While travelling, I met a handsome young guy in a village who insisted, perhaps a little too forcefully, on being the person to take me everywhere and explore the country. Let me stipulate here that I was crazy enough to travel there completely alone, so in many ways this was a blessing in disguise. In other ways, it truly brought to light how differently we view gender roles, particularly after attempting to let him down gently at the airport once he had asked for my hand in marriage and reassured me that I wouldn’t have to work anymore. Who knew my knight in shining armour was just 30,000 kms away by plane in a small village in the mountains of my ancestry! Not me, that’s for sure!
He was one of the most masculine men I’ve ever known in my life. If you had told me he was the original hunter-gatherer from the Neanderthal era, I would have believed you. He didn’t just walk through the village, he strode through it like he was the King. He would put his hand through fire and his expression wouldn’t change. He showed me his rifle collection and spoke of hunting wolves in the mountains during the winter snow. He didn’t have much money but would balk at my attempts to pay for anything and would fight me over the bill, literally picking me up and carrying me away from the table to stop me from paying.
His best friend was completely different. He drank lattes, went shopping for clothes and would regularly get laser hair removal on his face. Later when the Hunter Gatherer asked me about my previous boyfriend, he would nod sagely at my descriptions and then offer up this gem:
I’d sigh heavily and explain that he a) couldn’t say that and b) not at all. Guys were just different back home, like his best friend.
‘Ahh you like the gay boy!’ he would respond while nodding as though it all made sense now, my incredible rejection of him. I would explain my reasons but he would always insist that it was because I preferred the ‘gay boy’ as he put it. And although I tried to turn him off by explaining the myriad of ways in which I was so very different to him (ie. progressive, independent, radically opinionated woman) he would surprise me by saying something along the lines of, ‘Yes but I like you because you’re different’.
Although I think that was his way of saying ‘I like you because you’re a challenge and I will change you if it’s the last thing I do, now hand me that axe, I have some wood to chop!’
‘You’re sick of eating him out….because he has a vagina’ – Lena Dunham, Girls.
One way of giving credence to the cultural shift that is fast becoming the norm is to degrade an entire gender. Like since when did telling a guy ‘you’re acting like a girl’ (or a pussy) become a derogatory insult? I’m guilty of doing it myself, but that’s because I don’t see myself in extreme polarities and feel like waving that phraseology around is just another way of making a point. But I’ve got it all wrong you see.
Being a girl is the single greatest thing you might ever know. That’s what I thought when my ex’s housemate asked me if I would help her find clothes for their other trans housemate, who had only recently requested that she be referred to by her new chosen name and not the male name she had had all her life. Sure. She’s so lucky now, I thought, not considering how much abuse and bullying she would soon encounter in her transition. All I could think of was ‘welcome to the motherfucking club, girl!’
But back to the fact that boys are not acting like boys, or at least the way we have always perceived boys to be. It’s a widespread issue not being discussed in the right terms. Our notions of gender are being challenged by fluid and ever changing values. The times, they are a changin’ but we don’t know how to talk about it.
Ann Friedman, all round Internet legend, breaks it down brilliantly in this piece.
‘What’s striking isn’t the lack of consensus on what defines masculinity now, but the utter confusion about how to go about doing so. That’s because America is finally getting around to having the conversation about what it means to be a man that, decades ago, feminism forced us to have about womanhood. Women still face social consequences when they don’t conform neatly to gender norms, but many of even the most ideologically progressive men are just now starting to talk about how to break with masculine stereotypes and still hang onto a sense of gender identity. Goldberg and Rosin, in using traditional definitions of manhood (the simple, stoic breadwinner), declare him dead, or at least less marketable to advertisers. Men’s magazines, which now peddle facial moisturizers but still often shy away from heartfelt confessionals, have spotted how hard it is for men to balance both embracing and rethinking masculine stereotypes — and they’ve made some attempts to address it, but mostly ended up documenting the confusion.’
And here’s where I am also guilty of falling into the traps of this stereotype. Things keep happening in my life that seem unusual or more difficult than they should be. My love life is a revolving door of mishaps characterised by a trail of actual broken hearts and my fall back reasoning for remaining aloof and alone is that I am a disaster waiting to happen to every male and they are better off without me, a fact I actually believed and ran with as my feminist manifesto until my Cancer-sign, sensitive, skinny-jean wearing hipster boy broke up with me repeatedly for reasons unknown to him or anyone. Speculation amassed that it was because he was a repressed homosexual, speculation which may or may not have been inspired by my bitter, twisted self (I blame my ego). At one point he admitted that even he had started to wonder about that himself, but eventually came to the conclusion that he just wasn’t – and he was entirely comfortable discussing the possibility. And that was the end of that. Which is entirely fine and even admirable! In retrospect, it did seem silly to wonder that based on things like ‘he takes longer to get dressed than me!’ or ‘he uses a hairbrush and I don’t even do that!’ ‘he’s a really good dancer!’ ‘he picks up guys at parties and gets their numbers!’ ‘he said he’s not attracted to me anymore and he doesn’t know why!’ Wait, that last one is probably legit.
