You see, my original post was one of my more personal pieces, where I touched on my struggle with self-acceptance (as a rather sensitive person) in a culture highly influenced by what I described as the warrior-princess/damsel binary.
As a child, I believed that I needed to become emotionless in order to be strong, and masculine in order to be taken seriously. That’s why I find characters who are feminine and strong, like those often played by Zooey Deschanel, an encouraging presence in films and TV shows.
So, you can probably see why, being the sensitive person that I am, Gordon’s closing statement came off as a wee bit hurtful:
Deschanel states that “we can be powerful in our own way, our own feminine way” [emphasis added].
No you ****ing can’t.
From what I know of Gordon, he seems like a pretty good guy, so I’m going to act under the assumption that he was not writing an attack on my personal character, but rather a critique of the concept of feminine strength as represented by Deschanel. That critique is what I will be responding to in the points below. If you don’t watch New Girl, then be aware, there are spoilers below.
1. The Critique Begins with Flawed Logic
I have to thank one of our most faithful commenters, Rosie, for pointing out the “strawman argument” made in Gordon’s critique. In “In Defense of the Warrior-Princess” Gordon describes traditionally feminine characteristics using words like “submissive” and “weak”, words that neither I, nor Deschanel used to describe femininity. Using these sort of terms creates a false dichotomy between my argument and his.
He also claims that Deschanel plays “ditzy, emotional, pathologically neurotic” characters “who don’t need no man to help them”. He includes a crying gif of Jessica Day, the character Deschanel plays in New Girl as evidence.
This isolated gif ignores the wider context of the show, where every single character deals with their day-to-day life in a “ditzy, emotional, pathologically neurotic” sort of way.
It also ignores how New Girl is not at all about being the kind of person “who don’t need no man”. Instead, this show demonstrates how relationships lead to personal growth. It also shows how every person sits somewhere on a spectrum between sensitive and stoic, and how both of these traits are essential to becoming a healthy individual. Continue reading →
In her post, Kat referenced this quote by actress Zoey Deschanel:
This idea- that women were or are pressured to be “men”- isn’t a new one. Plenty of folks have made the same observation and there is absolutely truth to that. In fact, we’ve even managed to turn it into a trope at this point, the “warrior-princess”. Continue reading →
I used to cry a lot as a kid. A lot. I had all the feels and I didn’t know what to do with them.
I was also a pretty uncoordinated kid. I mean, nothing spectacular (I only broke a couple bones), but enough to make me suck at the only thing that mattered in elementary school: winning stuff. Being stuck as “it” for hours at a time in grounders or tag really gets the spirit low, so, as you might expect, I spent a lot of recesses crying.
My mom loves to tell this one story from back when she worked at my school. She had been helping a friend of mine with her homework one day and when this friend became frustrated she had reminded her that “Some people are good at spelling, some people are good at sports, etc. Everyone has something that they are good at, and everybody has something we need to work on.”
Later that day, I came dead last in a race (my mom likes to emphasize this part when she tells the story, often repeating herself with “and I mean dead last“). Anyways, after coming dead last in this race I retreated to a distance to cry my eyes out. This same friend of mine came over and put her arm around me. Then she started to tell me “You know Katherine, some people are good at spelling, some people are good at sports…”
You get the gist of it. I used to cry a lot. Then, one day on the playground, a kid called me a “cry-baby”. I don’t remember who it was, but I remember clenching my fists and swearing to myself “I will never cry again!” Continue reading →
GORDON: Moved by your incessant letters, as well as tearful pleas from more than one head of state, yours truly has returned for this and only this installment of Evan and Gordon Talk
You’re welcome, America.
EVAN: Truly, you are too gracious. [Also, we cater to an international readership].
This week the two of us will be discussing men and manliness [or masculinity]. Which makes perfect sense since we are, after all, men.
GORDON: MANLY men. We once made an axe using nothing but things we found in the woods. On the very same day, we built a grave for a drowned beaver.
EVAN: He is not lying. But, moving forward, one of the reasons I brought up this topic is because it’s loaded with possibilities. There’s the idea of the, for lack of a better term, the “Barney Stinson,” the fratbro who watches Spike TV day in and day and out, and this recent ad that appeared in The Times of India due to the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman [click on the image to visit an article on it].
