An Emasculating Truth

A movie about the changing tide of masculinity? I want to see.

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31 Comments

  1. Thomas
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I’ve been thinking about this. I just read Kimmel’s Guyland, Pascoe’s Dude You’re A Fag, and Vincent’s Self-Made Man (I’m in the last 20 pages of Vincent), and Faludi’s Stiffed is a personal favorite, the only book that ever so engaged me that I missed my subway stop.
    So I’ve been thinking about this, and I keep coming back to a question that I can’t answer:
    What positive qualities do I want to see in a son that I don’t want to see in a daughter?
    I can’t think of any.
    So for me, that circumscribes the debate. All the important stuff, all the qualities that make a person, are equally applicable and I don’t accept that any of them are uniquely properties of maleness or femaleness. I don’t accept that maleness is synonymous with masculinity or that the male body can wholly define or be the sole site of masculinity. (Pascoe’s book, which is her dissertation, starts with about twenty pages of serious gender theory before going into her ethnography of boys at a California high school.)
    Faludi focused on what consumerism has done to manhood, and talked about a civic manhood — she never really teased out the differences between manhood and masculinity, as I recall, though it’s been a while.
    Kimmel largely does the same. He’s not entirely clear (and I did not like the book), but he really seems to think that “man” means having and supporting a household, a family, taking an adult role in the community, etc. — to be frank, I found it really problematic that, without ever acknowledging the heteronormativity, the essentialism or any of it, and even though he’s a feminist married to a feminist, he seems to say that forming and supporting a nuclear family defines being a man. Certainly, Guyland says that moving from young adulthood to adult responsibilities is moving from boyhood to manhood.
    And I’m not sure how useful any of this is. Sure, it’s more productive and socially useful to define manhood by undertaking a beneficial social role than by violence and self-destructive behavior.
    But what is this thing masculinity, and how is it different from manhood? I’m not sure that the latter ought to have much use. I’m not sure that “manhood” is positive in any way that “personhood” is not. If that’s true, then maybe we just need to cut loose masculinity from manhood.
    If Butler is right and it’s all just performance, then maybe we just need to accept that masculity is fluid and situational — and to be blunt, just a mating display because it makes some of us hot in the genital areas and stimulated in the attraction-related parts of our brains. Is masculinity just a set of sexualized displays? I’d be fine with that answer. Then maybe we could stop acting all the time like whether we were all masculine or feminine enough to live up to our assigned sex categories was some kind of important consideration.
    I’m still processing a lot of what I’ve read, so those ideas are kind of protean. But there it is.

  2. Athenia
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    “In the future, there will be a few men and lots of a lesbians.”
    ROFLOL

  3. Eresbel
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Um, it seems to me that this is more of a MRA sort of film than a feminist film.

  4. SarahSimone
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    That was my favorite part! Success for women = no men, lots of lesbians, and the extinction of the species. Who let him in on the secret plan?

  5. ladybeethoven
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, especially if you go to their site and read their little PowerPoint presentation. Ugh.

  6. tim
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Thomas on this. I try not to waste too much time on trying to define what it means to be a man or what categories like manhood or masculinity are supposed to look like. This isn’t to imply that I am not benefiting from being in a male body within a society that still assigns privileges to individuals based upon gender, race, sexual preference, etc. I just don’t think the cure for society’s ills is a kinder, gentler vision of masculinity/manhood.

  7. figleaf
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    You know what drives me crazy? A bunch of grown men wandering around worrying that they’re somehow not… men! WTF?!?!
    My metaphor for “masculinity” has cutting, carving, or tearing away of everything about biologically male humans that doesn’t fit the stereotype.
    How can it be that we call rediscovering, embodying, or otherwise adding back the cut-away parts emasculating? Instead of, I don’t know, maybe remasculating.
    What’s funny is that you never see “men’s liberation” groups pushing to expand the definition of masculinity to include more of the full range of human possibilities. Instead it’s all about trying to get everyone to agree our metaphorical amputations should be accepted and/or seen as superior.
    Sheesh!
    figleaf
    p.s. and dear sweet mother of pearl how bought into stereotypes is it to say men are discovering their “feminine side” when they do anything outside the confines of masculinity?

