Men – between nature and prohibitions

[The original of this article was published in Delfi. It was translated for public procurement purposes. All rights belong to Delfi.]

Manliness is natural but so fragile that a little equality ideology or a babe in arms can disrupt it like a house of cards. Such conclusion can be made after listening to the defenders of normative manliness. On one hand, the strength drawn from the past should follow and lead men on a certain strictly defined path only because nature deems it should be this way. On the other hand, the features of a real man must be nurtured and by no means admitting that manliness and womanliness are socially created. Such a mess occurs in the discussions regarding genders.

Vladimiras Laučius has recently entered the debate, in which the opinions of both feminists and the most conservative politicians and publicists have been stated, in an attempt to deflect Margarita Jankauskaitė’s criticism of the real man’s stereotype that damages particular men’s lives. V. Laučius repeatedly distinguished himself by providing weighed and fair criticism to his own ideological camp – conservatism. However, it is unclear whether it was ruptured emotions or simply a lack of thought on the matter that undermined his analytical abilities when writing this comment – a response to M. Jankauskaitė.

In short, the main idea can be conveyed as follows: the standards of manliness and womanliness are formed by nature, and any deviation from these roles is unnatural and doomed to fail. However, there is a positive and negative standard of manliness, which are divided by education and consciousness. The positive manliness should be sought for and instilled, but the feminists, to the contrary, want the men to become more feminine. There is no mention of positive and negative femininity, it appears only when speaking about the things which are odd to men: babysitting the children of other people, showing emotions.

The comment of V. Laučius is important as it well reflects the “Red Book discourse” entrenched in Lithuania when speaking about genders and family. All these things are natural and inherent but the modernity thins them out like some endangered bird species, therefore a sanctuary must be established as quickly as possible. Between nature and the necessity to nurture lie the wanted gender-related features, the defenders of such stance somehow do not see any tension. By not seeing it, V. Laučius steps on several rakes meant for the ideological opponents.

M. Jankauskaitė raised an important idea about men’s distress in a gender-segregated society (Artūras Tereškinas writes a lot about this), which is not very old in feminism. Classical feminism referred to the duality of genders and one gender’s privilege against another. Men were undoubtedly the privileged class: if education, social stance and other attributes were the same or, as the academics put it, ceteris paribus, then a society would always consider a man more important than a woman of equal parameters. And not only that – certain rules applied only to women: they could not vote, hold important positions or engage in many other activities related to power and independence; like in present-day Saudi Arabia.

But many things have changed since that time. Now in most countries there is no unambiguous discrimination, there is a lot more straggling gender inequality which is harder to overcome. In other words, the system privileges certain gender identities and, based on the others, complicates life for people. The identity range widens: a woman-tank, gay artist or nerd can already be regarded as prestigious identities, at least in certain (sub) cultural environments. But society harshly punishes other gender identities, such as: a tender and calm man, a caring mother who wants to have a career, or young man who does not want to choose an unambiguous sexual orientation. Society demands a person to choose between being a tank or a softy.

M. Jankauskaitė notes that, even though men have more prestige and privileges, the system with gender-based social roles is poisonous for them as well, and this can even be statistically measured. Therefore, the goal of feminism is not to confront individual men, but to help them understand what they miss by following the ancient gender roles, and at the same time to search for ways to create a society which would be more creative and stereotype-free.

Sadly, V. Laučius does not understand this intention. “Now is the time to substantially change this conception [of manliness – D.R.] – by all appearances towards femininity,” is how he distorts the words of a known gender expert. Is it not clear whether M. Jankauskaitė proposes becoming more feminine either for men or women? On the contrary, she proposes detaching the social roles and patterns.

Feminists do not deny that biological differences exist. However, the main statement is that they do not have a critical importance for the things that people do in a modern society. Many physical jobs are automated and childcare nowadays could be entrusted to the qualified professionals. Even if the biological differences are statistically meaningful and have an influence on a person’s functioning in a modern society, they can be neutralised by small changes. For instance, women’s fingers on average are thinner, more pointy and flexible, thus they can more comfortably use the increasingly smaller mobile phones. But the touchscreen keyboards of smartphones can be enlarged and it can react to warmth or pressing, so there are greater possibilities to adjust it according to one’s parameters. In the more innovative fields, item designs and work methods change in no time (the touchscreen changes the buttons), so why could the brick-laying or nursery work organisation not change accordingly as well?

Another question is whether any changes are needed. There are several arguments in favour of this. V. Laučius says “the unisex is also a norm, perceived as a cultural and moral counterbalance to the manliness/womanliness norm. A question arises as to how is the normative unisex better than the normative manliness?” Does this mean that society cannot creatively direct its future? Why is the universal education superior to the situation during the time when only the elite could read letters? Removal of gender segregation allows each person to develop his/her unique capabilities more actively, consciously and creatively, to communicate more freely, and to form a society more innovatively.

Is it only a coincidence that the most dynamic societies are those where the gender equality is the most advanced? Scandinavian countries enjoy the highest living standards, the Finns have the best schools, the Swedish doctoral studies and researches are known throughout the whole world. Saudi Arabia, where the “nature” is clearly consolidated by the written and unwritten law, is richer but is not known either for its innovations or for its attractive living conditions.

In his text, V. Laučius shows that a real man is a high cultural standard, a gentleman. Is it natural to be a gentleman? V. Laučius acknowledges himself that it is a skill that needs to be nurtured. Consequently, manliness is socially formed, although earlier Laučius had stated that “The difference between [the normative unisex and normative manliness] is that the manliness, as well as the womanliness, is natural, inherent, while the unisex is a pure convention, an artificial thing, a fashion affair.”

