The faux-masculine shibboleths

Don’t miss Bruce Everett’s great piece, “…assuming the mantle”.

I’ll give you a teaser to make sure that you don’t.

I didn’t get it, and I haven’t got it for most of the time. I’m only just getting it – the faux-masculine shibboleths that I’m expected to observe, in order to be ‘one of the guys’.

Especially the degradation of women as rite of passage.

Don’t get me wrong…

I’m nobody’s knight in shining armour (I think this will be the last time I repeat this for some time), and I don’t believe in chivalry towards women – chivalry, as opposed to decency, assumes that women are frail objects to be protected like delicate porcelain in a world they’re not equipped to deal with. Women are no such thing.

I’ve got an interest in this. If pseudo- and actual misogyny are used as defining criteria for what it is to be masculine, then I consider that an imposture. I don’t want that group identity lumbered on me, and moreover, I’m willing, if imposed upon, to fight for my stake in masculine culture to the exclusion of other men.

Gentlemen, if you’re going to make an asshole out of yourself in the first instance, I’m not going to take much notice when you make squeals of indignation, when you get a little comeuppance. That is unless, I find it justifiable, useful, and entertaining, to laugh at you.

Seriously though, some men really shit me. The things that some of you expect me to take on board as normal, or healthy, or unappealing-but-otherwise-not-rebarbative.

Read the whole thing.


  1. Stevarious says

    I’m pretty sure, judging by the referenced time frame, that I know the movie he’s referring to. I haven’t thought about it in years, but yeah, it’s pretty relentlessly awful in every way, and was super popular around then amongst the boys who never talked to girls.
    I remember enjoying the plot, but being super disturbed by the part with a heavily sexualized rape scene – that is, it was obvious that the viewer was supposed to be titillated, not repulsed, by a graphic depiction of rape. Now I look back and realize that in pretty much every scene with a woman present, the woman is degraded or dominated in some way, and I’m pretty sure (I’d have to watch it to be certain and I’m not) that every single woman introduced in the movie is killed by the end.

  2. M Groesbeck says

    I’m conflicted as to the value of “re-“claiming “masculinity” from the misogynists who have defined it for most of recorded history. Is there really some sort of Platonic ideal of “pure” masculinity which isn’t ragingly cis-hetero-patriarchal? If there is, I’ve seen no sign of it; and I tend to lean towards just writing off the whole enterprise. Sure, I’m a “man” in the sense of adult male human (of the cis variety, though that’s not part of the definition I work from); but when “masculinity” has, in my culture, overwhelmingly been defined primarily by a sense of superiority over all things “feminine”, is this something I really want to “reclaim”?

  3. Dave says

    Well, unless we find a way for people to just not have a gender-identity, you have to reclaim something for the 40%+ of the population who are heterosexual males – and the x% of homosexual males who would also identify as ‘masculine’.

    It is of course possible to have masculinities and femininities defined by a shared core set of positive values, if you try. It’s also possible to define those heterosexual males out of the conversation, but I would think it obvious that that’s a bad, bad idea.

  4. Beatrice says

    Well, unless we find a way for people to just not have a gender-identity, you have to reclaim something for the 40%+ of the population who are heterosexual males – and the x% of homosexual males who would also identify as ‘masculine’.

    By separating straight and gay men like this, you are actually doing a disservice to your own argument. M Groesbeck is questioning the possibility of ever reclaiming masculinity (and I would add femininity) because the terms are too loaded to ever be spun in a positive light again.
    And there you give an example of the harmful influence of this division of “masculine behaviors/traits are these”, “feminine behaviors/traits are those”. You assume that all straight men are masculine and wouldn’t identify as feminine and that gayness is correlated to femininity in men. Those are some seriously loaded assumptions.

  5. Dave says

    No, the gender-identity of a man is generally a form of masculinity. That’s what the word means.

    What the content of it in practice is, that’s an open question, as is the extent to which some people around the edges of the group might identify differently.

    But as a matter of everyday fact, most men experience their gender as masculine, and it makes more sense, therefore, to discuss how ‘masculine’ might be defined in ways that are positive, than to expect most men to redefine their gender-identity into something completely different that doesn’t mean anything to them.

    If you can come up with a way to make genders disappear, go for it, but until you do, effort would be better spent on what can be recouped positively from the genders we have.

  6. ibbica says


    No, the gender-identity of a man is generally a form of masculinity. That’s what the word means.

