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October 10, 2014

Comments

I think it comes down to insecurity. That's why it is especially common among teenage boys -- they are insecure in their new situation. (One interesting question, which you might have some insight into, is why girls don't have that same insecurity. Or, if they do, how their reaction differs.)

It is also why you see so many male religious fundamentalists getting so hysterical at the idea of women getting educated or gaining any kind of autonomy. They are so massively insecure in their masculinity (although they would deny that, probably hysterically as well) that they feel they will be harmed by women else getting anything. The only difference is that they are still in a powerful enough position (or, at least, have access to weapons that they can use for leverage) to keep women down, rather than having to modify their own behavior to avoid acting "girly."

Considered that way, "subtractive masculinity" might actually be a good sign. It shows that men in that culture do not feel that they should/can restrict women, so they have to modify their own behavior instead. Not, perhaps, the most desirable of behaviors. But a huge step forward over, I think you would agree, "keeping women in their place."

One other thought. Consider the female Avengers vs the corresponding Naruto characters. Notice that they also have exagerated upper body (breast) development. So perhaps one cultural difference is that physical characteristics generally are less tied to masculinity/femininity in Japanese culture.

wj:

I actually think "keeping women in their place" was part of subtractive masculinity all along, that our culture was working with a basically subtractive model back to the late 1700s if not earlier. It just only became clear in the mid-20th century, and only became a fundamental marketing strategy in the late 20th century.

Yes, I know what you mean about American comic characters of both sexes. Once you're used to manga/anime characters, characters in Western comics & animation all look ... inflated, or something.

what you see in boys or immature men now.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a colleague from work that just floored me. R has always seemed like a good guy; he's in his early 30s and we've gone rock climbing a few times. I've been taking classes at a local circus acrobat school and doing aerial silks in particular. R knew this and in the middle of a scheduling discussion about when/if we could climb together, he launches into a rant about how I'm totally feminine because I do silks.

I thought he was joking at first, but he was dead serious. At some point I asked him outright, R, WTF are you doing? Are you seriously trying to macho posture me? You understand that that can't possibly work, right? Right?

Putting aside the notion that I was supposed to be insulted by having femininity ascribed to me (oh how I wish I could be more like this woman), the whole idea that silks was insufficiently masculine just...didn't make sense. Now, even hobbies that involve climbing into the sky with your bare hands, doing death defying drops, enduring lots of pain and the knowledge that mistakes can kill you no longer count as masculine? I get that most aerialists are women and we all have to wear tights and the activity is geared to performance, but really?

Apparently, that's enough to recode aerial silks as a feminine thing. So, to sum up, yes, I think you're right when you suggest that nothing is so masculine that the mere presence of women can't recode it as feminine.

Turb --

Wow, that may be the most extreme example of the "cootie effect" I've heard of yet. My jaw dropped watching that video -- not least because the moves overlap heavily with high-level *men's* gymnastics (especially the rings), and the incredible upper-body strength involved.

What did R say, when you pointed out that his attempted macho-posturing couldn't possibly work?

I changed my son's diapers about five thousand times AND probably, at least once, simultaneously wept out of sadness about something or other, probably about taxes.

But I've never held a woman's purse, changed a diaper and wept ALL at the same time.

I held my wife's purse numerous times over the years but she doesn't allow it anymore since the divorce.

But I'd like to think that if I was holding her purse and a couple of nearby meatheads (one Ted Nugent, the other maybe Ted Cruz) were giving me the subtractive masculine stink eye that I would have the presence of mind to do one of two things. Either open the purse, remove her lipstick (which she didn't carry, so it would have to be lip gloss) and compact mirror and begin exaggeratedly applying the lipstick to my own lips and then snap the purse closed, if it had a snap, and walk up to the aforementioned meat heads, purse my lips, and demand that they "Give us a kiss!", just to see what happens.

Or, open the purse, remove her gag revolver (made of chocolate, like in the Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movie), make like I'm checking the chamber for bullets and then stride over to the two of them, chocolate pistol in hand, and see if like George Zimmerman, they wet their codpieces as they start some trouble.

What did R say

R just kept repeating the same thing over and over; he didn't really engage the argument. To be fair to him, I don't think he ever saw the video linked above, but I'm pretty sure he's seen this. Of course, one can't hope to perform like the aerialist in the second video unless one trains like the aerialist in the first video.

Subtractive masculinity:

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/jeff-bell-single-mothers

On the upper body musculature, my impression is that there's more weightlifting and probably steroid use now than in the past. This is a purely unscientific notion, based on my vague impressions only. But when I look at old shows on cable (Magnum PI, for instance, and yes, I am suitably ashamed) Tom Selleck was not hugely muscled and I think that's true in general of male stars a few decades back and further. Nowadays they all tend to have huge sculpted biceps, at least on the movies and shows where there is going to be some violence.

