Percolating Ideas

The Male Body
The Male Body

I just finished plowing my way through a huge section of The Male Body (by Susan Bordo), which falls into the “Social Sciences” genre. (I’ve always wondered about the phrase “Social Sciences.” Is there hard-science to social behavior? Or observations and assertions?) In the chapter I read, she discusses a few different aspects of constructed male behavior (distilled into the folk-wisdom, “Boys will be Boys,” that so often gets repeated in our culture).

These constructions are, ironically, presented as a biological imperative, or an evolutionary hold-over from more primitive times. (One example she returns to again and again is the popular late ’90’s psychobabble that came in the form of, “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” In it, the author asserted that men and women are just “hard-wired” differently in a way that was, unfortunately, unknowable, and therefore something we just have to learn to live with.)

Without trying to make the claim that there aren’t differences between men and women (which, I’m sure, would stir up trouble for all concerned and is actually pretty far from what I believe anyway), I have to agree with Bordo’s point: modern male behavior , what is and isn’t acceptable, and how people respond to images of the male body, are entirely constructed in a given culture.

And dammit, I wish I’d known that sooner. I have often suspected that the reason I don’t relate to sports, hunting, cars, fighting, and macho bullshit – essentially, most men that you meet – has less to do with me as a person, and more to do with what other people think they should be relating to. I have never been able to articulate this notion as well as I just did, but I always felt that it wasn’t my fault that I’m not interested in typically “male” things. Now I’m pretty stoked to realize that all that Hemmingway crap was exactly that.

Which is odd, because I distinctly remember thinking simultaneous and divergent thoughts when it comes to this kind of behavior. I would watch two of my friends start throwing jabs at each other and say, “Yeah, that’s just the way guys are,” and then look at my complete lack of interest in doing anything like that, and wonder, “Why not me, then?” While Bordo doesn’t manage to clear up all of my confusion about the constructed nature of masculinity (I would have liked to see more source-cited research to support her claims), I feel much better knowing that there is some amount of validity to how I’ve felt most of my life.

I don’t want to throw a football. I don’t want to be the strongest guy in the room. I don’t want to accumulate sexual conquests. I don’t even want to grow facial hair anymore. But I still want to be a man, and feel good being one. And I think that some of the ideas Bordo is getting at are, in a strange and very unexpected way, finally making me feel that way, too.

Any further recommendations on this subject?

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