249 – The Bear

Grab us a beer from the fridge, would you darlin'? There's a good gel.

I happened upon today’s One A Day topic while in the kitchen this morning, making mocha and singing show tunes: masculinity, just what the flip is that all aboot?

I happen to think of myself as a very manly man. The only problem is, nobody else agrees with me–especially not my wife, who expresses surprise whenever I exhibit a masculine trait she was hitherto unaware of. “You’re so manly,” she says, in the wondering manner of Lois Lane discovering–against all probability–that Clark Kent can fly.

I suppose I should feel reassured. She’s not one of those women who gets hot and bothered by meat-head football players or wedge-shaped guidos–all blown out hair and pectoral muscle. She does have a thing for burly Scotsman, but that’s in equal parts down to the accent and the fact they wear skirts.

To date, I’m just about the only man she’s ever been attracted to who hasn’t turned out to be gay; as such she’s made it clear she’s waiting for the day I’ll leave her for another man. “I won’t,” I protest–a little too strongly, if you ask her. “I’m straight–you’re stuck with me.”

“So what you’re saying is, I’m manly. You think of me as a man, so you don’t mind being with me even though you’re so very gay.”

“How many times do we have to go through this? I am not gay.”

And then I make mocha and sing show tunes and begin to realise why she’s so confused.

But wait! When it comes to closeted homosexuality aren’t frou frou coffees and songs from musicals rather clichéd? And anyway, who associated these things with gay men in the first place? Who makes these rules? What defines homosexuality, heterosexuality–and for that matter, what is masculinity?

Maybe I’m a little naive but I always thought a person’s sexuality was down to the gender to which they’re they’re attracted–on the Kinsey Scale there’s no mention of a fondness for pastels or Liza Minelli. In the enlightened twenty-first century there’s a whole wealth of subcultural clichés that should, in theory, have been abandoned by now. As I understand it, many of the behaviours we’ve come to associate with gay men–campness, for example–came about as a way for gay men to distinguish themselves from straights: a fan-tailed display designed to attract like-minded mates. This occurred back in times when being gay was frowned up by society, if not considered totally criminal. Men unable to repress their illicit sexuality resorted to codes and mannerisms to find one another in more draconian times.

In many parts of the world those days are–thankfully–behind us, and the human race affects a more cosmopolitan air of live and let live. Yet still we abide by and recognise those out of date codes, despite modern day gay men being, well, men who just happen to like other men. They can watch footie with the lads, drink lager instead of Campari and not be reduced to tears by Hallmark cards with doe-eyed kittens on the front. They don’t have to do that weird fucking hand-flappy thing women do when they cry, when they don’t want to smudge their make-up. I hate that thing. Most of the people who do it aren’t even wearing make up. You look fucking ridiculous when you flap your hands like that–stop it!

The weird thing is, if you strip away the accumulated centuries of effeminate behaviour two men fucking (and to those who’ve found this post using that exact search string, hello!) is about as masculine as you can possibly get. Nobody ever accuses femme lipstick lesbians getting it on of being unladylike. I’m sure the audience for that particular kink never complains that the women aren’t hairy enough, or that their kissing’s too soft, or that neither one of them hawks a wad of phlegm into a hankie or falls asleep right after orgasm, snoring like a sawmill. Transpose that to a couple of hairy-backed sweaty bears porking each other in the butt and you can practically hear their beards growing: it’s the kind of masculinity that stretches far behind the reach of the average straight man–that reaches right around, if you will.

Abandon your concepts of mincing heroin chic and podium-dancing gimps: do you really think all those gay cowboys and bikers are camp refugees from the Village People? For the longest time, bikers and cowpokes were the hardest of hard men, weathered by the elements, looking for trouble. Advertisers packaged this masculine image and sold it to regular guys, who bought jeans and leather jackets so they, too, might look tough.

When those hard men got hard for each other, do you really think they started lisping and wearing sequins? After years out on the range or in the garage did they start fretting when mud or oil ruined the fabric of their favourite chemise, or did they stay just as rugged as ever they were?

For the rest of us trying to impress members of the opposite sex, masculinity’s a precarious line to tread: being too manly is just as likely to spill us over the edge as not being manly enough. This week on Celebrity Big Brother slurring oxygen thief Kerry Katona and barely sentient guff cloud Amy Childs expressed their dissatisfaction with fellow housemate Bobby Sabel, who–unfortunately for him–failed to live up to their high standards of masculinity. “He’s so good-looking it’s a joke,” said Amy–several times in fact, so pleased was she with her assessment of the situation. “But he does nuffink for me. Nuffink.”

“I know what you mean,” said Kerry. “If he’d come over, put his arms around us and say ‘Awright gels?’ it’d be different. But he doesn’t.”

These women–and I use the term advisedly–were looking for a cheeky, laddish nature in their prospective partners: to them, this would be the perfect expression of masculinity.