  8. Burb
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    His other statements are questionable, but he didn’t say it leads to extinction of the species. Moreover, it’s not like you need a lot of males to preserve a species, as long as they fertilize a lot of ova.

  9. tim
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    I just read that and was flabbergasted.
    I like how they take 2 unrelated things like layoffs and enrollment in graduate programs to raise the alarm.
    Oy.

  10. maidensnowflake
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    omfg…i just went through the powerpoint too. this movie is the total opposite of what i expected from OP’s description. this is nothing more than the bro-culture freaking out, sending one of their buds to hollywood, and making a film about how they are in peril and we must all drop the other issues we are passionate about because this one is more important. shameful…and it’s going to be a big hit too, i know it.

  11. Gopher
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    LOL I know! Gawd, I wish!!!

  12. Gopher
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    “I just don’t think the cure for society’s ills is a kinder, gentler vision of masculinity/manhood.”
    Why not? I doubt we wouldve had as many screw ups in a lot of places today if that was the case. Less “mission accomplished” and more long term reality.

  13. Gopher
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Completely agree. I watched the powerpoint and couldnt help but get PISS-ED! Havent men grown overweight in the last decade? Being overweight decreases testosterone (at least thats what I remember reading). It also shows the host/creator of the show to be a complete idiot. Pure testosterone makes a ‘man’ look like a woman. Shouldnt his focus be on androgens? Its all so cliche as well that in order to ‘increase your testosterone’ you have to be a misogynist pig. This is what happens when theres not enough of a feminist presence. The MRA’s and their bullshit get loose!!!I would like a feminist response to this film to poke holes in all his bullshit theories. However when he was interviewing the woman (who seemed to be a stripper?) its interesting to note that her ideas of masculinity were shaped around domination of women and were heavily unrealistic too. I doubt she holds her own womanhood to the same standard or expects herself capable of being the same way but yet holds admiration and esteem for any guy that does. The sad effects of living in a patriarchy.
    (mock)”whatever happened to John Wayne?He was a ‘real’ man, he used to slap women around in his movies!”
    “Aggh, women go to grad school!!!!”
    Just shows his whole movie to be completely stupid and unrealistic.

  14. Gopher
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Agreed! At first the movie preview makes it seem like he’s documenting changing masculinity and even poking fun at some of the old ways of masculinity to showcase how illusionistic it all is, until…..you read the powerpoint.

  15. Zoe
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Looks interesting and perhaps humorous! I’ll look to see if it comes to my local indie theater.

  16. instrumentjamlord
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    I can’t tell if they are being tongue-in-cheek or not (haven’t read their site yet, and even if I did, it could be the equivalent of a Poe).
    The one thing that does concern me is the drop in testosterone, if it’s real. (See also other reports about dropping sperm counts and decreased sperm cell viability/quality.) Some environmental factor that is fucking with our hormone balance and causing impaired reproductive function is nothing to take lightly. (And no, not because that constitutes “feminization,” either. If there was some contaminant in the water that was causing excessive growth of the earlobes, I’d take that seriously too.)

  17. dondo.myopenid.com
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    I strongly recommend that people give a listen to this absolutely brilliant “This American Life” piece on testosterone a couple years ago. If you haven’t listened to it, it will almost certainly be worth your time:
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=220
    “Testosterone is not the ‘male’ hormone. It’s the hormone which regulates desire.” That completely changes this sort of conversation about masculinity. Certainly it’s a simplification, but it’s a great way to move conversations away from pseudo-scientific attacks on women back to a more productive conversation about gender roles.
    In case people missed them, over the last year or so, there were a couple of very thought-provoking links on this topic.
    For me this is more or less a definitive discussion of “Masculine, Feminine or Human?”: http://www.slepton.com/slepton/viewcontent.pl?id=1845
    Mix that with this wonderful, provocative piece on the arbitrary assocation between proto-masculine and proto-feminine (“butch” and “femme”): http://katebornstein.typepad.com/kate_bornsteins_blog/2008/07/walle-a-butchfe.html
    …and you’ve got the raw ingredients for an interesting, productive conversation.