I also read fitness blogs and such online sometimes and there also, my impression is that running and endurance sports are not quite as "in" as they used to be--there's more emphasis on strength and muscles and there's even some mildly amusing assaults on running and other forms of aerobic exercise by the weightlifting types. And yes, it is in large part about being macho, though to be fair they also say that women should be lifting and not running.

I suspect we can blame Arnold for the heavy muscles that now seem to be common in violent movies. I can't fault him for using the talent(?) he had to further his movie career. But still, until then it wasn't necessary to be anywhere near that extreme.

And even now, outside movies with lots of hand-to-hand fighting, it isn't quite that bad. Look at the guys in NCIS or Castle. They are obviously not seriously out of shape, but they aren't body builders either. Even though they are in jobs which require them to be fit.

We don't see seriously overweight guys on TV (outside bad comedy shows, at least). But then, I suppose that we should be grateful that our entertainment isn't encouraging obesity....

Actually, wj, this very good article by Logan Hill in Men's Health says that the training regimen for today's stars is *much* tougher than what Arnold did in the day.

Yes, the fashion isn't for heavy muscles -- because it's impossible to put them on *quickly*. But Brad Pitt in "Fight Club" proved you could put on *some* muscle and lower your body fat into the basement, so you look really strongly muscled without being Arnold.

What Hill's article shows is that the appearance demands for male stars are now even more unrealistic and difficult to maintain than the demands on female stars. The women have to get their weight down and keep it there, but the men have appearance goals that literally cannot be maintained -- they have to train to "peak" on specific shooting days (for shirtless or action scenes). And then do pushups right before the cameras start, to look as pumped as possible.

wj: you asked:
One interesting question, which you might have some insight into, is why girls don't have that same insecurity. Or, if they do, how their reaction differs.

Girls are *plenty* insecure, of course, but it's different.

The core difference is that, for a boy (and man), femininity is seen as *degrading*, a loss of the status they already have.

Girls know that they *start* from a position of lower status. Being "feminine" doesn't raise your status by itself, it's presented as a way to make yourself more lovable, and then if you're loved by a man that attraction or love raises your status.

Girls (and women) get very insecure that they won't get or deserve love and status; boys (and men) are insecure about *losing* status. What's worse, for males, is that in our society, men are the default value of "people": (white, straight) men automatically have the status of "full human being". In other words, if you're not masculine, you're not *really* a person.

So for boys, insecurity about your gender performance is actually existential: it determines not just whether you're going to be loved, but whether you're going to be a *person*.

This is one respect in which I think the patriarchy is worse for men than for women. Being threatened with the loss of love is bad, but loss of personhood is much, much worse. And that's why guys who feel their masculinity threatened can go into a violent, toxic meltdown -- because it feels like an actual life-or-death threat.

Dr. S, I see the existential threat (although I hadn't verbalized it quite that way). I guess that's why I take a certain guilty pleasure, when I encounter one of those guys, in saying something like "Real men don't give a sh*t about what guys like you think."

It seems to leave them gasping. Because, of course, being tough enough not to care is even more masculine, in their minds anyway -- after all, what is more masculine in their view than being too tough to care? As I say, a guilty pleasure.

Girls (and women) get very insecure that they won't get or deserve love and status; boys (and men) are insecure about *losing* status.

i get your point, but just for the record: many boys go through school with no status at all to lose. they're insecure because they're prey at worst, or simply nonentities at best. genetics keeps them frail or ugly or too smart or whatever, and they swirl around in the backwash of teenage society - untouchable to all the boys and girls - until they graduate and discover that they can be what they want because school isn't reality.

Oh boy. Not that this is a bad topic (it's fantastic), but I've got so many oars to put in the water on this that it's going to be so easy for me to misstate something or say something that will sound really off. And I've got some deadlines coming up for various things, so if I get sucked in, to a long back and forth, I'm really in trouble. So bearing that in mind.

Having lived here, I find Japanese society toxically chauvinistic, so it's a bit tough for me to take the tone of the post, which comes across a bit as suggesting that Japanese society may be better, but I believe that is because the doctor is taking care in discussing it, it comes across like that. My feeling is that Japanese society is just as bad or worse, but in a different way.

Japanese masculine style is becoming very feminine and by that, I mean taking on a lot of the markers that probably were the domain of women 10 or 20 years ago. Things like time spent on one's appearance, fashion, fastidiousness. Does that mean that there is a 'harder, clearer' line between them, allowing boys to move up to the line? That's possible, but I'm not sure about saying that culture 'constructs' that line, it is more like revealing a line that was there all the time. As a very simple example, there is the red scarf row I haven't made a close study of this, but I have a feeling that Japanese news sources like the one above didn't notice what several foreign news sources did, which was:

Matsushima is not the only Japanese parliamentarian who likes to wear red scarves. Her fellow colleague in the upper house, Antonio Inoki, who used to be a wrestler is famous for wearing a red scarf. However he has always taken it off when entering the chamber so as not to flout the rules.

