Masculinity: Handle With Care

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

In the process of… “researching” for the top 10 cocktails list, one of my friends from back home asked a very serious and pointed question:
“What, no Cosmos?”

If I’m honest, I’ve never had a Cosmopolitan. Besides the fact I’m not a huge vodka or cranberry fan (outside of martinis and/or scones), I rarely like my drinks too sweet. Those are all good reasons not to get a cocktail. There was also one bad reason- that it’s a “chick drink.”

Dude, go get one. Get good vodka in there, and report back”
Alright, but I bet I’ll get a funny look from the bartender.”
If you do, take a picture. Just get the drink- it’s like cranberry candy.”

So I did. I walked into a new bar that I had just found, bellied-up to the bar, loosened my tie a bit, and asked the bartender for a Cosmopolitan.
The bartender- a woman- didn’t make a face, but she DID pause for a moment before saying “Okay, you want that in a stem or a bucket?”

“Um.. a stem? That’s how it’s supposed to be served, right?”
Oh yeah- but some guys find stemware girly.”

I’d already been conditioned to think of certain cocktails as “chick drinks.” That was bad enough- but STEMWARE? Using the proper drinking vessel for a certain drink is “unmanly?”

Guys- if this is for real, we have some SERIOUS fragility problems.

Flashback to a few days before my apparently-genderbending beverage experience. My friend Rachel offered up an interesting challenge regarding gender identity, and I want to share it with you:

Describe your gender identity in 10 words or less, but without using words like ‘male’, ‘female’, ‘bi’, ‘queer’, ‘androgynous,’ etc.

Go ahead- come up with 5 statements of 10 words or less. I’ll wait.

This is one of those self-reflective challenges I can get behind- it’s the kind used by psychologists to help people think in different ways about their issues and make them feel easier to handle. It also makes you wax poetic about something too many of us choose not to think or talk too much about. These were some of mine:

 “A log cabin that has stood for 10 generations.”
“A thick wool blanket handed down from great grandparents.”
“A heavy cast iron stove that warms and cooks well.”
“An ancient cave in the forest that shelters from rain.”

This is what it is to be a man, to me. You might notice a pattern in mine- a common theme of age, tradition, heredity, and especially protection/care. There might be patterns in your statements as well, likely different from mine. No judgments if they are, of course. These patterns don’t just appear out of nowhere- what we identify with our gender is based on the cultural norms we come up in. It comes from who our role models for that gender were in our lives, and how we relate to and emulate them.

Norman Rockwell painting of a Scout holding up the Scout sign in front of the Scout Oath

In my case, I was raised with a lot of the same “manly man” tropes others of my age group were- He-Man, G.I. Joe, Superman, Indiana Jones, and so on.
At the same time, I was raised in the Boy Scouts- where qualities like “Brave”, “Thrifty,” and “Physically Strong” were set on an even level with qualities like “Friendly,” “Clean,” and “Kind.” It wasn’t enough to be a “man-” one had to be a “GOOD man.” That meant being brave and strong- so you could care for others.

I’ve written before about how we in the culinary industry need to drop the macho crap, for our own health and that of the industry. I’ve also written about how gender stereotyping and gender roles hurt everyone– that I want my son to be comfortable about baking cookies with his father, or my daughter learning to change a tire and throw a punch, without worrying whether they were “not/too manly for them to learn.” I first learned to cook in the Scouts- the same place I learned to handle an ax, weave a basket, shoot a gun, and save a life. None of these are “manly/girly” skills- they are SKILLS, and I want ANY of my kids to have them.

There are lots of ways to do this “man” thing- and if we’ve gotten to the point where our manliness can be dictated to us and measured by the GLASSWARE we use, we as men are giving way too much power over our personalities to people who did not earn that power. What’s more, most of them don’t care if we live or die over it.

I was very lucky in that I grew up with both masculine and feminine voices in my life- my father, mother, and two sisters. I can’t remember ever hearing “Boys don’t cry” growing up, except as a song by The Cure. Other guys I’ve met, though, they got to hear “Man up” “Don’t be a pussy” “Quit being such a fag” almost every day of their lives.
This is where toxic masculinity comes from. It starts in the home and gets reinforced by our culture. This is what tells men to be emotionless- that sensitivity, being afraid, crying, showing weakness, or even showing romantic love isn’t manly, and if you aren’t manly, you’re worse than nothing.

Toxic masculinity says that you constantly need to demonstrate your strength and power by asserting dominance over everyone and everything around you- that listening to others, compromising, and considering other points of view is a weakness.

It tells you that there is a thing called the “friendzone-” that as a man, women OWE you sexual satisfaction, especially after you go out of your way to be nice to them and treat them like human beings.

Toxic masculinity demands you use its language- “gay” means “stupid”. “Fag” means “weird person.” “Pussy, sissy, or girly” means weakness and cowardliness.

It tells you that stemware is girly, and that Cosmos are a chick drink.

This is how a lot of young men are raised today. They never feel safe enough to cry to a friend, or comfortable enough to love and accept themselves. They become cold and angry. They isolate themselves.
“Young, male, troubled, angry loners.” Does that sound familiar?
There are few options left available to them in this world, so some of them decide to create their own destructive paths. Sometimes, they decide there is no way forward, and that the world should go on without them in it.

Despite what you may think, being a “man” doesn’t come with an instruction manual. You can get IDEAS from books, movies, music, video games. You can get IDEAS from your parents, your friends, and the culture you are in.
Ultimately, there are lots of ways to do this “man” thing. They don’t have to make us miserable, when there are so many qualities we can take joy and pride in. We don’t have to terrorize or intimidate others to gain admiration and respect- not when we can look after and protect them. There’s no need to be cold and stoic, when the bravest thing you can do is sometimes making yourself vulnerable.

What do you think? Doing the best you can, being honest with yourself and others, and not letting someone who doesn’t know or care about you dictate how you go about it- isn’t that what makes a man a “man?”
Stay Classy,

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