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The man in me

Blue Dog. What a silly name for a man. It’s a Confederate flag-waving sort of name that sticks in the craw and appeals to the masculine aspect of American culture, which turns me off and triggers intestinal resistance to the cult of masculinity. 

Blue Dog reminds me of those long-hair reactionary Harley-riding butchies who wear the uniform associated with everything a motorhead does, acts, and says. Pardon me for using a stereotype, but we’ve all seen them. Loud pipes save lives they say. It may be so, but I think it’s just an excuse for drawing attention to owner of the loud pipes who should not be hanging on the bumper of the car in front of them. 

The guy fits the stereotype. He has the leather and wallet chain, the heavy black boots, and the tattered denim. He sits in a chair with a permanent scowl and would likely beat me up if he read what I’m writing about him now. He voted for Trump, in all likelihood, and believes somehow that America was a great nation before women, Blacks, and Hispanics got a hold of things.  

Maybe I’m wrong. After all the most interesting people are those who transcend stereotype—the effeminate man who Casanovas himself around town, the woman in the attractive dress at the restaurant who is a plumber, the gay man who loves football and can tear up a baseball diamond. Call me small-minded for taking people at their appearance, but many people engineer their appearance to convey a message. In Blue Dog’s instance, the aging lower middle-class man who rides a Harley. 

Harley has come to represent a study in gerontology to me. It is part of the process of aging to certain American men. The brand has come to demonstrate the problems one has with aging—diminishment of physical stamina, increasing feelings of irrelevance, and a need to do something linked to youth. I don’t see many middle-age and aging men on Kawasaki 250r’s, a young man’s bike. It has to do with something more substantial, a need to project a large presence. It’s a legacy thing, I think, a “leave people with the idea I did something” thing. 

Now, I admit I may be well ahead of myself here. Blue Dog may just be a nice, gentle man who loves dogs, children, and stuffed animals. He might serve punch at the church social. He might even visit cancer patients and sick kids in the hospital. But with my interactions with him, he projects an unfriendly, defensive masculinity that seems anything but secure. 

Why go into all this? Frankly, I’m pretty sick of maleness and masculinity. I grew up with that sick, ill-defined idea of what it means to be a man. I can’t even tell you what the parameters of manliness are. Men don’t cry. They are the stronger of the genders. They take on certain jobs. They are risk-takers and haymakers. The work to support wife and kids. They have a realm and no woman should interrupt that space. There’s a weird homoerotic thing that accompanies manhood that is both celebrated and eschewed lest it stray into fondness for another male. A hallmark of masculinity is preoccupation with manly physicality in form and in ideal. 

I don’t know that I’m much of a man in the traditional masculine sense. I try to be sensitive and loving. I don’t go out of my way to display virility or toughness. I am not a rough-and-tumble sort of fella. I eschew fighting, even once telling my daughter who found herself in a confrontation, “You’re a Dobson and we run away from fights.” 

I suppose I have been manly in my life and maybe offensively so. I used to be prone to outward displays of inappropriate behavior until I matured my way out of them. Formerly, I took some personal pride in promiscuity. I grew out of that, as well, when I began to pay attention to my insides, which favored and respected women, particularly those who would sleep with me. I have participated in manly enterprises and occupations my whole life. I once carried my Stanley measuring tape as a badge of legitimacy. Carhartt’s are still my outerwear of choice when it gets cold outside or I have heavy work to do. 

But I stopped long ago wearing any of these things as marks of manliness and proof of my masculinity. Where once I thought I had to define myself by outward markings of manliness, I have come to see these things as neutral. 

In part, this comes from a faith I have that a woman can do anything I can. As an ironworker, I was always on the line to work with a female partner. I never believed that size and strength mattered much in a world where we have tools. Tools and technology make work easier and even out the differences in strength and size between people. Plus, I’ve worked with some very manly men who women on the job out-lifted, out-carried, and out-performed. I have never believed that my trade was solely a man’s. 

Moreover, women don’t threaten me. I know men who won’t vote for women seeking positions of power. They believe, somehow, that men are superior to women in making weighty decisions. Some me I know think the country began its decline with women getting more power in the workplace (or out into the workplace to begin with), in public life, and in the ability to make career decisions. I don’t know what to do with these guys and their 19th century view of the world. 

I don’t understand why women intimidate men, because that’s all that can be said. These men feel a threat to their positions, maybe? But it’s not like these men have more than what the elite classes of capitalists want them to have in the first place. They are relegated to working job-jobs, for the most part. Those in career positions seem to have more of an open attitude toward women than those who don’t. I have never understood why the lower-classes adulate the people who oppress them. 

Now, I know I’m mucking up the water in discussing masculinity and women’s rights. But for many men, particularly those who I used to work with on the bridge, the two things go together. I can’t speak for what’s in Blue Dog’s mind. I don’t even know him well, if at all. But the outer appearance, the name, and the accoutrements of manliness put me off. It’s unfair. It’s judgmental. It puts me in a category of people who judge books by their covers. But the cover of a book often tells you what lies within. I try to keep an open mind, but my long struggle with manliness and masculinity put me on the defensive. 

We live in a time when men are striking back against the kinds of creeping femininity that threaten them. They feel assaulted on all fronts. Racial differences make them uncomfortable. They feel left out. They don’t see that it’s rapacious capitalism that holds them down. They don’t see that it’s not women, but their own inability to absorb a world in which all people are created equal that keeps them in a state of permanent disgruntlement. 

As for myself, I have come to an age where I don’t worry much about man, manliness, or masculinity—except when it confronts me. They say that what bothers you about other people is what bothers you about yourself. In this case, I don’t think so. I’m just getting tired of dealing with the petty gripes of people around me.  

So, men, stand up. Be men. Have confidence in your humanity. No one can take that away from you. Most of all, quit acting a role you think others have created for you. Become authentic. 

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