Antonio Inoki is a former pro wrestler and a bit of a nutcase, so it may not be the textbook example. I'm not sure about the claim that he has always removed it, but to me, it illustrates the same sort of thing as white privilege; if you are man and behave eccentrically, you are treated as a cute outlier, if you are not a man, your behavior is an affront to the culture and indicates you can't get along.

This construct is totally flexible to the point of nuclear hypocrisy and is not confined to men. White foreign males can get away with tons of stuff. The lines are impossible to discern in normal circumstances, but when they get drawn, it is virtually impossible to have them examined. They are just there and that is the way it is.

There is a metric ton of stuff to write about body image and such (especially as I struggle to lose some weight), but I won't even touch on that.

This is also something that ties into Japanese attitudes towards sex, love etc, which I have tried to write about, but never can get past a first paragraph. Short summary, just as bad or worse, but in a different way.

How this plays out is something I've been thinking about a lot since taking two (female) students to Kyrgyzstan. When we were over there, they were astonished by how good looking the hot were, observing that this guy or that was ikemen. One of the other participants suggested that they were enamoured because the boys in Japan have taken on more feminine markers, but that observation may have been linked to his perception that boys in Japan are getting 'wussified'. I did find that there were a lot of very hot looking folks over there, but I attributed it to the genetic stew of the Silk Road, which combines features so that you can see very striking people there. I have always thought that an attraction to the exotic was one of those selfish gene things, (or perhaps gene pool things) where you are attracted to something that is going to ensure the chances for your group to flourish.

Another aspect is how a more rigid society allows areas where group members can have more control. An example of that is pre WW2 African American society. Segregation allowed African Americans to carve out areas where they could create their own hierarchies. This is not to say that this is preferable, but pre-boomer society, where men's and women's roles are clearly defined, makes it much easier for the bulk of people to fit in, even if it makes life hell for the outliers. One could say that one of the relentless drivers of gender 'equality' has been market forces that require most middle class families to have two wage earners.

Related to that, the Naruto image has lots of variation in height, and most Japanese manga in a group situation always have this. On the other hand, the Young Avengers shows rather little variation. Obviously, having lots of different heights allows the illustrator to really mix up sight lines etc, which is something that Japanese manga artists really like to do. Scott McCloud breaks the more flexible nature of Japanese manga in his book Understanding Comics, but another thing that Japanese manga has going is that hierarchies are relatively easy to create. One science fiction author was asked about his vision of the future, with the interviewer assuming it must be rather bleak given that he was always writing dystopias and he replied no, but to have an interesting story, you have to have conflict, so you are forced to create something that automatically has the seeds of conflict in them.

Anyway, that comment is all over the map, and I'll try to tease out anything that I didn't get across, but with the caveats in the first paragraph.

Actually, the JapanToday source does mention Inoki. However, whether he _always_ removes his scarf or whether he just started removing it is an interesting question.

DrSci:

A really interesting thesis, so thank you for posting. My first thought is that it makes a certain level of sense...since men were historically dominant and women were given a defined role, there was no real need to define 'masculinity.'

But after thinking about it for awhile...I can definitely think of 'positive' aspects of masculinity. Not positive in the sense of good or beneficial, but in the sense that they are markers of masculinity, regardless of the participation of women.

-assertiveness
-aggression
-basic sports knowledge and competency
-in some circles, firearm competency and hunting
-etc

To take a simple example, there is a social expectation (in general) that I can both throw a baseball/football and am generally aware of sports news.

I know guys that are shamed (for lack of a better word) into 'watching the game' even though they couldn't care less, simply because its expected. I don't get the impression women are thought of as 'less' if they watch the super bowl for the commercials. But in my experience, definitely something that is applied to men.

Growing up, I have to say it was pretty similar. If you weren't fascinated with knives and fireworks, you were the odd duck out. If you weren't in little league, or some sport, again there was a definite 'this is something you are supposed to be interested in' vibe.

And, as muscles were mentioned upthread...yeah. Upper body hypertrophy is definitely a positive sign of masculinity.

And, signifying my age by referring to that brief period when video games were widespread but almost exclusively male, it was very expected that your average teenage male could pick up street fighter or golden eye and be competent.

Which provides a nice segue back to your thesis: Maybe these things were only relevant at defining adolescent masculinity because women weren't interested? (Although I have to say, playing co-ed sports was perfectly acceptable, as long as it was sports)

I think you are likely right to some degree. At least, I would agree with the idea expressed in:

act as though femininity is something males can "catch" by association, and that this is degrading.

But the explanation is possibly much simpler. Women have been disadvantaged, abused, and to put it bluntly, degraded throughout history. And again, rather bluntly, a lot of what is 'feminine' is, or could be viewed as, degrading. High heels and skin tight clothes designed less for function and comfort than to put the body on display. Or, as shown in your commercial, being treated as servant in a supposedly equal relationship.

I apologize if this came off a little rambling, I've been adding to it off and on between work. And again, interesting thesis.