    Er… I’d suggest you try to invite some responses to this from trans* men. It is entirely possible to self-identify as “a man” without fitting, or even wanting to fit, most (any?) of the current “meanings” of the term “masculine”.

  7. says

    @ M Groesbeck – Well, I for one don’t intend to ‘re-claim’ masculinity, rather than just assert my own against others who are forceful with their own expectations. The emphasis being upon making people uncomfortable with easy and common assumptions (ala privilege), rather than force a particular ideal version down people’s throats. (I’m not even a Platonist.)

    As for the ‘faux’ bit, I’m not comparing the masculinity of these dudes to some Platonic ideal out in the ether, rather I’m just taking a jab at perceived hypocrisy. I’m pretty sure these guys don’t include sexual insecurity and the like as masculine ideals (Platonic or otherwise).

  8. says

    I’m pretty sure I know the film Bruce is talking about as well, and I’m in retrospect appalled at my original reaction to it as well. Like Bruce, I spent some time lonely and broken and I see how I could easily have become one of the people he describes. There but for the grace of and all that jazz.

  9. yessenia says

    Dave, as a female assigned trans masculine person, I know firsthand the misery that comes from trying to fit myself into one of the femininity boxes. Gender perpetuity is way more than some natural progression of your genitals. I know lots of straight men and lesbian trans women who identify as feminine, and straight trans men and gay women who ate masculine identified, and of course gender queer pansexuals who scoff at ant labels.

  10. Beatrice says


    I have a terrible headache which is probably hindering my reading comprehension, but you’re making little sense to me.

    Masculinity is a social construct. With the way society currently is, this construct is fucked up beyond belief. As is femininity.

    The thing about straight and gay men that I pointed out in your comment and you took no notice of? It shows an unfortunate influence of what masculinity is considered to be on you. We can talk about how men of different sexual interests consciously or unconsciously challenge our ideas about masculinity, but this talk about how heteros are masculine while gay men are more feminine (something you seem to be very sure of) just seems like it may go in a very nasty direction. As in possibly insulting directions of “gay men are like women” while straight men are “real men”. I’m not saying that you are prejudiced and I hope I don’t sound to accusatory, but the way you went about this shows some unfortunate biases.

    Not to mention how you completely erase trans people and all those who blur the lines between genders.

    It’s not as simple as you seem to think.

  11. says

    But as a matter of everyday fact, most men experience their gender as masculine

    I don’t even know what this means.
    I’m male, I don’t experience anything as “masculine” as far as I know, and I don’t experience anything as “feminine” either.
    I’m not even sure exactly how I “experience my gender” apart from the way others treat me, which is an external and socially malleable issue.

    I just experience stuff as ME. Which, since I am an individual, I’ve noticed generally means that I experience things at least subtly differently than everyone else.

    I’ve always had the had the same reaction to hearing the words “masculine” and “feminine” as I have had to hearing the word “spiritual.” I’ve always heard them as nonsense made-up words with no real meaning apart from the generally negative ones that people who believe that those words are useful find as the appropriate use for them.

    My impression of the word “feminine” has always meant pink lacy frilly things imposed on females whether they like them or not by others who have decided for them that that’s what they need to be like.

    My first love was amazingly wondrously intoxicatingly female and not at all “feminine.” She didn’t have anything resembling “traditional femininity” (and would have said so herself..) but she had plenty of femaleness.

    I’ve always associated “masculine” with braggadocio and posturing, bluffing, emotional denial and high-school dumbassery.

    I’m male, big enough that for some strange reason people occasionally are intimidated by me, and have never for a moment thought of the word “masculine” as applying to me. I suppose what I have is some “maleness.”

    Unless you’re only talking about gender or genitalia. I do have a penis. I wouldn’t particularly call it masculine, it’s just a penis.

  12. says

    I dunno about the value of ‘reclaiming’ anything. But about this whole ‘what is masculinity?’ question, honestly, I really have to say at least this much:

    I’ve never had any real idea.

    It just has never seemed to me to be a particularly useful concept. Used descriptively or prescriptively, anything anyone’s ever come up with always seems to be so limiting and limited, and, besides this, so frankly beside the point of anything.

