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America to Machismo: How Do I Quit You?

Dire warnings of how men are doomed because more chapesses are now in work than chaps, are more educated, and now earning more (in large cities), prompted a special ‘Man Up!’ issue of Newsweek a few weeks back on the ‘crisis of masculinity’.  The centrepiece was an interesting, lengthy – and oddly-conflicted – essay titled ‘Men’s Lib’ which seems to identify America’s continuing love-affair with machismo as holding American men and America back from adapting to a changing world.

It calls for a ‘reimagining’ of masculinity.  Men need to jettison their prejudices and pride and embrace ‘girly’ professions and ‘changing diapers’ to adapt and survive:

… as women assume positions once occupied exclusively by men, and the more ‘manly’ sectors of the U.S. economy continue to shrink, a more capacious notion of manhood — the product of both new policies and new attitudes — is no longer a luxury. In fact, it may be exactly what’s needed to keep the American male, and America itself, competitive in the 21st century.

Which sounds splendid, if somewhat late in the day: this argument could have been made at any time since at least the 80s when ‘masculine’ heavy industries began to be replaced by ‘feminine’ service industries.  It’s also charming to see that ‘reimagining masculinity’ is cast as a patriotic project: Uncle Sam Needs YOU to change diapers!

The authors of this piece, Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil are very into changing diapers.  And reproduction generally.  Which is perhaps why they assume when talking about ‘reimagining masculinity’, even at such length, that it is entirely heterosexual.  I don’t mention this to score points. And reproduction is a wonderful, if slightly scary thing.  I mention it because fear of being thought homo – and thus emasculated, and thus outside the world of men – has long been one of the chief ways in which traditional notions of masculinity have been maintained.  Long past their use-by date – particularly in the US.

The battle over the Pentagon’s ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, still raging after nearly twenty years, is a very public example of this.  Whatever arguments traditionalists might martial in public against the repeal of this policy, such as ‘unit cohesiveness’, ‘lack of privacy’ and ‘operational readiness’, everyone knows that this is just a polite smokescreen, as much to spare their sensibilities as anyone else’s. However reasonably Don’t Tell-ers state their case we can all hear quite clearly the apopleptic D.I. superego shrieking inside their heads over and over, spraying their cerebellum with spittle: ‘Fags AREN’T MEN!  They take it UP THE ASS, for chrissakes!  And they ENJOY IT!  They bat for the OTHER SIDE!!’

How the devil can you motivate American men to be men and do the ultimate ‘manly’ thing if they are serving alongside open sodomites who aren’t punished, can’t be drummed out of the ranks of men in disgrace, and in fact have every legal right to the same respect and protection as any other soldier? (As with gay marriage, hardly anyone is terribly worked up about lesbians – but unfortunately for the ladies who love ladies they are, once again, lumped in with gay men for the sake of ‘consistency’, and also to avoid having to actually acknowledge the, y’know, bum-sex obsession.)

The connection between machismo and homophobia isn’t, in the words of the somewhat phallic cliché, rocket science.  Likewise, tackling homophobia is something you have to do if you want to take on machismo.  Sweden, the country cited so approvingly in the Newsweek piece for its paternity leave programme is also one of if not the most gay-friendly countries in the world (and the US one of the least gay-friendly in the Western world), though this goes unmentioned.

All in all, Newsweek’s clarion call for ‘men’s lib’ is sounding somewhat muted.  So perhaps it’s not entirely ridiculous that the name given its project for ‘a more capacious notion of manhood’ (that doesn’t appear to include anything non-heterosexual and non-reproductive), is ‘The New Macho’.

This moustachioed moniker has been wheeled out before – most amusingly in the form ‘machosexual’ – when the US was having its gigantic national nervous breakdown over metrosexuality in the mid Noughties, either as a reactionary knee-jerk response to that ‘girly man’/fag stuff.  Or as a mendacious repackaging of metrosexuality for the older, more clenched gentlemen.

Perhaps it’s a really clever piece of marketing by the Newsweek authors, packaging their call for radical change as something reassuring.  Maybe ‘New Macho’ is what you need if you want to tempt the old machos aboard the Twenty First Century.  Or even just aboard the latter part of the Twentieth Century.  We probably shouldn’t forget that at the height of their fame the Village People were a band whom most of the US thought were just wholesome archetypes of all-American virility.  And in a funny way, they were.  Either way, they certainly knew a thing or two about repackaging machismo.  And packets.

By contrast, I’m not so convinced by Newsweek’s spruced up handlebar moustache.

‘It’s clear that we’ve arrived at another crossroads—only today the prevailing codes of manhood have yet to adjust to the changing demands on men. We’re not advocating a genderless society, a world in which men are “just like women.”