OK, let me toss this into the mix link

The parasite T. gondii apparently infects rats to encourage them to be eaten by cats, which then allows transmission through cat feces. Hold on to your hats

Researchers had already observed a few peculiarities about rodents with T. gondii that bolstered Flegr’s theory. The infected rodents were much more active in running wheels than uninfected rodents were, suggesting that they would be more-attractive targets for cats, which are drawn to fast-moving objects. They also were less wary of predators in exposed spaces. Little, however, was known about how the latent infection might influence humans, because we and other large mammals were widely presumed to be accidental hosts, or, as scientists are fond of putting it, a “dead end” for the parasite. But even if we were never part of the parasite’s life cycle, Flegr reasoned, mammals from mouse to man share the vast majority of their genes, so we might, in a case of mistaken identity, still be vulnerable to manipulations by the parasite.

In the Soviet-stunted economy, animal studies were way beyond Flegr’s research budget. But fortunately for him, 30 to 40 percent of Czechs had the latent form of the disease, so plenty of students were available “to serve as very cheap experimental animals.” He began by giving them and their parasite-free peers standardized personality tests—an inexpensive, if somewhat crude, method of measuring differences between the groups. In addition, he used a computer-based test to assess the reaction times of participants, who were instructed to press a button as soon as a white square popped up anywhere against the dark background of the monitor.

The subjects who tested positive for the parasite had significantly delayed reaction times. Flegr was especially surprised to learn, though, that the protozoan appeared to cause many sex-specific changes in personality. Compared with uninfected men, males who had the parasite were more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules. Infected women, on the other hand, presented in exactly the opposite way: they were more outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected women.

The findings were so bizarre that Flegr initially assumed his data must be flawed. So he tested other groups—civilian and military populations. Again, the same results. Then, in search of more corroborating evidence, he brought subjects in for further observation and a battery of tests, in which they were rated by someone ignorant of their infection status. To assess whether participants valued the opinions of others, the rater judged how well dressed they appeared to be. As a measure of gregariousness, participants were asked about the number of friends they’d interacted with over the past two weeks. To test whether they were prone to being suspicious, they were asked, among other things, to drink an unidentified liquid.

The results meshed well with the questionnaire findings. Compared with uninfected people of the same sex, infected men were more likely to wear rumpled old clothes; infected women tended to be more meticulously attired, many showing up for the study in expensive, designer-brand clothing. Infected men tended to have fewer friends, while infected women tended to have more. And when it came to downing the mystery fluid, reports Flegr, “the infected males were much more hesitant than uninfected men. They wanted to know why they had to do it. Would it harm them?” In contrast, the infected women were the most trusting of all subjects. “They just did what they were told,” he says.

Why men and women reacted so differently to the parasite still mystified him. After consulting the psychological literature, he started to suspect that heightened anxiety might be the common denominator underlying their responses. When under emotional strain, he read, women seek solace through social bonding and nurturing. In the lingo of psychologists, they’re inclined to “tend and befriend.” Anxious men, on the other hand, typically respond by withdrawing and becoming hostile or antisocial. Perhaps he was looking at flip sides of the same coin.

He also notes that because of different food cultures, different societies have different rates of infection.

But after thinking about it for awhile...I can definitely think of 'positive' aspects of masculinity. Not positive in the sense of good or beneficial, but in the sense that they are markers of masculinity, regardless of the participation of women.

-assertiveness
-aggression
-basic sports knowledge and competency
-in some circles, firearm competency and hunting
-etc

I don't know if I entirely agree - I partially agree, certainly - because off of that list, I've definitely encountered strong attitudes that what makes these "masculine" includes at least a thread of women being uninterested in them or unwelcome and excluded from them. The assertiveness and aggressiveness flow nicely (well, not so nicely) into the lingering cultural notion that women explicitly shouldn't be like that, and are "bitches" or unfeminine if they are. I mean, yes, there's a sense where these can be viewed as non-subtractive masculine markers, but they don't manage to avoid the siege mentality DocSci alludes to in the OP; even if there's a sense where they're (viewed as) "inherently" masculine, deviation from them tends to be expressed as becoming feminine and I've definitely encountered perceptions that a woman "intruding" into them ruins them (or her)... which, granted, may say more about broad gender identity in the culture than specifically about particular markers...

(Also, as with Turb and some others, I wish I could limit the subtractive masculinity to only the young and those with undeveloped senses of identity/gender, but I've seen it so broadly that I can't. It does seem like it's less acceptable to flaunt it with age, at least.)

(There's a lot I'd like to say on this topic, but I'd be more rambley than usual, and I know that spending 3 of the last 4 years in the military makes it hard for me to have a clear perception of normal trends with this, since that's Another World when it comes to gender roles - or even just the age at which it's normal to stop using certain "adolescent" modes of social interaction...)

