In The Pandemic, I’m Not Worried About My Masculinity
As I read the Internet, social media, blogs, and even some news stories, there seems to be some real confusion about masculinity. What I’m about to say here is not about saying someone else is wrong and I’m right. I’m just pointing out one perspective among many. I’m here to say, have you considered this perspective on masculinity?
I once had a friend who told me that I was so masculine that I could get away with wearing a pink polo shirt. Or purple. Or women’s sunglasses. I didn’t know that those shades were for women. I just liked the round frames. I just liked those colors as much as I liked blue, red, or gray. I wasn’t even trying to prove a point in my choices. I was merely expressing a preference.
As I look upon the discourse over gender identities, I see a mix of issues. I see environmental, genetic, and social factors at work that give rise to gender confusion and our responses to that confusion. I am a heterosexual male. I know this because I’ve considered my sexuality and my responses to different stimuli. I know what I like.
But being male is more than just sex. Being male to me means something like being the rock that other people can depend on. I have a wife and kids. They depend on me to provide for them. They can’t be bothered with telling me it’s time to get up and go to work. They can’t be bothered with telling me to provide a safe environment for them to grow. They don’t have to tell me to be a dad. I’m a dad. I will always be a dad.
I have a dad, and I love him. He’s not perfect, but I draw my sense of what it means to be masculine from him. I saw that he went to work. I saw that I was never worried about paying the rent, buying the groceries, or having clothes to wear. My dad was sort of automatic about work. He just went to work. No one ever had to tell him to get to work.
I think it is masculine to make decisions about the family in ways that promote the growth of the family. I think about discipline in ways that are non-confrontational, non-punitive, and that promote personal growth for all that are involved. I consider the impact of my decisions upon others. I talk with others about my decisions before I act on them.
When I think of masculinity, I think of my childhood and I remember that I never worried about existential matters. I was only concerned with learning how to get my needs met. I think of myself as a father and that my primary responsibility is to give my family the peace they need to grow.
Masculinity does not include tomfoolery. That means no drinking, no drugs, no adultery (what an ironic word), no threats to break up the marriage, no threats to do harm, no threats to destroy anything, just to get my way. Masculinity means having the humility to err on the side of peace. I use that phrase a lot, “to err on the side of peace”. War does not equal masculinity.
I see the advertising urging me to buy this or buy that to prove my masculinity. I don’t believe in machismo. The Marlboro Man was to me, ignorant, not masculine. Lighting up a tube filled with the dried remains of a toxic plant and drawing hot smoke through that tube into the mouth is not a sign of masculinity. If anything, the oral gratification provided by cigarettes is pedantic, acting out a quiet fantasy of an adult child’s wish to return to the mother’s bosom for the comfort of warm milk and skin.
Fast cars, hard liquor, and sports do not represent masculinity to me. I know them and have tried them and have found them wanting. Their effects are temporary and fleeting. Their side effects can be much worse. While they can all offer gratification, they all have a dark side. People die in and around fast cars due to human error. People die of hard liquor as consumers and bystanders. And team sports is just a recreation of war and tribalism because one side has to lose. While those activities may prove useful as entertainment, I do not equate them with masculinity.
Even the suits, the ties, polo shirts, the pants, the shorts, the tank tops, although they can signify masculinity, they do not equate to it. A nice suit is sort of like armor, going into battle. The ties are phalluses. The polo shirts are analogs to the sport of polo as if most people have the luxury of playing a sport on horseback. Slacks are a sign of status, a march away from manual labor.
But that’s just me.
Masculinity as a form of evolutionary adaptation serves a purpose, and that purpose is to survive long enough to reproduce. Trump’s “masculinity” does not represent that purpose to me. According to this article at FiveThirtyEight.com, “Why So Many Men Stuck With Trump,” in the last election, a significant fraction of men who identified as “completely masculine” voted for Trump.
Men who felt threatened by the prospect of unemployment as a result of the pandemic voted for Trump. They voted for Trump’s “just shrug it off” attitude about COVID. To me, that attitude lacks the nuance of fear vs respect. I wear a mask as a matter of respect for the risk presented by COVID. I am not as worried about getting COVID as I am concerned about mitigating the risk of contracting the disease.
Trump’s aloof attitude shows in the way he sat on his hands for 6 whole weeks earlier this year, before the pandemic became “real”. His lack of national leadership in the face of the pandemic suggests a lack of caring for the rest of us. That is not masculinity. His unrelenting challenges to the results of the election during a pandemic, without any proof that can stand up in court, is not masculinity. Trump’s talk about the free market when it is not really free, is not masculinity.
Many of the same men who stuck with Trump, tend to refuse to wear seat belts. I know of a Trump supporter who taught me to always wear a seat belt or, “your head could go through that windshield.” He left me with no doubt about his masculinity. Many of the same men who stuck with Trump tend to avoid visiting the doctor. The same man who taught me to wear seat belts also goes to the doctor. We both have respect for risk and methods of mitigating risk. That same man doesn’t believe in wearing masks, but he was not hip to me visiting him last summer. He is my Dad, and because he knows how to mitigate risk, I consider his masculinity to be true. Trump did very little to mitigate the risk of the pandemic to our country.
I see women as better judges of risk than men. Numerous studies have shown that women-owned businesses tend to do well in recessions relative to businesses with male leadership. This is because women are better able to assess risk than men are. Women tend to be risk-averse and for good reason. They are the carriers of the next generation.
Being a red meat member of the GOP isn’t necessarily a sign of masculinity. I don’t believe in the myth of the “rugged individual.” A man can be masculine and still be liberal. Empathy is a trait of true masculinity. Humility is another one. Vulnerability is one more. Acceptance is another trait I consider to be masculine. Being a good loser, yeah, that’s a trait of being masculine. We learn how to win by learning how to lose first. I don’t know if Trump has ever learned how to lose gracefully. I do know that denial is the first stage of grief.
Wearing a mask isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of intelligence. I can think of a few Republicans in my state who know this for a fact. Interpreted properly, wearing a mask, mitigating risk, being stable, even if not a genius, are all traits of masculinity during a pandemic. In the year of the pandemic, voting for Trump isn’t a vote for masculinity.