Belfast Telegraph

Men get ready to lift the lid on modern masculinity

By Laurie Penny

There's something we're not talking about. The media machine on both sides of the Atlantic is currently obsessed with women's bodies and sex lives.

The changing role of women, in and out of the bedroom, is one of the greatest cultural anxieties of our age.

Male sexuality, by contrast, is assumed by most people to be a constant: hard and emotionless, often violent, focused on the conquest of women, on dominance.

The first rule of masculinity, it seems, is that you don't talk about masculinity, much less ask questions about it.

Women, on the other hand, if we must talk at all, are positively urged to talk about sex and womanhood - and practically nothing else.

So, partly out of pure curiosity and partly in the name of research for a book I'm putting together, I decided to ask some of my internet followers what masculinity, sex and gender meant to them.

I learned a lot from the replies. Some of my expectations were confounded: a large number of respondents said they wished they could define themselves as feminists, but feared being judged for doing so, or appropriating a term that wasn't theirs.

There were answers that made my heart flutter - "To me, being a man is about outrageously loving my wife" - and others that made me giggle alone in my bedroom, like when one young man confessed he never feels more masculine than when he's asked to remove a difficult lid.

As a feminist, as well as a person with small hands who eats a lot of marmalade, I can confirm it is indeed useful to have men around to get the lids off things, although not just for that reason. Some of the answers were riddled with fear of being judged.

"Patriarchy controls male behaviour in similar ways," wrote a young man. "Society pushes men to live up a construct of alpha male behaviour: being sexually aggressive, emotionally detached, competitive with each other."

Some respondents spoke of their fear of overstepping the bounds of consent during sex, or of threatening women; and many had violent contempt for "the section of men across the globe", as one man in his thirties put it, "that are screwing it up for the rest of us". He continued: "I'm tired of the sexist legislation. What is wrong with these guys?"

Real men, we are told, don't question masculinity. Even to raise the issue would be to admit uncertainty - and uncertainty is for women. The first thing little boys learn at school is that there's nothing in the world worse than being 'like a girl' (with the possible exception of being 'gay'). So men keep quiet.

If they happen to cry easily, if they happen to be uninterested in competition, sports or drinking, if they are physically timid, if they don't feel ready for sex, the last thing they're supposed to do is talk about it.

That might give the game away. It might reveal that male power is fallible, and vulnerable and nothing but human.

The time has come to give the game away. The time has come to have an honest talk about masculinity.

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