8.31.2009

have you hugged a man today?

Here are some expressions I dislike. "Man love," "man purse," "man hug," "man date" - and this weekend I became aware of the most bizarre phrase of them all: "man tears". I'd like to rid our language of this collective homophobia, but these constructions only seem to be growing and spreading.

Some heterosexual men, fearing that any display of affection might compromise how others perceive their sexual orientation, now label any action regarding other men with the prefix man. Because if they say man, they're not gay! They can hug their friend without needing a cootie shot.

Apparently the world has advanced to the point where male friends, both heterosexuals, can have a nice dinner together. Yes, men have decided that it's all right to do something other than crack open a beer and eat fast food together. As long as when you go out to dinner, you let it be known that it's a man date. Because if you just go out to dinner together, without the man prefix, you might be gay!!

Many hetero men have also decided that it's ok to do more than shake hands with another man who is not their son or father. It's ok to - gasp! - hug! But only if you're not really hugging! Because real men don't hug! Thus, the man hug.

My personal favourite is the "man crush". When a hetero guy loves a famous man - an athlete, an actor, a singer - he now has a man crush. Look. Just say you love the guy. We won't make you leave your wife.

Newsflash to the boys: hugging your friend does not make you gay. Carrying a bag or organizer does not make you gay. Eating dinner with your friend does not make you gay. Only being gay makes you gay. So if you're not gay, get over it!

Inevitably, someone will try to explain the fine distinction between a hug, just any hug, and a man hug. How a man date differs from two guys hanging out, having a nice meal together. How man love is not just a big fat crush on a man. I've heard all the supposedly subtle distinctions. The more you explain, the more homophobic you sound.

This weekend I heard the expression "man tears" for the first time, and it just put me over the top.

Men, you may have been socialized from the earliest age to withhold tears. From playpen to locker room to board room, you may have learned that tears are for girls, for babies, for sissies, for pussies, for wimps, for faggots. You may have so conditioned yourself to never cry - especially to never cry in public - that you have forgotten that crying is human. Tears are tears. When men cry, they shed tears. When women cry, they shed tears. If you cry, it doesn't make you a woman, and it doesn't make you gay. It just means you're crying.

* * * *

The victims of sexism, homophobia and gender stereotyping aren't only the obvious ones.

If a boy grows up seeing his father or stepfather hit his mother, he is much more likely to hit his own partner later in life. Indeed, the single biggest predictor of intimate-partner violence is growing up in a home where that was the norm.

We know the abused mom is a victim. We know the girl who grows up in that home, then gravitates towards abusive relationships, is a victim. But the boy who grows up to hit his partner is a victim, too. His capacity for healthy relationships has been poisoned. He may be feared, but he's not respected. Somewhere deep down, he's lost a piece of his self-respect and his dignity. He's lost some of his ability to love and be loved.

I've thought and written about this a lot in the context of war, and of torture. I've come to see that every act of torture has two victims, the tortured and the torturer. I would never equate the two. I would never say that someone who perpetrates torture suffers "as much as" his victim. But every person who tortures has lost a piece of their humanity, and they will suffer for it. They may drown the suffering in substance abuse, or mask it under a lifetime of violence, or sink it in depression, or end it with suicide. But a human being will not torture another human being without suffering consequences.

That's the extreme example. On a more mundane level, this is what sexism, homophobia and gender stereotyping do all the time.

When I was younger, I only saw the damage sexism and gender stereotyping did to girls - the opportunities girls were denied, the narrow pigeonholes they were placed in. As I got older, I saw the damage sexism does all around, to everyone. As boys are moulded into men, their choices are also limited - along with a piece of their humanity, as they're taught to deny and repress parts of themselves.

It's easier to see the damage that's done when boys don't fit the mould. That's the obvious stuff. But what about the guys who learn all the right lessons, who grow up heterosexual and conventionally manly? What happens to the rest of them, the part that they learned to repress?

I would never equate queer victims of homophobia and the pain they suffer with the heterosexual world that oppresses them. But in every act of bigotry, and in every stereotype, both sides lose. Sexism hurts men, and homophobia hurts heterosexuals, too. As boys learn how they must behave in order to become "real men" - that is, in order to constantly prove their heterosexuality - they lose a piece of themselves. Many pieces of themselves, filtered out as too girly, too womanly, not manly enough.

