Several readers attest to blurred lines between traditional gender norms. A straight dude:
Alyssa Rosenberg asked, “How much does masculine culture depend on women and femininity as a reference point?” My response: well, what do you mean be “femininity”? Traditional patriarchal notions about femininity (confined to the domestic sphere, trapped sexually in the Virgin/Whore dynamic, passive, smells nice, cooks good) are part of the problem, and part of the culture that is changing as rapidly as attitudes towards GLBT people. The traditional white masculinity that is so deplorable will never totally go away, as you’ve argued, in part because the traditional femininity that it requires will never go away either. Some women do want to stay home, raise kids, etc. Some women do believe that Good Girls Don’t.
But as women – lesbian and bi, sure, but also straight – get away from these hoary (and whorey) old notions, straight men and their masculinity will shift too. Because straight men do base our identities on relationships with women, those identities change (and already have changed) as more women are co-workers, bosses, team-mates, drinking buddies – you name the non-traditional hetero relationship.
As for Rosenberg’s specific query about action heroes and cheerleaders:
I’m not much for action movies, but give me Joss Whedon’s strong women over most male heroes. And my NFL team hasn’t had cheerleaders since 1986 (it also hasn’t won a championship without them). But I am much more likely to enjoy watching women in roller derby, or WBNA games, or NCAA Lacrosse, or World Cup Soccer, than I am to lament the lack of cheesecake on the sidelines at Soldier Field. Those women athletes and action heroes? Not traditionally feminine, but strong and sexy despite that. Or because of it.
Another guy touches on a racial angle:
As a Hispanic, I am subtly pressured to be a stereotype of the Macho Latino by my friends. I went to a bar where you could dance. I don’t think I dance well, but I think I have more fun than my friends, male or female. I’m less inhibited than they are. But when my friend saw me dance for the first time, she expressed disappointment that I’m worse than the average Hispanic man. I used one of the white men in our group as a reference point because he barely danced. Isn’t that better? It wasn’t to her. I had to dance like a Hispanic man: more skilled, more flamboyant, and more sexual than a white man.
A straight woman writes:
I was frustrated by your reader’s response: “All the things that make me a man, things that I enjoy, are apparently just externally forced cultural norms that I am too dumb and weak to transcend.” Those aren’t the things that make him a man! I am a women and I also enjoy hockey fights! I love the movie Training Day and all the gory violence! I also love sewing my own clothes, baking, using circular saws to build furniture, and eating grilled meats.
I think the destructive thing about “masculine culture” is the idea that being a man PER SE includes liking violent movies and games and EXCLUDES things that are not traditionally considered masculine – like baking. What makes me a woman is my anatomy and, I guess, the fact that I feel pretty at home in that anatomy. A woman who hates makeup and shopping and likes playing basketball doesn’t suddenly become a man. A man who DOESN’T like violence (or women) or sports doesn’t suddenly become not a man.
I’m reminded of this hilarious reddit response to a homophobic comment (I know this thread isn’t about homophobia, but it’s a very slippery slope):
I know I’m kind of mixing issues here, but I think he problems that arise from masculine culture arise, as some readers have said, from a fear of being considered gay or feminine or not a man. But I think (I hope) that our culture in general is moving away from the all or nothingness of boy stuff and girl stuff. I think as culture moves more and more toward recognizing that everyone is their own blend of feminine and masculine and it’s all good, this kind of thing will straighten itself out.
This reader seems to think so:
As a millennial, straight, white, male, feminist, gamer, I think I’d have a good case for being able to make some claims about masculinity. But what really gives me some credibility here is that I used to be the angry, homophobic, misogynistic young man. Over the past decade, I’ve had my mind changed on damn near everything that I once believed. I’ve also come to accept that being masculine doesn’t have one definition.
Plurality may, in fact, be what is so infuriating and terrifying for so many modern males. The idea that Tim Cook, Ron Swanson, Barack Obama, and Ryan Gosling can all be masculine is deeply confusing to anyone looking for an identity to ape. Instead, my generation is being asked to be male and be masculine in a world where that is no longer defined in opposition to the other sex but as a stand alone set of values and behaviors.
As you implied, there is too much biology and cultural inertia at play here to expect masculinity or testosterone-driven male behavior to just evaporate, but I see that one of the great opportunities my generation has been given. I don’t have to be the breadwinner. I don’t have to be outdoorsy. I don’t have to like sports or woodworking. I have a buddy who is a trans man and he is way more stereotypically masculine than I am. Yet we share a mutual admiration for each other because we are masculine in different but complimentary ways. And we both love a good steak and nice whiskey, but so does my one of my very feminine co-workers, so I’m not sure what to make of that.
My point, if there is one here, is that the straight, white, male doesn’t have an obvious definition anymore. As the party of the straight, white, male, the GOP has built itself on a house of sand just as the tide is coming in. I’m not sure what the future holds for either men or the Republican Party, but I’m trying to stay optimistic. My straight male friends and I are far more affectionate with each other (big hugs, genuine “I love you” email sign offs, that sort of thing), open with each other emotionally (crying over Robin Williams), and about our embarrassment over being frustrated about losing traditional roles (a few of us have girlfriends and wives who make more than us).
I don’t know what all that means for the future of masculinity, but I’m optimistic.