Thinking and Masculinity

What an optimistic vision of masculinity in the new issue of Studies in Gender and Sexuality. In her article, “Masculinity as a Center, Centered Masculinity,” Susan B. Parlow writes of the men she sees:

White, heterosexual, well-educated, affluent, and in their early 20s, these “insider” men could be seen as the canonical center of American culture. They were expected by parents, teachers, friends and selves to master our ways and ascend to privileges, powers, and rewards—heading major companies, holding positions in government, marrying well. Even so, in each analysis “how to be a man” was in some way an organizing question. Each man identified some personally sticky feature of traditional masculinity—dominance in relationship, refusal to feel emotions, resisting vulnerability, preferring the instrumental to the aesthetic—and adopted the task of changing it. They were aware that our social imaginary of the masculine is stressed and challenged. They were viscerally in conversation with others whose political criticisms were directed straight at them.

To what strange constituency of men does she refer, you may ask? Men in therapy, of course. This supports a position I have held for a while that the “solution” to masculinity is chiefly a thinking exercise. And therapy forces you to think.

My feeling is that a lot of the pathological aspects of normative masculinity are not down to proactive decisions, rather an absence of thought. Of course, that’s not to say that thinking about masculinity always results in useful conclusions, as evidenced by the feminist backlash from some men’s rights groups. However, on the whole I believe that genuinely thinking about masculinity—perhaps for the first time—is a key variable in the way forward.

It may be that this is why gay men often have more nuanced understandings of masculinity than straight men: not due to anything inherent in “gayness,” simply that gay men have been forced by society more than straight men to think deeply about their identity.