirational Masculinity & Equality for All

A majority of the characters I write are female. That should surprise no one. I write plenty of male characters too, of course, and always with one rule. I must write them as themselves: not manly men, but realistic men.

I gave a burly giant of a man a soft heart and beautiful singing voice. A man with the most powerful magic is a father figure to his students and the gentlest member of the leadership. A young man who fails at fighting and manual labor uses his sneakiness instead.

They are three-dimensional characters. They reflect the men I know in real life.

But above all, they aren't stereotypes. Stereotypical characters can still feel realistic, but that doesn't mean they're good characters. I didn't want a hunky love interest who lets a woman do her thing but is there to save her when she needs. I didn't want a man whose defining characteristic is his strength and sole job is being angry and badass.

We've seen those types over and over. They contribute to the harmful narrative that men are strong, men are unemotional, men are good at physical feats, men save the day, men have automatic leadership skills.

Instead of men can be strong, might be unemotional, maybe are good at physical feats...

Our narrative goes on: men don't do feminine activities. Men don't wear flamboyant clothes or drive girly cars. Men can't communicate well or talk about relationships. Men never surrender to being the meek one in a relationship.

One of Mad Max: Fury Road's themes is that masculinity (not men) destroyed the world. Men are failing to thrive or create any sort of world worth living in -- and so are the women. Masculinity includes entitlement to certain privileges, laying claim to what's yours, and exercising deserved power.

These ideals turned the earth into a waterless wasteland of half-formed children.

Source: FeministMadMax.

There are thousands of ways to be a man that don't qualify under the current definition. Many men I know have parts of themselves that don't conform. They don't know a thing about cars or planes; are adept at interpreting emotions; hate most sports; write gorgeous poetry; cry during movies.

It's something I know many of them struggle with.

I've fought for a femininity where women go on camping trips together or watch Die Hard on girls' night. They've fought for a masculinity that allows them to be more than toughened empty shells.

Sexism doesn't just come from stereotypes about women. It also comes from stereotypes about men. When we elevate manhood above womanhood, everyone suffers.

An article I read called this a problem of aspirational masculinity. A boy is handed a toy truck. If he asks for something from the pink aisle, he's told he doesn't want that: it's a girl toy. Something makes him cry, and he's laughed at. He doesn't want to play sports and people call him a girl like it's an insult. He's told to man up over and over: aspire to toxic masculinity.

Boys either hurry to lose their "effeminate" edge or resign themselves to being a pussy. A vagina, an insult. These latter often embrace an identity that's as colorful and non-mannish as possible. Some because that's who they are. Others so that people can see they're dealing with a girly boy and get the mockery out of the way first thing.

There's no safety for those who fall outside the tight bounds of "normal." Which is most people. Misogyny holds greater physical, relational, and fiscal danger for women, but does endanger men too.

Sexism won't go away as long as we teach boys (and girls) that to be feminine is lesser and to be masculine is powerful.

There are a hundred areas where we need to address inequality and change our thinking. From our conqueror metaphors for sex, to our lack of support for stay-at-home dads, to the wage gap.

Stripping away the idea that there are Man and Woman boxes at all will go a long way toward changing the rest.

Word count: 678.