There is no such thing as a "Real Man."
Guess what? Real Women don't exist either. During ABC's The Bachelorette last night, one common thread of discussion amongst the dudes competing for the heart of single mom, Emily Maynard, was the omnipresent concept of the Real Man. Kalon, this season's resident villain/ pretend psychopath, got blasted for not being a Real Man, since he dismissed Maynard's child as "baggage." Freshly-dumped Sean espoused his principle that, "a Real Man accepts a woman for all parts of herself."
Let me be fully disclosing here. Despite its heteronormativity, I do enjoy watching The Bachelorette, because I find the whole scenario amusing. However, at the same time, I understand that vying for the title of the "Perfect Man" sends a bad signal to men and to women.
First of all, what is a Real Man? Is it the mega masculine Don Draper-esqe persona that Joel Stein pines for in his recent New York Times piece? Is it Christian Grey? Or is it Ru Paul? Yes, Ru Paul -- not Ron Paul.
A few things really bothered me about Stein's op-ed bit. He says, "I'm thrilled with technology, the Enlightenment and feminism. But..." Uh, oh.
Stein is dismissive of feminism, and according to the tone in which he writes, it is clear that rather than supporting feminism or being "thrilled" by it as he claims, he actually has outright contempt for it. Later in the article he says, "I got messed up by my feminist mom in the 1970's, who taught me that gender was a social construct."
He argues for a return to the era of Manly Men. "Without manliness we're going to die as a species," he postulates.
I call bullshit.
I'm beyond sick of this discussion about Real Men and Real Women. We hear clichés like, "Real Men don't eat quiche, Real Women know when to shut up, and Real Men know how to treat a lady."
The bottom line is that masculinity does not belong to men, nor does femininity belong to women. Drag queens have known this forever. However, average heterosexuals are taking more time to get the memo.
When gender differences get put on a pedestal, we assign gender roles. We begin to believe that women and men have natural, genetically-assigned attributes and life duties. The fact of the matter is that not everyone is born either male or female. One in every 1,500 babies is born intersex, meaning that they have sex organs that are both masculine and feminine, or that their sexual anatomy differs in a noticeable way from the typical boy and girl. There are other people who are born with the sex organs of one gender, but may not necessarily feel that their gender correctly lines up with how they see themselves. There are even people who are biologically one sex, but don't really identify themselves as being either male or female. So, there is a bigger range than the everyday set of ovaries or balls.
The idea of Real Men and Real Women is marginalizing to anyone who doesn't fall into the "correct" bin. It might be really hard, for instance, for a transsexual woman to ever feel like a Real Woman, since there is a pervasive idea that little girls are born with vaginas and move from the hospital into pink nurseries filled with bow-haired baby dolls.
The standard-make, straight person might say, "Yeah, so what! I'm 'normal.' Why should I care?"
Well, the answer to that lies in the insidious consequences of the idolization of the Real Man. Let's examine Don Draper, the subject of Joel Stein's adoration. Don is a male chauvinist; he values men over women, and he often treats women as his sexual play toys. He continually overlooks Peggy's accomplishments in favor of her male colleagues. Don has a difficult time accepting that his wife wants to choose her own career, and he resents her for leaving advertising. He was horrified by the fact that Joan might sleep with the Jaguar client to get ahead, but he excuses himself for the same behavior; he had an affair with client's wife several seasons ago.
So, is a Real Man sexist?
Lately, I've had a lot of straight girlfriends say, "I just really want a Real Man. Someone who will pull my hair and throw me against the wall and fuck me."
I guess a Real Man is, therefore, dominant, macho and virile? But wait, isn't the "ideal man" also sensitive, romantic and sweet? There was something else, too; what was it? Oh, yes, I remember. He's also supposed to be rich, right?
The quest to appear to be a Real Man or Real Woman leads to feelings of inadequacy, because "Realness" is a loose and changing concept, and it varies person to person, group to group. However, what does seem to be a constant in this elevation of Realness, is a yearning to return to/ maintain a system of strict gender roles with hyper-feminine women and super-masculine men.
I like lipstick. I enjoy getting my hair done. Does that make me a Real Woman? Or, am I not a Real Woman since I don't have sex with Real Men?
Holding each other and ourselves to these ridiculous standards is not only a waste of time, but it's detrimental to our progress as individuals striving for equality. Instead of saying, "Real Women have curves, and Real Men are strong," we should focus on the personal and psychological aspects of each person. It might be better to say, "Jimmy really loves football and has a high sex drive," or "Jo doesn't like to work out, but loves to play World of Warcraft," or even "Jane likes to look in the mirror and imagine that she has a penis."
I don't want to live in a sexist world. Do you?
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