This is a followup to my previous post, since it's not really about feminism.
I recently read the book Self-Made Man
by Norah Vincent, in which she recounts her adventures while passing as a man in various male-dominated scenarios: a bowling league, strip clubs, a monastery, a high-pressure door-to-door sales job, etc. What surprised me a little, as I turned the pages, was that while I recognized the types of men she was describing, they really had little to do with me. Now, one could argue that she was aiming for the most masculine environments, but then again there aren't a lot of women physicists.
Now, in a lot of ways I am undeniably, stereotypically male. Physical appearance for one: I'm 6' and big with a beard: hairy and proud. :) I'm often loud and unempathetic. I have the stereotypically male disregard for housework or grooming; I am glad as hell that I don't have to contend with hairstyles, uncomfortable footwear, makeup, or shaving. Everything in my wardrobe matches, by fiat. My wife isn't particularly feminine, and yet I can't understand why even she feels the need to own and wear six pairs of shoes. In short, this isn't some sort of transsexual coming-out post: I like my gender as it is, more or less.
But I've always had more female friends than male; in fact, I would feel intimidated about hanging out with a group of men. It's not just the jocks either; even at Bethans reunions, when the guys (Z and C and C and H etc) get together, I feel a certain awkwardness, as if I'm trying to pass.
At the risk of sounding prejudiced against my own gender, my guess is that a lot of male bonding occurs through playful insults, practical jokes, and friendly competition. Unfortunately, those same things can look like unplayful insults and unfriendly competition when turned against someone you dislike, and I got my fair share of them when I was growing up, as a priggish nerd whom the teachers and other grownups adored. I associate these things with hatred, not pal-ing around. I HATE practical jokes, I get royally pissed off if someone throws a snowball at me, and I dislike my competitive side so much I swore off board games for years and play racquetball by myself (though some of that is shyness, to be discussed in another post). My theory is that guys go through a transition period where they learn to give as good as they get, they see past the hazing and whatnot, and they end up bonding with other men who have been through the same rituals and harrassment. I, on the other hand, decided at some point that the whole thing was childish, and refused to play, and so I was never really inducted into "male culture".
There was an article
I read a few years ago (2006), in an online magazine called the Escapist, about guys who play as girls on MMORPGs. One part stuck with me:
The archetypical male heroes, from the big blonde swordsmen to the plucked-from-obscurity, chosen-by-fate losers, have gotten old. But the age of Buffy and Veronica Mars has just started, and they make much more exciting heroes. Geek guys don't look up to the high school quarterbacks that smacked us in the locker room; we're more impressed by the complicated but confident geek girls, who actually talked to us in the library and always seemed more sure of themselves than the rest of school, no matter who teased them. And now they can slay giants. Who wouldn't want to be one of them?
That's it: I've hung out with the geek girls, ever since high school.
Which could be fine and good: it's who I am, no biggie, right? Well yeah, except that I end up seeing my gender as an obstacle rather than as anything positive (outside of my marriage, that is). Being the one man in a group of women (at, for instance, a playdate) can feel kind of awkward, like I have a big beacon strapped to my head. If I invite a new female friend to have lunch sometime, will she be suspicious of my motives? And there are certain topics I have to tiptoe around with women I don't know well, particularly anything to do with feminism (other than saying "Rah rah rah!").
I had a chat with a female physics student at UD last semester about gender. She said that while she had a number of male friends, and she got along with them just fine, it was often easier to talk with her female friends, because of the shared context. That sounded really nice, and really alien to me. One might say that this is due to women's supposed superiority with language or empathy or what have you, but Norah Vincent described the same sort of comfort in the bowling league she joined, among blue collar men. And so I've been wondering recently whether I'm missing out on something, if maybe I'm suppressing some part of who I am-- not that I'm going to start drinking beer and playing poker tomorrow, but is there *something* I'm missing? I've been thinking about those banners that would fly from Chapin every year: "Women's Pride". Pride? I can understand contentment, but pride in one's gender is a foreign concept to me. Is there something I'm missing? I haven't figured that out yet.EDIT:
I should have added that I don't feel particularly unique in this regard. I know plenty of men who don't fit the general stereotypes, whom you could never picture heckling someone or being overly competitive, let alone drink beer and watch football or something. And I get along with them. But I don't feel any particular connection with them because they are guys. Maybe we are all exiles from traditional male culture, and most of us have just made our peace with not having a gender culture. I get the impression, on the other hand, that even nontraditional women feel a bond with other nontraditional women. Maybe I'm mistaken there. Or maybe this is part of "male privilege" that I am able to ignore gender, just like I can spend most of my life oblivious to race. But maybe it's also due to the fragility of the culture of boys: boys are terrified of being labelled as girls, so there's not a lot of flexibility in the definition of "boy". This doesn't leave a lot of room for alternative definitions of masculinity, in the way that feminism has created a number of alternative definitions of femininity.EDIT 2:
Now I'm worried that this sounds like an existentialist crisis, and it's not really. I've gotten along pretty well with my equalistic approach, and will continue to do so. Maybe I'll learn to embrace my competitive side, or at least not feel so awkward in all-male company.