If manliness and womanliness were natural (i.e. from nature), they would not change either during the course of time or between cultures. But we know very well that social roles are different in the whole world, as well as in different periods. In the middle ages, an aristocratic woman could leave her child to a professional wet-nurse and continue having fun at estate parties and no one could have denied her femininity. Equally, in Vietnam the colonialist anthropologists were surprised to see smoking and heavy-bag-carrying women, as well as slender, lyric fellows.

If manliness and womanliness were inherent, they would directly dictate how to act in the situations where social norms are not formed or are unknown. What are the features that could be determined by the natural manliness and womanliness? According to V. Laučius, the list of unmanly (supposedly feminine) features is the following: a “Twilight Saga”, comparing a chocolate to an orgasm, a wish to be glorified and a desire to see a valiant prince on a white horse”. The meal preparation is also usually attributed to the feminine nature, but this requires the killing of small animals. However, in the case of encountering an exotic animal, would nature whisper a suggestion on how to act in order to be a real woman – to cook or to fear? In the environment commenserate to V. Laučius, women would probably fear cockroaches, while in Southeast Asia women elaborately cook and eat them. Only knowledge and social conventions will provide the answers on how to act.

Generally the feature list provided by V. Laučius is rather funny. Before writing, the author could have checked how many of these features could be applied, for example, to his grandmother. I suppose he does not doubt her femininity. But most of our grandmothers were able to quickly kill a mouse and had heard nothing about “Baileys”. Maybe V.Laučius would defend his position, saying that these features are not compulsory to all women, they are just unmanly. There are a few types of women, some are characterised by these features, some are not, but men – never. But would that not be a partial acknowledgement of the gender identity range? Furthermore, if certain features are not applicable to all the women, then maybe they are not inherent?

The second rake, on which the author has stepped, is even more interesting: “Women are oppressed not by the gentlemen but by the scum. But the scum is not the norm for manliness. Does M. Jankauskaitė want to say that our society is dominated by the blameworthy scum? If so, then why not make a conclusion that we must nurture the real men – gentlemen?” This means that the so-called scum are not real men. Who are they? Maybe feminine men propagated by the feminists? Well no, on the contrary, the scum think that they act according to their nature, not an ideology and do not deny the gender differences. They are more common than the gentlemen and also originated earlier. Maybe this shows that the scum’s nature is the real nature of men and the manners of a gentleman need to be cultivated? It appears that V. Laučius does not object to this: gentlemen need to be nurtured. But it seems that the gentlemen’s features are not inherent. Let’s link this in a logical way:

  • Manliness is inherent.
  • Gentlemen are real men.
  • Gentlemen need to be nurtured, yet the scum emerge on their own.
  • From (2) and (3) it follows that real men have to be nurtured in society.
  • From the first three statements it follows that manliness (which is inherent) is not identical to being a real man (which is nurtured, and not all men become real men). But if genders are “natural” polar opposites, then the scum are manly because, firstly, they are of man’s nature, secondly, they are not feminine (do not drink Baileys, do not babysit).
  • Once more, the list of inherent manly features to which V. Laučius agrees, is “a man should be physically strong, sexually potent, should be able to temper his emotions and should have mental power”. Feminine features: a “Twilight Saga”, comparing chocolate to an orgasm, a wish to be glorified and a desire to see a prince on a white horse. The scum are men of nature, while the gentlemen are nurtured.

Inconceivably, V. Laučius agrees with M. Jankauskaitė: manly behaviour is a certain standard to which a person is directed by society and not by nature (hormone)-dictated behaviour. Manliness has to be made and cherished. The content of pants and hormones will not provide the answers to all the questions of a person’s life – “mental power” will be needed. So why not detach this mental power and abilities from gender?

A wise conservative would not sink into the quagmire of natural theories and would honestly state: “My position is such that the tested traditions did not emerge out of nothing. They allow us to efficiently organise the life of a society and help many people to orient themselves in their life.” And in reality, even the left-leaning anthropologists understand and respect such a position. Unfortunately, in Lithuania it is difficult to avoid the “Red Book discourse”: nature is unavoidable, only, you know, the modernity destroys it.

How come so many recognised and well-educated commentators become lost among the concepts like that? Let’s look for the answer in detail. The key is the comparison of a chocolate to an orgasm. When and where did you last see sexual arousal evoked by chocolate? Correct, in the “Karūna” chocolate commercial. V. Laučius leaves a mysterious subject to describe women for the capitalist marketing (five out of nine mentioned features are related to consumption). It, of course, has something to say about femininity by inextricably linking it to the consumption of both certain goods and a woman as an object.

V. Laučius learns the manliness descriptions from a generalised father and Aristophanes but they only provide emptiness: manliness is a mystical THIS, something which has to be felt intuitively but which has to have very specific social consequences. Manliness is something that is not womanliness, and the latter has a long list of features. By no means should you catch one of those features, draw strength from the past in order to avoid that. Yet the past can give advice in only very standard situations. Is it not the reason for that desperate society’s attempt to draw the modern situation of a changed world closer to the past (interpretation of work relations, communication within social networks, warmongering, the killing and dragging of a mammoth)?

This only shows the importance of a wide-ranging discussion on genders, which M. Jankauskaitė wants to initiate. Gender ideologies have a decisive influence on the way boys and girls are raised. Men are raised with that emptiness when they supposedly have to grasp their identity but nature has nothing to say about the quickly-changing social reality. Social networks, the small communication machines, narrow colourful pants, new forms of tourism, lifelong learning – are these manly or womanly? Inevitably, that unisex becomes more abundant in our society.

Delfi, 2011

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