Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Myth of Masculinity: A Bloodied Nose Is Not Just Horseplay

By James Curcio

Your son may come home crying every day with a bloody nose, and with bruises, he may be trying to hide bursting into tears at the dinner table, or maybe he wet himself in terror after having rocks thrown at his head and his life threatened for the third day in a row. But boys will be boys, right? Certainly the worst thing a mother can do is jump in and help brand the poor child as a "Mommy's boy."

The fact is that yes, it is how they are. But no, it isn't OK. However, the underlying issue is not about a few rotten eggs or even bad parenting. It isn't about rough and tumble. Certainly boys and girls both will do plenty of that, and sometimes a bloody nose is just a bloody nose. It can be hard to tell, from the perspective of the parent.

The underlying issue is not the bruises. It is what they sometimes represent. It is about the society that we live in, top to bottom.

Alright, so this is a first attempt at an issue that is incredibly important not only to me but in fact to all men, across the world. It is highly underreported, and owing to its importance, I kind of fear that anything I write in a blog post will be horribly insufficient. I still have to start somewhere, so please bear with me. I am going to begin with what I know best, in other words, my personal experience, and talk about some pretty raw issues for me. I am speaking from my experience, and from my heart.

I have read a great deal of research about this issue, which I may share in a later post. But this post is about anecdotal evidence. It is about my life. 

Before I get into this... Some of you have noticed that I have some affiliation with an ongoing project of the Beacon Initiative, pertaining both to bullying and hate-speech. This is not a censorship tool. It is something very different. This post isn't about that, but this will explain my non-business reasons for being passionate about the issue of bullying, "drama," and hate-speech. We have some things in motion to bring this initiative to thousands if not tens of thousands of students in the near future, but I can't speak about that now, and, like I said. This post isn't about that.

The fact of the matter is, for all of the writing that gets done about the raw deal women can get in our society, and the gender policing that women are subject to, as well as the narratives provided for gay men, cross-dressers, transexuals, and so on, there is a huge piece of this puzzle that is left unspoken. It is quite noticeably absent to such an extent that I wondered for years if my personal experience was some huge aberration, and that added to the shame that I was trying to mask or play off.

I'll paint it fine: men, all men, are subject to extreme gender policing which can lead to bullying, mental and physical abuse of heinous levels, even rape and sexual abuse, if they don't fall in line with the gender identity narrative provided by the status quo.

Our cultural narrative goes something like this. Men, particularly straight men, are supposed to not be emotional. They are supposed to be "strong" in what I would call a stupid, false, stoic way. They are supposed to be physical and aggressive. They are supposed to be "successful" in business and sexual conquest, which of course means they are also supposed to be competitive. They are not supposed to be empathic. Even being intellectual or "bookish," while showing some growing acceptance especially with the growth of "geek culture," is still considered somewhat feminine.

And of course "feminine" is not something a man would want to be. It is a slur, a sign of weakness. No one wants to be "a pussy." You've got to "man up."

I am white. I am male. I am straight. However, I am an incredibly empathic, emotionally sensitive, gentle, intellectual artist who would love nothing better than to do nothing more than spend most of my time with women and other gentle men that want to collaborate with me. I value collaboration over competition - in fact competition turns my stomach. I dislike sports. I want nothing to do with the put downs and bullying that are supposedly a natural part of the "men's society." Hostility of any kind that isn't clearly in jest or play makes me physically ill. (I love me some violent video games or etc though.) I would rather snuggle than fight, and I'd rather have a long conversation with a woman than watch a football game.

None of this, none of it, makes me any less of a man than you. 

I don't think men feel any less strongly than women. I certainly don't seem to. But so many men are sadly out of touch with their feelings that they seem downright baffled when they reach a fervor that can no longer be controlled. A lot of that gets externalized into more bullying and aggressive or hostile behavior, if it isn't turned inward to feed victimization or depression scripts.

We try to blame the victim, or find some other reason to explain why those in pain deserve what they get. Or we work in businesses where we think it is normal for the employees to live in terror, to not feel safe to be who they are, or to feel the way they feel. No one feels a part of a team or a family. The more I open my eyes to this, the more I realize what a sad lie so many people live in.

This isn't OK. I don't know what good it'll do, but I feel very strongly that I need to speak out. This is happening and it isn't abstract.

Simply as a result of being who I am, through my childhood I was regularly and violently beaten by peers, I was sexually assaulted, I was harassed and bullied. I've processed a lot of the direct trauma, but when I am  expected to conform to your bullshit ideas of what "being a man" is, it all comes pouring back up and it takes a lot of effort to not become a vigilante bully myself.

