My boyfriend and I got into another heated debate about why feminism shouldn't die again yesterday. "What exactly is it that you guys want?" he asked me. "To be treated like a morally equal human being," I answered. Today, I read a great article in Details men's magazine about "reclaiming your chauvinism." I've posted it here, to remind us about what we're fighting against:
On the surface, Dave—we'll call him that because his wife doesn't—is a decent guy: a devoted spouse and a doting father to the three young children he "co-parents." And yet Dave has a shady side habit, an indulgence he tells himself he's entitled to: In Manhattan, where he works, he frequents a select circuit of massage parlors that offer "happy ending" services. At first, he says, he felt bad about what he was doing. But the more he hears about the transgressions of male friends and colleagues, the more it seems that his "extracurricular activities," as he calls them, aren't simply about sexual boredom or scratching an itch in a new way. He's just, like many men his age, tapping into the asshole within.
Dave, who was in college during the P.C. era of the early nineties, is part of a generation of men who have started to wonder why they've been so damn well-behaved all these years—and are now letting their long-repressed roguish instincts run free. Cheating is at the extreme end of the list of infractions; resistance is more often expressed in other, seemingly benign ways, ranging from being disingenuously helpful (offering to do the grocery shopping to escape the house for a couple of hours) to tuning out (pouring a third glass of Scotch as the girlfriend looks askance) to adopting a sort of passive-aggressive inertness (feigning temporary deafness on hearing the baby cry in the middle of the night). An everyday selfishness, in other words, thats about snatching a bit of unapologetic selfhood—manhood, damn it—back from the clammy clutches of coupledom.
of the shift has to do, of course, with the normal surliness that comes with skidding toward middle age. But much of it is related to where the postfeminist era left guys like Dave: lost, basically. All that "girl power" stuff that enthralled indie/campus culture in the Cobain years may have been eclipsed by dopey Sex and the City-style materialism, but the combination of the two gave women license to be both ballsy and old-school girly (e.g., to have the cool career and the fuck-me pumps). Meanwhile, guys felt not just emasculated but complicit in their own de-ballsing. The sensitive guy's answer to riot-grrrl rock was poetry readings and the Counting Crows, for chrissake.
"What's distinctive about being a man anymore?" asks sociologist Michael Kimmel, the author of Guyland, a new book about American masculinity. "In the search for the answer to that question, you're going to get a lot of confusion, a lot of return to traditionalism, a lot of sort of defensive resentment." Resentment that's been bubbling up beneath the enlightened veneer of post-P.C. boys, now grown men with careers and wives and toddlers, who are, for starters, "doing a lot more child care than their fathers did," as Kimmel points out. Recast as nurturers, some of these guys are finding themselves almost indignantly nostalgic for that time, not so long ago, when husbands got to be babied by their wives—and never had to empty the Diaper Genie.
"There has been this huge transformation in the past 20 years," says Jill Brooke, editor of First Wives World, a website for divorced women, "but there is still something embedded in the male DNA thats really just habit. I joke with my husband that men want a geisha girl—with brains. The geisha-girl element being that they still want to be fed and adored."
A man used to rule his castle, but the hard truth is that now—whether he realizes it or not—he's been deposed. Instead of being domestic commander-in-chief, he's likely in "Yes, dear" mode, bent over the recycling bins sorting paper and plastic, or dutifully ferrying the kids to birthday parties. If there's an object lesson for the contemporary married man, it's the case of Guy Ritchie, who grimly submitted to the clean-living, steamed-veggie, low-fat-smoothie martial law set down by his wife, Madonna—"If [he] fancied a pie and a pint he would have to nip down to the pub," a sympathetic friend told the U.K.'s Daily Mirror—and was then reportedly cuckolded for his troubles.
Rather amazing, really, that a guy who was seemingly his own man would knuckle under like that. But Ritchie was just subscribing to the contemporary credo that a good husband shuts up and gets on with it—while secretly nursing (and sometimes even acting on) elaborate escape fantasies. The average guy's reality, though, is more likely to involve Internet porn (hello, David Duchovny). Or a visit to a strip club on a business trip. Or run-of-the-mill emotional infidelity—investing a little too enthusiastically in, say, a nonsexual but ego-flattering "work wife" flirtation, whether face-to-face or Internet-enabled (like sending inappropriate IMs to the accounting assistant). Boomer dudes may occasionally bust free with self-destructive gusto (Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards), but a lot of younger guys simply won't go that far—at least not yet—perhaps because they're determined not to be like their distant, selfish, work-addicted, possibly philandering fathers.
Meanwhile, one of the cultural side effects of the repressed modern married man is a burgeoning market for vividly antiheroic role models—icons of unreconstructed masculinity who say and do things a lot of guys only wish they could get away with. Like misogynist Internet auteur Tucker Max, the self-described "raging dickhead." And all those VH1 celeb-reality doofuses (Flavor Flav, Bret Michaels), who traffic in their boy-in-a-man's-body recklessness. And Dr. Gregory House of the top-10 hit House, who regresses to his idealized punk-rock self by noisily playing his electric guitar in his office, and who doesn't hesitate to tell an immunologist he hired her because she's so pretty that "it's like having a nice piece of art in the lobby." And Don Draper, the self-contained, womanizing creative director on Mad Men, whos drawn, in all his flawed maleness, as a sort of timeless inevitability.
The popularity of the likes of Mad Men comes from a wave of nostalgia, says Kimmel, for a time when men were less confused about what it meant to be a man: "It's the vicarious thing of 'Look at how entitled Don Draper is! I wish it was like that in the workplace now, but now the women aren't just the secretaries, they're my goddamn boss!'" There is no going back, though, no real recourse. Just new ways to act out in pathetic little increments. It's what Kimmel calls "regression with a vengeance"—slipping back into a posture of bratty, boyish petulance and indifference. Because, for their part, men are no longer fighting the war of the sexes—just mounting a sad little insurgency.
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