[I've spent half my morning searching the internet for a great quote I remember from "King of the Hill"... if I find it, I'll fill in.]

I dream of a world where boys play dolls with their sisters, just as girls play trucks with their brothers. A world where men can hug each other, and love each other, and cry when they want to. No qualifiers needed.

37 comments:

Amy said...

Great post. Like so many prejudices and stereotypes, these are so ingrained in our culture and our individual psyches; despite my best intentions, I sometimes find myself making judgments about what is "manly" behavior (and then I correct myself once I catch it, if I catch it). And I agree that these stereotypes harm boys and men in many ways by locking them into types of behavior and denying them the opportunities to truly be themselves.

Some Person said...

I added the "man" prefix without a second thought because it sounded funny and all of my other friends were doing it. You're right, it is an endorsement of homophobia, and I should stop doing that. Thanks for the eye-opening essay.

L-girl said...

Thank you!

I omitted what is perhaps the worst-case scenario of males needing to prove their heterosexuality - rape, especially gang rape.

Sexual assault does not have only one cause - there are many, both personal and social - but the constant need to prove one's heterosexuality is one of them.

L-girl said...

I added the "man" prefix without a second thought because it sounded funny and all of my other friends were doing it. You're right, it is an endorsement of homophobia, and I should stop doing that.

Thank you for telling me this.

James said...

"Man crush" has been bugging me lately; it's become quite popular on various mailing lists I'm on. I've been tempted to respond with "I'm bi, so I don't make the distinction. I just have a crush on X." But I'm afraid that'd just reinforce the "straight guys can't have crushes on guys" idea.

Alex said...

I don't cry - but that's only because I have no tear ducts. How sad is that?

Just kidding. Honestly, the last time I cried was watching the series finale of Six Feet Under. Sorry - let me clarify - I was man watching Six Feet Under.

Phew.

L-girl said...

But I'm afraid that'd just reinforce the "straight guys can't have crushes on guys" idea.

Right. I'd feel the same way.

This started for me on our Red Sox gamethreads - really the only time I'm hanging with a whole bunch of guys, most (but not all) of whom are straight. Anytime someone said they had a "man crush" on someone, I tried to say things like, "oh just go ahead and have a crush, we don't mind", words to that effect. Just to present the idea, FWIW. But it would be much more effective if a straight guy would do it.

If you wanted to, you could point out the inherent homophobia without referring to your own orientation. But that probably feels dishonest in a way, too.

deang said...

Does this seem to you like something that's gotten more prevalent within the past, say, 20 years? Maybe it's a consequence of advances in gay visibility during the past two decades, but the retreat into ever more narrow gender appearance roles has struck me for a long time. I also hate the terms "guy movies" (anger, car chases, explosions, ultraviolence, porn-looking women) and "chick flicks" (crying, romance, children, shopping). Ugh!

Nitangae said...

For some reason, "man purse" especially drives me crazy (I think some people call it murse). I think what really drives me crazy is that it seems to be a transaparent attempt to find a new target for luxury products. The first time I heard the phrase murse I was also told that gay men have some secret special source of knowledge on the subject of quality murses.

My father is German and so when he was young he just used a purse. I think somewhere I remember some kids my age shrieking - that man is using a purse! I use a back-pack myself, but when I head out with my wife, I generally hold her purse as well, as she is experiencing shoulder pains. This is shocking and newsworthy to some passing cars.

All of this is very very tiresome - and also heterosexist, as you say.

L-girl said...

Does this seem to you like something that's gotten more prevalent within the past, say, 20 years? Maybe it's a consequence of advances in gay visibility during the past two decades, but the retreat into ever more narrow gender appearance roles has struck me for a long time.

Yes, it seems increasingly worse over the last decade. I think you are right, it's likely a backlash against greater gay visibility and "normalization".

I also hate the terms "guy movies" (anger, car chases, explosions, ultraviolence, porn-looking women) and "chick flicks" (crying, romance, children, shopping). Ugh!

God this drives me crazy - even more so with books than with film, I guess because I see movies as more purely commercial products. The expression "chick lit" is so offensive to me.

L-girl said...

Oh yes, Nitangae, what could be more hilarious than a man carrying a purse. Hardee har har.