They’re not alone. A lot of British women–perhaps even the majority of them–are after partners who require less maintenence than they do themselves. They like men who’re a bit flirty, a bit cheeky, who have a bit of a belly and don’t smell like violets. In the olden days men would stuff their ‘kerchiefs into their armpits, then pass them to their dance partners so the girls might mop their brows with pheremonal man-stank and be aroused by it. Was this a turn-on for the women? Who knows? But along those lines, I’m pretty sure my wife prefers me looking–and smelling–just a little scruffy than like I’ve just been preened at a poodle parlour.

I know women have tastes just as diverse as men, but there can’t be many of them who want a man who isn’t rough and tumble, whom they have to treat like a glass sculpture. Confidence is roundly agreed to be an attractive quality in a partner. Personally I like women who’re a little insecure; perhaps confidence is more of a masculine trait.

Those manly men, those blokey blokes, all confidence, booze, birds and ‘show us your tits’ seem to have masculinity sewn up, which is strange as they’re not a million miles away from, well, from geeks. Taken collectively, blokey, sporty lads and your average Metallica t-shirt wearing Games Workshop frequenting geek are two sides of the same coin: they’re all man children, only one side of the coin paints Warhammer figurines while the other side kicks cans around the street, celebrating goals with their jerseys pulled over their heads. If we’re talking stereotypes here then it’s certainly confidence that makes the difference. Geeks don’t talk to girls: they shy away back to their D&D source books while barfly Pete who’s such a bloody bloke does the Kerry Katona thing–no, the other Kerry Katona thing–and calls you darlin’.

So, what have we learned so far? Masculinity’s confident and animalistic. It’s unconcerned with life’s fripperies and rides a hog.

Shit–I don’t do any of that! Does this mean I’m not masculine? And if I’m not, what am I?

Without wanting to appear self-aggrandising I think I might have discovered a get-out clause. Though I’m none of the things commonly associated with masculinity I do fall into another group beyond the beers, bears and beards: I brood. I’m a brooder. No, this doesn’t mean I desperately want to have children–you’re thinking of broody.

Far away from barrel-chested heroes and lager louts is Mr. Darcy, otherwise known as women’s kryptonite. Not every woman finds Mr. Darcy attractive, but as far as romantic heroes go, there are few who so revered, who can moistened gussets at the mere mention of his name. Mr. Darcy wields a mysterious masculinity operating on such a high frequency menfolk can’t hear it at all: to us he’s a pompous, self-absorbed, stuck-up twat, but to women he might as well be a control button activating their heat mode,

Am I really going to compare myself to Mr. Darcy? Surely not!

Well, yes, I am–and before you send me hate-mail saying I don’t do anything to your gusset please, let me explain myself.

For much of Pride and Prejudice Mr. Darcy is repellent. In the most recent film version he’s even made up to have lank hair and a terrible skin condition. He’s blotchy, he’s aloof, he’s bad-tempered, he treats Elizabeth Bennet with scorn and derision–when he notices her at all. He infuriates her and she hates him–ooh, that Mr. Darcy! I would sooner kiss the rump of a pustulent vole than your dry and terrible lips!

Miss Bennet hates Mr. Darcy with such passion, that passion inexplicably becomes attraction. She deliberately suffers his company so she might be more passionate in her hatred of him, and as she comes to understand the meaning behind his mysterious, hateful nature so that burning hatred softens and warms and brightens her life. She loves him and he loves her.

And all the men reading look up from the book and say: “What the fuck just happened?”

Aloof, angry, self-pitying, mean, tormented; a loner who does his utmost to drive everyone away lest they pierce the gooey softness at his guarded centre and tear into his cold and withered heart–yup, that’s me all right.

And it’s not as if Mr. Darcy’s the only example of this tortured, distorted breed of masculinity in literature and elsewhere: you need only read the works of Gothic poets like Byron, or witness the swollen fan base for poor misunderstood Severus Snape from the Harry Potter books to see this is an archetype which–astonishingly–holds widespread appeal to women everywhere. This kind of masculinity often diminishes as the man’s mopiness increases, edging into a fey and ‘emo’ wilderness populated by Tim Burton characters and other wankers with stupid haircuts–even more astonishing, these characters are just as resonant with female fans. But let’s stick to the top tier here with the man who made it all possible: Mr. Darcy. He mightn’t support Arsenal or work as a lumberjack, but there’s no doubt to any of us–male or female–that he’s as masculine as men come.

Speaking as a guy who doesn’t have anything going for him other than tortured broodiness, Mr. Darcy, I salute thee.

So that’s masculinity sewn up in 1900 words or therabouts. And hey, if you’re reading this and you don’t like sports or getting sweaty and you’re not very good at brooding, don’t despair! You might not be masculine but you’ll always have show tunes.

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2 Responses to 249 – The Bear

  1. Lindsay says:

    I know I’ve told you this before, but you completely misunderstand what’s going on in Pride and Prejudice.

  2. Yeah, you told me two months ago when I wrote this!

    But you’re wrong and I’m right. After all, I am a man as written by a woman.

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