I was thinking about writing an article about traps, thought patterns that turn into beliefs full of illusions. The Super Bowl weekend was approaching. I was seeing more than usual amounts of tourists, sports fans, and advertisements with women in boots and booty shorts. Then I had a conversation with a young man on the bus. We started talking about the food industry. He was living out a philosophy of conscientious eating. He told me about his previous experience on a farm. He talked about observing male chickens and their “pecking order” behaviors like grouping into cliques and other competitive behaviors.
Could it be true that the human male species at a primal level can be like male chickens? I thought; no I can’t write that. But what really struck me was how this young man responded to what he saw. He thought it was amusing. He perceived something ridiculous in the game of male competitiveness, exhibited by allegory via the chickens. And he seemed critical of alpha maleness, as if it were a flashy behavior that evolution didn’t rule out within the human male species. I started to wonder about other perspectives on masculinity from this “human male species” perspective. What were their possibilities of expression, restricted and inhibited?
This is kind of a ridiculous question. More ridiculous though is how later that day I ran into another young man, an acquaintance. We serendipitously met on the street and ended up conversing with cigarettes on the rooftop of his downtown apartment. He happened to be extremely well read on evolution. And he also happened to be open to discussing masculinity and what it meant in this society. He grew up elsewhere. In one way that meant accepting that he is “not Brad Pitt, f*** that guy . . . he’s on another level” and on a day to day level, being vigilant about “whose territory I’m in” on a rough street, and “not giving the wrong impression of what I’m about or not about,” to be safe. He talked about world histories and the story of Alexander The Great, finding something ridiculous, glorious, and somewhat enviable in the man’s manifestations of immense power, beautiful women, and even bisexuality. He also spoke about the easiness of Tinder to fulfill primal desires, but the lack of fulfillment in true closeness, of real connection.
I started recalling pieces of an earlier conversation. I had spoken with a man living in a housing project. Looking for a job, he spoke to being aware that he was “one of the few black people in the area,” compared to his upbringing in Oakland. He was on his way to an employment agency. He told me about a confrontation with another man who challenged his words. It reached a moment that could either move into a fight or a resolution. Angry, he decided to say, “Hey man, I have PTSD and I don’t like when people mess with me.” He pulled the authenticity card. The two are now friends.
I found myself discovering more and more actual voices of nuance on the topic of masculinity. From listening about the animal kingdom, to evolution, to personal experiences, one reality became clear: the day to day emotional realm for many men is not heard, and is consumed by processing a lot of fear about other men. I was surprised; only often thinking about these emotional processes for women. Maybe we all don’t like, but kind of admire, the same scary male chickens. Just kidding! As I left my friend’s apartment and headed to a gallery, it struck me how all modes of human gender behavior are expected and passed on to one another, and that biology has an expressive place but not a determinate place.
For me, it is hard to admit that I can’t quantify “traps” of masculinity. Coming to mind, however is Rebecca Solnit’s book, Men Explain Things To Me, where she divulges numerous occasions in which her equitable status as an intelligent human woman, among men, is unacknowledged. She speaks to the phenomenon of “mansplaining.” I hear Solnit. My experiences though, feel a different phenomenon. I don’t feel at service to men, but to humanity to listen, and have been hearing how many men have no place for their sensitivity. I hear many dimensions of feeling we have not heard beneath cerebral voices, especially men of color, amidst our critiques of “men” and “masculinity.”
Mine is just another perspective. Perhaps I am in favor of emotional intelligence, no matter what kind of human. I want everyone to “rise” in that realm. There is only so much insight I can gather through body labels. I think we over-label. As trite as it may sound, we are more powerful than any categories, including “gender.” Be you, be creative, be cunning, work with what you have, and don’t get trapped—be courageous in connecting with others and building your human emotional intelligence.