Then again, I've heard people insist that if you don't decorate an infant boy's room in blue and a baby girl's room in pink, they will not grow up normally. I've heard many people say that sex-testing a fetus is a great advancement "because then you know which colour to paint the room".

Nitangae said...

Indeed, once my little sister was wearing blue clothes. A passing toddler said - "look mom at that baby girl!" The mother was overcome with horror: "No, dear, blue is for boys!"

Whether or not we grow up twisted, I think I did occasionally suffer humiliation as a child when I appeared in the wrong sort (look he is wearing pink pants!) of clothes or didn't know which net I was supposed to shoot the puck (obviously, I assumed that the net which wasn't defended - my own - was the ideal solution. It might have helped if the teacher had told me the rules, I think, but I can't expect too much. I expect she was doing her best). In any case, I have recovered from the trauma :-).

As for a backlash against greater gay visibility, I expect there is something to that. For instance, it used to be standard for people of the same-sex in South Korea to hold hands, but that is definately out for men, and even slightly less in for women, even as gays and lesbians are coming out to a much greater degree than previously. Don't forget the wonderful marketing oportunities for selling everything in both blue and pink, and for adding a manly snake to the purse so as to call it a murse.

James said...

Then again, I've heard people insist that if you don't decorate an infant boy's room in blue and a baby girl's room in pink, they will not grow up normally.

Of course, the whole "girl pink/boy blue" thing didn't develop until after WWII.

The Sunday Sentinel, 1914: "If you like the color note on the little one's garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention."

Ladies Home Journal, 1918: "There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."

As to murses and man crushes &c., I'll live with 'em if straight guys start feeling like they can relax around queers by putting "man" in front of certain words. After all, it seems to me that the homophobic types won't even use "man purse" or "man crush", as those are already far too faggy to admit to.

richard said...

I carry a bag around for all my stuff, mostly books and moleskines. My children have dubbed it the "Jack Bag" because it's the sort of messenger bag Jack Bauer carries his lethal stuff in on "24".

Some guys can't help but make some fun of it/me. I don't mind one bit but I wonder what kind of insecurities they are attempting to mask.

redsock said...

The Sunday Sentinel, 1914 ...
Ladies Home Journal, 1918 ...


This is great! I never knew that.

***

I agree with you about "man crush", but with the baseball game comments it isn't that guys wanna have sex (or even cuddle, presumably) with Player X, they simply think he's amazing and wonderful and love watching him play for their team. What would be a good word for that? Infatuation? Can crush mean that too?

(Though fans do say they "love" this or that player or the team in general.)

P.S. Ball players do not cry, they get "emotional".

***

And the day I watch my 2004 Red Sox videos and DON'T tear up pretty much immediately is the day I cease having any emotions at all.

redsock said...

George: I can't get a massage from a man.

Elaine: Why not?

George: What, are you crazy? I can't have a man touching me. Switch with me.

Elaine: No, I don't want the man either.

George: What's the difference, you're a woman. They're supposed to be touching you.

Elaine: He'd just be touching your back.

George: He'd just be touching your back too.

Elaine: No, it could get sexual.

George: I know. That's the point. If it's gonna get sexual, it should get sexual with you.

Elaine: I wouldn't be comfortable.

George: I would? What if something happens?

Elaine: What could happen?

George: What if it felt good?

Elaine: It's supposed to feel good.

George: I don't want it to feel good.

Elaine: Then why get the massage?

George: Exactly!

****

George enters acting nervous.

Jerry: What's with you?

George: A...

Jerry: Yes, A...?

George: A man gave me...

Jerry: Yes, a man gave you...?

George: A man gave me... a massage.

Jerry: So?

George: So he... had his hands and, uh, he was...

Jerry: He was what?!

George: He was... touching and rubbing.

Jerry: That's a massage.

George: And then I took my pants off.

Jerry: You took your pants off?

George: For my hamstring.

Jerry: Oh.

George: He got about two inches from... there.

Jerry: Really?

George: I think it moved.

Jerry: Moved?

George: It may have moved, I don't know.

Jerry: I'm sure it didn't move.

George: It moved! It was imperceptible but I felt it.

Jerry: Maybe it just wanted to change positions? You know, shift to the other side.