Medieval Iceland is a fascinating example where this model of subtractive masculinity ran amok and was enshrined in law in this form. From what I know it seems that it was enforced much more forecefully against men than women. Despite their low legal status, women had a lot more leeway to act male and the saga literature runs on strong female characters making use of that. For men even the suspicion of a violation of the markers carried legal weight. A charge of having acted 'girly' that was not answered immediately (by use of force) was seen as proven leading to getting outlawed. On the other hand certain charges themselves were seen as so out of bound that making them carried the same sentence (most prominently the claim that someone had acted the female part in a homosexual act). What constituted girly behaviour was defined in occasionally quite insane ways. The run of the seam of a shirt in the armpit area/the presence of a gusset distinguished the male from the female. Also a man could not wear an oversized shirt because that was girly too. A wife could get an instant faultless* divorce, if she caught her husband in one of the above. A man had to be careful, if his wife presented him with a new shirt. It might be a trick to get rid of him.

Today Iceland is afaik the country where the laws take the most care to actually enforce equality (e.g. mandatory paternity leave, rather strict quotas etc.). While there are still bouts of hypermasculinity, some purely 'girlish' things (e.g. knitting) seem to carry no negative connotation anymore and girls will not put up with 'traditional' sexist behaviour on the male part (pick-up artists HATE Icelandic women and avoid the country like the plague).

*instant divorce before witnesses was possible otherwise too but, if she could not name a serious cause, it negatively affected the property division, i.e. how much she could keep.

Here's another example in Wired, as Ann Leckie discusses reaction to her book Ancilliary Justice, and is touchingly almost apologetic towards the negative reaction from some to her use of pronouns (I'm afraid I might have been rather more confrontational in her situation).

Some of the comments at the bottom suggest what a raw nerve this is for some.

http://www.wired.com/2014/10/geeks-guide-ann-leckie/

“I’ve been surprised at the number of people who were really angry that I tried to convey gender neutrality by using a gendered pronoun. Even if it was ‘she,’ which undercuts a masculine default, they feel as though it would have been much better if I had used an honest-to-goodness gender-neutral pronoun, and that would have conveyed it better. People have also been feeling angry that the male characters in the story are persistently mis-gendered, because they’re continually referred to as ‘she.’ I understand where that’s coming from, and it certainly wasn’t my intention to make anybody feel like they were being maliciously mis-gendered, and in some ways I share the frustration of folks about the third person neutral pronouns. I wish they were used more. … I think at the time I was working very strongly from an assumption … that in fact gender is a binary, and the implications of that do turn up in the text, and I know some people have pointed it out, and they’re right, it’s there, and had I been writing it now I probably would have handled those moments a little bit differently, but I think I would still have gone with ‘she,’ because I think it has a much stronger, more visceral effect.”

NV:

What about basic handywork? Owning and using powertools, being able to fix a broken toilet, change spark plugs on a car, etc. Things women do with increasing frequency, but there is still a social shame applied to men that stand lost in the home depot, looking for the thingy that is attached to the widget that is screwed onto toilet handle.

I was friends with a plumber some years back...he used to tell me stories about how some guy tried to fix a leaky pipe or something, only to end up flooding his basement. I mean, I can say stupidity is a factor, but I imagine pride and 'being a man' is a pretty big factor as well.

I mean, yes, there's a sense where these can be viewed as non-subtractive masculine markers, but they don't manage to avoid the siege mentality DocSci alludes to in the OP

Honestly, I have fairly mixed feelings as well. I think part of the difficulty I have is the additive/subtractive method of defining things, is that in a nominally binary system, its pretty easy to cast any factor Y as not X, or not X as Y. Since gender is pretty stereotyped, I think causality can be hard to determine. But often it seems pretty obvious.

As wj noted upthread, pink used to be a boy color. It seems like the only reason it is anti-masculine is that it became feminine.

Take 'aggressive' as a counter example. In college and high school, I can think of a few times where men were socially pressured/shamed into a fight because they were insulted.

I have a hard time believing this social pressure, that men respond to certain insults with violence, came about by observing: hey, women don't seem to engage in empty violence, this is probably a good way of distinguishing manhood.

Which is not to say that women don't get into fights. I've just never gotten the impression that backing down, walking away was as shameful for a woman.

And if you consider stereotypical relationships, men are supposed to be the aggressors. They ask the women out. They pick the venue. They pay. Ultimately, they propose.

I suppose you could describe that in terms of: women were supposed to be passive, so masculinity is defined as active. But I feel that might be a little bit of a stretch.

And this also leads to 'masculinity under siege'. I know the dating things sounds silly, but its something that makes the rounds on blogs periodically. There are expectations, but also counter-expectations. Should a man offer to pay (its classy) or not (it can be considered insulting). Should you let a women know you're interested (men are supposed to be the instigators) or is it unwelcome and harassing?

I've seen and heard numerous discussions on those kind of points (mostly from the conservative side). And in those cases, its not women entering a predominately male construct that subtract it from men, its that society is making masculine markers fraught, while simultaneously maintaining the standard.

which, granted, may say more about broad gender identity in the culture than specifically about particular markers...

