So either masculinity is violent and bad, non-violent and good, or it is a fiction — it doesn’t exist. Or possibly it is a fiction and the other things.
Mike Cernovich and Jack Donovan, two writers on masculinity, embrace the idea that masculinity is inherently about violence but think masculinity is good. That means violence is good, which is a contradiction and can’t possibly be true. Violence is the worst thing that human beings do to each other.
Other people object that masculinity is associated with violence and say that masculinity is good. Violence is bad, saying men are inherently violent means masculinity is bad, and masculinity is good therefore masculinity must not be essentially about violence.
I personally think that masculinity doesn’t exist, it’s a fiction and therefore can be anything you want it to be, violent or non-violent or otherwise.
Yoga Pants and the Heterosexual Male Gaze
Take stretchy pants. Stretchy pants are said to not be masculine, they are feminine and for women. That’s of course because of male dominated heterosexuality — men are sexual beings and women are sexual objects. Men wearing comfortable, shapely pants highlights that men have genitals and butts and therefore are sexual objects, which is either a gay male view or a female heterosexual view. Making one’s self into a sexual object as a man therefore either violates masculinity altogether, or is considered gay or (hetero-) female sexuality and is therefore subject to repression either way from the dominant male heterosexual perspective.
If you think seeing the outline of a guy’s junk is “disgusting” but seeing a woman in yoga pants is normal or sexy, congratulations — you’ve internalized the heterosexual male gaze.
I think this is stupid and arbitrary. Masculinity is not necessarily heterosexual first off. Some men like and are attracted to men, so if masculinity exists it must neither be gay or straight, or have room for both (and everywhere in between). And women exist and are not subservient, lesser humans, and some of these women are heterosexual, so men are also sexual objects of female desire and thus why would it be weird or wrong for a man to wear revealing, tight clothing? It’s not, it’s just bullshit. Heterosexual men don’t want to see other sexy men, so they demand that our entire fucking culture hides the fact that men are sexy beasts with sexy penises and sexy butts and thighs.
Men and Violence
Let’s go back to violence though. Cernovich says that to be a man is to be seconds away from committing violence. Men are inherently dangerous creatures, that’s the essence of what it is to be a man. And women love that danger, they find it alluring and sexy.
Ok, obviously this theory is bullshit. Women also are capable of violence, and most men are not violent at all. Very few men have ever been in a life or death streetfight, and those that have generally end up in jail because assaulting people is against the law. Or they come back from war with PTSD. And women do not in any way whatsoever want to be violently assaulted by men. Violence is not a good thing, it’s something we should aim to reduce in society.
The best you can say about this argument is the “defender” perspective, which is that men ought to be ready to defend “their woman” or their country and therefore be physically prepared for violence. But why? Why would it be good to be prepared to be violent, versus being prepared to resolve a conflict nonviolently and skillfully? It seems to me that violence is the default, but it’s also the lowest form of conflict resolution. You can’t solve office or workplace drama with violence.
You can’t solve most political differences with violence. You can’t even negotiate for a lower price at the car dealership with violence. Heterosexual women don’t want their men resolving their relationship issues with violence either. Violence is almost never a useful strategy for resolving conflict, so the attractive heterosexual man is the one who can resolve conflicts nonviolently and communicate effectively.
Masculinity and Non-violence
Let’s talk more about the idea instead that masculinity is good and non-violent. Communication skills clearly are superior to violence skills in daily life (not necessarily military life), as virtually all real life conflicts are resolved by means of using one’s words and not one’s fists. This means therefore that a “real man” uses nonviolent communication methods to get his point across and get what he wants in life, rather than violence or the threat of violence. Therefore masculinity is inherently non-violent, and men who are violent are actually violating norms of masculinity.
But then as Donovan and Cernovich would argue, why then do we consider a violent man more masculine than a non-violent one? Either Donovan and Cernovich are correct, and violence is essential to masculinity, or else they are wrong and also culture is wrong. If you conclude the former, then masculinity is bad and should be eradicated or minimized, not emphasized or encouraged as Donovan and Cernovich do — that is evil (knowingly doing the wrong thing). If you conclude the latter, then masculinity is good but almost everyone has it wrong as to what masculinity actually is, as masculinity is non-violent and about communication skills over punching skills.
Masculinity is Bullshit
The other option is that masculinity is bullshit. It’s just made up and that’s why people can even have debates about such things. Masculinity doesn’t even exist, it’s a fiction and so it can be whatever you want it to be. This is my view. I think there is no such thing as masculinity or femininity for that matter, they are just ideas that people like to talk and argue about that have no basis in reality. Feel free to do whatever you want with them as they don’t really exist.
The reason I think this is because when people try to pin down what is masculinity, they end up with things like virtues: a man keeps his word, a man is honest and kind, a man is loyal, and so on. But these things are gender neutral. If it is a virtue, then it is a virtue for everyone, whether a man, a woman, nonbinary, or anything else. If a person transitions from one gender to the other, do these things no longer apply or suddenly apply? Of course not. If it is good, it is good for all human beings to do. Having a gender identity of “man” doesn’t mean anything at all about how you should be as a human being, nor how you should dress, speak, treat others, etc.
Heck let’s go back to violence. If it is good in some cases to respond or act violently, then it is good for women and nonbinary people to also do so in the same circumstances. Just because someone has a gender identity of “woman” doesn’t mean they shouldn’t engage in self-defense. The helpless victim trope for women is some tired old sexist bullshit that’s got to go.
Playing with Gender Expression
Now just because masculinity doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean that one cannot play with the fictional thought form in daily life. For example, I enjoy building muscles through strength training and eating a lot, mostly because it helps me to stave off some health problems I’ve had in the past. Also I think it looks awesome. But “muscle is not a gender” as Linda Durbesson says.
All people can build muscles, and I think they should in fact build muscles. Having more muscle helps prevent metabolic syndrome, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and more. Doing strength training helps prevent osteoporosis. Being big and strong communicates “don’t fuck with me” to people who might want to physically hurt or overpower you.
I think everyone regardless of gender could benefit from strength training. I also realize that this is easy for me to say as a man, because when I strength train I look more like a man “should” in the eyes of cisheteropatriarchy. It would be much more bold if I were a woman to lift heavy weights despite people telling me I will look “too bulky” and “manly” and “not attractive,” comments women who have visible muscles frequently get. But that’s because femininity is also bullshit and doesn’t exist. Such comments are just a form of keeping women in check, weak and submissive to male dominance, something people like Cernovich think is natural and right.
If anything, women can be violent predators, and perhaps should become a little more scary by lifting weights and taking mixed martial arts classes and learning how to shoot guns and kick people in the nuts. Cernovich thinks “Danger and Play” is for dudes, but why not empower women to be a little frightening I say. Will this hurt the sex lives of heterosexual people? I seriously doubt it. Why would two individuals who take no shit from anyone and are fit and healthy deciding to be vulnerable together not be sexy? If people prefer to be dominant or submissive in the bedroom to spice things up, this is a consensual agreement amongst equals, not a sign of what is the proper place of the genders in society.
I conclude that masculinity is either a bad thing that needs to be eradicated (because it is inherently violent), an inherently nonviolent thing and therefore good but also weirdly gender-neutral, or else it doesn’t exist at all in which case we should feel completely free to play with its forms however we choose. And I am not yet bold enough to wear compression leggings in public places, but they sure are comfy to wear around the house.