George: No, no. It wasn't a shift, I've shifted, this was a move.

Jerry: Okay, so what if it moved?

George: That's the sign! The test; if a man makes it move.

Jerry: That's not the test. Contact is the test, if it moves as a result of contact.

George: You think it's contact? It has to be touched?

Jerry: That's what a gym teacher once told me. ...

George: I don't even like to sit next to a man on an airplane 'cause our knees might touch.

impudent strumpet said...

I've seen "girl crush" too. I think having a term for a nonsexual crush does serve a purpose, but the heterocentric language is problematic. Personally, I tend to say "I'm totally fangirl for..." but obviously that isn't going to work for everyone.

"Man purse" is odd, because the generic and unmarked "bag" exists. By choosing "man purse" instead, the speaker is both introducing and refuting the concept of effeminateness (effeminacy? effemininity?). Someone who's smarter than me could probably write a whole thesis on this.

Of course, there's nothing sexier than a man who has the balls to look the world in the eye and say "in my purse."

impudent strumpet said...

I've heard of the pink for boys blue for girls thing before, but what I'm really interested in and can't find any information on is what triggered the switch, and what happened culturally at the time of the switch. There must have been people getting babies' genders mixed up, scandalized grandparents, etc.

L-girl said...

Honestly, the last time I cried was watching the series finale of Six Feet Under. Sorry - let me clarify - I was man watching Six Feet Under.

Ha ha ha, I missed this earlier. Very good. Plus it's the return of Alex K.

L-girl said...

I never knew about the blue for girls / pink for boys either! Wow, very cool!!

****

Also, very good call re more marketing opportunities. I recently mentioned women needing to shave with pink razors. Same razors, only pink. (Leaving aside why women need to shave.) The murse and man-bag lend themselves to a familiar item being remarketed for another group.

****

And further to the Seinfeld theme...

Elaine asks, Is he good looking?

George indicates that he wouldn't know, couldn't tell.

Elaine says, You know, George, just admitting you can tell a man is attractive doesn't automatically make you a homosexual.

George: It doesn't help!

L-girl said...

Oh yes, "get emotional". The male sports euphemism for being choked up or teary-eyed. Hey, at least they're allowed to these days.

Some guys can't help but make some fun of it/me. I don't mind one bit but I wonder what kind of insecurities they are attempting to mask.

That's the heart of it, really - the insecurity. Masculinity (conventionally defined) and heterosexuality are, apparently, extremely fragile concepts on which to hang identity, judging from how they constantly need to be defended.

L-girl said...

I've seen "girl crush" too. I think having a term for a nonsexual crush does serve a purpose, but the heterocentric language is problematic.

Maybe just "nonsexual crush"? But I tend to think there's always a bit of the sexual in there anyway. But that's my bi bias showing.

<"Man purse" is odd, because the generic and unmarked "bag" exists.

By choosing "man purse" instead, the speaker is both introducing and refuting the concept of effeminateness (effeminacy? effemininity?). Someone who's smarter than me could probably write a whole thesis on this.


I'd like to read it, or at least the popular article version.

James said...

I've heard of the pink for boys blue for girls thing before, but what I'm really interested in and can't find any information on is what triggered the switch, and what happened culturally at the time of the switch.

The speculation I've seen is that it happened during the 30s, though not simultaneously everywhere. Speculation is that it may have happened in Germany first, hence the Nazi's use of a pink triangle for homosexuals.

Jere said...

A story you may find comical:

My friend makes little stuffed animals. He sews up cute little kitties and doggies, and even put them on top of his wedding cake a few weeks ago.

He and his wife go to couples therapy, and recently he brought up to the therapist how he has trouble buddying up to his wife's male family members, saying how he has nothing in common with "manly" types. The therapist dude said, "Eh, don't worry about it, you'll find a way to get along with them--as long as you're not playing with dolls!"

Anyway, my friend just smiled and nodded, hoping to all that was holy that his wife didn't burst out with "play with them? He MAKES them!" And she was indeed kind enough not to embarrass him.

Isn't it crappy that even your therapist can put on the "you better be manly" pressure?

M. Yass said...

These issues played a role in my recent breakup. My ex couldn't handle the fact that I . . . wait for it . . . wear Keds.