GORDON: Well, let’s narrow down some the of core qualities that make a man a man. Or at least, commonalities in all cultures and subcultures of what “manliness” is.
EVAN: How about- the ability to provide for one’s family.
GORDON: We’ll take it. Ability to defend oneself, with either words or deeds?
EVAN: I think we could expand that to simply being physically able. Physicality means both being able to defend oneself and loved ones as well as attack others for whatever reason you might have.
GORDON: Assertiveness- that’s it. Not taking guff from any of these swine.
EVAN: Who exactly “these swine” are aside, I’d also like to suggest that, in essentially every culture out there, manliness is directly associated with heterosexuality.
GORDON: The Spartans, actually, were unbelievably gay. Heck, the entire basis of western civilization is pretty gay. I want to strike that one from the record; highly sexual would probably be a better statement.
EVAN: I’m gonna have to stick by it. The majority of cultures out there use the term homosexual derogatorily, I think it’s hard to look past it.
GORDON: I guess I’ll allow it. Tough. A man is tough. Stoic. Potentially emotionless.
EVAN: That sounds pretty good to me. Want to total them up? Really just list ’em all out for us.
GORDON: [AND THEN GORDON LISTEN THEM ALL]
A man is tough.
A man provides for his family [loved ones].
A man doesn’t take **** from anyone.
A man gets it on.
Scratch that last one and you have the stereotype of a black woman.
EVAN: Okay, now rate yourself by that list of qualities.
GORDON: I realize that there are billions of people out there who have hellish existences, but taking in what I’ve dealt with in my own life, I’d say I’m pretty tough.
EVAN: You’re definitely pretty emotionless.
GORDON: I don’t have a family, but I certain provide for myself, proud proletarian that I am.
I’ve yet to be in a situation I’ve been unable to diffuse diplomatically, but I certainly have my limits and lines that I will not allow to be crossed.
And I view my sexuality as my own business. I ain’t exactly good with the ladies (see the emotionless bit), but I also think anyone who judges a man’s worth by his sexual activity isn’t worth the time of day anyhow (see the “no taking crap from anyone” bit).
Yeah, I’m a man. Or a woman. It kinda falls apart.
EVAN: A man is tough: I’m a pretty emotional dude. I distinctly remember crying after I saw A Walk To Remember. I was also 13, but I guess that’s neither here nor there.
A man provides for his family: Like you, I don’t have a family. I live with my granddad, though to be fair I do take care of him, so I’m good in that area.
A man don’t take none: I am not a confrontational person. I also can’t say I’ve been in a fight-or-flight situation, though, This remains to be seen, I guess.
A man get it on: Since I live by a certain religious standard, I have not yet gotten it on. See my post on virginity. I am a virgin.
A man don’t take none: I am not a confrontational person. I also can’t say I’ve been in a fight-or-flight situation, though, This remains to be seen, I guess.
So how do we stack up as men by most cultural standards?
GORDON: I think we stack up well, all things considered.
EVAN: Okay, I just remembered why I wanted to discuss this topic in the first place, and it pertains to the last manly attribute on our list [the one that we both happened to fail]:
Click on the image to read it in a new tab.
GORDON: . . .
How exactly does one respond to that?
EVAN: I’d say an ellipsis sums it up pretty well.
GORDON: Yeah, I’m going to call BS on that. I couldn’t begin to list the number of men who were celibate and achieved more in their lives than this guy ever will.
EVAN: Which I agree with completely. It is pretty messed up, though, how many people [guys] live by this rule of thumb.
GORDON: I think the point remains that this isn’t any reasonable way to spend one’s existence. Nikola Tesla accomplished more than a week than I imagine this guy fishing on Omegle will in his lifetime.
EVAN: To take a line from your book, touché.
GORDON: Going back to the original list, the issue is that most of this could just as easily be said of a woman. I work with people who are in pretty rough situations. Many of the women I work with a single mothers, living below the poverty line, struggling to provide for their families. Pride is really the only thing they have left. They don’t take crap from anyone, and they can’t allow themselves to be dragged down by their circumstances. Are they “manly” woman?
