Challenging the Gender Binary
Upon first viewing, this “Huffington Post” interview presents a seemingly comedic take on a decline in masculinity and a rise in metrosexuality. Upon second viewing, it became apparent that not only was Nick Adams not joking about his belief that there is a decline in masculinity, but he accredits it entirely to the increase in feminism, resulting in male oppression. After more viewings, it struck me as necessary to further explore his theory that a decrease in masculinity holds potentially catastrophic consequences.
Here is an overview: Nick Adams newest book, “American Boomerang” addresses a supposed global decline in male masculinity. Adams largely accredits this decline to the rise in feminism, which he claims has resulted in “angry women, and feminine men” (Adams). According to Adams, masculinity is associated with rough-and-tumble men, which he refers to as “manly men” (Adams). Adams argues that male tendencies and activities are being suppressed, consequently resulting in “metrosexual” men, who are not in keeping with the traditional perception of masculinity, upon which Adams bases much of his opinion (Adams). This can apparently have negative repercussions at both the domestic and international level. Because of America’s dominant role on the world stage, Adams deems it especially pressing that this ‘problem’ of effeminate men be reversed back to ‘normal’. Adams maintains that there are widespread implications for this decline in masculinity, including potential compromise in American national security. For all these reasons, I will examine Adams’ hypothesis that feminism is a detriment to male-behavior, and masculinity is defined only by the degree to which one can measure up with Adams’ idealized ‘man’s man’.
Adams holds masculinity to one standard, with no room for variances or outside interpretation. At the outset, what he fails to realize is that masculinity is a socially constructed phenomenon. He says, “all aspects of male culture have been called into question. Whether it’s gathering around on a Sunday afternoon to watch football with a few friends, whether it’s going to the range and shooting some guns, whether it is just being a male has now been made really suspect – and that is a very dangerous thing” (Adams). What is important to note about this sentence is how Adams operates under the very contestable assumption that “being a male” has to involve these types of activities (Adams). With Adams, male culture is universal; in reality, culture is merely beliefs and values subject to individual understanding. For some individuals, it could be the case that shooting guns and watching football is part of their culture, but it is presumptuous to assume every male adheres to this one standard of behavior. While society progresses, some people are left behind. This seems to be the case with Adams, as in the nineteenth century, “the identification of manliness with sport appeared as a strong theme”, and now this is changing (Root Aulette, and Wittner). Sports were predominately male-dominated, but now that they have expanded beyond gender constraints, it has allowed for “increasing women’s athleticism”, which “represents a genuine quest by women for equality, control of their own bodies and self-definition, and as such represents a challenge to the ideological basis of male domination” (Root Aulette, and Wittner). Contrary to Adams’ belief, feminisms is not about oppressing men, or even solely about raising feminine awareness; feminisms goes both ways: it is about allowing people from all walks of life a free and just society, with equal and ample opportunity. As equality becomes more customary in society, it is becoming acceptable for men to pursue occupations and hobbies that were once exclusively feminine. In this respect, and operating under Adams’ notion of ‘manly-men’, his aforementioned notion of masculinity in decline holds some merit. However, this should be viewed as a step in the right direction for all types of people who have interests that challenge the gendered vertical mosaic.
Adams is correct in saying that because America is an international leader, it must set an example that the rest of the world can follow. These same sentiments were share by United States President, Barack Obama during his celebrated State of the Union address on January 28th, 2014. However, their respective definitions of a ‘positive example’ are fundamentally different. Whereas Obama takes a diplomatic approach to international affairs—“our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy” (Obama), Adams sings a different tune. Because he believes that America wants to “win” in the international system, he calls on a masculine approach to do so—“wimps and wussies deliver mediocrity, and men win” (Adams). This begs the question, if men “win”, do women lose? First consider this: Obama’s method of American diplomacy has persuaded over fifty countries to prevent nuclear materials and weaponry from reaching the wrong hands. If this is a result of masculine decline, I like it.
Masculinity is a socially constructed ideal. During the very first class of GNDS125, we were presented with a picture of Ernest Hemingway as a baby, wearing a pink outfit. This picture, taken at the end of the nineteenth century presents a sharp contrast to what is considered ‘usual’ today—where pink is associated with femininity, and blue with masculinity. Arbitrary social norms such as this are everywhere in our society, and unfortunately they usually go unquestioned and unchallenged. However, in a society as progressive and accepting as it is today, (think gay marriage or gay parenting) people of all types are given the opportunity to explore what was considered unchartered territory hundreds of years ago. We are no longer bound by gender taboos to the same extent (though it is still an uphill battle). In regards to Adams’ claim that feminism is oppressing men, it should be repeated that feminists give a voice to all types of people. The metaphor that he uses about men switching from wrestling crocodiles, to wrestling lattes pretty much sums up his whole argument. However, he has not considered the possibility that some men simply prefer lattes.
Adams, Nick. Interview by Elisabeth Hasselback, Colin Cowherd. American Boomerang. 17 01 2014. Huffington Post. 01. Print. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/17/elisabeth-hasselbeck- feminism_n_4619669.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular.
Root Aulette, Judy, and Judith Wittner. “Gendered Worlds.” Trans. Array Popular Culture, Media, and the Spectacle of Sports. . 2nd. New York City: Oxford University Press Inc., Print.
Obama, Barack. “Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address: Full text.” CBS Newspaper[http://www.cbsnews.com/news/obamas-2014-state-of-the- union-address-full-text/] 28 01 2014, n. page. Web. 30 Jan. 2014. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/obamas-2014-state-of-the-union-address- full- text/>.