And I think this is really the crux of the matter. As long as society tries to define and stereotype people by their gender, you're going to get this tension: A man should... A woman should... A man wants... A woman wants... are ultimately limiting and empty concepts. Especially when they are idealized concepts that are basically impossible to achieve.

As a final note, I just want to say that LJ and Hartmut have both made really interesting comments. It's one of the reasons I come to ObWi, you never know what you are going to learn.

I would, perhaps as a side note, point out that most young men care more about these markers as they are perceived by young women. So your thesis is inadequate in explaining why young women desire these markers in a man. Yes we are all older and have met, known etc. Women for whom these markers are less important, so we are sensitive, open minded girlie men. Tell it to the 17 year old competing with the high school quarterback for a prom date.

It's tough to tell sometimes for the male when the markers, or their lack thereof, work to his advantage or not:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWtgUq9mfx0

Thompson's comment about markers has me think that a lot of effort in creating gender equality deals with trying to do something with those markers. For masculine markers, either not holding them as important (so what's the big deal if I can't bbq?) or not penalizing women if they exhibit them (she doesn't tolerate fools gladly, that's really refreshing) For feminine markers, it's either allowing them to be taken on by men (keeping a spotless kitchen or cooking) or not holding them so valuable for women (She wouldn't be caught dead in high heels!)

This may seem like a decent approach, but part of the problem, as thompson points out, is that if you deal with markers, you are always dealing with gender as a binary phenomenon, and you need to go beyond that.

I think there is an interesting thought experiment, imagine you could invert every marker so that masculine markers become feminine and vice versa. Would that actually improve things?

Someone pointed out a blog that could be described as feminist highlighting beefcake photos and the discussion, such that it was, was wondering if simply allowing women to ogle men was 'feminist'. I'm not sure what the answer is, but when some talk about 'the male gaze' as a feature of the patriarchy, and others want to subvert it with a notion that women should be able to (though it can be hard to tell whether various subversions are to highlight the problematic nature or are to invert the marker) it becomes very confusing.

Maybe Annie Hall should have called the Orkin Man and found a more lasting relationship, I mean, from Alvy Singer's point of view:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OX5BngxRWLg

And I just pulled another cleek comment out of the spam filter. Obviously didn't sacrifice the appropriate amount of cheetos and cup ramen to the spam god.

Markers, markers, everywhere!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKczZnfwYC4

You know, kid, somewheres in life you got turned around.

Don't we all?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFADSBDPUzQ

Responding to cleek's comment (now that it has appeared).
For a some of us, we were too shy for our status or lack of status to matter. But I do recall an occasion in junior high. In the course of an after school pick up football game, I got into a fight with another boy. (He was clipping and wouldn't stop, FYI.) It was the only fight I got into in school At a time when boys fighting was, or at least seemed to be, the norm.

We were two of the smallest kids in our class, which meant that we weren't strong enough to actually do each other much damage. So nothing much got resolved. But I do remember afterwards having a whole lot of other boys gathered around me congratulating me extravagantly -- for fighting/standing up for myself, not because I had "won" or anything.

Well, at least being smart wasn't a negative for status. And when I got to high school being one of the smart kids was actually a big positive. Very nearly as much as being athletic.


I think that a link to Joanna Russ's "When It Changed" (.pdf) is apposite.

It doesn't take long to read.

Or, as shown in your commercial, being treated as servant in a supposedly equal relationship.

So, um, this strikes me as kind of...bizarre? I've often been asked to hold things for partners (and do a great many far more difficult things besides!) and I don't think this amounts to being "treated like a servant" nor does it undermine the equality of our relationship. Surely you can't believe that, right?

The only way I can make sense of that is to believe that marriage is of course a call to service where both spouses are called to serve each other, to put their partner's needs and desires ahead of their own (at least some of the time). Parenthood is even more so. But the call to service aspect underlies the relationship rather than undermines it so that doesn't really apply here.

This video may give an insight into some aspects of Japanese culture. I wouldn't swallow it all, it is made by a Japanese cosmetic company to sell product, so I would not be at all surprised if the entire thing was scripted to reproduce the experiment. You can toggle the English subtitles. One can see how even something like a term of address can place one spouse in a particular role.

So, um, this strikes me as kind of...bizarre?

I suppose we're just different, or are in different relationships at least. If I shoved a bag into my wife's hands and left without waiting for a response or making eye contact, I'd probably get an exasperated 'WTF'. And, imo, rightfully so, because that would be rude of me.

And yes, I have been asked to hold bags, drive to airports in the middle of the night, cook dinner, clean, and far more, etc etc etc. All part of the give and take in a healthy relationship, as you note. But that can (and should!) be done while displaying consideration and courtesy.

LJ:

I think there is an interesting thought experiment, imagine you could invert every marker so that masculine markers become feminine and vice versa. Would that actually improve things?

