Sunday, November 23, 2008

Avatars, arm-wrestling and washboard abs

by Roscoe Cafaro

I have been reading Equal Writes for a while now and multiple times there have been posts about how women should appreciate their bodies more. That’s sweet, no doubt, though I must say, as a guy there is just as much pressure, if not more, too not only look strong, but be strong so you can defend yourself or assert your manliness or whatever, God only knows why. Obviously this is inherently tied with how men view women, seeing as the most common insult on a weak-perceived male is the term “pussy;” honestly the effeminacy speaks for itself.

I was originally going to post about how X-Box has recently come out with an update that allows you to create your own avatar [an electronic image that represents and is manipulated by a computer user (as in a computer game) for those who don’t know what an avatar is]. This avatar can be completely customized and can actually look remarkably like you (If anyone wants to come and see mine, it’s pretty awesome, not gonna lie).

But earlier today, I changed my mind, because earlier today I was at Breaking Down Barriers, a Down syndrome conference that brings some two to three hundred children with down syndrome and pairs them with student volunteers for a day of fun and revelry (and exhaustion!). One of the most interesting aspects of the syndrome, particularly for those who have a very mild form of it, is the fact that they find it very hard to pick up on social cues as they grow up. In fact, many customs we take for granted, such as anything to do with sexuality and defecation, for them, have to be taught in a classroom.

I preface with this because it was not that surprising that some of the teenagers in the group were well aware of their budding hormones (“I like girls!” they would say). All kids that age are bound to be awkward and are no doubt in the process of building their self-esteem. However, my buddy, a 16 year-old named Max, met me in the Friend Center around 12:30 this afternoon, and by 12:45 he was arm-wrestling just about anything that had arms. The guy lifts weights and was actually stronger, while not bigger looking, than me. He would roll up his sleeves to show off his muscles, and soon, boys started flexing at each other and arm-wrestling each other. As they do wherever there are teenage boys and anything with boobs, things started to escalate; not to the point of fights but certainly to the point of accusing cheaters, trying to intentionally hurt the person who had beaten them and getting angry and agitated all around. It was such a clear alpha-male-type situation that it resembled a pride of lions fighting for that coveted spot.

It had been such a long time since I interacted with teenagers that I had almost forgotten whether this was the type of situation kids without Down syndrome face, or whether this was unique to the syndrome. When I spoke with one of the professors there that specialized in abnormal psychology, he shattered what I thought to be a clear win for biological aggression and survival of the fittest. Apparently, kids with Down syndrome are especially susceptible to media, particularly normative media such as advertisements and movies, and they are very much influenced by what society prescribes (for example, he explained that kids with Down syndrome do not judge the beauty of models; rather they take it as an authoritative claim about beauty).

One has to wonder how much society is pressuring men to go to the gym for that cut muscle, to strive for expensive signaling goods, and to feel like they have to dominate all other men around them physically for fear of losing their “mate.” A lot of people come out of an experience with Down syndrome “learning a lot” and “with more open eyes,” mostly because they realize that those kids are people too and they are really not that different from us. It was a bit more unsettling for me to realize that what I’ve learned is only that we are not so different from them. By the way, I hate using an “us and them” mentality - we are all people after all, no matter how disabled. Nonetheless, it allows me to make the point that we are just as susceptible to societal pressures, if not more so, than people with Down syndrome.


At November 23, 2008 at 11:49 PM , Blogger Courtny said...

The pressure for men to conform to a highly idealized, unrealistic masculine ideal is another clear sign for the importance and relevance of feminism. By questioning gendered standards and expectations for both men and women, in ourselves and in our culture, hopefully we can begin the process of making peace with our bodies and each other.


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