It is Quite Manly

5 Mar

For the first time in several posts, I want to depart from my ongoing critique of modernity through analyzing advertisements and the media, and bring it down a level deeper. This post revolves around a conversation that I had with my mother, and  her idea of what “masculinity” looks like.

In a week, my partner and I will travel to visit my younger sister in Chicago for a few days. According to my mother,  her male roommate’s modesigner, and so “the apartment looks very masculinether is an interior .” When she said this, I asked her what that means — “masculine.” With some probing, I got this much out of her. Toward the end of the conversation I felt like she was feeling uncomfortable, and bailed on the topic.

“Well, there are lots of deep greens and blues. Lots of dark woods. Mahogany, I think. It may have a nautical theme. You’ll just have to see it.”

To corroborate the evidence, I asked my sister how she would describe her apartment, whether she would describe it as masculine, and why. Her words:

“It is quite manly…Most of the furniture is dark leather/wood…It’s very bold…He has some weird lion stuff”

She even send me pictures:

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These notions of masculinity are related to ideas we’ve seen again and again on this blog: men are not flamboyant (they prefer dark colors and woods); men are strong and physical (the nautical theme); men are explorers, well-traveled, well-read (safari? decor); they are fearless (“very bold”). While none of these are new for us, this time, it’s different. It’s changed because this is my family, and as we know, the family is the heart and soul of socialization. Media and teachers and peers may influence us, but before all that, there was family.

I like to think that I no longer hold these views of masculinity. That I’ve “undone” this species of sexism, the same way I’m continuously fighting to undo the racist, classist, and heterosexist lessons that have been chiseled into my brain stem. But in the end, I agreed with them. The apartment does look manly. My words: it looks classy, simple, stately, like the office of a 1970s diplomat (fact: white males constitute 77% of congress) or a magazine editor (fact: white males constitute 90%of daily newspaper editors [1]). Granted, it’s a little over-the-top with the leather, but if this accomplishes anything, it ensures that the apartment is never mistaken as “feminine.”

What does that even mean??? It means that I have not ousted the traditional definitions of masculine and feminine from the vocabulary of my unconscious. It means that, just as I’ve decorated my own apartment in certain ways, I retain certain ill-informed notions of what is masculine.

Or does it? Does the fact that I’ve decorated my apartment with some darker woods and reds, greens, and blues, signify how tightly I’m holding onto my former notions of masculinity? Or is it my own, unique style? Am I allowed to have my own style? Does my style simultaneously represent me in a way I want to be perceived and perpetuate sexist stereotypes? Am I still – even as a card-carrying feminist and opponent of traditional male stereotyping – a victim of these roles, as evidenced by something so “me,” so irreversible and defining as my apartment, my clothes, my sheets, my towels?

Ultimately, I have to acknowledge that – yes – my style is informed by my male stereotypes and prejudices; I, like my mother and sister, view dark woods and muted colors as “masculine.” And yet, No – my style does not “perpetuate sexist stereotypes.” My style perpetuates ME, in all my Ikea-loving glory. And while it is not simply coincidental that I am male, I am more than my chairs and bed. I represent a multiplicity of identities in all that I do: my Jewishness, my whiteness, my ableness, etc. To isolate my maleness and the prejudices I hold about males and attribute my window drape selection to those alone is myopic at best, manipulative at worse.

Still very confused. Send help.

[1] Thompson, Cooper. (1997). “White Men and the Denial of Racism”.


One Response to “It is Quite Manly”


  1. The Last and Worst: Rules for Men « The Conscious Man - April 27, 2011

    […] They’re in the way we talk about cars, male friendships, illness, cooking (twice), and interior design. And they come from everywhere: the media, our parents, the news, other people, and our […]

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