Yes, Keds. Your basic white, lace-up, flat-bottom sneaker. I like them because they're washable and they go with everything. I can run errands in them over the weekend and wear them to work with my khakis. The only problem is, they don't offer the leather ones in men's sizes, so I have to - horror of horrors - order a women's shoe.

My ex didn't see that way. When I brought a new pair home and put them on, she had an absolute cow. I mean, a complete shitfit. She began grilling me unmercifully about my sexual orientation, who I was seeing on the side, is she going to get AIDS/hepatits C/herpes, etc. For hours. Over a pair of sneakers! She just couldn't get past the idea that the box had the little "W" sticker on it.

Needless to say, this caused me to lose what remaining respect I had for her at this point. I ended it shortly thereafter, as soon as I could find a new apartment to move into.

As it turns out, she has lots of other issues, most notably OCD. This episode, however, goes to show what kind of a hold these issues can have on us from very early in life.

Had I carried a Coach purse around her, I probably would have been pitched from a 10 storey window or something.

L-girl said...

Isn't it crappy that even your therapist can put on the "you better be manly" pressure?

Horrible. I am very into therapy, having had such positive experiences with it, but every once in a while I am reminded of the therapist's huge capacity for hurt, too.

I've heard so many horror stories, things that really amount to abuse.

****

M Yass, that is seriously messed up! Seriously!

L-girl said...

She began grilling me unmercifully about my sexual orientation, who I was seeing on the side, is she going to get AIDS/hepatits C/herpes, etc. For hours.

Because you know, a man who wears women's sneakers must be of ambiguous orientation.

And everyone of ambiguous orientation cheats. And they all get diseases.

Right?

Grrrr.

M. Yass said...

Because you know, a man who wears women's sneakers must be of ambiguous orientation.

And they're not even really women's. They're very gender neutral. You've seen them, no?

Jen said...

"She began grilling me unmercifully about my sexual orientation, who I was seeing on the side, is she going to get AIDS/hepatits C/herpes, etc. For hours."
Right, because straight people don't get these from sex they get them from carrying purses/wearing blue...

BTW "Murse" is also a term for "Male Nurse". And, yes, it is favoured by the "I'm straight and male and a murse, what do you want to make of it?!" population.

James said...

Today's Pooch Cafe touches on this subject.

L-girl said...

And they're not even really women's. They're very gender neutral. You've seen them, no?

I assume so. Sneakers in general can be pretty unisex. It's hard to fathom why a "W" on a piece of footwear would cause any reaction, let alone that one. Makes you wonder what's going on there.

BTW "Murse" is also a term for "Male Nurse". And, yes, it is favoured by the "I'm straight and male and a murse, what do you want to make of it?!" population.

Oy. Figures. The word "nurse" already is gender neutral.

L-girl said...

Today's Pooch Cafe touches on this subject.

What would Impudent Strumpet say?

impudent strumpet said...

My parents had me wearing men's running shoes from Grade 5 on, because you get far more selection looking for a men's 8 than a women's 10. (I didn't even think anything of it since my mother does the same thing.) I wonder if M. Yass's girlfriend would consider that child abuse?

In re: Pooch Cafe, I'm just wondering why the colourist decided to colour poor Poo Poo pink?

James said...

In re: Pooch Cafe, I'm just wondering why the colourist decided to colour poor Poo Poo pink?

I don't know, but I suspect it has to do with the running "everyone thinks Poo Poo is female" gag.

The other running Poo Poo gag is the infatuation the female bull mastif, Droolia, has for the Bishon, such as here. So the strip plays both sides of the "not fitting sex stereotype" gag.

M. Yass said...

And then there's "bromance." You know, two guys who are very good friends. What's wrong with just saying he's your friend or your buddy?

L-girl said...

You know, I omitted "bromance" because I thought it was a new (stupid) word for a buddy movie - a new name for an old genre. If it's actually being used to describe male friendships, that's even stupider!

James said...

You know, I omitted "bromance" because I thought it was a new (stupid) word for a buddy movie - a new name for an old genre. If it's actually being used to describe male friendships, that's even stupider!

Inane as the neologism is, I think it may be a step in the right direction -- straight men able to use even a bastardized form of the term "romance" for relationships with other straight men? That's a big step. ;)