EVAN: I’d say that they fit three of the four categories, but it depends largely on how you want to view the word “tough.” I felt like we sort of defined it as having to do with emotions, which, and I don’t think I’m spouting insanity right now, are something that women seem to be pretty in touch with. Which would then put them at 2/4, or half the qualities.
GORDON: Certainly we can agree that these women quietly endure crap that would have most white-collar executives curled up in the shower weeping.
Barring the issue of promiscuity, everything we’ve covered would be- by our standards today and most standards the world over- “womanly” characteristics.
EVAN: Including the predilection towards physicality and violence towards others?
GORDON: You ever fought a woman?
EVAN: You know neither of us have ever fought anyone.
GORDON: Speak for yourself. I studied Judo for five years, and I had my share of matches against female opponents.
EVAN: We’re talking actual fights, though. Not martial arts matches with set rules and moves without the added chaos of scratching and biting [which I would probably carry out with gusto].
GORDON: Believe me, I got my butt handed to me plenty of times. There’s nothing but prejudice keeping women from being just as effective at fighting as men.
EVAN: Right, but that’s not a cultural expectation, is it?
GORDON: Not in this culture, no, but in other cultures this does exist. I’d point to the high numbers of women in the militaries of countries affected by leftist ideology- Nepal, for example
EVAN: We are talking the majority of cultures, though. Just as I don’t think I’d
equate homosexuality with “manliness” because the Spartans [who were very manly] engaged in it, I’m likewise not willing to accept that most societies placed women in that physically aggressive role.
GORDON: Point taken.
EVAN: But I get what you’re saying.
A number of the key qualities we defined as being “manly” are, in general, key qualities of being successful human beings.
My entire issue with contemporary feminism is that it tries spin traditionally “feminine” (i.e. submissive, weak, emotional) traits as being equally as healthy- if not more so- than traditionally “masculine” traits rather than trying to divorce itself from the old “feminine” trait set entirely.
I like my women like I like my men: self-assured, tough, and independent. That probably didn’t come out quite the way I intended.
EVAN: Don’t worry, I took it at face value.
And, since we’ve successfully transitioned away from a discussion on masculinity towards more of one discussing feminism, I’m forced to admit that we are well past our time limit.
GORDON: That we can agree on.
Until we get internet, it’s radio silence on my end.
EVAN: So I suppose you’ll have to say good-bye to these nice people until then, while I scramble to maybe find a replacement writer for the next little while.
GORDON: For whenever I get back, I’d recommend that we talk about our generation’s greatest strength or victory, as we spoke a while ago about our generation’s greatest failing.
EVAN: And I am going to recommend . . . okay, this is ridiculous, but our ideal girl. Just because I know your answer is something everyone wants to read.
That is all for today, folks. I’d like to thank Gordon [who left before this conversation could end] for heading over to his grandparents’ and getting online for this, he’s a real champ. Thanks for reading!
Even if you haven’t recognized it for what it is, chances are, you’ve seen elements of it. The resurgence of beards, comments on period piece clips like “Why don’t we wear hats anymore?” or “Dang- they knew how to dress back then.” Or perhaps you’ve stumbled across The Art of Manliness or are (like me) a faithful apostle of Ron Swanson.
Now whether you’re aware of it or not, there is a growing culture based around this general perspective of “manliness” that supposedly existed from 5,000 BC to 1974 AD. The resurgence in the popularity of the beard, the wave of internet memes centered around being “classy,” our love affair with period pieces- all of this compounded has created the beginnings of a whole new subculture.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look at some of our favorite TV characters.
Don “F***-You, Liver!” Draper
Jack “Even Ayn Rand Thinks I’m Egotistical” Donaghy
Rick “Bad Decisions” Grimes
Walter “Tied with Draper for Making People Love Fedoras” White
Barney “Legen- wait for it… -DARY!” Stinson
Cullen “I Will Punch You For No Particular Reason” Bohannon
Comedy, Drama, Action/Horror, Westerns- this is a pretty broad range, and we’ve got the same strong, dour antihero type in all of them. Men who remind us of our fathers and grandfathers. Tough as nails bastards who came to this country with only a dollar in their pockets- who took a break from their honest 8 to 8 jobs of hitting metal with other pieces of metal to kill Nazis and look dapper doing it.
