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A Manifesto for Radical Masculinity

Remember back in the Spring of 2009 when two young boys committed suicide within a week of each other, both eleven years old? Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Massachusetts and Jaheem Herrera of Georgia were both being subjected to unbearable anti-gay bullying at school. Whether or not these boys were actually gay, using homophobia to police masculinity is practically the oldest trick in the book. In the aftermath of these suicides, and in the discussions that ensued on the Web and in print, there was extensive lip service given to gender and the inevitable complaint that boys have it so hard, that feminism has stripped men of their manliness, that men don't know how to be men anymore, that we've got a Crisis In Masculinity.

That might seem like anti-feminist rhetoric, but I agree with it—at least in part. I agree that masculinity is changing, for some in dramatic, drastic ways. I have witnessed and observed cultural changes around the masculine and male gender roles which are shifting, yes, as a direct result of the recent feminist and other gendered social change movements.

This bipolar—I mean polarized binary—gender systemHow can I be a feminist and be masculine? Does feminism devalue masculinity? Isn't that the same problem as devaluing femininity? And more personally, what does masculinity look like on me? is built for the masculine and feminine to be in sync with each other, built to be in friction, built to be in an elaborate dance of give and take. The ideal of the "American Dream" suburbia that we think of from the 1950s and early 1960s laid out precisely just how the masculine and the feminine are supposed to be dependent upon each other and interact. The problem is, that system is completely prescriptive, with exactly one option for everyone. We are used to hearing the oh-woe-is-my-gender tales from women and the feminist movements in the recent past, but it is rather new to begin to untangle the ways in which this system damages men and prescribes certain traits within masculine expression, too.

I know; my inner feminist starts rolling her eyes. Oh yeah, sure, men have it so hard. Running the world and being 485 of the top 500 CEOs (and hey, that's more than last year! that means women are on the rise! Women are now taking men's jobs!) and never having to worry whether their work shirt is cut too low to be 'appropriate.' I spent too many years examining the plights of women and the plights of queers and the plights of people of color and the plights of all sorts of other socio-economically degraded and marginalized groups—I was raised by feminist parents and majored in Women Studies, after all—it takes some work for me to be convinced that men have the short end of the stick in this system that has set up masculinity to be superior.

But I know there's something wrong with masculinity, and I know it's hard to express one's self as masculine without falling into the many, many harmful trappings of the limitations of a masculine gender, because I'm butch.

I did not grow up that girly, mostly more due to the rural mountainous landscape of my upbringing than a lack of interest. I climbed trees in my dresses, snuck my makeup to high school, studied femininity and feared myself a failure at it. Femininity was never encouraged by my parents—they still have trouble separating gender expression, celebration, or presentation from prescribed gender roles, therefore taking on an attitude that all gender is oppressive. When I came out easily into lesbian communities that value androgyny, it was easy and comfortable to don "fuck your fascist beauty standards" tee shirts and chop off my hair. It is a rite of lesbian passage, you know.

But coming into my own masculinity was harder and took much longer. I wanted to go further than androgyny; I knew I was drawn to and wanted to be butch, but I wasn't sure what that meant. Hell, I'm still not entirely sure what that means (but I do love trying to figure it out).

Not knowing what it meant to "be masculine" held up my adopting a butch identity for many years. As a feminist, as a lesbian, I was constantly asking myself, and my boi-ish friends: what is masculinity, if not misogyny? What is masculinity without misogyny? How can I be a feminist and be masculine? Does feminism devalue masculinity? Isn't that the same problem as devaluing femininity? And more personally, what does masculinity look like on me? I could recognize it on other people, but I couldn't quite figure out how it translated, or how to break it down into its individual components so I could play with presenting it myself.

As I began making a serious study out of learning masculinity, I started seeing more and more parallels in the oppressive gender roles, regardless of where individuals fall in the hierarchy. The prescriptive roles are limiting and restricting, and predetermine too much which I would now separate out and call personality. I don't believe hobbies and interests should ever be determined by your particular gender identity—if you're into fashion or ballet or football or baking or knitting or home repair or cars or video games, why should it matter what your gender is? Your hobbies might interact with your gender—they might tickle your gender in just the right ways, which may or may not align with the prescribed gender role, but they should never restrict or determine what you do or do not like.

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Masculinity

For many men, masculinity is defined by behavior that attracts women. Women, especially feminized women, often say they want one sort of man, but are often sexually attracted toward a different sort of man. I think women need to realize how much like trained animals MOST men actually are. The behavior you reward, is the behavior that will be emulated. Being considerate, and respectful of women, has never earned me so much as the scent of vagina and being a jerk has. I lost my virginity to a woman 6 years my senior, i was 18, after telling her "Your too homely for my tastes but your friend is hot." I was raised in a liberal household, my mother was a working woman, I was raised to believe that that was a horrible thing to say, and yet that attitude was rewarded with intercourse. To me this was a clear indicator that being a dick got a positive response from women, especially after Nice Guying myself into the friend zone while assholes laid the girls i loved throughout my teen years.