Well, c’mon guys you so are! At least in the sense that men should be able, just like women today, to go against traditional expectations.  (I know, know, you have to say these daft things because otherwise you’ll sound… un-American.)

‘We’re not even averse to decorative manhood, or the kind of escapism that men have turned to again and again—think Paul Bunyan, Tarzan, and bomber jackets—when the actual substance of their lives felt light. If today’s men want to be hunters, or metrosexuals, or metrosexuals dressed in hunting clothes, they should feel free.’

Yes, there are rather a lot of metros dressing in hunting clothes these days. Particularly at Newsweek.  But ‘feeling free’ is the key here, of course.  Which is why this really is in the end about a kind of ‘men’s lib’. But my hunch is that a system as rigid, repressive – and now as cloyingly sentimental – as machismo can’t be reformed, or re-styled by putting the word ‘new’ in front of it.  Like medallions and signet rings it just.  Has to.  Go.  (West.)

Along with Newsweek’s and the Pentagon’s notion that masculinity is always heterosexual.

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11 thoughts on “America to Machismo: How Do I Quit You?”

  1. I will add two things:

    Yes, America must get over its fixation with gay sex and gays aren’t “real men” and things. While it’s not Latin, what remains of America’s masculinity seems to put a premium on differentiating oneself from homosexuality.
    However, there’s more to DADT repeal than you think. While I have no issues with gays openly serving as they have in many other armies throughout history I do think the American army’s crazy sexual harassment policies are bound to lead to to lots of trouble, EXCARBATED by the fact that because traditional masculinity in this country has at least felt free to ignore homosexuality, it doesn’t have a lot of cultural norms as to how one should handle romantic advances by those of your sex other than a pop to the mouth.

    I forsee some trouble ahead. Lucky our army isn’t fighting a “real” war, and the country as a whole might be able to learn how the masculine hets in the army manage to deal with the masculine and now openly gay servicemembers.

  2. Stoner With A Boner


    I know many macho gay men who watch sports and drink lite beer.

    Masculinity and sexual orientation are two separate things-shocking I know…..

    I always hated sports and was called a Fag frequently. Never once had sex with a guy, and, yes I have had offers….

  3. Mark, it’s AMERICA for fucksake! You just put more thought into this piece than this bloody country did into, well, anything, eh…EVER.

    What’s all this ‘flexisexuality’ pish? Sounds like a porno trapeze artist.

  4. @headbang8 @anyoneelse Who is gonna have the last fucking word here? Macho posturing, the fucking pair of us. Seeing as you’re not averse to getting shafted, let me cock my leg up on this one will ya? I’m not the territorial type, I just like marking borders. Yeah, of course we agree on a lot, probably most things actually. I am also gay, well I’m more like GAY GAY GAY FUCKYEAH GAY, I’m ok with gay. However, ‘gay’ is such a fucking loaded word! Say ‘gay’ to someone and more often than not the assumptions kick in, gay men are – funny (fuck off, I’m miserable), dizzy (yes, but not because I’m gay), into fashion (do me a favour! fashion=i’ve paid to look like a twat, which also makes me stupid, and I am soooo stupid I’ll wear what I’m told to wear, and on), like ‘fairytale’ weddings (fairytales scare the shit out of me!), are in favour of gay marriage (no, I’m fucking well not. I’m all for civil partnership, but I’ll travel there by taxi, pumpkin shaped carriages tend to make me self-concious, ta) – I could go on (and on and on and on and on), but you get my drift, surely? I’m gay, but gay as in when it meant more than plucked eyebrows (do not get me started on that one, really do not), tidy ’em up, sure! Stop before you start to look like Chucky! Worship of anything Beckham, one of whom is bereft of talent, the other just a stupid bitch. I mean GAY, I know what the pink triangle symbolises, I know the riots where started by trannies, I know Quentin Crisp must have had a massive pair, I know I’m starting to fill up writing this. My ‘gay’ has been fucking bastardised by the pink pound, the breweries, the clubs, the bars etc etc My ‘gay’ has been buried, and they’re dancing on it’s fucking grave! No wonder ‘gay’ now means shit, it is shit, disposable, tacky, shallow, ephemeral SHIT. ‘Gay’ is a loaded word, loaded with shallow nothingness. ‘I love Graeme Norton’, people actually say this to me! I’m not even a fan. I could quite happily throttle the little shit, not because he’s gay, because he’s a TWAT! ‘Gay’ is not a word that I like pinning on myself anymore, the ‘real Gay’ was murdered, probably by Elton John (the CUNT). We need to move away from it, let it rest in peace. I have this theory, it’s that the fate of Gay and Blackpool are linked. Blackpool used to be fucking great, proud, saucy, it even built itself a tower ffs. Now its just a shell of what it was, tacky instead of saucy, puke stained, desparate, stag do hen night hell. It’s fucking uncanny.