  18. jayjay323
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Thomas,
    “If Butler is right and it’s all just performance, then maybe we just need to accept that masculity is fluid and situational — and to be blunt, just a mating display because it makes some of us hot in the genital areas and stimulated in the attraction-related parts of our brains. Is masculinity just a set of sexualized displays? I’d be fine with that answer. Then maybe we could stop acting all the time like whether we were all masculine or feminine enough to live up to our assigned sex categories was some kind of important consideration.”
    sorry, but that’s circular – if there’s definable traits that cause attraction in those who are attracted to masculinity then that’s *masculine*. Masculinity is defined by their attraction. And of course, you can’t isolate specific instances of attraction from the rest of our lives. That’s why generalized versions of the things that cause attraction will become socialised abstractions we call masculine traits. And vice versa.
    Unless what you’re saying is that there is no bell curve for “masculine” traits desired by people attracted to masculinity. Of course, if that *were* the case, there would be nothing specific about any sex/gender. So that answer doesn’t really make sense.

  19. jayjay323
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Thomas,
    “If Butler is right and it’s all just performance, then maybe we just need to accept that masculity is fluid and situational — and to be blunt, just a mating display because it makes some of us hot in the genital areas and stimulated in the attraction-related parts of our brains. Is masculinity just a set of sexualized displays? I’d be fine with that answer. Then maybe we could stop acting all the time like whether we were all masculine or feminine enough to live up to our assigned sex categories was some kind of important consideration.”
    sorry, but that’s circular – if there’s definable traits that cause attraction in those who are attracted to masculinity then that’s *masculine*. Masculinity is defined by their attraction. And of course, you can’t isolate specific instances of attraction from the rest of our lives. That’s why generalized versions of the things that cause attraction will become socialised abstractions we call masculine traits. And vice versa.
    Unless what you’re saying is that there is no bell curve for “masculine” traits desired by people attracted to masculinity. Of course, if that *were* the case, there would be nothing specific about any sex/gender. So that answer doesn’t really make sense.

  20. borrow_tunnel
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    “there will be, like, a lot of lesbians” sounds official, what does he work for the government or something. they must have done pages and pages of tedious calculations to figure that out.

  21. ScottRock
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    so. uh, about that powerpoint–i’m 99% sure it’s a joke. this little thing called irony.

  22. syndicalist89104
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    “I just don’t think the cure for society’s ills is a kinder, gentler vision of masculinity/manhood.”
    Perhaps we should abandon strict definitions for gender altogether. Until we do, though, Gopher nails it.

  23. emjaybee
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    I have a son. I want him to be a compassionate, truthful, passionate, ethical, hardworking *person.* I do not give a flying fuck how “manly” he is or isn’t…what does that have to do with the price of eggs, anyway? Does he treat others well and make a positive difference in the world? Then I will be proud of him.
    I mean, Jesus, isn’t trying to be a good person a task hard enough for all of us?? It takes a lifetime to find yourself and do anything meaningful. Life is too short for this gender freakout bullshit.

  24. Masa
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    “So I’ve been thinking about this, and I keep coming back to a question that I can’t answer:
    What positive qualities do I want to see in a son that I don’t want to see in a daughter?”
    I love this and I am totally going to use this question to engage people when talking about gender! It’s important to recognize differences in experience and societal expectations based on gender, but I’ve far too often seen people approach positive gender identity development by focusing on “being a man” or redefining “manhood” and I have a problem with it because I feel like it continues to reinforce the idea that males and females are irreconcilably different. Too often, sex differences are overplayed and exaggerated until males and females are entirely different species. My mother told me to read “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” – I humored her for about 10 pages but I started yelling at the sentences I was reading so I stopped before I started to question my own sanity. Really? Different planets? I just had a man tell me that women really want attention, as if he was analyzing a different species to be understood through observation. His language and attitude revealed a belief that there is this fundamental difference, failing to realize that, hey, men really want attention too… interesting how human beings form societies and we’re really ALL interdependent and desire love and support from others. I get upset about this. But thank you for that question. For some reason, this is the first time I’ve ever heard that question and it is perfect for getting people to think about positive qualities and values and whether they should “belong” to one gender over another or should be denied to a gender.

