CLPP 2010: Masculinities

This panel, which featured Feministing’s own Miriam Pérez, was a complex and nuanced discussion of the idea of masculinity. Speakers addressed masculinity from personal and cultural perspectives, from within queer communities and compulsory straight communities, and in U.S. and international contexts.
Panelist’s presentations were followed by a fascinating discussion that focused on, among other topics, the ways traditional masculinity hurts men and boys and limits their gender options and ability to express themselves.
Some of the panelists comments after the jump.


Causten Wollerman:

Before I went on hormones I asked myself, my friends, my therapist: how will I be able to do feminism from a masculine perspective? The context I want to set is that masculinity is informed by people’s personal experiences. It’s informed by their race, their gender, their sexuality, their family.

George Gathigi:

I am from Kenya. I want to quote a saying that I find disturbing: “He who [steals?] with a young man will never find peace until that young man becomes a man but he who [steals?] with a woman will never find peace until that woman is dead.” For a young man when you become an adult your life has been tranformed. What are the notable manifestations of patriarchy and how we view masculinity in Kenya? You find negative views of women in popular culture. You hear pop songs where the man is in a dominant position, he always knows everything, he is always saving the woman. Women tend to control fewer resources so therefore they have lesser power and find themselves in subservient positions. Abortion is prohibited unless the life of the mother and the child is in danger.
You also find division of labor between girls and boys at a very young age. When I was going to school for you to be a leader you had to be big, you had to have that physicality.
What are the impacts of masculinity on reproductive health? Men will not take the responsibility, women will take the responsibility for contraception. Most men do not understand the implications of their behavior to the family, the community, and the society. Because the culture has this binary understanding of gender, male and female, it has lead to the erasure of the gay population. This impacts for instance HIV/AIDS work.
In many ways women are starting to have a voice, especially in sexual health. We have a youth population that is more informed about gender roles and they do not go to the traditional male and female dichotomy.

Miriam Pérez:

I grew up in a college town in North Carolina but my family are Cuban immigrants. I came out really late, I came out at 21 in college. And I think that has a lot to do with not having any queer role models. I didn’t have any role models of how I wanted to be. So I was very gender conforming until my twenties. I came to CLPP for the first time and I was shocked, there were all these genderqueer people. For me I think gender was a big part of my coming out process because I was looking for role models of who I wanted to be.
I remember in college I went to an American Eagle store with a friend and she went to the left side where the mens clothing was. And I was like, what are you doing? You can’t do that! I thought the alarms were going to go off or something.
I didn’t have a tomboy childhood. That’s a very common narrative in the genderqueer community. There’s this idea that we’re supposed to have this specific experience and if we don’t we’re not butch enough or we’re not genderqueer enough.
The popular idea of masculinity is very white, very male, very able bodied tough guy, all these things that I’m not. I’m short, I’m chubby, if somebody tried to fight me I’d run in the opposite direction. And that’s a lot of why I think I’ve shied away from the language of masculinity. A big piece of that is race and the different role of masculinity in Cuban culture. Why is that the only way I can be? What are other types of masculinity that I can identify with?

Davi Koszka:

I work in domestic violence, so there’s this question of how to bring masculinity into that work. There’s questions of how do we bring men in, and genderqueerness and butchness aren’t even part of the conversation.
I am male bodied, I identify as genderqueer, and I have performed many genders over the years.
I saw this ad posted on Feministing.com… and my friend said it was really masculinity in its most negative form. And it got me thinking, because I couldn’t think of what was masculinity in a positive form, that wasn’t about dominance.
There’s this idea of emasculation. Masculinity as far as I can see is dependent on another person or thing. There’s this idea, oh he’s completely emasculated, he’s dominated by a woman, he’s so whipped. There’s this idea that a pink shirt can be emasculating. So how flimsy is this idea if it’s so dependent on what’s around it?
What I really don’t want to do is reverse the dichotomy of good/bad, and make masculinity a bad thing and femininity a good thing. But I do really want to look at what happens when masculinity is dependent on the dominance of other people.

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3 Comments

  1. BalletBoy
    Posted April 11, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I think that traditional masculinity isn’t so much about dominating but about being hyper-sensitive to being dominated, to not looking vulnerable — emotionally or physically.
    The reason for this is that men (at least, straight men) are not rewarded for seeming vulnerable or sensitive. It is harder for these men to succeed among their male peers in sports or business, and it is harder for these men to find a female sexual partner (despite widespread protestations of feminist and non-feminist women, alike).
    This all manifests itself in some pretty dysfunctional behavior, mostly acts of dominance — refusing to move when walking on the sidewalk to force you to move or bump into them, sprawling when sitting on chairs in waiting rooms or on the bus, etc.
    Traditional masculinity will change when those who are not traditionally masculine but not of an alternative sub-culture are rewarded for their softer demeanor, especially by women in a “romantic” context.
    As a comic once cheekily said, “We can solve global warming in a year when women stop sleeping with guys who drive Porsches. Then, every guy will aspire to an electric car.”

  2. Peter
    Posted April 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    David Koszka:

    My friend said it was really masculinity in its most negative form. And it got me thinking, because I couldn’t think of what was masculinity in a positive form, that wasn’t about dominance.

    I think this is “radical critique” in its most negative form — repulsive in its sentiment and mindlessly overreaching in its scope. It makes as much sense as to say that one can’t think of femininity in a positive form, a form that isn’t essentially about submission.
    Of course, one could make that parallel claim – even support it, using a blase deconstructive logic — but its fatalism (like its Utopianism) leads one nowhere.
    I’m sorry, but this is what a dead end sounds like.

  3. Quinc
    Posted April 12, 2010 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    There’s more to it than just getting laid. Performing such masculinity correctly gets a LOT of recognition from other men. In fact often attracting females is ultimately just to get recognition from the guys. In addition the reason that so many women are attracted to that is because of the same messages. Just as men want to be that kind of man, so women want to be with him.

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