Tuesday, April 01, 2008
prissy guys need not apply
Hope ya'll will forgive me for the last post. My prof suggested I put the latest assignment on my blog, so I am. We were supposed to interview a man and a woman to ask them about what it means to be a good man- a man's man. As usual, I tweaked the assignment. I showed this to "the guys" and "the girls" at work, and they loved it. Which meant a lot. A lot more than a grade, I'll tell you what. Not that this prof gives grades, he's more of a check check plus kind of guy, but that's another post.
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Men don’t like to talk about what makes a good man, or a masculine man. I work at a propane company. The secretary Lilly** just bought a new cell phone and when ‘the guys’ (the drivers and Jack) call the phone rings with the Dukes of Hazard theme song: “just two good old boys, never meanin' no harm”. I hear this song maybe 7 times every weekday. I figured it would be the ideal place to learn about masculinity.
When I told Jack, the youngest of ‘the guys’ at 30 years old, about the assignment and asked him for his help, he gave me a look of panic before laughing and saying “Well, Lea, that’s tough. I’m going to have to think about it”, and then he turned and fairly ran for the back office. A few minutes later, he walked out with a sledgehammer and some rope, saying something about going to save one of the propane tanks and then he left in a work truck.
Am I to infer from his actions that a man is someone who hates to talk, someone who is much more comfortable with tools and an objective of protecting/saving something?
I asked my buddy Mike later the same question and he tried to change the subject repeatedly without answering. I forced the issue. Imagine after every question there is a long, awkward pause. Remember that this is my friend.
Lea: Seriously Mike, what makes a man?
Mike: Hotdogs. And beer.
Lea: OK, men drink beer. Do men drink anything else?
Mike: Men drink beer or whiskey- but not wine. Or wine coolers.
Lea: So if a man doesn’t drink beer or whiskey, is he still a man?
Mike: only if he has a medical reason for not drinking.
I found it necessary to distinguish the question ‘what is a good man’ with ‘what makes a man a masculine man’. A masculine man, I was told by my guy, Eli, last night on the phone, is “someone who watches sports, who knows about vehicles, someone who isn’t too much of an intellectual but isn’t an idiot. Someone who likes typical guy stuff- someone who is uncomfortable during girlie movies and doesn’t like to cry, and doesn’t wear shorts. A masculine man would never wear shorts.”
Chuck Norris***, Eli agreed, is a masculine man. The adoration for Chuck Norris ‘facts’ in pop culture helps points out that men are somewhat incapable of articulating, to me at least, what it is that makes them masculine men without making a joke, or laughing awkwardly. Or running away before leaving to save a propane tank.
Women, however, are more than ready to talk about what it is that makes a man a good man. They seem to have been developing an answer for years. The girls at work (they want to be called girls and argue that it is better than the alternative) are both are in their early thirties and have young children. They re-framed the question, I believe in some version of ‘what do you look for in a man’. I asked Isabella, the bookkeeper, what made a good man and she answered, rather quickly, “Someone that is caring, that loves my kid. He has and can hold down a job. It’s not anything physical, just how they act that makes them a good man”.
Lilly cut in, “basically a good man is a good provider”. A good provider, she explains, “is someone who is not so stuck on himself that he can’t help his significant other”. I ask her to explain what she means ‘stuck on himself’, and she tells me “when a man feels certain things are men’s work and certain things are women’s work. It drives me up a wall when someone tells me they won’t do something because it’s women’s work.” I ask if she’s describing an ideal man, or a masculine man, and she tells me “No, I mean a masculine man. A masculine man, to me at least, does his part to maintain the house”. Lilly, cub scout leader and connoisseur of bawdy jokes, believes a masculine man is someone who takes care of their family by dismissing the harmful and oppressive gender roles that over-burden women.
Men, at least those who would answer me, were slower to answer, in part I think because to be a masculine man means not thinking about being masculine, and certainly not talking about it. Their slowness in answering stands in parallel to the quick responses of Lilly and Isabella, who are, as women, encouraged to talk about men. I wonder also if women, as the subordinate group, need to know more men than men need to know about men.
**names changed to protect, well, me.
***Chuck Norris doesn’t go hunting, because hunting implies the chance of failure; Chuck Norris goes killing. Chuck Norris doesn't actually write books, the words assemble themselves out of fear. Chuck Norris does not sleep; Chuck Norris waits, etc.