Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Vessels of our Outsourced Masculinity

The Big Lebowski: Is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn't that what makes a man? 
The Dude: Hmmm... Sure, that and a pair of testicles. 
--from The Big Lebowski

I'm not the biggest fan of Bill Maher, but this New Rule struck home:
Why was this dumb jock [Manti Te'o] such a hero to so many men in the first place?  Grown ass men who were let down by him.  (makes crying motion)  Red-blooded American males whose mood on Saturdays is dependent on how well a 20-year-old kid tackles a 19-year-old kid.  Middle-aged guys who wear replica jerseys with the name and number of their favorite boyfriend — I mean, player.  Guys who get in fights with other guys in other replica jerseys over whose 20-year-old is better.
Is the relationship American men have with their sports heroes really any less weird than the one Manti had with his "girlfriend"?  Guys sitting on the couch all day, watching some figures on a screen toss around a dot?  You're not a fan; you're a cat!  (audience applause)
The problem of our masculinity is apparently so acute that the pharmaceutical companies are now selling a pill to remedy a new affliction called "Low-T", or low testosterone.  The symptoms being: moodiness, a reduced sex drive, and extra hair growing around your vagina.  (audience laughter)
I mean, Christ, first they invented boner pills for men who wanted to fuck but couldn't, and now we need a pill to make you want to fuck in the first place!  Yes, I think men are in trouble when you have to juice like Lance Armstrong just to get through your anniversary.
And I think it's because a lot of men today just aren't feeling all that... useful.  They did in the days of hunter-gatherers, but in today's society, women do the hunting and the gathering — it's called shopping.  And the men, for most of us, the most masculine thing we do all day is pee standing up.
And that's why we wind up idolizing other men who do the masculine things we're not doing: football players, soldiers, action stars who solve every problem with violence, tough guys who start wars for no reason, generals who conquer rag-tag armies from third world countries.  These are the vessels of our outsourced masculinity.
There's a lot of talk about what men have lost as we've "succumbed" to the level playing field and given women their due.  As if equality of the sexes is a zero sum game.  As if, by not having the freedom to imprison a woman at home and have her miserably dependent on us, men got the shaft.  Ah, we clearly lost something when we could no longer let loose our inner ape on the women we loved.

Clearly, much of this "woe for the new male" talk is nonsense, but some of it is based on measurable data.  For instance, there's data showing very real decline in things we normally associate with maleness:  testosterone and sperm.  It's unclear if these declines are environmentally driven, the effect of sedentary lives and uninhibited appetite for food, or some other thing.  And who's to say a slightly tempered, slightly less testosterone-mad world isn't a better world?

Maher uses the word "useful" to describe what men these days lack.  I think we feel plenty useful; we do more dishes and cook more meals and change more diapers than we ever have, and we generally get in fewer bar fights and go on fewer destructive drunken benders.  Most of us have taken to heart the admonishment of our own fathers, which was, above all else, to "be useful."

My own father's worst scorn was directed toward those who are "useless."  Useless.  That was a bad thing to call a man.  You called Michael Dukakis and Pee Wee Herman useless.  You called the dog that shit on the rug useless.

The guilt I sometimes feel as I ride my bike is probably related to this notion of usefulness--it's hard to see it as having any impact on the world (aside from my riding a bike to work, an act useful not only to me, but, I smugly think, useful in the cause of saving the world).  Most of the time I spend on the bike, however, I'm just clogging lanes, not at all being useful.

Yet somehow being on the bike a few hours a week seems to work some small cure on the displeasures I suffer.  Whether these are male displeasures, or just the little petty things that we all endure in this life, I don't feel a need to differentiate.

I get on the bike, I'm a fred slayer.  I'm f-ing Chuck Heston as Judah Ben Hur, ripping around a hippodrome, master of man and beast, hero of ten thousand Roman fools even as I make a fool out of their Roman hero.

Hains is packed and my top tube is already painted with the insignia of five freds.  I'm an ace.  And then some.

Your four bar-end and helmet mirrors can't save you, hybrid Old Man Power Guy; it can only heighten the terror of my approach.  Another fred down.

Ah, you're spinning at, what?, 35 RPM Grandma?  Not enough to hold off this piebald stallion.

You should ditch the baby seat, Faux-Dutch Father of Four.  Have you caught the scent of this mightier stag in your nostrils?

Sweet, sweet testosterone!  Ripping through my veins, baby.  Ah, yeah.  Death!  Destruction! Steal the women!  Rape the cattle!  Crush the big rocks into little rocks!

Wait, wait.  Who's that coming up on me?  [Adjusts helmet mirror].  So fast!  Must be an electric bike.  He's on the hoods, too.  Sheesh.  I must've burned myself out killing all those freds.  Still, how can any man on earth...

Well, I can hear him now.  Hardly breathing, does he have to pretend he's not at full gas?

What is going on?  Long hair?  Breasts?

It can't be!  A woman!  Must hold her wheel.

And then she's gone, whirring legs and not even a glance my way.  As if she wasn't concerned about "bagging" me like a fred.  Just in her own world--crushing the spirits of men, unknowingly.

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