Monday, March 15, 2010

Andrew Peterson - True Manhood . . .

A reader sent me a link to his post at The Next Ten Minutes: Everyday Mindfulness. It is a nice look at the dilemmas of manhood and masculinity, and the struggle to redefine sexuality outside of the cultural stereotypes..

Here is a piece of the article, in which he looks at a series of posts by a man dealing with the aftermath of prostate cancer.
So why should I be so irritated reading a man openly discussing his experience with erectile dysfunction in the aftermath of cancer? I keep telling myself I should be grateful. It’s enough that someone is writing about it at all.

But then I read passages like this:

We founder in a mere surface culture of smirk, snark and innuendo. The greedy objectification of the body — in both women and men — accelerates, speeding so fast that the objections can’t even be heard over the roar of the mass media.

We are told to worship washboard abs and Everest biceps, improbably perky breasts and buns of titanium. It sometimes seems that every image spewed forth by the electronic media resonates with just one unsubtle subtext: sex.

The florid, non-sensical prose is bad enough. But the real mystery is how such truisms can be successfully passed of as insight. Decades ago, when feminist writers described these same phenomenon, it was revolutionary.Today it is received wisdom. Except when a man says it. When a man recites a pat description of the objectification of male sexuality, we stand up and (take a look at the comments following the piece) applaud.

Do we really give ourselves so little credit? Honestly, the cultural objectification of male sexuality pales in comparison to the cultural infantilization of men’s emotional capacity. Men are seen (and we tend to see ourselves) as emotional children. We are so pathetic, so emotionally incapacitated, that stating the obvious is the best we can manage.

As men we discount our own capacity when we buy into this narrative. We sacrifice our legitimate need to tell the harder truths about the pain and loss (and the consequent aggression and violence) that is woven into masculinity. And, inevitably, we retreat back into justifying and reinforcing the very stereotypes of masculinity that are the source of the problems in the first place.

Yes, my erectile function is still a work in progress, but I don’t feel diminished; I don’t feel that I’m less of a man. My voice is still as deep as a well, my eyes a steely blue. I still relish a strong stout, and I can hold forth on the arcane points of the safety blitz. (Though sometimes I am tempted to say, “It’s O.K., ladies, I’m harmless.”)

There is the dilemma of masculinity in a single paragraph.The sexualization and objectification of masculinity that Jennings was complaining about a few sentences earlier are in fact embedded within his defense of his own masculinity. He buys into the very concepts he claims he is trying to shuck off. Either we are John Wayne, dangerous behind our steely eyes, or we are Richard Simmons…emasculated…”harmless.” It’s one or the other.

The hard truth is that we have barely begun to do the work of imagining and creating a model of masculinity that transcends these tremendously damaging categories. Whatever “true manhood” may prove to be, it’s not this nicey-nice and spurious version of male emotional experience.

Libido comes and goes at odd hours, like a child home on a college break. But curiously, I feel that the life my wife, Deb, and I lead is more intimate than ever. I was the one who was sick, but we peered into the bleak chasms of cancer together. As I was buffeted by diagnosis, treatment and the aftermath, she was my advocate, my confidante, my unwavering caregiver. And everything she did was suffused by her love for me.

It was an intimacy beyond words. And believe me, I have a lot to live up to if the time comes for me to care for Deb.

True intimacy isn’t about the hydraulics of the flesh. It’s the smell of a certain shampoo in the hair, a passing touch in the kitchen, the taste of cold blueberry soup on a hot summer day, the gentle nostalgia of “Aja” by Steely Dan, and your heart melting at the sight of your wife of 28 years sound asleep after midnight — the murmur of HGTV having lulled her to slumber.

To start with, Jennings badly mis-defines the word intimacy. Intimacy is shared vulnerability, and that can take many forms. But intimacy is not the smell of a shampoo, it is not a passing touch, it is not a taste or a sound. That is called familiarity. He is right about one thing: true intimacy is not entirely about “the hydraulics of the flesh.” But he uses this point to obscure an equally important corollary point: that the hydraulics of the flesh permit a particular sort of intimacy which cannot be achieved in any other way.

That doesn’t mean that other forms of intimacy can’t be as deep as sexual intimacy. They are simply different.
Read the whole article.

No comments: