And a bit more on real manhood

Sappho at Noli Irritare Leones, in th emood for a challenge, attempts to reconcile the views of nearly all the bloggers who have been discussing “real manhood” in a single blog post. Very cool.

I think Sappho (aka Lynn) pegs my view pretty well – I see a need for strong gender distinctions as an essentially childish perspective. It’s very important to three-year-olds that strong gender boundaries be maintained (I read a study showing that young children will refuse to play with a plain white hanky if they’re told that it’s a toy liked by the opposite sex), but as people get older it matters less. How three-year-olds view gender is not a useful model for how adults should view gender.

On the other hand, I do see that – as a practical teaching tool for folks raised in our gender-obsessed culture – acknowleging gender is sometimes useful and necessary. On the other hand, for other folks (including me when I was a teen), acknowleging that there is no single “real” manhood would be a lot more meaningful.

Hugo also posts again on the subject, responding to “Alas” reader Charles (who is also, along with Sarah, my housemate/partner/house co-owner/blah blah blah). At least to me, it seems that Hugo has moderated his views quite a lot – for which he is to be complimented.

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14 Responses to And a bit more on real manhood

  1. 1
    djw says:

    The “real manhood” crew have two methodological manouvers that really baffle me.

    1) They concede that their notion of “realness” is probabilistic rather than deterministic (Us unmanly men are the exception that proves the rule, or some such thing), but proceed with the deterministic and essentialist language of the “real.” It’s a remarkable amount of cognitive dissonance for some otherwise careful thinkers to endure.

    2) They seem to assume that their powers of observation allow them to determine which aspects of our behavior are social/cultural, and which are biological/hormonal. (ie, when Hugo gives the old chestnut about new parents finally realizing boys and girls are “really” different, or Hugo talking about how he’s figured this out through working with teenage boys). It’s a staggering amount of faith in one’s own observational powers, and it’s asserted without explanation for how the different origins of behavior can be discerned.

    Such sloppy methodological manouvers made by thoughtful and careful people are unfortunate, and lead me to believe that ideological convinction is driving this, rather than careful and serious observation.

  2. 2
    djw says:

    The “real manhood” crew have two methodological manouvers that really baffle me.

    1) They concede that their notion of “realness” is probabilistic rather than deterministic (Us unmanly men are the exception that proves the rule, or some such thing), but proceed with the deterministic and essentialist language of the “real.” It’s a remarkable amount of cognitive dissonance for some otherwise careful thinkers to endure.

    2) They seem to assume that their powers of observation allow them to determine which aspects of our behavior are social/cultural, and which are biological/hormonal. (ie, when Hugo gives the old chestnut about new parents finally realizing boys and girls are “really” different, or Hugo talking about how he’s figured this out through working with teenage boys). It’s a staggering amount of faith in one’s own observational powers, and it’s asserted without explanation for how the different origins of behavior can be discerned.

    Such sloppy methodological manouvers made by thoughtful and careful people are unfortunate, and lead me to believe that ideological convinction is driving this, rather than careful and serious observation.

  3. 3
    karpad says:

    mythago: you know very well what ways. men are from mars, and women are from venus
    it says so, right in the book.
    no arguing with it. they’re just biologically different.
    like men? we can’t ask for directions, even if we get lost, because our testosteronic gland blocks brainwaves intended to request assistance.
    and women are biologically driven to like pink, flowers, and cute little babies. all primates have the “cute response” like Koko and the kitten, but human females have a 70% percent stronger response. so says a study that I just made up in my head.
    after all, having my entire life seen men and women act different within parameters set by society, I feel comfortable in declaring that their genetics are absolute, thus making them act that way whether or not society existed. for this, I have the control group of that movie “Nell” where that girl was raised in the woods and had no contact with humans, but when they found her, she started wearing pink dresses, so obviously, women genetically like pink dresses.

    human beings are singularly defined by the shape of the knot of flesh in their pants! because if they aren’t, then my own fascination with such parts is creepy and weird, and I’m not creepy and weird! don’t make fun of me! buaaaa!

  4. 4
    monica says:

    True, kids play with anything. But can’t make a hanky into a ball! I have trouble imagining things to do with a hankie when you’re 3 years old, unless it’s suck and chew on it.

    Anyway.

    There’s a few more neat observations on the whole question of role models and manhood/masculinity here:

    http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-rol7.htm

    http://theoryhead.com/gender/extract.htm
    (specifically the bit about “Masculinity in crisis?”)

    http://theoryhead.com/gender/psycho.htm

    Lastly. I’ve read more of Hugo’s posts on his blog and don’t see anything “moderate” or pro-feminist in there. His views sound very conservative and essentialist, it’s all very well to plaster on a layer of soft-spoken, bookish, geekish guy (as if there was anything special about that?) but the substance doesn’t change, it’s still old fashioned moralistic and patronising talk about both genders and sexuality, highly skewed by religious conservative views. What’s supposed to be so interesting about it?

  5. 5
    mythago says:

    To ignore the fact that men and women are very different in many ways is to do a disservice to all of us.

    In what way, specifically?

  6. 6
    jam says:

    thanks, Lynn, & Ampersand as well, for the clarification. i think i wasn’t really seeing the that the statement “It’s very important to three-year-olds that strong gender boundaries be maintained flowed from & was expanding the meaning of the previous sentence: “I see a need for strong gender distinctions as an essentially a childish perspective” & was not advocating some “buy boys blue baseball mitts or they’ll turn out weird” kinda philosophy (which i didn’t really think Ampersand was saying…)

    cheers

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Lynn wrote: jam, I think in this case “It’s very important to three-year-olds that strong gender boundaries be maintained” means not “It’s important that adults taking care of three-year-olds be rigid about what toys boys and girls can play with” (or any other gender boundary), but rather “Three-year-olds find it important to show that they’ve mastered the difference between boy and girl, and so they grab any gender boundary you give them and run with it.” Or something like that. Adults no more have to be as rigid about gender as three-year-olds than an adult caring for a baby needs to pick up every object within reach and put it in his or her mouth.

    I just wanted to say this is exactly right. Sorry I didn’t state it better in the first place.

    As for how to play with a hanky – in my experience, three-year-olds are willing to play with ANYTHING they can lift, for at least a few minutes. When he was small, I used to have a great time with my cousin and a balled-up piece of paper.

  8. 8
    monica says:

    “To ignore the fact that men and women are very different in many ways is to do a disservice to all of us.”

    This is such a tiresome straw man.

    I don’t know where people got the idea that you have to either completely ignore sexual differences and “want to erase them” (?), or transform them into some kind of set of rules and ideals about manhood and femininity, with precise traits and behaviours arbitrarily ascribed to biology, largely ignoring social influences and traditions, and where everything that doesn’t fit in there is handily called “exceptions that don’t count”.

    It’s a bit like, if you’re against the war, you want Saddam back.

  9. 9
    monica says:

    Yeah, how do you play with a plain white hanky anyway?

  10. 10
    Aurora says:

    “I see a need for strong gender distinctions as an essentially childish perspective”

    It would be sad to push that too far so that we completely ignore the inherent differences in men and women. I appreciate men and I appreciate women, and I appreciate them in many different ways, based upon familiarity, personality, gender, etc.

    To ignore the fact that men and women are very different in many ways is to do a disservice to all of us. There IS a distinction, and attempting to erase that line rather than just accepting that it’s there and appreciating the differences is more childish, I think. It smacks of severe insecurity and a sense of entitlement.

  11. 11
    Lynn Gazis-Sax says:

    jam, I think in this case “It’s very important to three-year-olds that strong gender boundaries be maintained” means not “It’s important that adults taking care of three-year-olds be rigid about what toys boys and girls can play with” (or any other gender boundary), but rather “Three-year-olds find it important to show that they’ve mastered the difference between boy and girl, and so they grab any gender boundary you give them and run with it.” Or something like that. Adults no more have to be as rigid about gender as three-year-olds than an adult caring for a baby needs to pick up every object within reach and put it in his or her mouth.

  12. 12
    catalexis says:

    I have a feeling that if you told a three year old that a plain white hankie was an object that was associated with yazznorphs he would probably not play with it either.

  13. 13
    jam says:

    i’m afraid i haven’t been able to read the whole “real manhood” debate, so perhaps i shouldn’t post, but your comments intrigued me… please forgive any topics already discussed.

    It’s very important to three-year-olds that strong gender boundaries be maintained (I read a study showing that young children will refuse to play with a plain white hanky if they’re told that it’s a toy liked by the opposite sex)

    i’m not familiar with this study, though i’m sure many such studies exist, with similar conclusions. altho, to tell the truth, i’m rarely surprised to hear that scientific studies exist that reinforce mainstream social or political practices….

    i’d be curious to know how they (in this or any study) determined or excluded culture/socialization as a factor in the given three-year-olds conception of proper gender behavior. the conditioning starts the moment the babe is plucked from the womb & declared a boy or girl.

    i’d also be curious as to whether anyone knows of any studies that have shown that significant psychological or emotional damage has been done to a child who didn’t have “strong gender boundaries” maintained for them (&, it should go without saying, but i’m thinking of children who are not being subjected to forms of abuse or exploitation). i know many couples who are endeavoring to raise their children without attempting to maintain or reinforce standard gender behavior & their children seem just fine. in fact, better than fine.

    as far as teaching them practical tools for dealing with mainstream gender attitudes it would seem that we could use the same tools teachers have developed for dealing with race issues with schoolchildren…

  14. 14
    Kelseigh says:

    I’m transsexual, so I guess I think about gender roles on more practical terms than most. I do believe that there are differences between the genders, and it’s not simply a fluid continuum, but a lot of what we accept as the definitions of each gender are definitely socially constructed.

    Even for me, who’s gone from being accepted as one gender (even if I wasn’t very good at it) to being accepted as the other, I’m not really sure where the dividing lines are. I know that wearing certain things, like dresses, and being interested in certain things, like math or cars, has little to do with gender, beyond social norms. But what about emotional differences? As the chemical balance has shifted in my brain, I’ve noticed dramatic differences in how I process and express emotions. Other transsexuals, both MtF and FtM, report the same. Is this something you’d accept as a foundation of “natural” gender roles, below the level of societal definition? I don’t know.