    I’ve always kinda bridled at any attempts to do it to me, too. To tell me: listen, you’re something called a guy, so you must do and think X…

    And forgive me as this turns into a whole Abe Simpson-scale endless yarn, but seriously, if we’re getting into the ‘girls are icky’ bullshit and faux-masculine shibboleths of that ilk, and prescriptions for your required behaviour as a Real Male™, I feel suddenly compelled to tell everyone about what it was like for me to go to kindergarten…

    Yes, seriously. Dunno if it’s typical, but that’s where I remember first seeing and hearing those, and seriously, they haven’t changed much since then, seems to me. And my experience of them, well, it’s funny…

    I had a somewhat isolated early childhood–raised rural, not a lot of friends of any sex around, my mom still at home–so I get to that first big room full of wooden blocks and construction paper, and somehow I hadn’t got the memo I wasn’t supposed to be friends with girls…

    So three of my closer friends when I get to school age, from the beginning, were girls. No one had told me quickly enough they shouldn’t be, and that just kinda happened. But then fairly early on after this development the typical ‘girls are icky’ stuff rears its head in the classroom and the playground, and there’s all these boys who’re bounding up to tell the new weird kid there’s something wrong with this. They’re saying this crap about how no, boys aren’t supposed to do that, boys aren’t supposed to play with girls, and some of ’em are going beyond this to saying girls are icky or dumb or whatever…

    I was a bloody minded person even then, I guess. It sounded stupid, and I liked my current friends better than the demonstrably confused losers making such pronouncements and mostly just thought that what I was noticing so far about the only obvious difference about girls was many of ’em were really rather pretty (I wonder if I may have been a mite precocious this way), so I ignored it. Beyond that, I remember thinking very early on something roughly like: if that’s what being a boy is supposed to be, screw that anyway; I’ll just be what I already am, whatever that is. Indeed, I really don’t like these ‘boy’ creatures much, whatever it is they’re calling themselves. They seem kinda snotty and rude and none too bright, these ones with all the ideas about how I’m supposed to be, especially.

    And I can honestly say that generally I’ve had this attitude through most of my life.

    Anyway, I think it labelled me very young, set me up a certain way. And here’s a funny thing about that: I can honestly say I’ve probably actually repeated maybe two or three deliberately demeaningly sexist locker room type jokes in my whole life. But before anyone starts imagining this was out of some deep conviction to feminism or general sense of justice or great moral courage, well…

    Well, no. Not mostly. There might have been a bit of that, but in my case, I think it was at least as much just that I always felt like I wouldn’t fool anybody anyway. I always felt like people would see right through me if I tried anything like that–like they would see I was just trying to pass for native, and there was no way it was ever going to fly. Like, seriously, dude, tell the sexist joke like you’re one of the guys if you like, but it sounds ridiculous: everybody in here practically thinks you are an honourary girl anyway.

    (You probably know the type. Skinny and sorta odd and kinda arty/geeky kid who gets presumed gay a lot through grade school, so, again, not exactly ever ‘one of the guys’, even if I wanted to be, and I probably have even heard rather less of it that some of the rest of you, too… as it’s my guess some of those guys at least would have been a bit more cautious about repeating that stuff in my company… As I almost was mixed company to them.)

    But even after I grew up and filled out a bit and we got to adolesence and the notion that guys might be interested in the company of girls gets a little more nuanced (or just confused) than simply ‘girls are icky’, at which point such assumptions about my sexuality fell off a bit (caveat: I’m not sure it ever could have been that honestly described as being about my ‘sexuality’, as I have to wonder if most of those calling me ‘fag’ prior to that even knew what that meant… I often suspect in retrospect they may have figured it just meant someone who preferred girls to toy trucks), and I did get dealt into the locker room talk a bit more, I think I still had a lot of that attitude. Didn’t want to hear it, mostly thought of it as just incredibly tediously forced and cliché and unimaginative and dully, deadeningly juvenile. I’ve long loved that line from Susie Derkins in Calvin and Hobbes, where she does a sideways ‘yeah, you and your lot will be begging us pathetically for a date soon enough’ to one of Calvin’s standard ‘girls are icky’ speeches. Strangely, I think that was always kinda my attitude, too, even very early on. As in: who do you think you’re kidding, pal? Icky? As if, and as if you even really think that. My six year old sensibilities might not have had any clue as to how that whole stupid thing got started, but I remember thinking at the time that probably the main reason the apprentice sexists in my company were parrotting those lines was because they didn’t want to lose their own precious ‘guy’ status, and were so desperate for approval from their mob that they’d spit it out reflexively when cued, like Pavlov’s dog. And later I started to get the idea a little more concretely it was probably mostly fear talking: what a drag, you poor dear, that now you might actually have actually to talk to women, thanks to the changing expectations of coming sexual maturity; I suppose now if you protest loudly enough what useless crap they are you’ll feel maybe a little less pathetic when the first fifty of ’em in a row reject your pimply entreaties…

