Sunday, July 31, 2011

How Manly Is That?

This past week I installed some laminate floors in my basement.  I ripped out the old fireplace, pulled up the carpet, scraped the floor, laid out the foam, assembled my floor and put up the baseboards.  My wife helped when she could, but she was running interferance with the kids.  Ryebone came over one night to offer an extra set of hands, but it turns out that he's even less handy than I am.  So basically I ran the show and did the bulk of the work myself.

And after I was all done I felt really fucking manly.

After I finished I looked out over the realm that is my Basement and took in a deep, manly breath, nodded an approving, manly nod, then fantasized about fucking Olivia Wilde.  I was on top, of course: the manliest of positions.  Then I started thinking.  This is usually a bad thing.  I thought back over the tenure of of my time here on this planet and tried to develop a scale of Relative Masculinity for the course of my life.  I tried to figure out why I felt so manly at this particular point in time.  I thought about my usual preocupations.  I didn't feel less masculine when watching movies.  I didn't feel somehow emotionally or spiritually impotent when playing video games.  I didn't have dreams about my penis falling off after working out.  I didn't feel somehow inferior when reading a book or jotting down my thoughts in a blog that nobody (including myself) will probably ever read.  In fact, most days I don't even consider my Relative Masculinity, or even what masculinity even means or why it suddenly became important to me.

Like everything else masculinity and femininity are cultural constructions.  And while I like to remain aloof and detached when it comes to association to culture in any of its forms I am also aware that I am not immune or seperate from its effects even as I am aware of them.  It seems to me that our modern concept of masculinity really consists of three basic tennets.  1) Some sense of Integrity or Code of Honour regarded as strength in the mental sense (Man Up, Take it Like a Man, Be a Man, Be a Man of Your Word, etc.) 2) Fucking.  3) Physical competance.   

Masculinity in our culture is related a great deal to the third tennet: physical prowess.  My indulgence in this aspect of male life was lifting weights, and more recently muay thai.  These two things seemed (and still seem) pretty manly.  But in our concept of masculinity something was still missing.  I remember one time being in the parking lot of a bowling ally and a woman was having problems with her car.  The hood was open and she was staring at the engine block as if trying to will it to fix itself.  I happened to be close by and she asked me if I could help.  And I couldn't.  What the fuck do I know about cars?  Beyond checking the oil and gas I had no clue about how to diagnose and then repair any sort of minor problems in small engines.  Which is what I told her before I continued on my way.
So our modern concept of masculinity is not just physical strength; it's the application of that physical strength in an activity that is percieved to be constructive.  This could manifest itself in a variety of ways from being able to change the tire on a car to building a deck in your back yard.  It seems that in the eyes of our society a key component of masculinity was manual labour directed towards organizing certain types of matter into socially acceptable forms, like a skyscraper or a sidewalk.

What's really curious about this particular aspect of masculinity is that it is simultaneously exalted and derided.  There seems to be this romantic notion of the honourable suffering of the blue collar working class at the same time we look down our noses at manual labourers as uncouth, culturally unrefined, "rough around the edges" and even intellectually inferior to their white collar-sporting counterparts.  Perhaps its the Underdog Syndrome where people like to root for the honourable loser.  I guess this is specifically the ROCKY Underdog Syndrome because Rocky didn't actually win in the first movie, but fought on in the face of almost certain defeat winning not an actual victory but a moral (in the traditional sense) victory.  In this way we tend to view the blue collar crowd as admirable in doing their manly jobs, but ultimately as somehow always a couple rungs down the social ladder no matter how hard they work or whatever successes they might have (and despite the fact that somebody working in the trades can make a shit-ton of money - our society's ultimate benchmark of success).

And as I stood there surveying my floors I felt that sense of the underdog.  In my case it was even more poignant because I am not the most handy guy.  I haven't used power tools on a regular basis since Grade 9.  Now the sound of a mitre saw is actually frightening.  I haven't changed a  lot of tires or built a lot of decks.  In fact, I tend to avoid manual labour whenever possible.  So for me to take charge on this project and step up and have to use not one but three different saws (mitre, table, and jig) as well as a nail gun.  I felt like the fucking Rambo of laminate flooring.

But again, looking back I didn't feel like any less of a man before I installed the floors.  And thinking about it there were other men who couldn't have done as good a job as me (or completed it at all) ad there were women out there who probably could have done a better job much more quickly than I did.  So in the end I'm not sure if my elation came from fulfilling the societal expectations for masculinity or simply as a sense of accomplishment for doing something I had never done before or didn't actually believe I could do.  Sometimes a cigar is jus a cigar.  And sometimes a cigar is a cock.  I suppose it's all about perspective.               


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