As a grown man now, I've decided that women and their expectations and desires, and my ability to meet their demands, do not define my manhood. I've discovered that the ultimate display of manhood, is to do what you wanna do, and fuck what everyone thinks.

What is honestly more masculine, than telling EVERYONE, EVERYONE, to take their expectations and stereotypes, and shove them up their respective asses?

If none of this makes sense, then I apologize, because its Wednesday afternoon and I'm drunk. Thats right, I'm too masculine to wait until Friday like all you conformist pussies out there.

"Women, especially feminized

"Women, especially feminized women, often say they want one sort of man, but are often sexually attracted toward a different sort of man. I think women need to realize how much like trained animals MOST men actually are. The behavior you reward, is the behavior that will be emulated"

Number 1: you assume all women think the same way, this is as ridiculous as assuming all men think the same way - which you do. Number 2: It is insulting to men say that they are trained animals who only respond to the possibility of almighty Pussy. Men are not controlled by their sexual appetites any more than women.

"Being considerate, and respectful of women, has never earned me so much as the scent of vagina and being a jerk has."

Why not just be considerate and respectful of women because YOU SHOULD RESPECT AND BE CONSIDERATE OF PEOPLE? We are not masturbatory aids that need you to flick the right number of switches before catching your jizz.

I call troll.

That wasn't really the point

That wasn't really the point of his post.

I call flame.

Oh I think that was exactly

Oh I think that was exactly the point of his post. Or was the point finding a place to whine?

Pretty accurate

As much as I dislike what you said, you are pretty on target. As long as women reserve nice guys for friends and screw the bad guys the negative incentive remains. This doesn't mean that women bear the blame, but don't be surprised if men roll their eyes when we hear women lamenting that lack of sensitive men. Of course, men are guilty of speaking out of both sides of our mouths too. Likely we could all stand to be more honest about what we seek in a spouse.

Related to this topic, real masculinity is having the conviction to stand up for what is right and to lead by example. It makes you stronger, emotionally and spiritually speaking, than you can normally behave. When men draw on this source of power and use it to promote justice and order they are respected. When they abdicate their calling to lead they are treated as effeminate know-nothings, as is often the case these days. In other words, step up to it men.

Radical masculinity

What are the positive traits that make us successful human beings? Can we impart and teach and imbue our cultures and our feelings for all the various "genders" with those? I want to offer a few traits, and perhaps others will add to the list:

Courage
Intrepid curiosity
Loving kindness
A sense of honor and personal Integrity
Enough empathy
Nimble intelligence
Sense of humor
Consideration
Creativity
Humility when appropriate
Largesse when appropriate
Sensuality

compassion self worth taking

compassion
self worth
taking responsibility for oneself
questingness
reverence
boldness
liberality and generousity

I like it. As Deleuze says,

I like it. As Deleuze says, "a thousand tiny sexes".

I'm saddened

I went through this whole article, hoping to see some examples of radical masculinity. And there was...not very much.
And that made me sad.

And then I noticed that this would be continued, that this was an introduction!
And that made me happy.

Hurry up and write more, Sugarbutch!

Excellent article, with

Excellent article, with several valid points. I'm actually writing an essay right now about how the movie The Big Lebowski shows these notions of evolving masculinity.
As a man who self identifies as a feminist, I know that there is an analysis gap between classical masculinity and classical femininity, and this makes it easy for men to write off feminism wholesale.

comment from the peanut gallery

Believe me when i say that i always enjoy your writing, but i do think your gender-related posts are the best. I've been reading your stuff for a few months now and a lot of it reminds me of the kind of discussions that spark up once in a while when i'm with my friends. Truth be told, said discussions are few and far between, and they tend to fizzle out before we're really able to get in depth. If anything, this is the direction i'd like to go in when we do have those chats and i would if given half the chance.

But that's not the reason i'm commenting. I'm commenting because i read a point that made me laugh my ass off. You wrote:

"Implying, of course, that sweet drinks are for girls and wasn't I a guy? A guy's guy? A butch's butch? Come on, order something that'll put hair on your chest, like whiskey or beer!
Why the fuck can't I just order what I want to order?"

It brings up a very funny issue that i've noticed quite a bit when i go out. If i'm wearing my typical outfit (jeans, button-down shirt, the occasional vest and/or tie) and i order a fruity drink, i often get odd looks. It's almost like i'm not acting butch enough. If, however, i go out in drag, the story is quite different.

When i'm in drag, the only thing that differs from my normal appearance is that i use mascara to add a bit of a 5 o' clock shadow. That's it. That's all it takes to make everyone assume i'm a young metrosexual man. And when a metrosexual dude orders a fruity drink and isn't getting it for the woman he's with, nobody thinks twice.

Apparently, it is more of a societal norm for a metrosexual guy to order a fruity drink than it is for an androgynous dyke to do the same thing.