So what’s this culture all about? As with any group, we can talk about the superfluous or cosmetic elements- in the case of the “manly” group, handshake etiquette, strait-razor whetting, and driving stick- but to really understand ’em, we’re going to need to look at the underlying values in play here.
What do all the men shown above have in common? A degree of independence. They’re DIY guys. Men who aren’t reliant on the help or charity of others- in short, dudes who can take care of themselves in most any situation, from car repair to providing for the family to killing the undead. And on that note…
These are all men who don’t allow themselves to be victims. They’re proactive moment-seizing leaders who don’t wait idly by for someone to step up. Good or bad, they’re leading the way- and speaking of bad…
These are guys who tend to lend credence to the stereotype of the unspeaking, unfeeling male. At best, the strong, silent type- at worse, the uncommunicative lout. One way or another, they don’t let the situation get the better of them. That’d be undignified, and if there’s one thing that they’re about, it’s…
It’s in the way they dress, the way they speak, the way they expected to be treated. A kind of code that prohibits some things and makes others compulsory. You can’t hold your head high, then what’s the point in having one?
These men are all, to varying degrees, antiheroes. Guys with their own agendas and a certain degree of moral ambiguity that keeps you on your toes. There’s a level of egotism, self-centeredness, and disregard for others that makes them pretty good at what they do, but what they do not all that good- certainly they don’t fit the traditional mold of the selfless, self-sacrificial hero.
And while it’s not true for all of them, money tends to be a major element of their stories. A drive to be successful, prosperous, and (again) independent. It’s the age-old dream of being your own boss.
So what does all of this boil down to?
It’s about power. These guys represent everything we, as a generation, aren’t. Independent, wealthy, self-assured, proud. Does that sound like us? Not at all. We’re the casual dressed, globally conscious masses struggling to make it by, and taking whatever miserable, degrading soulless job we can find. We’re not strong like these glamorized images of our grandparents are (having conveniently erased the racism, bigotry, and misogyny).
But we want to be.
And so begins the perpetual motion machine of life-imitating-art and art-imitating-life. Epic Meal Time, Memes, Period Pieces- the list goes on.
So is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Well, there are good and bad elements to every culture (some more bad than good, and vice versa), but let’s list out the positives and negatives.
We can stand to toughen up a bit a lot as a generation. We don’t need to be bending horseshoes with our teeth, but some basic survival skills and a thicker skin when it comes to discomfort and hardship would be nice (battery running out on your phone doesn’t count as suffering).
In these tough economic times, be able to do basic repairs to your house and car aren’t just good- they’re necessary. Same goes for any of the thrifty elements of the culture.
Even if we don’t have it quite yet, demanding a certain level of dignity in our work and our day to day lives isn’t just good for you as an individual- it improves society on the whole.
While we probably shouldn’t worship the fedora or declare the suit to be the only appropriate clothing for a man over the age of twelve, it certainly doesn’t hurt to know how to dress ourselves, or conduct ourselves well in any given situation.
The glorification of the past can, as I jokingly mentioned above, lead to the uglier elements of it being glossed over. We hail our grandfathers as being great men, forgetting how easy it is to make a name for yourself when none of the good or prestigious jobs can be given to equally qualified women or non-white men.
The culture really doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for women at all, other than the kitchen. This is not to say that all adherents of the culture see it this way, but when you’re trying to espouse 1950s society, that includes 50s traditional gender roles as well.
It can’t be denied that there’s a strong conservative appeal in this culture, as well as hints of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. Glorifying wealth and success, especially when coupled with a “do whatever you need to do” mentality, can lead to the twisted perspective that poor people are poor because they are lazy.
This culture, despite the intentions of its adherents, does give a home for sexism. The uglier elements of the masculinity movement, those who view women as belonging in the home and nowhere else will doubtlessly find it a lot easier to fly under the radar in a culture that’s utterly dominated by males.
So what’s the final verdict?
“Manly” culture doesn’t appear to be either helpful or harmful- at least, not yet. The underlying issue being power, it’s going to be faced with the task of walking the thin line between empowerment and megalomania. So long as self-control is kept in mind, they oughta be fine.