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5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men

We know the many ways sexism hurts women. But we don't talk as much about how sexism hurts men.

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And you definitely see it in some very common male sexual fears. I've read way too many letters to way too many sex advice columns from way too many straight men saying they like -- how shall I put this delicately? -- being on the receiving end of anal pleasure... but don't want to explore this eminently delightful activity, because they're afraid it means they're gay. Or because their female partners are afraid it means they're gay. (Somewhat testy note to straight men and their female partners: No, it doesn't. Wanting a woman to fuck you in the ass does not make you gay. Any more than wanting a woman to suck your cock does. Please.)

Now, I will say that these attitudes are beginning to change. The advances of the LGBT movement have freed things up for straights as well as queers, and the younger generation is a lot more fluid and casual about sexual orientation than mine ever was. As my friend Ben pointed out, "The loosening of roles that accompanied feminism and the gay rights movement probably benefited straight men at least as much as it did women and gay men... Witness metrosexuality: now that being mistaken for gay isn't a disaster, men have more fashion leeway." And Adam, who describes himself as "effeminate, though heterosexual," says that being assumed to be gay "gave me a pass on some of the more restrictive rules of masculinity. After all, nobody really bothered to tell me to 'man up' when I sounded 'fruity' anyway."

But at the same time, as gay visibility has increased, the likelihood of being mistaken for gay has gone way, way up. And as a result, the number of opportunities for anxious, gay-panic freakouts has gone up as well. Being mistaken for gay isn't as disastrous as it once was -- it's more of a laugh line and less of a petrifying threat -- but it also happens a lot more often. And the anxiety it still creates for a lot of straight men is a lot more constant... even if it isn't as severe.

So What Now?

And I've just barely started. I don't have nearly enough space here to write the full-length novel I could write on this subject. I've skipped some of the biggest and most important gender expectations of men: the expectations of competition, of status consciousness, of financial success, strength and athleticism, leadership skills, mechanical skills, easy erectile functionality, a dehumanizing attitude towards women, giving a crap about sports. Heck, men get a clear social message that, in order to be manly, they have to be tall. What the heck are you supposed to do about that?

What the heck are any of us supposed to do about any of this?

Well, having unloaded all this depressing crap, I think it's important to deliver some good news: There are ways out of this, and around it, and through it. A lot of men I talked about this said that yes, they were certainly aware of the rigid expectations held of them as men... but they didn't personally feel hugely constrained by them. Sure, they were aware of these expectations. But they also felt comfortable rejecting them. Or embracing the parts they liked, and rejecting the parts they didn't. Or subverting them, in creative and fun and sexy ways.

And many men pointed out that, while they're certainly getting a super-sized serving of narrow, stupid cultural messages about How To Be A Man, they're also getting a decent helping of smarter, broader messages about Not Listening To That Stupid Shit. Plenty of men have gotten spiffy, role-modely lessons and examples about being non-violent, respectful of women, emotionally honest, sexually honest, and just generally their own best selves... from sources ranging from pop culture icons to their own fathers and mothers. As jraoul pointed out, "Do I think men are given rigid and/or narrow expectations about maleness? Well, sure! And we are also given fluid and/or wide ones. Depends on who's doing the giving."

 
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