Quick Hits: Men and Masculinity in the News

Mychal Denzel Smith at the Root addresses the use of a homophobic slur by Kobe Bryant, and how homophobia needs to be addressed through re-examination of what it means to be a man.

On TomDispatch.com, Rebecca Solnit discusses the notion of male arrogance in her essay Men Explain Things To Me.

A look into the Conference on Male Studies comes across the Daily Transom at the NY Observer.

Newsweek asks whether or not manhood can survive the lost decade of the “Great Humbling” for “Beached White Males.” Somehow I think they’ll find a way.


Teaching Boys Feminism

Required reading for all people.
Ileana Jiménez at Feminist Teacher has an excellent account of teaching high school boys about feminism. She offers great insight into the transformation possible when boys are given the forum to discuss the same issues women discuss about feminism all of the time. Well worth the read.

Molly Lambert on Masculinity

“Masculinity” is as damaging to men as “Femininity” is to women. Neither is something to aspire to. Women who understand this are called feminists. Men who understand this aren’t called anything yet, but maybe they can just be called feminists too.” – from In Which We Teach You How To Be a Woman in Any Boys Club

preach it.

Mum Men: How Men are Discouraged to Speak

Earlier this winter, I found myself staring sadly at the Johnnie Walker subway print ad campaign “Say it Without Saying It.” One short message read: “To never having to say ‘I love you, man'” and another: “We only shake hands. We call each other once a month max. I still think you’re adopted. And even though I would rather streak across a packed stadium than tell you this, you deserve it. You’re a great little brother. There, I said it.” Witty and charming, no? Kind of.

But, could the same effect have been achieved without playing on men’s inability to communicate with one another? This campaign confirms, embraces, and celebrates helplessness, passive aggression, and emotional and social underdevelopment. But it masquerades it as self-aware manliness. Brothers are only fodder for jokes or target practice for farts. Verbal and physical affection are saved for special (read: unavoidable) occasions. And now thanks to the negative encouragement of these ads, handing over a bottle of whiskey to a man close to you, is a substitution for any meaningful expression. It also acts as a rubric for seeing how far men need to go before they can wash down their unease.

Why are boys less encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings to themselves or each other? Mattel’s new Sweet Talking Ken Doll may help explain, but in the voice of a kindergartner.  This toy is marketed to girls ages 5 and up as “…the ultimate boyfriend for every occasion. Why? Because this handsome Ken doll says whatever you want him to say! Just press the button on his chest to record your own voice for up to five seconds. Then play it back in a high, normal, or low pitch.” Before these girls start the first grade, they are taught to understand that if they want the “ultimate boyfriend” or any man to speak the things they wish to hear, they will have to feed their unspeaking partners the lines. Boys can resign themselves to act the dummies in their relationships with their (ventriloquist) partners.

These not-so-subtle hints to boys and men from pre-K to adulthood may be the reason why girls exceed boys in language skills. By relegating men to the roles of the non-communicators and encouraging inarticulate self-reflection and self-expression, the media and the culture at large are doing both men and women a discriminative disservice.

Men/Media: GQ February 2011

GQ February 2011 Dr. J

Sometimes I think GQ is edited by someone who was a complete nerd in high school. As an adult, he is hellbent on talking about what’s cool as much as possible, because now he has become an arbiter of that intangible. GQ always strives for this. It’s the guy at a bar, nattily dressed without looking like it, nursing some microbrew that has an unpronounceable name. It’s the guy who leans in a doorway. GQ wants to be Jordan Catalano for the 21st century.

With its February cover, GQ seeks to diversify its definition of cool into not only a discussion of athletes through the decades, but also with the archetypes represented by each man. You have Kelly Slater, the laid-back surfer. Tim Lincecum, the baseball pitcher throwing his unabashed use of marijuana at America’s past time. Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath, Arnold Palmer, Michael Jordan – the untouchables, the GOATs who have cemented their roles.

Each one of these men defines a time in American culture and in their respective sport. Their reflections of masculinity vary – it’s inarguable to me that the a football player is anything like a surfer, or a golfer. Football is tradition, America, full contact. Golf is leisure, luxury, grace under pressure. And surfing, well that’s for people who deflect their actual hard work with the appearance of laziness. Each has that etheral quality that makes him “cool.” While your rankings might be different (I’ll bet mine would), GQ offers the opportunity for every fanboy in the universe to also be cool by virtue of the fact that he idolizes one of these athletes. It gives the reader the chance to see himself in the swagger of Jordan, or the traditionalism of Tom Brady. It’s GQ’s very own version of “What Sex and the City character would you be?” with athletes.

I think I’d be Dr. J.