I originally set out to write about war and how, in America, war is our biggest welfare scheme. All of that national defense spending to build death machines, train soldiers, and fight wars across the world – well, that’s money employing people. It’s a job.
People go into the war business for a lot of different reasons. I went to pay for my education, as an example. Others go because of a history in their family. Some do it for the patriotism of the thing.
But, while I was thinking up ideas for that to go with this picture, I kept returning to the topic of masculinity.
When you think of war or fighting, you might jump to thinking of a lot of jacked up men killing each other for all the reasons. Modern times changed this a bit, you know, modern weapons make it easier to kill. So, now, you too can take part in war!
I feel like the imagery associated with war hasn’t changed much though. Watch most war movies and it’s a real man out there fighting. A real manly, masculine man. A confident leader.
In a lot of imagery, this picture included, there’s one type of man. He’s tall, he’s on-the-verge-of-passed-out-from-dehydration muscular, he fights for what’s his. He fights for his family, kills for his family. But, he never takes that rage out on his family. He’s got hair, but only in the right places. Not bald but shaved heads are acceptable. Chest hair is okay but back hair, not so much. Square jaw. Abs for days.
Real men don’t cry. They’re the strong, silent types. You can cry on his shoulder whenever you want; he’ll never cry on yours. He’s never weak. A foundation to your household or relationship, someone that never falters or shifts.
It’s an impossible idealization.
Real men aren’t all of these things. Some men are none of these things.
I imagine, at this point, there’s some eye-rolling happening. People thinking, “Get in line, we’ve had a lot harder.” You’re not wrong and I’m not trying to make equivalencies here. If anything, I just want to get included in the body acceptance movement. Men have plenty of insecurities, sometimes it’s obvious. Other times, it’s less so. I think most of us don’t talk about it. Not really. We might make a big production about how we don’t care or go the self-deprecating humor route.
To really talk about it would be feminine. Not manly. Not desirable.
It’s been a long evolution for me to change my perspective on masculinity. It took many years, having kids, and struggling with understanding where I fit in against the idealized manly image. But, what really hit home for me was when I once told my son:
“You can’t do that. Only girls do that.”
Later, I thought, “Hold up. I would never tell my daughter she couldn’t do something because it was only for boys. WTF?” I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone else how to express their gender. So, why would I do that to someone that I love?
All these years, I’ve gone out of my way to do things that I remember the men of my youth not doing – you know, simple things like washing laundry or the doing the dishes. I’m just trying to be an active member of the family beyond, “I go to work, put food on the table, nothing else matters.” It matters to me to set a better example. I’m not trying to win awards, just trying to be present.
Yet, I was still managing to enforce the stereotype. All of my hopes of setting a better example… well, you get the idea.
I’m not the idealized version of man. I’m some of those things above but I’m not all of them. Yet, I still tried to present as closely to that idealization as possible. It’s a struggle to find the right balance really. Masculine enough to be attractive to a straight woman while not so overbearingly masculine as to become toxic. Sounds easy, but where’s that line?
Every time I draw a male character with feminine traits or crossdressing, I think, “What does this say about me?” I wonder what the people around me will think about it when they see it. Will I be seen as weaker for it? Less masculine? Does it matter? Maybe it matters. Maybe it doesn’t.
Or maybe I should man up, shove it deep down inside, and ignore it. That always works, right?
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