The failure of satires of masculinity

Much belated, let’s talk about Pickle Rick.

“Pickle Rick” was a 2017 episode of Rick and Morty, and the only one I ever watched. After I saw it, I thought to myself, I don’t need to watch any more of this show. For me, the episode represents a common pattern in fiction, where the intention is to satirize masculinity, but at some level, it fails to do so.

In “Pickle Rick”, Rick turns himself into a pickle to avoid going to therapy with the rest of his family. He sets up a mechanism to turn himself back as soon as his family leaves without him, but something goes wrong and hijinx ensue. He has to use his limited means as a pickle to pull himself through a sequence of over the top action scenes. Eventually, he lands in therapy, where the counselor explains the absurdity of his actions to him.

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“Secure in my masculinity”

“Secure in my/his/their masculinity” is a common expression, but what does it mean? Some readers may find this obvious, but permit me a bit of exploration, to see what we can learn.

In a basic search, I found several low quality listicles, which I take to represent what the common person thinks (as opposed to more scholarly interpretations). The listicles say that you can tell when a man is insecure in his masculinity if he tries to one-up everyone, is homophobic, or avoids anything girly, and so on. In short, masculine insecurity is evidenced by toxic masculinity.

The underlying theory seems to be that insecurity about masculinity causes toxic masculinity. And, by the way, this theory seems to be correct. Another article I found in a basic search describes psychological studies, where men were given tests of “masculinity” and physical strength. They received randomized scores, and the men who were told they scored poorly reported higher aggression, would exaggerate their height, and be more likely to avoid products perceived as feminine.

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Link Roundup: July 2021

Boys Don’t Cry (Except When They Do) | Pop Culture Detective (video, 27:25 min) – A detailed examination of movie tropes surrounding men crying.  Have I ever told the anecdote about how I used to cry when I was in elementary school?  The other kids would make fun of me, and I actually went to counseling because of it.  My counselor was a wonderful person who taught me a lot of important life skills, so I can’t say I regret how it turned out.  Telling boys they can’t cry is bad though, and hits really young.

Queer Games Criticism in 2021 (so far) | Critical Distance – It’s a link roundup of queer games criticism.  Yes, I’m plugging this partly because I’m in it.

If I were to highlight one piece, it would be Speedrunning Undertale helped me understand my gender better.  I’ve been reading queer games criticism for many years, so I’m very aware of the idea that speedrunning is “queer” in the sense of subverting the normative goals of playing a game–much like how queer people subvert the normative goal of forming a heteronormative family.  If that sounds weird, well that’s what academic queer theory is always like.  I think I’m not alone in having a hard time actually buying the theory that speedrunning is queer.  But this essay uses personal narrative to make it much more compelling, so I really appreciated it.

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Against the top/bottom dichotomy

cn: it’s about sex positions, but it is not graphic

I hate the top vs bottom dichotomy as it is used by gay/bi/queer (GBQ) men. If this is something that you like to use for yourself and to understand others, that’s well and good, and I will not deny it to you. But there’s a lot of stereotyping and politics that goes into it, and it’s obnoxious from the perspective of a person who prefers to opt out.

First, at the risk of overexplanation, I should make sure everyone is on the same page. “Top” and “bottom” refer to sex positions, with top being the penetrative position, and bottom being the penetrated position. They can also be used as verbs, or to people. A top is someone who prefers the top position or takes the top position, and a bottom is someone who prefers the bottom position or takes the bottom position. If someone swaps positions, or doesn’t have a preference, that’s called “versatile”, or “vers” for short.

The top/bottom dichotomy is primarily used in the context of men who have sex with men. However, it is occasionally used in other contexts, and the fandom context is of particular note. I mention this because I’ve found that some readers were only familiar with the fan context, and did not realize that I was talking about a real world concept. So, for the fandom folks, at the end I’ll include a discussion of the top/bottom dichotomy in a fan context.

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Working out

Another thing I have been doing while stuck at home, is weight training. That’s out of character for me. I’ve never “worked out” in my life, never gone to a gym, or otherwise made a deliberate plan to exercise. Not since P.E. classes in middle school. I used to go hiking occasionally, but stopped several years ago as I decided I wasn’t fond of the activity (in retrospect this may have been asthma-related).

The story goes that my husband goes to the gym on a regular basis. All the gyms are closed. So he bought some gym equipment, which we store on the balcony. I proposed I could join him, so this happened.

Each day, we start with some jumping jacks to warm up, and a few stretches. Then my husband picks out some exercises from a book or youtube, focusing on a particular group of muscles. For each exercise we repeat the motion for several sets, and around 10 repetitions per set. The next day we work on a different group of muscles.

It’s completely different from my P.E. classes from when I was a kid.

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Link Roundup: September 2019

Announcement: I’m taking a blogging break.  I’m doing a thing for the next two months, and I’ll be around but I don’t know how busy I’ll be.  When I return depends on how busy I am.

Plug: The weird world of asexuality Google Alerts.  It’s just an entertaining list of the weirdest articles I’ve found mentioning asexuality.

Men | ContraPoints (video) – Natalie talks about the need for a men’s movement that is actually good.  TBH I’m not keen on the specific content of the video, but it’s at least a decent conversation starter, and the inspiration for a few recent blog posts.  I also created a “male feminism” category to collect my writings on the subject.

The part I’m not keen on is the large emphasis placed on Natalie’s personal experiences.  Yes it’s good to recognize the special insight that trans people have into comparisons between gendered experiences, but I’ve definitely heard trans experiences which were diametrically opposite to hers.  I also have to say that I have never felt that people were scared of me, and I would absolutely hate it if anyone complimented my appearance on the street.  She’s clearly just sharing her personal experiences, but I feel the narrowness detracts from the video.

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Towards a harmless masculinity

“Toxic masculinity” refers to harmful forms of masculine expression, such as violence, aggression, aloofness, and the policing of other men’s masculinity.

Here, “toxic” is a restrictive adjective, which is to say that “toxic masculinity” refers to the subset of masculinity that is toxic; it does not mean that all masculinity is toxic.  Nonetheless, this is a common point of confusion, perhaps because there’s little visible discussion of what might constitute non-toxic masculinity.

So I’d like to explain my ideas about what non-toxic masculinity should look like, on an abstract level.  An outline:

  1. Toxic masculinity should be contrasted with “harmless masculinity”, not “virtuous masculinity”.
  2. Harmless masculinity is mostly a matter of aesthetics.
  3. Masculine aesthetics can also be toxic, but I argue that they are not necessarily so.

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