Man up; Strip down
How would you define masculinity?
That’s a complex question. Masculinity is a couple of things: it’s the sum of all the expectations society has of men and it’s also a sort of comfortable and protective jacket that men wear, socially, and perhaps even privately, that helps them identify with some concept of how they’re supposed to be.
Do you feel like your race or ethnicity impacts your concepts or understanding of masculinity? How so?
I think so. I’m a white male, so I think that I have flexibility in terms of how I do or do not practice masculinity that maybe you don’t see in many other cultures, including black and latino cultures where there might be stricter definitions of masculinity and maybe fewer examples of people being transgressive in such a way that they’re still accepted by some supportive niche segment of their culture.
How does masculinity hold you back? Or, rather, do you feel like you lose out on anything because of masculinity? Explain.
In general, yeah. One of the key tenants of masculinity is this idea that men are really allowed to have only two emotional states. One of those is anger; we’re not allowed to be sad, we’re supposed to be angry instead. In any situation that requires a strong emotional response from us, anger is really the one thing that we’re allowed to participate in. When we’re not angry, we’re supposed to be stoic. And so it doesn’t offer men the full range of human emotion. You don’t get depression, you don’t get sadness, you don’t even get ebullience or great joy, even – those are seen as being kind of a violation of that stoic sensibility that’s implicit to masculinity, but those things are expressed in circumstances where even anger isn’t appropriate for men and so men are really left without joy.
If you had to describe to someone what a masculine person looked like, how would you do it? (What celebrities or fictional characters comes to mind?)
I would preface any such description by pointing out that this is a standard patriarchal look at masculinity, that it’s sort of a meaningless question in a lot of ways. I would say that a masculine person has a certain body language, maybe, that’s more aggressive. Even some of the trappings that I enjoy as this protective coat of masculinity, I’m sitting here before you with a beard and wearing flannel and those are very masculine traits and I suppose I don’t intrinsically value those, but I enjoy playing in masculinity.
Considering this description, how do you feel your body compares? Does this comparison influence how you feel about your body?
That’s an interesting question. Masculinity in the United States is interesting in that it provides— and a lot of it hinges on gender roles— it provides men many different avenues to having value as a person. Unlike women, we don’t necessarily have to be attractive; we can be rich, or we can be very intelligent and professionally accomplished. We have alternate paths to displaying our social value. And so a masculine person or a man is not necessarily looking a certain way, although if you look at any of the advertising that is very visually-focused you’ll see the guy with the washboard abs and the large biceps and things like that, and by that comparison I don’t have that kind of upper body. So when I see a Gillette advertisement that has a guy naked from the waist up in the mirror, I’m like, “Oh, I do not look like that guy. He spends way more time at the gym than I do.”
What do you think is sexiest about yourself?
Probably my insatiable desire to learn anything I don’t know. Just this sort of overwhelming curiosity that defines my life.
What do you get complimented on the most?
These days it’s the beard, which fills out nicely. That’s a big one, physically. People, I think, finds me warm and compassionate. That’s very important to me because those are traditionally non-masculine traits and those are things that men are generally raised without any emphasis on or without any access to in themselves and so I’ve tried to cultivate those things to try to balance that out and to make myself a better rounded person than men are traditionally allowed or expected to be. When I get compliments on those things that makes me feel really good.
What parts of your body are you really comfortable with or really appreciate? And why?
My legs are looking really good these days because I’ve been running. I appreciate seeing that visual indicator of self-improvement. I like that quite a lot. I also enjoy my beard rather thoroughly.
Compare those parts of your body with parts of your body that you’re less sure about; parts that maybe affect the way you get ready for the day, i.e. getting dressed, maintenance, personal hygiene, etc. Stuff that maybe you’re self conscious about other people noticing because these are parts of your body that compromise your sense of your own masculinity or appeal.
So, I have a widow’s peak, which is not an unusual hair feature for men – but it’s also one of those things that you don’t see in advertising and you don’t see on male models and you often don’t see a lot of on people on television or in movies. So I find that I focus more than I would have anticipated ten years ago on hairstyles that look good with that particular feature, the sort of quasi-receding hairline kind of thing.
Have you ever felt that society pressures you to look or act in certain ways? If so, how?
Absolutely. Even with the sort of flexibility toward masculinity that I think white men enjoy that maybe men of color in the United States don’t enjoy— it really depends on your peer group, too— there is a sort of strong emphasis on how you’re supposed to behave in certain situations, what you are and are not supposed to do in regard to the opposite sex, and there just is a whole list of things where your gender role really comes into play and that dictates how you’re supposed to act in certain situations.
What do charged terms like “patriarchy” or “privilege” make you feel? Why do you feel that way?
I have a pretty solid grasp on them. They represent an attempt to disassemble or at least describe structures of power academically,. Privilege is an interesting one, it’s been recognized by a lot of people, especially on the internet, that when you start throwing around the word ‘privilege’ people, especially people in power, like men, get very defensive. And I feel myself getting that way sometimes too, and that’s required a lot of self-reflection to develop an understanding of, well, why is my initial response to this statement about— “check your privilege,” for example— why is my initial response to that dismissiveness or even this low simmering annoyance kind of thing? And that’s been an interesting journey of self-exploration, just developing that self-awareness to understand, well, I’m feeling this in response to the statement— why, though? And that’s been quite a journey.