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Pathetic Masculinity

Last Thursday night a cat ate my roast beef sandwich.

He didn’t eat it, exactly, but managed to scatter the precious pink strips across the carpet while I was in the kitchen making popcorn. Somehow I forgot that cats love meat, though I’d been scooping cold, slimy Taco Bell-grade meat out of a can three times a day while housesitting for friends. I left my sandwich unattended, and was taken for a ride.

After three whole seconds registering what had happened I grew furious. Absolutely inconsolable. Oliviah and I were about to settle in for an inspiring movie night (Ms. Hurtado, the new 9th grade social studies teacher, slipped me a Vudu password to watch Freedom Writers) but instead Oliviah had to watch me stare down a coffee table and a sad wreckage of vegetable and bread, literally choked with rage –

“I don’t…want…curry. I really want a fucking roast beef sandwich!!

I grabbed for an empty glass, squeezed it as though it were an empty beer can then pounded back into the kitchen, knocking down several photobooth strips of my friends Lee and Sarah that clung to their fridge under a firm magnet. That last bit, admittedly, was accidental.

Stupid sexy Oliver....
Stupid sexy Oliver….

The next day my anger subsided and I sat in for the Read/Write Lab’s Freedom Writers discussion, which breached some unexpected territory. Beneath our banner of Tolerance, emphasis shifted from the dangers of racial profiling to the nuances of gender identity.

Ms. Hurtado posed the question, “What do feminine and masculine mean to you?”

The students’ answers were, unfortunately, not all too enlightening, but it was nice hearing them try to compose their thoughts in a meaningful way. The topic got me thinking, as well, and on the spot my response came out rather soulless and unaffected: “I see feminine and masculine as more, **ahem**, aesthetic traits, feminine associating with softness and masculine with something hard and…forceful.”

I was trying so, so hard not to say “penis” in front of a group of underachieving tenth graders, or make any gestures that might suggest so much. However, I can’t say I didn’t ball up my fist and thrust it forward once or twice in my search for an appropriate adjective.

Me schooling the kids during their little discussion of “tolerance”…

With more time to analyze and articulate, my opinion hasn’t changed much – though it has earned a couple of important caveats:

1) while the associations of “feminine” and “masculine” stem from gendered expectations, I don’t believe they warrant gender-specific applications, for instance a camera can be described as a masculine object because the lens is phallic but also as feminine because its technology must be penetrated by the visual substance of the living world, thus the penis/vagina dichotomy is preserved simultaneously in the object’s disagreement of form and function but ultimately a camera’s job is to produce something that is arguably both (or neither) masculine or feminine, which is the image, which is art.

And 2) masculinity can be totally pathetic.

After the cat ate my sandwich, I resolved not to explore the plethora of desirable leftovers in the apartment.  Instead, I marched across Hawthorne to the Fred Meyer’s and bought a fresh $3 tray of deli meat and a pack of Chips Ahoy Chunky’s and pretended I had “won” my engagement with Oliver, the cat.

My reaction was specifically masculine, I am certain, because the only other times I’ve endured such a palpable knot in my gut and pulsing in my limbs are when I get blue balls.  Revoking gratification, however mundane, produces a proto-berzerk state that is not exclusive to men but I would never in my life describe as feminine.

Before my meltdown with Oliver, Oliviah had a mini-crisis of her own. With her classes starting back up in a few days, she felt completely overwhelmed and under-prepared, sobbing it out in my arms for a while as I said comforting things in hushed tones. I don’t hesitate to call her curdle of emotions feminine because I don’t see that term as pejorative. Crying (when done right) is sonorous and beautiful and cathartic, and again, not reserved for women. Recently, when “B.I.B.L.E.” from GZA’s Liquid Swords hits the speakers on my drive to work, I tear up a little. It’s a stunning track!

Matters of gender and sexuality are gnarled and complex –and political, and in vogue as of late. This is good for many reasons, one being that it’s more acceptable to be curious and to ask questions that seemed taboo in the past. Terms of engagement are not as rigid as they seem; even in the most traditionally masculine arenas, subtle shading emerges.

Speaking of arenas, in August Oliviah and I had a D.C. day that ended with the Orioles beating up on the Nationals. It was a beautiful day to be at a ballpark. Under the “conditions” section of his scorecard, a graying scholar-type in front of me scribbled, “perfect” – in all lowercase, with a smug period.

ballpark
“perfect”

A single obnoxious O’s fan tainted our section. He turned to the mezzanine when Bryce Harper struck out for the second or third time, shouting “O-VER-RAY-TED!” – I took my empty beer cup and threw it, splashing a few suds of light beer on his cargo shorts. This really upset Oliviah.  I mansplained how it was the only sensible way to protect my home turf without getting in some ill-advised, annoying verbal altercation – unfortunately the curly-blonde Catholic boy in front of us took that gambit, spitting lame come-backs at the O’s fan and eventually flagging down the usher to vent his distress. Oy vey…

A few days later, my dad caught wind of my reckless cup-throwing and scolded me: that’s how you get yourself killed! Oliviah grinned.

There are many brands of masculinity.

My dad is of the cautious, experienced masculinity, like the graying scholar who suddenly piped up when his lame son started getting into it with the bloated, out-of-town loser – quiet, both of ya!

The lame son is the masculinity that claims life-preserving pride in being a reliable, boring sexual companion.

The O’s fan is the kind of masculinity that thinks it’s cool to float dollar bills into the nave of a stripper’s back like it’s a carnival game.

I think I’m somewhere between my dad and the O’s fan – with a splash of Mom: when she joined our conversation, she looked at my dad and said well, c’mon Dale, the guy was asking for it!

Man or woman, masculine or feminine, gay, straight, or whatever, it just takes a little change of perspective to realize how pathetic we all can be. Or a cat.

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