Today is Blog Against Heteronormativity Day, a day to come out of many closets. For example, first I will air out my phobia of academese. No, I don't much love the word "heteronormativity." However, I love the concept, the reality of it, a lot less:
Everything and everyone goes in the blue box or the pink box*, no exceptions allowed or even imagined. Tab A goes into slot B. Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Females are X, males are Y. Real men don't do this, real women don't do that. Girls do blee, boys do blah. Blah blah bliddy blah, B-O-R-I-N-G. And also, hello, oppressive.
(*By the way: once upon a time, pink was actually the boy's color, blue, the girl's).
More important, here I proudly out myself as a rabid Joss Whedon fangeek. Because besides making some really kickass shows, Joss, you know, is rather subversive of the hetnorm himself. And I don't just mean the skinny little blonde chick who can kill grown men and monsters with her bare hands, all the while tossing off witty repostes, although that is nice, yes. Hey, these days skinny pretty chicks kicking ass is positively trendy (sadly, much more so in the media than the real world. If only we all had killer martial arts skills to go with our sparkling wit...) For which I do think Whedon gets a certain amount of credit, although it's also possible that it's just that archetype's time to bloom, given the zeitgeist. Hey, everyone likes skinny, pretty little hardbodies. And everyone admires people who can kick ass. Here in the U.S.A., at least.
Far less fashionable, though, is Whedon's personal aesthetic, at least as expressed here:
(from the notes of a reporter, written up for Ms. Musings):
— Audience member, referring to the pink backpack Whedon brought with him on stage: “What’s with the girlie backpack?”
“Dude, have you got something against girlies?,” responded Whedon, to much laughter. He continued:
“I am a girlie man. I stand before you today to tell you that I am a girlie American. And if you don’t know that about me, I can’t believe you got this close.”
Here's the deal: of course dude had something against girlies. Quite a lot of people do. Even if they don't have anything against women, per se; or gay people, per se. Or think they don't.
Girlies are rather contemptible, after all. They cry and scream and get emotional. They like "frivolous" things: whipped cream and frills, delicate knicknacks, paints and polishes and perfumes; you know, stuff that looks or feels or smells or tastes nice but doesn't, like, DO anything. They're soft. They're vulnerable. Who wants to be like that? Not a real man; and not a lot of women, either, frankly. A girlie girl is, we tend to think, probably rather childlike; or perhaps naive; or oversexed; or undersexed; or, well, not very bright; the implication is that she's hemmed in by her girliness, and needs a man or six (husband, father, string of smitten suitors, Patriarch) to keep her in the style to which she is accustomed. Depending on your worldview, this can be something you approve of in a woman, or something you emphatically do not. In contemporary mainstream America, it's a mixed bag, at best. Be independent, but not too independent (maybe, probably). Be sexy, but not too sexy; and not in the wrong way (there are many wrong ways). Be assertive; don't be aggressive. But don't be a wimp, either. Be feminine, but don't be too girlie.
A girlie man, however, is...well, pretty much a pariah. At best, a bad joke. Sissy, pantywaist, mollycoddle, mama's boy. Pussy. Pansy. Fairy. Faggot. The fear and loathing of gay men, after all, isn't just about the actual sex; it's the intersection of sex-negativity with gender policing.
And oh, how much policing the men in this culture put themselves through, are put through, arguably even more so than the women, these days. I don't envy it. So many rules, spoken and unspoken! Don't be too expressive, in a thousand little ways besides big stuff like "boys don't cry:" the voice, the hand gestures, the eyebrows, the stance. Artsiness: still deeply suspect, on the whole. Clothing: fuggedaboutit. Women have been wearing pants for about a century now; we've yet to see even the most plain and functional skirt in the menswear department.
Oh, sure, there are trends here and there. There's the "metrosexual" thing, that odd no-persyns'-land between gender rebellion and neo-yuppie consumerism. (It is interesting: generally, anti-rich folk sentiment isn't hip these days, but the super-wealthy right wing manages to head any nascent class resentment off at the pass by channeling it into disdain for the "effete," along with a healthy helping of anti-intellectualism. Thus, it's not about being rich; it's about being "culturally elite," or some such. Effeminate, basically, in other words. The "sissy" takes many forms and has many uses). And there is the SNAG, which these days is mostly a term of derision, but still can have the connotation of a genuinely decent, well-rounded, sensitive guy, in the Alan Alda tradition.
But on the whole, the hypermacho idealization never really goes away. At most it recedes a little every now and then. And right now, the tide is way in. The fact that the "manly men" look pretty damn erzatz--George W. Bush playing dressup in a codpiece-padded flightsuit; Ahnold, whose political muscle comes from his image on the silver screen; posturing blowhards like Bill O'Reilly, who's raised whining to an art form and seems about ready to pop like a soap bubble--matters not a bit: it's the fantasy that counts. We are, collectively, Superman; we're top of the world, Ma. We value strength, and speed, and hardness. Winning. We do the penetrating and the invading; we won't be anybody's bitch. Which is, I'd argue, the heart of the reason why we're in Iraq right now, (for instance), at least as much so as the demand for oil or greed or even some misguided sense of revenge.
It's not that I don't think there's a place for butch. Butch is beautiful, or it can be (regardless of your naughty bits and/or chromosomes). We don't all need to be skipping through the daisies or painting our faces. And there is, I think, a need for a men's movement that's meaningful, not misogynist.
But I do think that until such time as it's genuinely not seen as shameful to be "girlie," we're not gonna make much more progress. Not in feminism, not in the gay rights movement, not on a number of fronts, in fact, that on the surface might seem to have little to do with gender.
Because the dirty little secret, which has become a bit more open these past few years, perhaps, is that at the end of the day, "girlie man" isn't just an insult to actual girlies (that is, people with girl bits), or implicitly homophobic, or transphobic, although it's certainly those things as well. It is a very effective club to keep men--ALL men--in line. Just how much violence is committed in the name of proving one's non-sissyhood? How much wasted energy and misdirected passion? I am thinking: quite a lot. ...But I'm going mainly by observation and speculation here, so I'll open the floor. Male-born male-type people: ever done anything you didn't want to do in order to avoid being tarred as a sissy or a fag? Not do something you did want to do? I am interested in hearing from straight dudes and non-straight dudes alike.
Anyway. It takes guts to be girlie in this culture, particularly if you're a dude. It does. I think. There's a lot wrapped up in it, girlieness, stuff we've consigned to the pink-tinged shadows. Sensuality. Aesthetic sensibility. Tenderness. Feelings, yes. Keep shoving all that away, and you're starting to kill a good part of your soul. Regardless of what kind of body you're housed in.
And so I stand with my man Joss: I, too, am proud to be a Girlie American.
And also, I may say, tend to find my fellow Girlie Americans rather hawt.
Viva Girlie Americans! Viva Girlie America!