Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Penis Mightier, Alex

Wild Man - Galactic (mp3)
Jackie Collins Existential Question Time - Manic Street Preachers (mp3)

I am a Man.

Statistically speaking, there seems to be a correlation between the power and prevalence of that thought in my mind and the likelihood I’m engaged or tempted to engage in behavior that is unwise or “bad.” And when I say “me,” I really mean “people with penises.”

Equally problematic is that my masculine self-awareness also correlates frequently with a higher sense of joy. And when I say “me,” well, you know.

Importantly, as I learned in high school, correlation does not mean causation.

A fascinating cover story in Newsweek, “Why We Need to Reimagine Masculinity,” kinda forces me to think about and accept that I am a Man. (That they named Brad Pitt as the Paragon of 2010 Masculinity leaves me cold.)

In my job, I have read and studied hundreds of articles and books about gender differences, mostly surrounding issues of education, but not always. This might not make me an Expert on it, but I feel confident I’ve read and had the opportunity to study as much on these matters in the last 20 years as most masters and doctors specializing in the area.

Yet, in spite of all the knowledge and information crammed into my tiny male brain, at times I’m pretty sure I don’t know a damn thing about gender, about masculinity, about femininity, or about humanity.

I’ve always been uncomfortable with being A Man. What I mean is, were I the last man on earth, I would change the name so that I wasn’t required to become some Paragon of Manhood. It’s when I think about my masculinity that I am most sympathetic to black kids who are asked questions about race in class, as if they can knowledgeably and ably speak for their entire race of people merely from their own personal experience.

Am I a Bad Man? No. Well, mostly no.

Am I Bad at Being a Man? Hmm. That answer doesn’t come as easily.

The good news seems to be that masculinity works a lot like wisdom. Shakespeare said “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Or, if you prefer Lao Tzu: “The wise man knows he doesn't know. the fool doesn't know he doesn't know.”

When it comes to Being a Man, it seems to me that the more certain a man is that he is some paragon of manhood, some lighthouse of manhood showing the way for the rest of us, the less likely he’s the kind of man we as a society should aspire to clone or value too highly.

When I’m insecure, more often than not the issue of masculinity is at the core.

But my sense of my own masculinity is also central to many of the biggest highlights of my life, the moments about which I am most proud or meant the most to me. Wedding and becoming a father are the most obvious, but examples go much farther than that.

However, if I were splitting hairs, masculinity for me falls closer to the heart of insecurity than the heart of success.

This doesn’t make me some gender-neutral proponent. Yes, males and females are more similar than they are different, and by a big stretch, but certain differences are too stubborn and consistently present to fight or ignore, and I'm not just talking NooNoos and PeePees and BumBums. (Let the war of cited contradictory studies begin!)

Since anecdotes are more fun and ultimately more useless... my son fell in love with throwing, hitting, and tractors almost at birth, and anyone who knows me now or knew me at any time in my past can attest that these interests were not pushed on him by me through some orchestrated Make a Man Outta My Son agenda. Whereas both of my daughters would as infants fall asleep when I put them on my chest and rocked them, my son has only once in his entire life fallen asleep on my chest. My touch and presence soothed my daughters; it electrifies my son and always has.

What’s a lot more fun is to play along with Newsweek’s breakdown of current advertising campaigns and how they manipulate our perceptions of manhood. I might not agree with every last sentence, but Steve Tuttle is right on far more than he’s wrong! (Right: Everything he says about the highly disturbing Stayfree Internet videos; the Most Interesting Man in the World.... Wrong: Posting links to the Stayfree Internet videos.)

UPDATE: There is talk of colleges starting "Male Studies" departments to assist with the disenfranchisement of the apparently new-weaker sex in higher education and the workforce, according to a Newsweek update in their education section.

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