by Kelly Roache
This past week, Judith Warner’s Domestic Disturbances blog featured a piece condemning the usage of terms like “gay, ” “fag,” “queer,” and “homo” as insults. It would seem as if this were nothing new, and an argument most reasonable individuals could come to a consensus on, except for the spin that Warner puts on the issue: her argument is not that these terms are symptomatic of homophobia, as protested by myriad gay activist groups, but rather something else. “Being called a ‘fag,’ you see,” she writes, “actually has almost nothing to do with being gay. It’s really about showing any perceived weakness or femininity…It’s what being called a ‘girl’ used to be, a generation or two ago.”
Warner’s hypothesis – that is, that boys carry with them an arresting fear of appearing emasculated – raises a disturbing question in light of the success of the feminist movement. Why has the spectrum of femininity broadened, while that of masculinity has remained ironclad? “It’s weird, isn’t it, that in an age in which the definition of acceptable girlhood has expanded, so that desirable femininity now encompasses school success and athleticism, the bounds of boyhood have remained so tightly constrained?” Why do university programs create special provisions to attract women engineers and scientists, while male nurses are still snickered at (whether in Meet the Parents or daily conversation)? This nearly compulsive reaffirmation of traditional masculinity is galvanized by CNN’s “bromance” article from last week; defined as “a close, non-sexual relationship between two heterosexual males,” the bromance proved to be a cause of chagrin to the female author’s interviewees. While one “nervously stammered…and made it a point to profess his love for women repeatedly,” another said he would only tell his male friends that he loved them “if I was drunk.”
Such comments serve to support Warner’s argument. It’s not that attraction to members of the same sex is problematic, bur rather the perceived feminine characteristics that come with it. Why do high-school aged girls embrace playful allegations of their friends as “lovers,” while boys follow any questionable comment with the qualifier, “no homo”? More than just being puzzlingly exclusionary, when we shun anything outside of masculine norms, everyone loses. As said Paul Rudd, star of the recent bromance-depicting film I Love You, Man, “Sometimes buddies hold a mirror up to the way you behave in ways that relationships with the opposite sex don’t.” By “policing” each other’s behavior with anti-gay language, men deprive themselves of practical emotional exchanges. I think most women would agree that having men who are more open about their feelings is good thing, too.
Throughout history, there has never been an authentic “masculism” movement, maybe because it was never needed to maintain the status quo. But as feminism blossomed in the 19th and 20th centuries, our complacency about the male role festered into today’s ever more narrowly defined condition. With the advent of metrosexuality, where a growing contingent of men are more comfortable grooming, manicuring, and accessorizing, and the bromance pop-culture craze (Scrubs? How I Met Your Mother? Superbad?), maybe it’s time for masculism to make its debut. It’s time to end the double standard; just as we face the pressures of “having it all,” men are told to be masculine, yet sensitive, successful in the workplace, yet with copious time for their families and for us. And maybe, in a way, the struggle for a broader definition of masculinity brings the problem back to feminism. If men are shunned for displaying distinctly feminine characteristics, it is only because these traits are still seen as inferior. Still relevant, feminism and vigilance against misogyny will be critical tools in masculism’s broader quest for equality.