I think it depends. If you think the markers themselves are a problem, then inverting them doesn't solve the problem, it relocates it.

Take objectifying women. Arguably a marker for masculinity in society, arguably toxic. Now invert it. Does the harm induced by objectification somehow disappear? I'd say no.

wj:

But I do remember afterwards having a whole lot of other boys gathered around me congratulating me extravagantly -- for fighting/standing up for myself, not because I had "won" or anything.

My impression, and I could be wrong, is that this would get you suspended or expelled these days.

I have the same impression. We have gotten so hysterical about the possiblity of anyone being harmed (let alone violence) that we suspend kids for a whole host of trivialities. I think you can even get in trouble at school for closing your fist, sticking out your index finger, and saying "Bang!"

This may be merely the mirror image of the gun nuts' attitudes. But it is no less insane.

And I think this is really the crux of the matter. As long as society tries to define and stereotype people by their gender, you're going to get this tension: A man should... A woman should... A man wants... A woman wants... are ultimately limiting and empty concepts. Especially when they are idealized concepts that are basically impossible to achieve.

To touch back to this fairly briefly (and at long last for a reason other than having to post from my phone - whatever was keeping me from posting from any browser on my laptop is no longer afflicting Chrome, at least), a problem with a clean-cut theory of subtractive masculinity is when society tries to demarcate everything as masculine or feminine. This is an impossible stance to maintain (nor would anyone sane want to maintain it), and it's rare that every part of society is on board with every part of such definitions, but multiple subgroups within society can put together a fairly broad and encompassing patchwork if you're affiliated with enough of them and take their mores relatively equally seriously. To the degree that many or most behaviors can be crammed into a masculine/feminine dichotomy, subtractive masculinity is not a particularly useful explanatory theory, since it's the default standpoint - that which isn't masculine must be feminine, and vice-versa. It's only when we get to the more nuanced standpoint where not everything is not declared a binary gendered dicotomy and gender-neutral acts and objects are the norm, not the exception, that subtractive masculinity becomes interesting as an explanatory theory. I think the reluctance I have to cleave to subtractive masculinity is that I've adhered to enough subcultures where there's antipathy towards gender-neutral value assignment (besides an unstated and somewhat sweeping assumption of "neutral" default masculinity) that it somewhat feels like an assertion of near-blinkered idealism to view things through that (implicitly non-binary) framework.

That's not really disagreeing or anything; it's pretty much just me rambling on.

"look really strongly muscled "

This is really just having low body fat.

One of my TKD instructors had a student who had low body fat, that in early lessons thought he already had good abs because you could see them; in other words he had what is called a "six pack".

About 25% into the abs part of the workout, the guy was completely spent.

I'm not a low body fat kind of guy, so I can be very strong and in good condition without looking like a comic-book superhero. Having THAT as a male ideal body is nearly as damaging for men as idealizing supermodel physiques is for women.

i get your point, but just for the record: many boys go through school with no status at all to lose. they're insecure because they're prey at worst, or simply nonentities at best. genetics keeps them frail or ugly or too smart or whatever, and they swirl around in the backwash of teenage society - untouchable to all the boys and girls - until they graduate and discover that they can be what they want because school isn't reality.

Yes, that was me. It was really more low self-confidence and being awkward, introverted and withdrawn than being frail and/or ugly. I did tell myself I was too smart, though.

I see my daughter going through self-invalidation because she doesn't click with the cliques, and I tell her as many times as she will sit still for it that, as you say: middle school isn't life. High school isn't life. Those things are really you and a whole lot of people approximately your own, immature age thrown together in a group, with insufficient supervision and a surplusage of hormones. I tell her to be patient, be herself, and try and do the things she likes, instead of following the pack.

I tell her that success isn't being popular. It's being yourself, and being comfortable with being yourself.

Fortunately she is not yet caught up in having a teenage romance, so I have that going for me.

I'm going to have to remember to tell her that high school is a little bit like this:

Several years earlier Spider had actually been tremendously disappointed by a barrelful of monkeys. It had done nothing he had considered particularly entertaining, apart from emit interesting noises, and eventually, once the noises had stopped and the monkeys were no longer doing anything at all—except possibly on an organic level—had needed to be disposed of in the dead of night.

But only a little bit, and only by analogy.

the only ones that a boy can rely on to signal his masculine status are ones that are not publicly exhibited by women or girls.

Since this got posted, I've been trying to figure out what it was I disagreed with--took me a while. First of all, the concern seems to lie with boys and men in arrested development, i.e. immaturity. I fail to understand why this should be anywhere on anyone's horizon. Either they outgrow their issues--as most of us do--or they remain perpetually on the sidelines of life, which is pretty sad when you think about it.

Second, the notion that the only ones that a boy can rely on to signal his masculine status are ones that are not publicly exhibited by women or girls is wrong. It is the opposite of the commercial. The commercial is making the point that the guy does not want to do something that is almost exclusively associated with feminine activity. I have held my wife's purse any number of times in public and elsewhere--not a big deal. However, if she asked to put on a woman's dress so that she could see what it looked like on me, I might balk.

