Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

April 9, 2010

A Response to "Manning Up"

Surely this is tongue-in-cheek asks commentor Paul in response to Julian's post, Manning Up, which described the new retro-sexual manliness. He goes on to say:
Are we really taking our cues on what is masculine from the National Cattleman's Beef Association and Old Spice advertisements? I think skinny jeans are a dumb fad too but I would reject the idea that alternative is to reach for naive cliches.

As a man, I'm certain that masculinity is about more than this kind of nonsense. I open doors for my fiancee, I've got plenty of hair on my chest, but I don't eat beef since I'm a vegetarian. I also don't care for all the synthetic chemicals or artificial smell of Old Spice.
These kinds of stereotypical narratives go along way to obscure the true nature of masculinity. We don't like it when femininity is abused by bad stereotypes and marketing campaigns, etc. Why do we tolerate it for men?

No, this is not a rediscovery of masculinity, but an avoiding of the question by substituting nostalgia for all the crap that has been pushed by pop-culture in recent years.

I'll go out on a limb here (since every woman I know has been quoting this article and praising it left right and center), and say: Paul is right.

Don't get me wrong: I like to know guys who can fix cars, and who dress snappily (or ruggedly). I don't have much experience with metro-sexual guys--but I do know a lot of wimpy guys--guys who, when my battery died on my car, just stood there watching, totally unable to help. But more than that, I like guys who would open doors for me, who takes responsibility for their actions, and in whose presence I feel like a lady. I like gentlemen.

It is foolish to assume that just because a man smells like Old Spice and gets a straight razor shave that he is more of a gentleman. Miss Manners often confronts a similar predicament in her writings about manners. She never writes about mores; etiquette turns a blind eye to questions of morality, so long as immorality is discreet and mannerly. Now, Miss Manners would be the first to place etiquette in a substantial moral system, the two sets of principles dancing side by side in our lives--but she will not make moral judgements. Therefore, a perfect cad might also be a perfect gentlemen, according to the letter of the law of etiquette.

I see a similar thing going on here. People like McKay, who runs the Art of Manliness, seem to me to be on the right path: his blog encourages virtue as well as skill, prudence as well as courage. Their top posts in their "Relationship & Family" section are things like "Being the rock" and "How to Apologize Like a Man" and "How to be a Great Godfather"--not "how to avoid commitment" or "how to get some when she's holding out on me." This, it seems to me, is a good thing.

But to put that return to civility and gentlemanly (both in manners and mores) behavior in the context of fashion and "just another social movement" is a failure to understand what is really going on. If Mad Men is our barometer of masculinity, we're in real trouble.

Which is not to say that fashion doesn't have a role to play. The power suits of women in the 80s actually did what they set out to do: intimidate the male board members and vps enough so that women were taken seriously in business, rather than condescended to as just another skirt. (I am awfully glad that that road has been forged so that I can wear skirts to the office. I hate power suits, and don't really like pantsuits either.) But we'd be foolish to think that powersuits equal the worth of the modern woman. (And, for that matter, if I had to choose between a slightly chauvinistic Mad Man and the effeminate Rob Pattinson...I'd pick the one who can hold his whiskey and wears a snappy tie, for sure.)

In the article, McKay had my favorite line: "It's a man who looks to the past for inspiration about what it means to be a man, taking the best from that time and leaving the cultural garbage, like sexism, racism, and homophobia, behind." We can take Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant as our guides, certainly. And also St. Peter and the chivalrous knights and Dante and maybe a touch of Super Man, too. With all these men, take what is good and make it your own.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails