The paradox: masculinity is strength, power, and dominance… but femininity is terrifying. Gender rules insist that men must avoid association with the feminine at all costs because, if they do not, they are weak. They are pussies, bitches, women, girls. Femininity is weakness and yet, oddly, it has the power to strip men of their manliness. It is as if, as sociologist Gwen Sharp once put it, “masculinity is so fragile that apparently even the slightest brush with the feminine destroys it.”
Behold the best example of this phenomenon ever:
Let’s be clear. The reason he’s afraid of femininity is because it’s reviled. It makes you a woman, which makes you worthless. Which is fine for the ladies, but dudes are advised to avoid personal denigration if at all possible.
Last month I wrote about how the revival in the popularity of beards was hurting razor sales, causing companies like Proctor & Gamble to ramp up advertising encouraging “manscaping” below the neck. Here’s another response to the trend: hair plugs for your face.
According to a facial plastic surgeon interviewed for an article at DNAinfo New York, the rate at which he is asked to do facial hair transplants has skyrocketed from “ just a handful of beard transplants each year a decade ago” to about three a week. The surgeons mention the hipster beard trend as one cause of the rise in interest, but also cite a wide array of people who might be interested in fuller facial hair:
…clients include men who have struggled since adolescence to grow a beard, those undergoing a gender transition from female to male, men with with facial scarring and Hasidic Jews who hope to achieve denser payot, or sidelocks.
Expense for the procedure ranges from $3,o00 for partial transplants to $7,000 for a full beard.
What a fascinating example of the intersection of race, gender, religion, technology, and capitalism. Which men’s faces have more power to determine appearance norms for men? Or, what does masculinity look like? Men with Asian, American Indian, and African backgrounds are less likely to be able to grow full beards, but a society centered on whiteness can make their faces seem inadequate. If the situation were reversed, would we see white men, disproportionately, going in for laser hair removal? Would transmen feel less pressure to be able to grow a beard to feel fully masculine? Would they feel more if they were part of a Hasidic Jewish community?
Also, is this really about hipsters? How much power does a young, monied demographic have to set fashion trends? To send a wide range of people to surgeons — for goodness sake — in the hopes of living up to a more or less fleeting trend? How do such trends gain purchase across such a wide range of people? What other forces are at work here?
Let’s imagine that a woman — we’ll call her “you,” like they do in relationship advice land — is trying to calculate the odds that a man will call back after sex. Everyone tells you that if you sleep with a guy on the first date he is less likely to call back. The theory is that giving sex away at a such a low “price” lowers the man’s opinion of you, because everyone thinks sluts are disgusting.* Also, shame on you.
So, you ask, does the chance he will call back improve if you wait till more dates before having sex with him? You ask around and find that this is actually true: The times you or your friends waited till the seventh date, two-thirds of the guys called back, but when you slept with him on the first date, only one-in-five called back. From the data, it sure looks like sleeping with a guy on the first date reduces the odds he’ll call back.
So, does this mean that women make men disrespect them by having sex right away? If that’s true, then the historical trend toward sex earlier in relationships could be really bad for women, and maybe feminism really is ruining society.
Like all theories, this one assumes a lot. It assumes you (women) decide when couples will have sex, because it assumes men always want to, and it assumes men’s opinion of you is based on your sexual behavior. With these assumptions in place, the data appear to confirm the theory.
But what if that those assumptions aren’t true? What if couples just have more dates when they enjoy each other’s company, and men actually just call back when they like you? If this is the case, then what really determines whether the guy calls back is how well-matched the couple is, and how the relationship is going, which also determines how many dates you have.
What was missing in the study design was relationship survival odds. Here is a closer look at the same data (not real data), with couple survival added:
(Graph corrected from an earlier version.)
By this interpretation, the decision about when to have sex is arbitrary and doesn’t affect anything. All that matters is how much the couple like and are attracted to each other, which determines how many dates they have, and whether the guy calls back. Every couple has a first date, but only a few make it to the seventh date. It appears that the first-date-sex couples usually don’t last because people don’t know each other very well on first dates and they have a high rate of failure regardless of sex. The seventh-date-sex couples, on the other hand, usually like each other more and they’re very likely to have more dates. And: there are many more first-date couples than seventh-date couples.
So the original study design was wrong. It should have compared call-back rates after first dates, not after first sex. But when you assume sex runs everything, you don’t design the study that way. And by “design the study” I mean “decide how to judge people.”
I have no idea why men call women back after dates. It is possible that when you have sex affects the curves in the figure, of course. (And I know even talking about relationships this way isn’t helping.) But even if sex doesn’t affect the curves, I would expect higher callback rates after more dates.
Anyway, if you want to go on blaming everything bad on women’s sexual behavior, you have a lot of company. I just thought I’d mention the possibility of a more benign explanation for the observed pattern that men are less likely to call back after sex if the sex takes place on the first date.
Prostitutes have often been at the forefront of challenges to gender conventions. Already at the fringes of “respectable society,” by choice or circumstance, these women often have less to lose than others.
The Mardi Gras Baby Dolls are an excellent example. NPR’s Tina Antolini writes that the baby doll tradition began in 1912. That year a group of African American sex workers dressed up like baby dolls and took to the streets to celebrate Mardi Gras.
Calling your lover “baby” had just become part of the English language. Meanwhile, actual baby dolls, the toy, were rare. By dressing up this way, they flouted both gender and race rules. Women were largely excluded from masking for Mardi Gras and African Americans were still living under Jim Crow. Black women, by virtue of being both Black and female, were particularly devalued, sex workers ever more so. Asserting themselves as baby dolls, then, was a way of arguing that they were worth something.
“[I]t had all that double meaning in it,” explains historian Kim Vaz, “because African-American women weren’t considered precious and doll-like.”
It was a bold thing to do and the Baby Dolls carried walking sticks with them to beat off those who accosted them.
Today, honoring those brave women that came before, the tradition lives on in a city with the richest and most creative and unique traditions I have ever encountered. Happy Mardi Gras, Baby Dolls! Have a wonderful day tomorrow!
I always love a good behind-the-scenes marketing story and last month NPR reported that Proctor & Gamble is facing falling men’s razor sales as beards have become more fashionable. Their response? To put more pressure on men to shave other parts of their bodies.
Always a glutton for punishment, I set out to discover just how they were going to try to convince men to do this… and I was not disappointed.
Gillette has hired models to convince men to shave, well, their whole body. A slightly longer ad featuring three of them begins with the question, “What do you say to a guy who grooms everything?” To which they answer, “Yaaaaaaay!” No really.
This is the sexual objectification of male bodies. The use of threats like “you’ll be disgusting to women if you don’t do what we say” is a form of social control. One point for capitalism over its long-enduring opponent in the male hygiene and grooming market: gender ideology.
I’ve written extensively — not here, but professionally — on the ways in which Americans talk about the female genital cutting practices (FGCs) that are common in parts of Africa. I’ve focused on the frames for the practice (common ones include women’s oppression, child abuse, a violation of bodily integrity, and cultural depravity), who has had the most power to shape American perceptions (e.g., journalists, activists, or scientists), and the implications of this discourse for thinking about and building gender egalitarian, multicultural democracies.
Ultimately, whatever opinion one wants to hold about the wide range of practices we typically refer to as “female genital mutilation,” it is very clear that the negative opinions of most Westerners are heavily based on misinformation and have been strongly shaped by racism, ethnocentrism, and a disgust or pity for an imagined Africa. That doesn’t mean that Americans or Europeans aren’t allowed to oppose (some of) the practices (some of the time), but it does mean that we need to think carefully about how and why we do so.
One of the most powerful voices challenging Western thinking about FGCs is Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, a Sierra Leonan-American anthropologist who chose, at 21 years old, to undergo the genital cutting practice typical for girls in her ethnic group, Kono.
She has written about this experience and how it relates to the academic literature on genital cutting. She has also joined other scholars — both African and Western — in arguing against the zero tolerance position on FGCs and in favor of a more fair and nuanced understanding of why people choose these procedures for themselves or their children and the positive and negative consequences of doing so. To that end, she is the co-founder of African Women are Free to Choose and SiA Magazine, dedicated to “empowering circumcised women and girls in Africa and worldwide.”
You can hear Ahmadu discuss her perspective in this program:
Many people reading this may object to the idea of re-thinking zero tolerance approaches to FGCs. I understand this reaction, but I urge such readers to do so anyway. If we care enough about African women to be concerned about the state of their genitals, we must also be willing to pay attention to their hearts and their minds. Even, or especially, if they say things we don’t like.
At the New Statesman, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter skewer the common media hand-wringing over women who get drunk in public. Above and beyond the victim-blaming “don’t make yourself so rape-able” message, Cosslett and Baxter point out that the tsk-tsking is deeply laden with the idea that women should behave like “ladies.” This, of course, is an old-fashioned notion suggesting that women are or should be the moral superiors of men (invented during the Victorian era).
Using a Daily Mail article as an example, they criticize the typical language and imagery that accompanies these stories:
Platell’s piece manages to feature almost every aspect of drunken female behaviour that tabloids simultaneously loathe and desire. Yes, this article has the whole shebang: long lens photos of young women with their fishnets torn up to the bum at a fancy dress party in freshers’ week; phrases like “barely leaving anything to the imagination” and “neo-feminists behaving like men” and creepily voyeuristic descriptions of “pretty young girls lying comatose on the pavement.”
From another point of view, Cosslett and Baxter argue, this looks like “a pretty cracking night out,” stumbles and all.
They point out, smartly, that many of these stories frame women’s interest in alcohol as an effort to hang with the boys. The message, they explain, is that ”‘young ladies’ are being warped by the hard-drinking university culture… going along with men’s behaviour because they’re weak-willed and they think it will make them look cool.”
Because men invent things, and then women jump on board because they feel like they have to — that’s the way of the world, isn’t it? It’s not like those of the female variety enjoy a pint, after all, or even — God forbid — enjoy the sensation of drunkenness once in a blue moon. It’s not as though our decision whether or not to drink has anything to do with us or our own lives… modern female binge drinking is still all about the men.
This is not to defend drinking per se, or binge drinking or public drunkeness, but to point out the gendered coverage of the phenomenon, which still portrays women’s drinking as somehow less natural, more worrisome, and more dangerous than men’s.
Francesca Cancian, who writes on love, calls this the feminization of love. It makes love seem like its for women and girls only. This is a problem for at least two reasons. First, because men are supposed to avoid girly things in our culture, they are pressured to pretend like they’re not into love and love-related things. That’s why men are offered the alternative Steak and a Blow Job Day.
Second, it makes other ways of expressing love less visible. Maybe he shows love by always changing the oil in the car or making sure the computer is updated with anti-virus software. These can be mis-recognized as not about love because they aren’t the proper socially constructed symbols. So, if he doesn’t also show up with flowers or candy once in a while, maybe she doesn’t feel loved.
The flip side of this is the masculinization of sex. The rather new idea that what men are really interested in is sex and that this is secondary or, even, obligatory for women.
The feminization of love and masculinization of sex manifests itself in a myriad of ways across our culture, causing all sorts of problems. In the case of Valentine’s Day, it makes it seem as if the (assumed heterosexual) holiday is for women but, if he does it right, he’ll get sex as a reward. How romantic.