Two Things About Masculinity That We Could Discuss
Sarah Mesle (not a man), trying to figure out how to go about teaching young men to be good men, and exploring how the relevant YA literature has changed the conversation:
It’s not that contemporary YA boys don’t become the right kind of men, too; it’s just that the “right kind” of man looks totally different in modern stories — more like Ponyboy than George Shelby. Whether lacking stable role models, ridiculed by their more powerful peers, or disconnected because of class, Miles in John Green’s Looking for Alaska, Gideon in Sarah Miller’s Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn, and Sean in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races all approach the end of boyhood with varying degrees of concern. And the manhood they do find doesn’t typically come through taking leadership over the world around them, like it does for George. With the conventional outlets of masculine power populated by men who are usually either dangerous, doofuses, or both, Miles, Gideon, and Sean can’t assume the mantel of manhood. Instead, each finds a happy ending to the extent that he fashions, whole cloth, as it were, an individuality outside of male privilege.
Ta-Nehisi Coates (totally a man), on Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” and the particular humiliations of maleness:
Masculinity’s central tenet is control—and perhaps most importantly, control of the body. Nothing contradicts that edict like erections. It unmans you, it compels you through sensations you scarcely understand. And it threatens to expose you, to humiliates you, in front of everyone. Laugh now at the boy at the middle school dance, who gets an erection on the slow number (God help him if he has orgasm.) But he does not forget that laughter, nor does he forget what prompted it. That boy is going to be a rapper. Or a painter. Or an author of fictions where men are men and somehow are invulnerable to the humiliating effects of the female form.
I think Marlowe doth protest too much. As do rappers who, within the first bar, assure us of their pimp status and thus reconstitute themselves not as mortal hetero men who slave before women, but as street gods who are enslavers of women. The two approaches are different. Marlowe is too noble, too certain, too be seduced. Biggie stayed gucci down to the socks, and thus wielded the power to make women as vulnerable as a man—black and ugly as ever—might himself have felt as a child.