The truth is that, if I were to be 100% true to myself, there are very few jobs that would have me, and I would not be protected by any of the paltry laws created in some states to protect minorities because, technically speaking, I am a white, straight male. I am supposed to be amongst the privileged few. What do I have to complain about?

I draw a few general ideas from this sorry state of affairs. We don't as a society value the things that would make us better human beings. We do not collectively have an understanding of the value of the arts, or of nurturing our spirit and love for all those around us. And it doesn't need to be some bullshit "white lighter" let's all hold hands and listen to shitty music sing-along. All of that is so often just a means of manipulating our desire for such things for more nefarious purposes. (Look at KONY 2012 / The Invisible Children.)

Further, these myths of masculinity that we sell to our children, and which children sell to one another - often enforced with a closed fist - are the very same myths which lead down the line to behaviors like rape, misogyny, and the general abuse and de-humanization of women and other races. It's all tied together, and it all stems from that seemingly almost subconscious impulse to police the identity behavior of others.

I am not writing this as a "woe is me" missive. If you feel the urge to dismiss what I'm saying, or worse off, call me a pansy for being the way that I am or making "a big deal out of nothing," then you are demonstrating exactly the issue I'm talking about.

I'm writing this as an initial sketch of a part of the gender narrative that gets brushed under the carpet. All of us should be free to dress how we want, to live as we want, to love as we want, and to embrace our emotions without shame or fear of retribution, nor should any of us have to fear for our livelihood because it isn't masculine to cry when we're sad. (Yes, I've lost my job from that in the past, and I'm sure others have as well. I have also had my life threatened for being "gay," and fired on that grounds, when I am not, in fact homosexual. Though would it make it better if I was?)

The same behaviors that occur on the schoolyard become institutionalized in businesses the world over, and pretty soon the very weight of our livelihood can depend on us pretending to be someone that we're not. Aside from the stress, the shame, and the anxiety that comes from this - or the PTSD-like reactions that can occur when you have been severely bullied and see others being bullied around you and are powerless to help - there is ample scientific evidence that bullying, even the invisible or seemingly benign kind, can lead to serious health issues including cancer and heart disease.

Until the day comes that anyone can live in "our" society without fear of being beaten, harassed, or even cajoled or shamed for being the way they are, we are living in a barbarous society, and saying otherwise is just tossing white paint on top of an open wound. Until that day it is not "my" society at all, and I will continue to say I live without a home, though I'd gladly see you join my tribe so long as you are willing to lead your life from the desire to be open and bring caring and love to others rather than the opposite.

Have a nice day. Discussion welcome.

Note: Don't get me wrong. I can be sarcastic, and may come off even seeming edgy or "aggro" if you misunderstand my passion about ideas and being genuine and earnest for competition. My sense of humor is extreme, I say plenty of "offensive" things because I'd rather say what's on my mind than pretend otherwise. I listen to metal and before my back was screwed up I used to love the hell out of practicing martial arts. I say what is on my mind or in my heart at the time even if it is isn't fucking PC. But there isn't hate in my heart, and I don't give a damn how you live your life so long as you treat me with respect. This is I guess why I so often wind up butting heads with staunch supporters of any ideology, even those which in a sense I agree fully with, such as feminism, lesbianism, and so on. I feel like so many people that identify too strongly with any particular ideology somehow lose their sense of humor along the way. There are a million other caveats I could add to this, as clearly not every instance of rough-housing between children is an instance of latent gender policing, and I'm not advocating surrounding children with fiberglass bubbles. The fundamental issue here is identity policing.  

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  1. beautiful, honest, challenging piece. Although I have personally been fortunate enough to spend most of my life in highly supportive environments, I see what you are talking about all the time and I agree it's a hidden tragedy, in fact one that is intricately interwoven with all the other, more openly discussed forms of social and institutional abuse.

  2. I am the mother of a child who is struggling with bullying behavior, for reasons too complicated to go into here. We are working very hard to stop this (he's 5, so we are hoping to change it early/quickly). In my search for answers to this problem, I see so much about the victims of bullying and the abusive causes, neither of which applies to this situation. Fortunately, other aspects are coming to light, including the sheer amount of pressure to conform to specific gender norms. This tendency is not only counter to human nature, it is detrimental to our souls. I applaud your courage in writing this and hope you continue to provide an alternative view of this topic.

    Blessed travels.



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