  25. tim
    Posted December 2, 2009 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    I am more or less in agreement with John Stoltenberg when he said that we (men) must learn to love justice more than manhood. I would change it to say love justice rather than manhood.
    Back to the point Thomas was making when he asked [i] “What positive qualities do I want to see in a son that I don’t want to see in a daughter?”[/i] We might also ask what positive qualities are desirable for those who identify as men that aren’t also desirable for those who identify as women? Or what positive qualities are desirable for women that are not desirable for men as well?
    I don’t believe that men and women are that different from each other by nature. Definitions of masculinity and femininity differ not only between cultures but within cultures over time. It seems a bit silly to keep trying to redefine manhood and simply move on to loving and supporting one another as equals.

  26. ArthurSweetman
    Posted December 2, 2009 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    I’m pretty sure that for something to be a ‘joke’ even an ironic one, it has to actually be funny.

  27. PatriarchySlayer
    Posted December 2, 2009 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    I completely agree with these comments. It’s what I’ve been trying to tell people for years. Let’s all just be who we are. Would our heads really explode if we don’t have that filter to analyze things through, “Oh, pink equals girl, Blue equals boy,” I mean come on!

  28. Thomas
    Posted December 2, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    “Masculinity is defined by their attraction.”
    I think you’re the one who is being circular. I’m saying it is possible for something to be “masculine” and not come from or inhere in a male body, or even a man — see, e.g., butches. I’m saying that those qualities are not static, but rather are people can exhibit them at one time and not at another. Vincent’s experience is consistent with this; during her one-year experiment, she was often read as a man even when she was not using any of the props that she used to create the male-drag persona of “Ned,” something that she says never happened to her before the experiment — she had taken on an affect, a way of moving and a way of interacting that people read as male even without the male clothing, the fake stubble or the wire-rimmed glasses she wore as Ned.
    What is it that you think is circular about saying that masculinity is fluid and not exclusively the province of men?

  29. Gopher
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    I listened to the radio show and it was pretty interesting.

  30. elite user
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 4:36 am | Permalink

    I’m tierd of of weak minded men clinging to some macho image of what it means to be a man. Shooting a deer or riding a bull doesn’t make you a man, if anything it makes you an asshole. Maybe a decrease in testerone means that men are evolving into a more civilized species ZOMG!
    I don’t know what the moral of this video will be, maybe at the end he will say “hey guys, you can all just relax, it’s okay to wear skinny jeans if you want to”

  31. Zach
    Posted December 5, 2009 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    One of the difficulties of any biological discussion about testosterone or any other hormone is that one could write an entire textbook about the biological effects and alterations of testosterone in varying tissues. It’s like saying “Africans are pirates.” There are certainly individuals in Africa who are pirates, but they are localized, they are the product of their experiences, and they are not the only pirates in the world.
    To move from biology to sociology, I’ve always seen the discussion of gender and sex issues as a larger struggle between self-determination and societal determination. We are constantly bombarded by gender normativity at every phase of our life. The debate of “what is masculine/feminine/neither/both” often focuses on societally-defined values and which category they fall under. The inherent assumption of this is that there is somehow a continuum of percentages in each category and that whichever category gets the most points defines what you are. It is much harder to self-define and say, “Yes, I do things that are considered feminine but I am still a man and vice-versa.”
    Ultimately, the debate of failing masculinity or femininity are both products of a persecution complex, and I mean that in the least pejorative way possible. “I am Me,” is a difficult way to define one’s self in modern society, but I find it limits the worry of masculinity/femininity/neutrality. We often define “society” as some global blanket that affects everything, but we really exist as smaller tribes within our society and we join tribes that have similar interests and accept us as we are (ideally speaking). In the end, it’s not how the majority says you should act or what’s in your pants that matters. The important thing is having the willpower and dedication to say, “I am me and what you call me can’t change that.”

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