Let me also make the opposite point: as a young man, I invited my then GF to go frog-gigging. This involves after hours wading through ponds and lakes, and using a high beam flashlight, either shooting a bullfrog with a .22 or impaling it on a gig, the idea being fried frog legs the following day. As the frogs accumulate, someone has to hold them while the rest continue gigging and shooting. If a guy does not like holding a woman's purse, I can assure you that at least one woman does not like holding a freshly shot or impaled bullfrog. Not at all.

If a guy is uncomfortable holding his wife's or GF's purse, it could be insecurity (a common byproduct of youth, for both men and women, or so I am told) or immaturity or because he's been following her from store to store for the last three hours and is really getting tired of shopping. It is a fact: the vast majority of males, mature or otherwise, do not like to shop. It has nothing to do with signaling masculinity. It has everything to do with boring us out of our minds. The fact is, most of us hate shopping. We also can go a relatively long time without significant conversation. And, bodily noises tend to be less offensive.

These are not elective behaviors. It's just the way it is. But what we don't do, after an afternoon of involuntary shopping, is write a post about "Additive Feminism" or "Cumulative Masculinity" or some such. Because there are differences. And, sometimes its fun to have a little fun with the differences.

The commercial was pretty harmless. A lot less harmless than the law Jerry Brown signed into effect last week. It was light years from being called out by some asshole for doing something the asshole thinks is girly (Turb's experience). It was light years from pushing/humiliating someone into a fight per WJ (also a youth thing, as I recall). Bad behavior is bad behavior. It is unisex, uni-gender, whatever.


I get a certain amount of grief, in fun, for driving a car associated with women. I also like theater, cooking, the symphony, travel and museums. I know plenty of bubba's--all of my former hunting and fishing buddies fall into this group--and none of them give me any grief about going metro.

Seems to me that some folks are on the lookout for a chance to find a victim. If the worst we have to deal with is a Canadian whiskey commercial, I'd say the war is over and the good guys won.

Who are "some folks"? What victim did they find?

It seems to me that some folks are intent on accusing others of victimhood-seeking, evening when it's entirely nonsensical to do so.

"However, if she asked to put on a woman's dress so that she could see what it looked like on me, I might balk."

Wise choice. Your legs require as much cover as possible.

My ex-wife is a wetland scientist, a really good one, too, and often carried several or more live frogs in her purse. I can't remember how many times she handed me one or two ("Here, think quick!") to hold as she rummaged through the thing for her car keys.

Subtractive, and divisive, masculinity from the usual filth:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/13/steve-vaillancourt-ann-kuster_n_5977090.html?1413215186

The female candidate in question should ask Vaillancourt to hold her purse and then, whi,le his hands are full, cold-cock him, because as high school boys know, that's how you deal with bullies - violence.

Where is Lorena Bobbitt when you need some masculinity to be subtracted in a hurry?

The photo of Vaillancourt shows a prince of a man turned into a frog just before some vicious gigging.

The commercial was pretty harmless. A lot less harmless than the law Jerry Brown signed into effect last week.

I don't think the OP suggests that the CM was harmful, just that it provides an interesting way to view this. Another one might be this, from a show that has at least half of its jokes come from this

As far as worrying about arrested development, there was this story (from my alma mater) indicates why we should worry about it, in that if the markers are an inability to actually figure out what is acceptable and what is not, you are kind of asking for trouble. Unfortunately, changing societal norms usually requires breaking a few of the guilty on the wheel. But even the guys at Animal House knew that if you killed the animal in question, that was going over the line, so there is that.

Also, I assume you mean the 'yes means yes' law, but I'm hoping you can explain why it is a problem. Guest post perhaps?

I fail to understand why this should be anywhere on anyone's horizon. Either they outgrow their issues--as most of us do--or they remain perpetually on the sidelines of life, which is pretty sad when you think about it.

McKinney, it seems to me that you stated that you fail to understand why anyone should care, but explained it with a reason why people should care.

Perhaps Doc Sci agrees with the second part of what I quoted from you, given what she wrote below.

This is one respect in which I think the patriarchy is worse for men than for women.

Guest post perhaps?

LJ, very kind offer. Highly unlikely my schedule will permit anything other than sporadic, drive-by commenting for quite some time, as much as I would like to address that issue and others.

" My feeling is that Japanese society is just as bad or worse, but in a different way. "

Seconded liberal japonicus here, Japanese less attention to muscle and breast didn't mean gender relation in Japan is better.

Hell, the language male and female in Japan use are different.


" One interesting question, which you might have some insight into, is why girls don't have that same insecurity. Or, if they do, how their reaction differs. "

Girls didn't lose status when they go "tomboyish". modern society already accept that girls can be "tomboy" and still be attractive.

Girls lose status when they considered unattractive "Ugly, fat" or considered easy "slut,whore".

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