Posts Tagged ‘gender roles’

I know that many men are more obsessed with gender stereotypes than I am. However, I have a renewed appreciation of how crippling such obsessions can be after reading a comment left last week on my Linux Pro Magazine blog.

The comment was placed on a blog entry about the gap between Linux Fund’s intentions to produce an anti-harassment policy and its reputation and recent statements. It was not a direct response to any of the issues raised in the blog entry, but a reaction to the fact that I had written about such a topic at all.

“You are desperately in need of an intervention, Mr. Byfield,” the comment read. “Your self-hatred and conditioned sense of male-inferiority are obvious. I would suggest you spend some time reading _____, a site that exposes the fraud of ‘misogyny’ while exposing the very real sexism, misandry, that is poisoning and destroying Western Civilization.”

I’ve left out the site’s name and URL, since I have no wish to promote it.

I replied that, contrary to this statement, I was quite comfortable with myself, and had enough self-confidence not to find feminist goals a threat. I also said I would add this comment to the Abuse page of my personal web site. This dismissal produced a second message (which I did not post) denouncing me as a “neutered male” and denying any intention to abuse.

These comments were so mis-directed that my first response was a good, long laugh – and that’s something that I don’t do very often when I’m alone. But the only logical conclusion I could reach was that the name hurling was supposed to sting me into action. Apparently, male stereotypes are such a preoccupation for the sender that he could not conceive of a man who would not respond to them. The idea that his comments were so absurd that I refused to take them seriously never seems to have occurred to him – so much so that, in his second comment, he could only repeat himself in stronger terms, and not deal at all with the fact that I found his comments humorous.

Self-hating? Feelings of inferiority? Me? If the people who dislike me were to categorize my faults, I assure you that neither would be on the list.

But, then, anyone who could toss such adjectives around then deny that they were designed to insult shows such a lack of self-perspective that I could hardly expect them to understand that someone might think differently from them. However, no doubt he would claim that he was simply telling the truth.

Perhaps, too, like many fanatics, he imagined that I had never encountered his arguments. Once I went to the site he suggested, the truth of the comments on it would be so self-evident that I would immediately reverse my position. The fact that I had read male supremacists as well as feminists (just as I had theologians and atheists, anarchists and fascists) and found the male supremacists wanting in logic and powers of observation never seems to have occurred to him.

Possible proof of this perspective is that the sender described the essays on the site as well-argued and insightful. (The teacher in me longs to explain that, just because you agree with a statement does not make it well-expressed or well-argued, but, judging from his comments, this distinction would probably be too subtle for him.)

Still, curiosity and ingrained fairness made me look through the site. It was all that I had expected, and then some. Anger, hatred, paranoia, poorly-defined grievances, even worse-argued claims – it was all there. Sometimes, this mixture was subdued into a thin semblance of rational thought, and other times it approached incoherence, but it was never completely absent.

I came away marveling at the self-inflicted perversity of the writers, and an impression of baffled grievance that the degree of privilege they would like to have become accustomed to was not unquestioningly theirs (which brings up another point: why do modern reactionaries always claim to be victims – a point of view they profess to despise in their opponents?).

I also wanted to rinse my brain – repeatedly, with bleach. The degree of hatred expressed was so extreme and so unreasoning, so utterly lacking in any generosity of spirit that I was never even remotely tempted to alter my views. Instead, I was left with the belief that every term of abused hurled at me was a projection of male supremacists’ own insecurities. In fact, male supremacists themselves are by far the strongest argument against their own views.

I’m still not convinced that we need gender roles of any sort in modern industrial society. However, if we must have them, the best suggestion I’ve heard for men comes from Susan Faludi’s Stiffed!, which points out that all male groups from sailors to industrial workers have an unspoken tradition of older men teaching younger ones what they need to survive. That would be a role in which a man could take justified pride.

No doubt more is needed, but one thing is sure: we won’t find healthy male roles for those who need them by retreating into a fantasy of a past of privilege. In the end, my strongest impression was that those writing for the site were ineffectual losers, more ready to find scapegoats in feminism than to take control of their own lives – an attitude, I can’t help pointing out that, by their own standards, is as unmanly as they could get.

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Even before adolescence, I knew I was an untypical male. By that, I do not mean that I was gay, transsexual, or anything else outside the statistical norm. Rather, I mean that I found – and find – very little appealing in the roles available to a straight male in modern industrial society. The times I grew up in, my childhood experiences, and my early sense of myself as an individual all made that impossible.

I can’t remember ever being taunted, much less abused because I happened to be unusual. I was tall for my age until I was fourteen and stopped growing, which meant that others tended to leave me alone. It helped, too, that I was a champion distance runner and a frequent scorer in soccer and rugby, because being good at sport buys respect in high school. And throughout my life, I’ve usually been fit, and moved with the unconscious confidence that brings. Had I ever made the effort, I might have forced a place in masculine society without any difficulty.

However, I never cared much cared to. Taking part in sports was one thing, but no amount of alcohol makes watching them interesting to me. Cars, for me, are merely transportation. Loud comments about women and jokes about them only seem rude.

And where was the place for art and intellect in this bundle of expectations? I refused to believe that such things were a consolation prize for nerds, because from an early age reading was as important to my sense of self as running faster than everybody else.

As for the idea that some tasks were masculine and others female, that seemed ridiculous to me. If work needed to be done, what difference did the gender of the one who did it make?

Part of the reason for my outlook was probably the times. Growing up during the second wave of feminism, I kept hearing that male stereotypes were not only outdated, but unjust. That meant that, since I had grown up on a steady diet of Robin Hood and King Arthur and of how Might didn’t make Right, I could not in good conscience imitate them.

Moreover, at an early age I had had the experience of not being taken seriously and dismissed by those in authority; I entered school with a speech impediment, and was sometimes regarded as mentally challenged by teachers and the parents of friends until it was corrected. At the time, I did not know why I was looked at askance, but I was old enough to resent the fact. Consequently, I had no trouble empathizing with the grievances of feminism. I’m not saying that I never benefited from male privilege (of course I did), but, unlike most boys and men, I could never take it for granted.

Later in life, trauma reinforced these reactions, but the point is that, once I realized that female gender assumptions needed to be questioned, questioning my own came naturally.

By contrast, I can’t remember many models of masculinity that were worth following. Yet that lack never bothered me much. Throughout my life, my tastes in practically everything – books, music, movies, food – have always been outside the norm. I was an individualist from an early age, so I never felt much need to identify with the male gender roles. Unlike most boys, I wasn’t used to a sense of belonging anyway.

Did I miss anything, growing up as an eccentric male? Very likely, but I can’t imagine what it might have been. Perhaps some romantic opportunities, because I wasn’t playing by the expected rules? But, if so, I can’t feel much regret. I doubt that such opportunities could have led to satisfactory or long-lived relationships.

Moreover, while the greatest of all male privileges is not to understand that you are privileged, I like to think that by generally regarding myself as human first and male second, I have been more than adequately compensated for missing any such opportunities by the conversations and friendships I have managed to have with women instead. There isn’t a traditional male who could say the same.

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