What is Masculinity?

So here I am going through my emails as Lily watches Cinderella for the millionth time. After getting through the pertinent work-related messages, my eye catches a Wall Street Journal article that my dad sent me. It is about this new Gillette advertisement which in the spirit of the #MeToo movement basically tells us men that, as a whole, we aren’t doing a good enough job at being decent human beings. It suggests that men need to “step-up” to keep each other from grab-assing, womanizing, and bullying. Sure, some guys are good, the commercial implicitly admits, but apparently, most men are basically garbage. If you think I’m exaggerating, just watch the commercial: it literally says that “some men already are” doing the right thing but “some is not enough.” Right.

I’m pissed. Normally, my response to this sort of thing would be to simply chalk it up to the fact that I live in a society that is completely insane and move on with my day. I can’t let this one slide, though, and here is why:

First of all, when even a company trying to sell me razors is peddling this sort of preachy virtue-signaling, the problem is clearly endemic. Secondly, I just finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and the juxtaposition really has me fuming. Most importantly, though, maintaining a level of masculinity as a stay-at-home dad is hard enough without being bombarded with this kind of tripe every time you try to interact with our larger society. I just can’t stand how far up it’s own a** much of America has gotten, at least the parts of it you see on TV, so I feel duty bound to try and illuminate reality as I see it.

Femininity

So let’s break this down with the perfect starting point: Cinderella and its obvious gender-normative poison. From watching this film so many times that I could teach a film studies class on it, I have concluded the clear moral is thus: a woman’s value is derived from her suitability to marriage. The best wives are not the snooty, proper aristocratic kind who never have done a day’s work (the evil step-sisters), but instead, the best wives are the ones who have gotten their hands dirty with the cooking, cleaning, and other domestic tasks  (Cinderella). Oh, and of course the woman needs a good body and stunning outfit to induce “love” at first sight.

Never mind the part about Cinderella not knowing who the prince was and thus treating him like anyone else instead of putting on airs. That red herring is easily identified by anyone who wasted $100K on a gender studies degree. Let’s also not forget the King’s baby fever and incessant desire to find a suitable mother for his grandchildren. I mean really, can you believe they let kids watch this? (To be read in the deepest tones of sarcasm).

Now, what if you really do think me a monster for allowing my daughter to consume such poison, repeatedly no less? Well, that belies the hidden rub of this whole thing: it isn’t just that women must be allowed to perform non-gender normative roles, but also that anything gender normative is inherently toxic. That is the absolutely absurd assumption implicitly lying beneath this whole freaking trend, a trend which includes people getting their tail-feathers ruffled over the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The parody “Baby, Just Go Outside” nails the real point, on that subject. I shudder to think of the future of a society which views flirting as inappropriate. Procreation is getting harder and harder these days, you know? …but I digress.

Guess what? My daughter likes Cinderella. No, I’m not deliberately molding her into a socially acceptable model female. That is just her personality. She also likes Mickey, Donald, the Nightmare before Christmas, and Winnie the Pooh. She loves football, hikes in the woods, and playing outside, too. Kids are people, and people have personalities that are not easily reducible to just one thing. She has some masculine characteristics and some feminine characteristics, though based on what I’ve seen so far she is probably going to be a girly girl. While that is might make my job harder (I’m not exactly the best equipped to spend hours helping her pick out the perfect outfit), I really just want her to be happy being herself. That’s what a good parent does, just like how I also see no problem with my friends’ boy who likes princesses, dresses, and horses (though I do wish them the best of luck with navigating that one down the line). The larger point is that not everything needs to be made into a federal case. It IS okay for boys to be boys, and girls to be girls.

Masculinity

So as for masculinity, I really don’t think our western society even knows what it is anymore. My mind keeps going back to the boys at Normandy who charged into machine gun fire while watching their buddy next to them being blown into bloody chunks of goo by artillery. I don’t think most Americans today can even comprehend that level of horror, let alone confront it head-on. Heck, I’ve made a career out of seeking out and researching the grimmest and bleakest moments of human history, and even I struggle to grasp the reality of it. Outside of military personnel, I don’t think many normal people are exposed to it anymore. That kind of horror is what men have had to face throughout history: death, destruction, tragedy, and cruelty.