    Ah, I’m going on. But seriously, moving this finally out of grade and high school: there’s little or nothing more incredibly fucking ridiculous in the world that a book written to say how a real man behaves or a real woman behaves. I mean, I’m really pretty sure I’m real, at any rate–I seem to be a physical object and indeed a fairly solid object through which the visible wavelengths of light do not generally shine and upon which gravity acts more or less as you’d expect, and I think I know enough biology to confirm that I’m physically male, at least. And I behave how I do. So there you go. Real and male and mostly from this I think I can confirm that ‘real males’™ mostly think books with content of that ‘guys do x’ nature are best used to level out uneven furniture, or to get the kindling going if we happen to need a fire to warm the house.

    Or, more to the point: sensible people think that. Male and female probably doesn’t so much enter into it. Real people who happen to know enough people, and (and this is important) who talk to enough of them without trying to tell them how we think they should be acting that we know there’s all kinds and there’s men who knit and cook and women who play football and drive trucks, men who play cello and women who jump out of perfectly good airplanes for fun.

    So we know: it’s just not that interesting to us or useful to us to generalize, never really has been. Forgive me if this sounds all cliché or Hallmark, but it’s really the way of it: we’ve got our hands full living our lives, and we’re mostly busy being us. I’ve no doubt that my sex and my gender and my sexual preference and so on are pretty huge parts of my identity, but as if you’re going to take how any of that actually adds up to me in the real world and boil it down to a prescription or generalize descriptively much beyond the barest parts of those definitions…

    So here’s a crazy idea, even: before you try to tell me what a man is, how ’bout you ask me what I am?

    Do that, and act like you’re actually listening, and I might even try to tell you. But whether or not I bother, the thing is, if you’re getting your information about me from vapid pop culture ‘real men do x’ columns, or just from background cultural assumptions that are supposed to set some kind of ideal or boundaries, well, then, odds are, it’s really me who should be talking about it, anyway, see?

    As, if that’s where you’re getting your information, I probably know a fair bit more about being me than you do.

  13. PatrickG says

    @ Dave:

    But as a matter of everyday fact, most men experience their gender as masculine

    Leaving aside the questions of blurred boundaries that other commenters are much more competent to handle than I am (being that born-on-triple straight white male type), this part actually resonated with me. Now, you may have meant something completely different, but here’s no not-at-all eloquent thoughts:

    I experience/define my gender in a way that is heavily influenced by extremely powerful social forces. “Masculinity” is something that I’ve been taught, that I’ve learned, and that I internalized at a very young age, with further development as I matured (ongoing today, really).

    Being male informs my identity and my actions, and my heuristic tools tend to default to a binary system of masculine-female as imprinted from a very early age. And I don’t really like that, because in a great number of ways I am decidedly not “masculine”.

    So when you ask whether or not it’s worthwhile to reclaim masculinity, I’m on the fence. On the one hand, I find the schema to be reductionist and not particularly useful. On the other hand, I find the prospect of completely reprogramming my early-wired mentation a rather difficult and frightening prospect.

  14. PatrickG says

    As a follow up statement, I will say that I “get” on some level the vitriol and hatred that at least some of the haters are producing. I’m not very far out of the woods as far as early programming goes, and I’m constantly faced with almost fight-or-flight internal responses when something I haven’t yet come to terms with is brought to my attention*.

    I find it entirely consistent and believable that a lot of people are forced into a situation where they seriously need to reevaluate their basic responses to the world, and confronting that decision can be painful. Some people just instinctively shy away from it (flight), while some people double down (fight).

    Of course, I’m not defending their methodology of examination here. If my amateur psychology is correct, it’s beyond ridiculous for them to describe themselves as rational.

    And that was my 4 cents, over two posts.

    * Though on a personal note, it feels damn good to know that at least some of my ingrained training really has responded quite well to forceful self-correction via introspection and research. I shall now pat myself on the back, then slap myself in the face to remind myself there’s more to be done.

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