Tuesday, February 28, 2006

When Did It Go Wrong for Men?

Before we start, can I just say how weird it is to be thinking about Carl Sandburg while walking Mrs. Wigglebottom only to come in and find that Ryan wrote about Carl Sandburg last night? Am I reading his mind? Is he reading mine? If so, poor Ryan. I give the impression that my mind is constantly racing with kinky things, but really, it's a lot about whether the cats have food and if I remembered to turn the stove off. Anyway, I was thinking about men this morning. Actually, I was thinking about an offhanded comment that Exador made a long time ago* about me being one of those women who can't make up their minds about what they want in terms of men. I don't think this is true, only because I've never sat down and articulated for myself what I wanted in a man, so I'm not sure one could then fairly say I've changed my mind. But I was watching some show on MTV2 this weekend about the crisis of black masculinity and how all these black entertainers grew up without positive male role models, especially fathers. I'm not going to argue with that or dispute it; I don't want to get off track. But it seems to me that the problem is larger than that--that it's not clear for anyone what it means to be a man and how to transmit those values to young boys. Instead, we have, I think, what Snoop accurately observed, boys teaching boys how to be men. When did it go wrong for men? I know some of you have your fingers hovering right above the "f" key, ready as soon as I'm done to blame the feminists for the muddle that is trying to figure out what being a man means and how to be it. But I was thinking about the men in my family and what that must have been like for my great grandfather to be raising his family in an old house that was also a chicken coop and barn on the land of some other man. That's what got me thinking of Carl Sandburg--"Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs." There was a moment when being a man meant being Midwestern, or like a Midwesterner. And for a generation of men, sandwiched between the Wars, being Midwestern meant failing--that you would do everything you could, work from sun up to sun down, and there wouldn't be enough money or the crops would fail or the bank would close anyway. We've never had to face this head on, because the story we tell is that we "fixed" the Depression by saving the world and coming home and having a bunch of babies and throwing our energy into fighting communism. But I think that knowledge is still there, itching at the back of our brains, that you can do everything a man is supposed to do and you can still have to pack up your 12 year old son's meager belongings and send him out to fend for himself because you can't feed him. I mean, I think that implicit in the definition of "man" is a guy who provides for the people he cares about. The Depression made that impossible for a lot of American men. But the story we tell never acknowledges that. And I think that remains a large problem. So, I guess this is a long way around to asking what do you think makes a man? And how do you learn those things? And what do you do when those things don't work? *I do this--you say stuff to me you don't mean for me to take too seriously, and I do. Nashville Knucklehead said to me the other day "Why do you feel so guilty?" In context, it made sense. But something struck me about it in a larger sense, too. I don't have an answer, but I'm chewing on it.

25 Comments:

Blogger Um...why? said...

First the obvious sexual classification stuff that makes us Male is required.

After that I guess there are traits and characteristics that set Men apart from Boys. I imagine you will get a lot of different comments, but here are my requirements, at least the biggies:

Personal Responsibility and Accountability - Being accountable for your actions, not constantly blaming someone else for your failings, as well as doing the things you know to be your responsibility.

Social Responsibility – Acting as an adult, treating others with respect and dignity. Knowing your boundaries and acting within them. Being socially acceptable within your peer group (this last phrase allows for lifestyle differences which don’t make you any more or less a man.)

Emotional Responsibility – Being in control of your emotional condition, not allowing your emotions to denote your character. It is ok to cry, it is ok to get angry, sad, whatever, but it is not ok for a man to act like a 4 year old and throw a tantrum when they don’t get their way. That is not emotional responsibility.

So basically, I think the concept of being a man comes down to one thing, responsibility. There are obvious things that don’t make you a man that unfortunately some people in our society confuse for manhood like, getting someone pregnant, or beating up a woman, or committing a crime, or owning some weapon or other piece of property, or turning 16, 18, 21, 25, or any other age for that matter. None of these things make you a man. Oh, but they do make you responsible for them…it is how you handle it after most of these things that determines your manhood.

How do you learn them? Well, you either have good role models such as fathers, uncles, grands, brothers, friends, or you find role models elsewhere. I do not belong to the group that says if you grew up without a father than you are somehow entitled to be screwed up because you didn’t have that male figure in your life. I believe that in this world, there are plenty of people for you to try and use as a role model, and if you are interested, you will find a good male figure to be that model for you. If you act like an idiot, an idiot is probably what you are going to find as a model and you are bound for his same fate. These characteristics can also be found in most accepted religions, as well as most respected historic individuals so you can learn from books and from school.

The great thing is these characteristics always work. No, they may not always work the way you want them too, but they always work. They always show the character of a man, and that is what it is all about.

2/28/2006 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

But see, that's why I think the Depression is such an interesting historical moment, because even men who wanted to be responsible could not be.

Although, now that I think about it, maybe it comes in that moment before--with the Lost Generation--and men like Hemingway and Pound and Fitzgerald.

I think that resonates (not just because it brings us back to the Midwesterners), because it brings us back to modernism in general.

How is one a man in the face of machines?

And to that end, it makes sense. I mean, if we're still duking it out over what happened during the Enlightenment, it makes sense that we'd still be struggling to understand how men are men in the face of industry.

2/28/2006 09:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Sarcastro said...

The Big Lebowski: Isn't that what makes a man?
The Dude: Mmm, sure. That and a pair of testicles.

2/28/2006 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger cafiend said...

All embryos start as female until somthing kicks in for some of them and they convert to male. So every male could be viewed as a woman with a birth defect.

2/28/2006 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Sarcastro said...

...And every woman could be considered an unevolved male.

2/28/2006 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger cafiend said...

The fact that men have nipples proves the Eve was the original and Adam the derivative.