Now I’m not trying to suggest that what America needs is a good war to toughen us up and make us real men again. I’m saying that many Americans have forgotten what humans are really capable of simply because most haven’t been exposed to it in a few generations. Compare the American GIs of WWII, for a moment, to our modern, fully-domesticated American man. He works a desk job, watches the kids when he gets home, shares in the housework, and, according to Gillette, apparently needs to denigrate his fellow males for not being, well, sensitive enough? This is not the same prototypical American man who admittedly drank too much, smoked on airplanes, and womanized in offices when he got back from his formative years sleeping in a hole and trying not to die horribly. Today’s domesticated man has trouble getting through the work week without developing some sort of anxiety or psychosis, which he then needs to discuss with an expensive therapist. In the words of Gillette: “Is this the best a man can get?”

I’ll admit, I’m not the most masculine male. By most accounts, I’m your typical beta male. I’m not very athletic and not all that assertive. I’ve certainly never had to charge into enemy machine gun fire. I’ve never field dressed a deer either, though it is on my bucket list. Honestly, though, I don’t care all that much whether I’m macho-man. I am what I am, and I’m pretty content with myself. Actually, I think that is the mark of true masculinity: being your own man and owning it, no matter what others might say or think.

So back to the commercial. What, exactly, is the urgent message that is so important that it must interrupt your shaving commercial? Sexual harassment and rape are bad? Congratulations, shaving commercial, you have reiterated that these things are not okay for the umpteenth time. Way to beat that dead horse, or more accurately, knock down a straw-man. At this point, all decent people know these things are not okay, and the people who don’t know it are not decent people

You know what else is not okay, though? The fact that I am sometimes afraid to strike up a conversation with moms when I take Lily to the park because I don’t want them to get the wrong idea. It is not okay that people are constantly bombarded with the message that men are bad. It is also not okay that I am praised for being such a modern, doting father, one of the good ones, just by virtue of the fact that I take my daughter grocery shopping. The ad gives the example of a father who records himself teaching his daughter to say, “I am strong.” Right, that is all there is to being a good father: telling your daughter to be a strong, independent woman. It sure is a nice, platitudinous sentiment, but if stay-at-home fathers like me were the target audience, then this ad definitely missed the mark.

Petty, In-group Virtue Signaling

virtue signaling

That’s what the Gillette ad is really about. Frankly, that’s what the #MeToo movement (or any movement that begins with a #) is basically about. In this age of mass communication, virtue signaling has become so ubiquitous that I can’t even watch a football game without being bombarded by it. The reason is simple enough; it works.

Virtue signaling, when done correctly, is a great marketing strategy. It moves products. It is also a great way to get one’s cause (or one’s self) more popularity. When it comes to actually curing the purported societal ill, however, the results mixed at best. Remember #BringBackOurGirls? Exactly.

Mostly, people just want to feel like they are being good and moral without actually doing anything good or moral. Apparently, being upset about something unjust and telling others that you are upset gives people a dopamine boost… even if they don’t actually accomplish bringing about any real justice. This applies even when decrying things that any half-decent human being is aware are bad: racism, sexism, and violence are bad. “Did you hear about that guy who did that racist/sexist/homophobic thing?” “Yeah, I’m so upset about it.” “Me too. Aren’t we great people? Let’s make sure to publicly crucify the perpetrator before we find out if he actually did the racist/sexist/homophobic thing or not.”

This is not a new phenomenon. Speaking of crucifixion, Jesus tackled feigned piety and virtue signaling a full 2000 years ago. That was the topic of Matthew 6. In it He says:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1

It goes on for a while after that with the specifics, but the bottom line is that truly good people don’t go around telling others how good they are.

Before you accuse me of virtue signaling with my biblical references and coherent moral philosophy, let me make one thing clear. I’m not on some quest to change society. I am just reacting to something I saw as a body reacts when ingesting something toxic. I use the biblical example to illustrate that virtue signaling has been a societal ill since before the time of Christ, and it is not going away any time soon. Beyond acting as a catharsis for me, entertaining a few people, and maybe giving words to a sympathetic ear, I really don’t think writing this will actually accomplish much. I’m just some guy with a blog who is in it for the giggles, and I’m deliberately using some virtue signaling to prove a point.

The best a man can get?

Fast forward a few months. After I’ve exhausted my stockpile of Gillette replacement razors, I decide to switch brands up over this whole thing. Most of the razors at Publix are either Gillette brand or the cheap disposable kind, but I did manage to find a nice 10 dollar razor from Schick. Well, I just used it for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is actually better than the old Gillette razor I had been using for years. Meanwhile Lily, who I’ve been up nights taking care of this week because she has a head cold, happily watches Cinderella yet again. Your move Social Justice Warriors.

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