Are we still stuck in that kind of masculinity?
Just about the time some of us were appreciating the progress being made in our culture’s definition of masculinity and its use of slurs against LGBTQ people to enforce a manhood toxicity, we’re confronted with evidence that much of that progress hasn’t reached as many as we’d hoped.
Two of many examples caught the attention of the media this past month. The first was the use of the tired old slurs and gender expectations by Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden.
Though Gruden resigned on October 11th because his emails showed bigotry against women and people of color as well as his anti-LGBTQ attitudes, his slurs appear to represent an ongoing larger and lingering cultural problem that’s been pointed out again and again. Many of those emails, covering a seven-year period, were sent to Bruce Allen, the Washington Redskins’ then-president, who was fired in December 2019.
Jemele Hill, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, responded after investigating:
The question we should be asking is not really [about] the existence of the e-mails, but what is the culture in the NFL, period… And this culture has existed since the very inception of the NFL… It’s about all the people he was emailing. And people realize that he was emailing back and forth… So if this is the pervasive attitude, if this is the group think in the NFL, Black people don’t have a chance of being in leadership in the NFL at all because this is not just about Jon Gruden.
In one message, Gruden called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a “pussy” and a “faggot,” according to The New York Times. In another, he called Michael Sam a “queer” after the player was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2014. Gruden added that the league should not have pressured the team’s then-coach to draft Sam, the Times reported. Michael Sam publicly revealed he was gay ahead of the draft and ultimately never played a regular season game in the league.
There it is once again — the gay slur used to put down any man as unmanly and used by Gruden of Goodell to put him in his place, not mattering that Goodell is as straight as an arrow. That place is to be “a real man” defined by well-worn old gender roles that keep men from being whole human beings, including putting down LGBTQ people.
The second instance that got media attention was the advice given to parents (who cheered him on) by U.S. Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina. “Our culture today,” he claimed, “is trying to completely de-masculate all of the young men in our culture.” And then of course, singling out moms — who are blamed for children’s problems in these traditional gender schemes: “All of you moms here… if you are raising a young man, please raise them to be a monster.”
A Cawthorn spokesperson later explained: “Congressman Cawthorn was urging parents to raise their sons as strong, godly, men who are warriors for truth and morality. Monsters and lions, not wimps and sheep.”
So, here we still are — there are still those who proudly take advantage of the long-standing, now called “toxic,” male gender role to put other men down. As discussed extensively in Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human, they take advantage of existing prejudice about being LGBTQ to put down men who don’t fit their definition of a monster or warrior, of “real men.”
In a patriarchy, the socio-cultural system spends much time conditioning men into the definition of manhood it needs — in our case, we are used to being a warrior culture with the ideal man a fighter, a defeater of other men, and even a killer. No man in our culture is ever put down as unmanly for anger, violence, and the killing of others.
And that prepares men to go off to other countries, or now to commit atrocities and insurrection right here, so that they can beat, defeat, and even kill others. It’s the wimps who refuse to do that.
And in order to produce those warriors, the culture must remove certain human characteristics from boys, for if men stayed in touch with the whole range of human emotions they had at birth, they could not treat others the way they do or accept going off to kill others not because they’re personally threatened but in order to maintain the system.
To quote Cawthorn, the system needs “monsters,” and it needs mothers to do whatever it takes to take little boys and turn them into such creatures. Such “poisonous pedagogy” (to use the language of child abuse expert Alice Miller) sounds like emotional abuse, frankly.
Society’s girls, this ideology goes, must then be turned into warrior support personnel, dependent upon and subservient to conditioned men. Thus patriarchy works to teach women to spend their time responding to its manhood conditioning.
Women who have fought against such conditioning and who try to see their boys not as potential monsters or warriors are taught to feel guilty as bad parents, are put down as “feminazis” (remember Rush Limbaugh?) or are assumed to be lesbians. As long as it’s still a slur, a version of “lesbian” will be used to put down any woman who refuses to conform to feminine gender conditioning, who steps out of that role in any way.
And when a boy or man is put down as a “pussy,” “wuss,” “wimp” or “fag,” it’s not just assuming that LGBTQ people are deviants, it’s putting down all women as lesser than men, even those who conform as much as possible to the feminine gender role. The worst thing a boy can be accused of is being a “girl.”
These ongoing gender issues aren’t just those that end up oppressing transgender people. They keep us all in straitjackets — that is, in the limitations of those binary very straight-acing gender roles.
Because women have different gender conditioning, mothers (and other women) might try to contemplate answers to this question when they consider the conditioning of their boys, an idea it will be hard for anyone other than fully conditioned men to identify with:
What would have to be done to your mind as a girl to get you to buy into the idea that to be a real woman you must reject emotions like hurt, fear, confusion, and your connection to other human beings in order to become someone who fills your role of being willing to define yourself in terms of a homophobia and womanhood that says you fulfill your womanhood by beating, defeating, and killing other women?
In another word, to become a monster?
It would take abuse, right?
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.