It's not just a drink thing, of course. It's almost as if people expect me to be more masculine when i'm "butched up" than they do when i'm out in drag. When buying tampons, for instance, people either see a dyke who must know all about car maintenance, or a sweet young man on an errand for his girlfriend.

Anyway, that's pretty much all there is to my comment. Nothing important. Just wanted to add my two cents and to say that i really do enjoy reading what you post.

- Tristan

Hi. I think there's one main

Hi.

I think there's one main definitional issue - being and playing. A lot, if not most, of gender identities is actually a matter of performance. Yet there is a problem for all those who don't choose or have to choose their identity if there is no inherent meaning left to the definition of what they *ARE*. Performance of gender practices is about separating being from playing, but that separation is not one that can be easily made if you ARE a man.

I really don't know how to square this. How to allow complete personal freedom, let JD order an Appletini and hug Turk, while at the same time retain some meaning content to *being* a man rather than performing masculinity.

In the end, it seems, whatever it is, it is mostly defined by what feminine women prefer in men they then decide to have sex with.

interesting comment, thanks for capturing the zeitgeist of man

It seems that every comment on topics like this must somehow be prefixed with the writers background, so a proper context can be set. So here goes. Born an ethnically Canadian male, raised in a female-only household (single mom), where there was limited contact with males of my family, and furthermore most of it negative. My mom was involved in the feminist community. I did things like attend take back the night, went to my mom's work at various feminist organizations, attended "lesbian night" at the local gay bar, etc. I wasn't allowed to watch star wars, I had non-violent toys (no toy guns for me), and I was taught to respect women. Furthermore I was home schooled, so I avoided the inevitable shitty times people have at JR high school.

I realize now that when I was younger that the feminist upbringing in fact was just a "feminine" upbringing. There wasnt much effort to create or seek out positive male role models. The ones I had in my life were all negative: absent dad, abusive grandfathers, bad uncle, bad uncle-in-law, bad partner to the neighbour, etc. I can only think of one male who wasn't presented in a negative light, but I didn't really ever bond with him. Even as a kid I knew at take back the night marches that my time here was limited - women and children, but eventually I would be what we were marching against.

In the end, I guess im just somewhat dissapointed in my feminist upbringing, how it didn't really prepare me for the world, how it didn't teach me how to be a good male, or that they existed other than a theory. The sum total of my instruction might be the line: "show the world there can be good men and be one". It wasn't helpful. I also find the male hating in my family (not a feminist issue per se) really dissapointing. It was never directed at me, but if all you learn about people who look like you is that they are bad, it doesn't really help. I lived my first 25 years solidly in the realm of math, science, school and technology. It has prepared me well, and now that I am reassessing the world around me I am finding joy in discovering positive male role models. They are somewhat stereotypical, but admirable nevertheless: fathers, men who care for their friends/partners, competent and competitive men who enjoy life.

I'm not your typical male by any means, not overly traditionally male, I live in SF and close to the castro, and I have many gay male friends who don't threaten my "manhood" (whatever that is).

In this end this comment was less prescriptive than descriptive, consider it talk therapy!

male role models

My upbringing was different but I can relate to a "feminine" upbringing, without much presence of "positive male role models."

For a short while I identified this as a source of a number of problems for me - but recently I've begun to think it's not really that I had a lack of "male" role models, but a lack of role models with whom I could identify my gender. Or something like that. I have male biology and am straight, cis, etc. There were some alright role models in my life, but they were all female. This is fine, but confusing when immersed in a culture that so rigidly defines a binary of what it is to be "male" and "female."

I guess I'm saying, in terms of *human* role models, I had a few at hand, but since they were biologically female, in a culture that defines development and identity unnecessarily strongly in terms of biology and gender, I didn't notice or appreciate or learn from them as much as I could have, how to be an effective and happy human being.

I've recently been discovering positive male role models as well, and attempting to be one myself - but also noticing the many positive female role models - and human role models in general - that come into my life.

Radical Masculinity Always Questions Privilege

Thank you for a great article.

Without a thorough examination of male privilege and how it manifests in a masculine person's daily life and how we benefit from such privilege, masculinity is not radical.

Additionally, I have come to understand in my journey from lesbian female to straight male that there are women who, while they say they may want radical masculinity in their bedrooms and boardrooms, do not. Such responses are too be expected. Unthinking femininity requires its equally unthinking counterpart to function.

I've had to fight a good fight with women I've dated on this point. Simply because someone may ask me to treat them in a particular way doesn't mean I should.

Radical masculinity is about personal and collective liberation. Everything else is just costumes and dress-up.

Keep up the great work. I'm looking forward to more articles.

Take care,
Jay

definitions

The Masculine Manifesto: http://manhood101.com/principles101.pdf

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Sinclair Sexsmith
September 30th, 2009
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Sinclair Sexsmith is a sadistic kinky queer butch top who writes about sex, gender, and relationship adventures at Sugarbutch Chronicles. He partners with femmes and gets off on intentional...