Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"That is SO gay!"

Guest post via Dave:


If you've been around enough people, at some point you will most likely hear someone use "gay" as the equivalent of "bad". I worked as a music teacher for a year at a school, and nearly every piece of music I played was either "gay", "so gay", "so (expletive) gay", or "not bad". Not that I'm complaining about the next generation's lack of appreciation for good taste in music (they'll love the blues someday...maybe), but rather the terms used to define bad.


The American culture has certainly undergone leaps in the right direction as it accepts more lifestyles outside the man/woman dichotomy, but the danger is not recognizing the more subversive elements of intolerance. I accept that I am not part of the traditional stereotype known as "the guy". But wait, you'd say, this isn't the 1950's anymore; there isn't some Marlboro man riding off into the sunset who can save the townsfolk by smoking, watching sports, flexing muscles, and making demands that no one can ignore. I totally agree, but as a casual observer of culture, I look to the big media for example of what is commonly defining "maleness".


If these stereotypes are part of the social compact that we all live by, then someone is in charge of defining what makes maleness and its corresponding stereotypes. Our post-modern culture is created and sustained through language and images, meaning that we define our national character of gender through what we see and read. What do we see, anyway? What do men do for a living on TV, for example? The examples I can easily think of are: doctor, lawyer, policeman, hero, game show host, sports icon, and politician; positions defined, in large part, through power, influence, strength, and money. If you traveled back in time to 1950, what jobs do you think a young boy would want to have? We talk the talk of change and how far we have come since those dark and sexist days, but have men really made any substantial transition? Are men able to exist in non-traditional roles?


Go to PsychINFO if you have access and search for men in non-traditional roles. I read one paper on men who work as elementary school teachers. They were often accused of being pedophiles or unable to connect emotionally with their students. Many assumptions like this still exist. I also think back to the big "metrosexual" craze of a few years ago when it was culturally acceptable to care a little more about one's appearance (a masculine taboo). Metrosexuals were quickly replaced by what was termed "retrosexuals". A system in power will always exert influence to return to a status of power, and our culture made that obvious shift when it went "retro". Looking at magazines for men gives the same impression. Men like red meat, sex, sports, boobs, gadgets, cars, being muscly, fast cars, boobs, and boobs. I'm not saying that is the situation for all men, but rather the impression being doled out through the channels that have the largest audience. What if you're a man and you don't like sports? I know I am. Almost all my friends know that about me as well, and I make no bones about how boring I think sports are in general. What bothers me is that my gender, and thus a large part of my identity, is put into question when I make the choice to go against the norm.


Like I stated before, norms are created in a social compact, and the norm for masculinity still linked to the same qualities. What happens when a man takes on "queer" attributes, like enjoying clothes or musical theatre? If I went to the sports bar down the street and started singing the greatest hits of Sondheim, I'd probably leave with (best case) lots of name calling or (worst case) little to no teeth. Masculinity is linked to power, and because masculinity is linked to gender attributes, then denying those attributes is akin to denying one's status. My denial of status throws the whole power structure into question and makes other men feel uncomfortable, because why should I actively lower my status?


The current dichotomy of gay=bad/not gay=good is the same as saying as not manly=bad/manly=good, or female=bad/male=good. Here's another example: remember the beer commercial where the guys get forced to go to the opera? They bring beer and it breaks because the soprano sings the high note. Hilarious, except the implied message is: "A man can only be forced to attend opera, because if he wants to go then there is something wrong". Or how about the churches that have recently started to create men's groups to counteract the non-manliness happening around the country (here for more info about how to beat a man with his own torn and bloody arm). What does all this mean, and why does it matter anyway? Our national identity is underscored by the overly simplistic male/female dichotomy, and moving away from that structure puts the whole power scheme into a tailspin. Maleness shouldn't obviously equate to power and status, and femaleness shouldn't obviously equate to emotion and caring.


Attributes of behavior should have no link to gender, and gender itself should have no place in determining status (considering that gender is all made up anyway). Stop making apologies for who you are, what/who you love, and what you do with your life because no one has the right or authority to take that away from you. There is no "guy" or "girl" behavior, only what the majority unknowingly and implicitly agrees upon, and therefore doesn't really exist. I think I've said enough at this point, and The View just came on, so I should probably go for now.

6 comments:

Kandee said...

These images are very powerful and help to solidify the posting's point. Masculinity and race are also entangled in the last picture. I would have to write a whole post in order to go into hypermasculinity and blackness. Ditto for the sudo-rape scene. It seems to me that 'gay' is one of those words, like 'black', that describes the bad in society while at the same time is used to label an entire section of people. Confusing, but telling. It shows the underpinnings of systemic 'isms.

Feminist Gal said...

Kandee, you should absolutely post an entry on your blog on hypermasculinity and blackness, i'd be really interested to read it. Thanks for the feedback, and i absolutely agree with you.

Kandee said...

I'm hoping I can get some time to do some more writing. This is something I will be posting about.

Rosalind said...

Interesting to know.

Joey said...

This was a great blog i was reading your blog about trader joe's too and i agree btw the trader joes policy is to donate i work at one in connecticut and am currently seeking a lawsuit against them. i was asked by a supervisor who knows that i am a homosexual man if i was the "top" or "bottom" which is sooooo innapropriate. it was degrading, and embarassing and i was not only offended but so were two other co-workers of mine. and the next offense happened because one of my co-workers told me that soy is bad for guys because it has estrogen and thats why they say not to give it to younger boys and i said "why because theyll be gay like me?" and we both laughed so hard and this one guy who i know is a devoted christian took offense yelled at me and then went to the manager of our store who is also an open devoted "christian" and she told me that i should watch what i say because some people might find that offensive. i dont understand why that would be offensive i am a gay man and if they dont like it tough. i shouldnt have to pretend to be macho and i didnt say anything sexual. im seeking a lawsuit against them and was wondering your opinion i love reading your blogs and i think you could give me some great insight.

Anonymous said...

Joey; In the case about sexual harassement, I suspect you have a case, much like a woman would have a case if the manager asked if she does (X) to her boyfriend in bed. However, in the latter instance, I honestly don't think you have a case against them. You were the one who brought up your preferences, in the context of a conversation, and I can really only imagine that your tone was aggressive and/or hostile. Even if it wasn't, I would expect anyone to get reprimanded for bringing their bedroom habits/identities/religion (i.e, "Why don't you feed your kids pork, afraid they might turn Jewish like me?") ...into a work-related conversation where customers might hear and complain. I've been told that talking in Spanish was inappropriate, as well as how much I drank over the weekend -- if you brought it up, management has the right to limit non-work related conversation.