    Anyway, someone say florist? Cheeky fucker, I’m a floral artist! I’m only gonna explain this once ‘cos I ain’t being paid for it, so pay attention. Arranging flowers in a masculine way is no big secret, just chuck anything pink out, shove more fucking twigs and black pebbles* in it, make it vaguely resemble a massive dildo and whack up the profit margin so much that just saying the price takes bomb disposal nerves. It’s the dogs fucking bollocks and so am I. Kerching! xxx 😉

    *black pebbles can be replaced by dogs or any other type of large bollock, if so desired.

  5. @Rusty. As with most people who seem to disagree, we actually agree on a lot.

    We both deplore being straightjacketed in stereotypes. I’d draw the distinction between a type, and a stereotype.

    I’m a footballer. That footballers enjoy physical activity and generally tend to be fit, is a type.

    And if I call myself a footballer, I probably seek more physical actvity than most, and enjoy it. I won’t feel self-conscious about this, nor feel embarassed that I choose physical activity over social or intellectual activity, on many occasions. Calling myself a footballer is useful to me, to get my head in order.

    On the other hand, saying that I ONLY choose physical activity, and that I’m a meathead because I’m a footballer, is a stereotype. And evil, in all the ways I think we agree.

    You know what? I’m gay. There. I said it. That doesn’t make me more or less masculine, more or less feminine, more or less an equal partner in any sexual exchange. But it makes sense of who I am and what I feel. And you know what else? That makes me part of a community of people like me. I enjoy that, even if I differ with the gay next door on almost every other matter. It makes me feel less like a freak, and more like someone who just happens to be different from the majority.

    I lived in Australia in my formative years, and consider myself to be an Australian in many ways. It shaped both the values I hold and the life I lead. Are the bonds I form with the fellow Australians I meet around the world trivial or pointless. Do they put me in a ghetto? If I say G’day to someone rather than Hello, am I being an Aunt Bruce?

    And I utterly agree that there are aspects of character which may be inherently masculine and feminine, and that they occur in both genders. But I heartily disagree that “creativity”, in the sense that I would use the word, is one of them.

    That’s a bit like saying because men (on average) take larger breaths, breathing is an inherently masculine activity.

    Many male designers, architects, and builders would argue that their craft is, at least in part, an expression of their creativity, and not a self-consciously feminine one.

    Would any male florists care to chime in on this subject, to let us know how they arrange flowers if they’re feeling butch?

    Cheers and love to you, Rusty!

  6. @headbang8 Actually, it didn’t slip by. Yes, you are spot on, dead right. Destruction, the opposite of creativity IS a masculine quality. Having said that, if you read the rest of my comment, you should realise that I don’t believe ‘masculine’/’feminine’ and ‘man’/’woman’ to be the same thing. It is akin to Yin and Yang, everyone has a masculine side and a feminine side, whether you’re man, woman, boy, girl or somewhere in between. It’s a polarity within us ALL. Whereas ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are restrictive and oppressive socially imposed gender roles. These gender roles deny men a ‘feminine’ side, and deny women a ‘masculine’ side. That’s where ridiculous notions like ‘boys don’t cry’ and only women are ‘hysterical’ (for example) come from. As I tried to explain, ‘Macho’ isn’t masculine, it’s an extreme expression of the gender role ‘man’. In the same way, ‘camp’ isn’t feminine, it’s an extreme expression of the gender role ‘woman’. I don’t like either extreme, but I do like people (male, female, somewhere inbetween or non-gendered) who are in touch with both their masculinity and their femininity. In the words of Edina Monsoon ‘Perhaps you should try to be a little less western in your thinking…’

    As for the ‘dressing up box’, well, it’s up to the individual I suppose. Personally, my identity is my own. I find the boxing off of identity that is prevalent in the gay community restrictive, intolerant and self-stereotyping. I wouldn’t be happy being a ‘top’, ‘bottom’, ‘twink’, ‘bear’, ‘cub’ (or ‘dads’ and ‘sons’, VERY disturbing) blah blah blah ad infinitum. If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not sterotype myself, I’ll leave that to the gay ‘community’. I’ll just be me. What say ye?

  7. I have a great admiration for bottoms. A tough job. These men are not just better fags than I am, they’re better men than I am!

    That goes for hangupless ladies such as yourself, too.

    @Rusty. “a feminine quality, i.e. creativity”. Hoo-boy! How did THAT slip by? Does that mean the opposite of creativity–destruction–is a masculine quality?

    Penises with a pen such as the proprietor of this fine blog may consider himself higly creative in a masculine (or, at least, not self-consciously feminine) way. Or are male writers less creative and more analytical, fitting in with their destructive bent. What say ye?