2/28/2006 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Sarcastro said...

Once again, men being the higher evolved form of human, only retain the vestigal remnants of their less advanced predecessor.

2/28/2006 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger cafiend said...

Or they've degenerated. But really, it's all in fun.

2/28/2006 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

I turn my back for five seconds and y'all have reverted back to the Early Modern Era? Seriously, I think the last time I heard the "there's only one sex and men are the true expression of it while women are just defective men" was during the Inquisition.

2/28/2006 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger Um...why? said...

I think your argument about the Depression is interesting, but it only seems to affect the man financially in my mind. I understand the psychic ramifications of a man not being about to provide positively for his family, I’ve lived that to some extent, but it doesn’t reduce him from man status, as being a man in my mind has less to do with financial capability as it does to making the effort. Any man who is burdened by his inability to provide and struggles with a second job or whatever to try and do it is in fact showing an extreme amount of responsibility, therefore in my mind playing up his …um…”manliness?”

I’m not really sure I understand the “men are men in the face of industry” or “machines” as I don’t think they play a role. I think the standard is set, regardless of the circumstances. See, that is the great thing about it, it works regardless of environment, culture, status, financial situation, etc. The “responsibility model” for lack of a better term works no matter the issues you place before it. Did that make any sense at all?

2/28/2006 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Sarcastro said...

You last heard it during the Inquisition?
Somebody's lying about her age.

2/28/2006 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Exador said...

And to that end, it makes sense. I mean, if we're still duking it out over what happened during the Enlightenment, it makes sense that we'd still be struggling to understand how men are men in the face of industry.

There's still plenty of industry, it's just that transistors have replaced flywheels. I know this as I go blind trying to figure why my circuit won't work.

I hope my manliness isn't on the line.

2/28/2006 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger cafiend said...

Hey, I said men are defectve women. But it's just a bit of comedy. The truth is far more complex, as usual. David M.'s bit about responsibility isn't what makes a man, it's what makes an adult. Manliness or womanliness being inexact qualities (sexuality on a continuum), you have to decide what to do with the particular plumbing you have been issued and with the visceral promptings you receive related to it.

2/28/2006 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger W said...

One thing that makes a man is knowing how to handle the joys of excess testosterone. The main products of testosterone are muscle and sex drive. It ain't a pretty combination on someone that abuses the former in order to satisfy the latter.

2/28/2006 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger indifferent children said...

How is one a man in the face of machines?
By owning as many of those shiny, useless, whirlygigs as possible!

Instead of the Depression (I agree that the man trying hard to get a job to support his family is not less of a man), to find the diminishment of manhood, look forty years later. It's not the Big-F directly, but the Big-D (no, not those big D's). The rise of Divorce has done more than the Depression to strip men of their ability to protect and provide-for their families.

And the nature of the change wrought by divorce is more final. During the Depression, a man could try to get a job. But when the judge bangs the gavel and says that a man will never see his children again, you can't fight that.

It seems to me that this has weakened the obligation that men feel toward their families (wives and children). If it's not "till death do us part", then why should it be "in sickness and in health"? After divorce, men are likely to wash their hands of the children who are legally no longer theirs. Perhaps this is why deadbeat dads are common.

2/28/2006 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Yes, but happy marriages rarely end in divorce. So, to say that everything was fine with manhood until divorce became more easily available ignores the ways that the difficulty of getting divorced masked many a fucked up situation.

2/28/2006 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger Sarcastro said...

Divorce means never having to say you're sorry.

2/28/2006 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger indifferent children said...

I wasn't saying that divorce should be hard to get (a different issue). The core of the problem is that fact that divorce is very common, not that it is so easy. Drawing the conclusion that easy divorce must equal common divorce is outside the scope of my statement.

The key (as david m. said) is responsibility. Staying and supporting a family is no longer a man's responsibility (ok, I exaggerate, but you see what I mean).

2/28/2006 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger Nashville Knucklehead said...

Nashville Knucklehead said to me the other day "Why do you feel so guilty?" In context, it made sense.

What I said was, "Why do you feel so kilty?" as I was smacking your plaid wool school girl skirt. It did make perfect sense at the time.

That was being a man.

2/28/2006 08:50:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

God, I'm glad you're back

2/28/2006 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger Um...why? said...

Are you picking on my Kilt?!!!!

And just because I wear a skirt doesn't make me any less of a man.

3/01/2006 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow - one thoughtful answer so far.

i tend in real life to take too long to say things, so as a part of trying to grow up, let me be brief - a real man is someone who hasn't been changed or diminished by the social movements that have turned most men (who, like most *people*) are weak.

there.

brian

3/02/2006 12:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ugh - that last sentence needs editing.

----- corrected copy ---------

wow - one thoughtful answer so far.

i tend in real life to take too long to say things, so as a part of trying to grow up, let me be brief - a real man is someone who hasn't been changed or diminished by the social movements that have turned most men (who are, like most *people*) weak.

there.

brian

3/02/2006 12:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so, now that i've given the terse answer, let me elaborate just a wee bit. the weakness that i'm talking about manifests itself by causing men to question themselves in light of cultural references that suggest we are either evil or bumbling fools/useless tools in the mode of the typical sitcom. feminism is an easy scapegoat, but it's about analyzing aggregate behaviors rather than labeling any individual person as good or bad, and any man that is threatened by it just doesn't understand it or has a guilty conscience. the world is ready to hurt all of us, and men certainly don't face a more hurtful message than women (and it's not even close). women have been dealing with this for centuries, yet strong women have understood themselves for the duration. strong men will too, and will always form an identity founded on deeply held principles that aren't threatened just because tv ads turn dad into a joke.

3/02/2006 12:55:00 AM  
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