Or as my best friend would say, shaking her head: ‘European or gay. European or gay. That’s the test’.
We have a strange joke in our house that one of the guys is like the ‘housewife’ (doesn’t have a job, cooks a lot, is obsessed with cleanliness, wants to find a rich woman so he can be a stay at home dad), and I am the ‘husband’ (brings home the bacon – literally and metaphorically, is the only full time employed member of the house, eats steak, drinks whisky straight, says Ron Swanson things like ‘There has never been a sadness not cured by breakfast food’ or ‘Veganism is the sad result of a morally corrupt mind. Reconsider your life.’)
We are fully aware that these are based on silly stereotypes and that’s what makes them fun to throw around.
Back in the day, past boyfriends would get upset with me for no reason and later when I’d ask what was wrong, one would say ‘I don’t think you love me as much as I love you’. Another would get upset if I didn’t message him while I was out with my friends to, and I quote, ‘let him know that I’m thinking of him’ and would get annoyed if I would cancel our plans to go and meet my friends instead and that by not thinking about him all the time, the way he would be thinking about me all the time, meant I was not serious about the relationship.
In hindsight, this can probably all boil down to the fact that I am a heartless bitch (let’s be honest now). But also they were men who were not afraid to embrace their emotions. This is also a good thing (in moderation) but definitely something men need to do more of. Repressed feelings can only manifest themselves in dangerous ways.
I once complained to my housemate that he should bring a girl home every now and again so we could have some more females in the house. He would retort ‘WHAT! You’re the most masculine of us all!’ I said I didn’t know what he meant and he would remind me of the time I told him to ‘man up’ when dealing with a girl he liked. Who even am I?
My friend’s husband was getting annoyed once that people weren’t eating enough at a BBQ. He said,
‘Mark eats like a girl! But Sheree’s good, she eats like a man’
‘Bro. Don’t gender stereotype me. I eat like a garbage waste disposal’, I would reply, digging in to my fifth lamb chop.
Another guy on a date joked that I shouldn’t drink so much and try to take advantage of him. I laughed, he laughed, we all laughed. Later, he was seriously telling me we had to take things slow.
‘Wait…Is this a thing?’
‘I don’t know if it’s a thing but I’ve only just met you so, no funny business’.
He wasn’t kidding.
Brohemian is an apt term: The JWT report gives an overall impression that, just like femininity, masculinity is increasingly defined by both playing to and against type. It’s growing a really impressive beard and ordering a kale salad for lunch. It’s knowing Super Bowl trivia and being an emotionally supportive partner. But if this makes it sound like men are joining women in having a less gender-bound view of their sense of self, it’s not that simple. According to the JWT research, even though millennial men are, more than older men, okay with using concealer and learning to poach eggs, they also say they’re more frustrated with not knowing what it “means” to be a man.
Other times I wonder if a strong, dominant woman is intimidating to a man who isn’t quite sure what he wants. I’m also starting to see the ramifications of a society where women are more dominant and assertive in what they want. There is an ugly side to this shift, particularly from an older generation who want to hold onto their power. This powerful polarising effect – whereby a man seems to be either extremely sensitive to the point of making an assertive and strong woman uncomfortable, or hyper testosterone fuelled to the point of being close to violent (forceful, pushing, speaking in threatening tones, holding your hands down while he argues with you, weird power plays like throwing money at you) – are all things I‘ve experienced in circumstances which destroy your trust, and make you question what it all means and how are you supposed to be in this world? It’s a weird new duality that the coming generation must face.
My housemate did a comedy show recently and one of the bits was about how men just want something casual and women do this thing where they are trying to trick them into being in a relationship. People were laughing while I was needing to be restrained in my seat and reminded that this was not our living room and I could not just call out ‘WHAT LIES SPEAKETH THOUST?’
When discussing some troubles to a few more traditional girlfriends, they’d relay the same tired, oft-repeated gender stereotypes that feel hollow and empty in the grand scheme of things: ‘Yeah but what can you do? Men! They’re all the same’. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Sure, certain types of behaviour seem unexplainably masculine – but girls can fall into those patterns too. I’ve probably had to console more heartbroken men in my time than women. There is a shift where men are starting to show their emotions more and stick up for what they want and what they believe in and there are times when women are the more assertive ones who know what they want and sometimes what they want isn’t the traditional thing you might expect.
And I can unequivocally declare that this is a fucking good thing. I guess what I’m trying to say is that traditional gender roles are taking a real beating as of late and I feel like I’m just another bro holding the bat.
Would you like to take a swing?