    And “the dressing up box”. Were is the line between a stereotype (which is wicked and demeaning) and an identity (which is beautiful and enriching and self-esteeming?

    I’m gay, in my own way, but I’m also part of the tribe, with all its vanities and silliness. Y’know what? Chavs, scallies, construction workers, leather daddies, twinks, chubs, fags and their hags, I embrace them all. I kiss them on both cheeks, and other places if they let me.

    Sorry, gotta dash. Now, where did I put my bandana?

  8. Newsweek is strangely selling out to The Daily Beast a fairly progressive e-zine, and being edited by their female editor, Tina Brown(I think). That seems like the end of their spew; Newsweek has always been a fairly mediochre right wing rag.
    ‘Men’s liberation’ has been around for 20-30 years,the invention of the poet Robert Bly; a kind of hippy concept. I’m not terribly sure what the real quality of the article is apart from making a case for the Family anti-gay crazies stalking our land, terrifying most even 1/2 normal Americans-a scary lot.
    Mustaches were last worn by the gay Castro clones.
    The push of the new crazy religious zealots is the most unintelligent argument which that article makes. Strange.

  9. Time for us to put away the dressing up box I think. The Village People, as good as they were musically (and they were very good), were every bit as much drag as RuPaul, more so. At least RuPaul is convincing (sometimes). Did anyone believe these macho men singing ‘homo-disco’ worked part-time as builders, cops and errr, cowboys and indians? (have I missed one?). Why can’t we be men without being ‘macho’? People will say, ‘oh but we’ve moved on’, really? Only in as much as chavs and scallies have replaced the cops and the construction workers. We’ve swapped brass for chrome, thats all. No, we have not moved on. If we had, I’d be able to wear a pair of Adidas
    trainers without some bloke wanting to lick ’em! The ‘fetishisation’ (if that is a word) of everything we think is manly or masculine just makes it, well, gay. Pantomime dames belong in a pantomime, I’m sick of it. As for
    the gay ‘community’ through the ‘gay media’ taking a lead, don’t make me laugh. The gay media propagates a culture obsessed with taking and giving it up the arse, or being a ‘bottom/’top’/’active’/’passive’/’big cock chav twink scally fucka’/you know, whatever. The gay scene/media/culture, much of it anyway, is the last bastion of the self-loather that loathes everything else as well. Through ‘drag’ (which seems to be at every opportunity) we characterise women as evil, ugly venomous bitches. The women I know are not like that, most of them anyway. We have ‘fag hags’, ‘fish’, ‘breeders’ and all sorts of other thoroughly unpleasant labels, and y’know what? It’s not funny, it’s just Bernard Manning, if he was gay. If we are so tolerant a community, where are the transsexuals? Or the non-gendered people for that matter. The community is more obsessed with categorising everything than the Victorians. Trying to fill in the profile info on Gaydar is a minefield! If you’re not into ‘breath control’, BDSM, ‘strangulation’, ‘outdoors’ blah blah blah, you are left with ‘Vanilla’, i.e. boring! I was almost tempted to press the ‘report abuse’ (???!!!) button, but I feared someone on the other end getting off on the verbal. I have a very vigorous and intense sex-life with my mate, just because I prefer not to do it in a layby with some total stranger doesn’t make me boring! However, it does make me ‘homophobic’ apparently. Actually, I’m not homophobic, I love being a homo and I fancy men. Gay isn’t a sexuality, it’s a lifestyle, political ideology and a suffocating culture. Masculinity and femininity have become confused with man and woman, they are not the same thing. ‘Macho’ isn’t masculine, it’s an extreme version of the gender role we call ‘man’. I like arranging flowers, but that doesn’t make me more ‘woman’, it means I’m able to express a feminine quality, i.e. creativity. It would be much easier if we could change the words. Masculinity shouldn’t be the preserve of men, same as femininity shouldn’t only be for women. The most attractive people have a good balance of both. Yin Yang harmony. Francois Sagat, Angelina Jolie, Michael Hutchence and maybe even that Morrisey fella.

    As for the armed forces (I knew I’d get there eventually), homosexuals have always served, and possibly died for their country. Serving in the army is not something I’m particularly interested in, ‘make love, not war’ is more my motto, but I will support anyones right to choose a military career, if that’s what they want. I just won’t support you doing it in slap and stillies, man or woman. That doesn’t mean I’m in favour of DADT or a ban, but I think you are a soldier first and foremost, the rest is secondary. If you don’t like that, don’t join.

    I know this comment isn’t a complete answer to the above but I could bang on about this for pages, I do hope someone sees what I’m trying to say though, because I feel like a lone voice. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cupcakes to bake and some spark plugs to change. Thanks.

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