Where have all the real men gone, laments Bryony Gordon?
Well, if you are looking for a knight in shining armour, a Heathcliff, a Mr Darcy or, lets cut to the chase, the freaking cavemen that Gordon appears to favour, then you might indeed be in trouble. Gordon bemoans the disappearance of such figures, which makes this Panther desire to whack her own head against the wall. Because when Gordon wails “where have all the real men gone”, she really means she’s a wee bit freaked out by the fading strength of gender stereotypes over both men and women. And however much she and her editors might pretend this is a puff piece, a wee little column designed to fill in gaps in the newspapers that they couldn’t sell to advertisers, Gordon’s column is harmful and dangerous and represents a worrying rise in attacks against men who dare to move beyond traditional masculine definitions of themselves.
Well that was a satisfying rant. When I started writing this Panther Responds column, it began with a bit of humour (or my brand thereof, which tends towards the dad-jokes. Oh and overuse of brackets). This seemed an easy column to write, a boring and stupid newspaper article to take the piss out of. But once again my inner Cranky Feminaust emerged and holy God did I end up pissed off about the stupid gender stereotypes that inform such writing. And pissed off that when newspapers need filler, this is the kind of stuff they produce.
Gordon’s evidence that men are losing the manliness is that the archetypal Aussie Bloke, Shane Warne, has lost weight and wears make-up (who would have thought it from a man moving away from sport and into a media career?); that Bill Clinton has become a vegan and, again, lost weight (you think his heart attacks and multiple bypasses might have encouraged such behavior?); and that Hugh Laurie, a grumpy British actor, is now the face of L’Oreal moisturizer (is grumpy seriously a definition of manliness? Because I would like to then nominate myself as the most Manly Man who ever Manned a Manly.) The other characteristics of masculinity are equally as ridiculous; for Warnie it was not his sporting prowess, but rather his history as a “philanderer who romped with two models and a blow up doll”. For Clinton? Not his presidency of the United States, but rather of course, his role as a “seducer of interns”.
So already I’m a rolling my eyes, of course, because I really don’t see manliness or masculinity as defined by an inability to control one’s sexual urges or be grumpy. To be honest, I think more of most men then that. The important word in Gordon’s writing is, I believe, “real”; and from Gordon’s rather comprehensive list of what a not-real man is, it becomes pretty clear that another word for “not-real man” is “feminized man”. (Holy shit, did you guys know our vaginas were contagious??) These feminized men go to tanning salons, use hair-straighteners and hair-dryers; they practice yoga and use moisturizer. And that causes civilization to collapse. Or something.
I couldn’t give a crap if the men in my life do or do not use moisturizer. Or hair straighteners. I don’t judge their worth, nor their love or affection for me based on their devotion to hunting, or philandering, or monosyllabism. And I don’t judge Warnie on his spruiking for Hair Replacement Treatment (rather I base his worth on his bowling average of 25 and his over 700 hundred test wickets and for reinventing spin bowling in Australian and BUM sorry, darling editor-of-mine, Mselouise, I was trying to stay away from the Warnie love!!). Cough. Anyway, yes, much like the measure of a woman is not in her hair-cut and mascara application, whether men straighten their hair or moisturize does not say anything about their individual worth, or their relationships with me.
There has been a decades long campaign by women and men to ensure that women were allowed to step outside the traditional female role, which demanded being a wife and mother. We have fought to be defined by something other than our beauty or lack there of, and many men support that fight. We still fight to escape the social pressure to abandon ourselves utterly to a single romantic love, to give birth in a socially acceptable way and to legitimate the awesomeness of sex that doesn’t aim at the production of children. And here’s the thing about gender roles, though – they are as restrictive for men as for women, and Gordon’s article is a prime example of how the pressures exerted on women for so long can be used against men.
Despite the joking tone of this article, Gordon ends up using stereotypes of manliness against men, recreating the logic that was used to attack working women, and single mums, and well, all women, for decades. She infantalizes men and then mocks those who step outside of her image of masculinity. What is particularly insidious about such articles is the way they pretend to be tongue in cheek, as if there are really making forward, progressive statements. Gordon first set up these men as feminized sissies, she then turns around, pats them on the head ,and basically coo’s at them ‘naw, whose a smoopy whoopy? It’s ok wittle baby! You want some moisturizer? Dere you go!’, because, darn it, it’s just soooo cute when men blush when we catch them with moisturizer. Just like it was soooo cute when women blushed if a man got a ‘bit fresh’. Or saw an ankle. Gordon writes “perhaps we should [be] changing our views of girly men”, and reassures men who moisturize that “its really ok”. Panther calls bullshit. Gordon doesn’t want these things to become accepted male behaviors; equal rights to moisturizer, already a pretty dodgy qualitative measure, is not treated as a success but as evidence that men have been brought down to the level of women. The only equality Gordon sees is that men are now as feminized as women, and uh, sweetie, darling, love, that’s not quite the definition of equality most of us are working with. Or at least I hope not! I prefer to think that equality means that we can all decide for ourselves what we want out of life and how we pursue it.
You know where the good men, the real men, the grown up men are? One hates to sound like an utter freaking hippy, but they are all around us, struggling with the same issues as women. How to raise a family? How to organize and maintain relationships with family and friends? How to balance work and relaxing? How to resist stupid social obligations that require them to act a certain way? How to feel happy when they look in the mirror? You can take your real men, Gordon, your philandering, fat dickheads, and just bugger right off. Give me the men who struggle against gender roles and straighten their hair, worry about their health and have the art of conversation. I reckon they’ll be more interesting. And next time you are stuck for inspiration, don’t be so lazy as to fall back on gender stereotypes. It may give me great material to mock, but in the end it makes all our efforts harder.
Photo from flickr user S Baker, used under the Creative Common’s License.