THE MASCULINITY CONSPIRACY

04: Relationships completed

with 8 comments

With transparent lines of communication open and power in check, men should be free to then start being whoever they want to be in a relationship. Maybe men want to do traditionally manly stuff, maybe they don’t. In our house, you will usually find me sat reading a book while my wife is up a ladder fixing something. At the same time we also fulfill some quite traditional gender roles inasmuch as my wife stays at home, keeps house and looks after the children while I “go to work” and “provide” in a financial sense. The point here is not that we have it “right” (we most certainly do not, for various systemic issues around the nature of paid work), but that men and women should be able to pick and choose between orthodox and unorthodox gender performances depending on how they want to live and how they feel inclined to manage the challenge of financially surviving in a world which has certain expectations about who does what in a relationship (especially when children are involved). It is important to note, also, that while something like staying at home to look after children may appear orthodox from the outside, the values within that situation may run counter to what many people perceive as orthodox (check out, for example, Shannon Hayes’ book, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture).

But there’s a BUT coming up here. While the onus of responsibility is certainly on men to own their abuses of power, take the initiative exercising acts of radical vulnerability, and enact masculinity in any number of diverse ways, the success of such a strategy cannot be unilateral. Both partners in a relationship need to engage this process: in other words, women need to realize the role they often play in the masculinity conspiracy. As I mentioned earlier, women too are co-opted into the conspiracy which can result in them performing some unfortunately stereotypical ways of being a woman: indeed, the conspiracy requires women to behave in stereotypical ways in order to shape that “object” which is the “other” to men and over which they can assert their power. It may even be harder for women to resist the demands of the conspiracy as they are generally in a position of less power to begin with.

In short, any person with a male partner needs to let go of what they perceive to be the natural characteristics of their partner’s gendered role. Sometimes this is going to be pretty trivial stuff, such as not assuming who is going to put out the trash. Other times this is going to be pretty fundamental stuff, such as not assuming who is going to “provide” and “protect” in a relationship. Maybe once this happens, such tasks remain with the same person, but if so it should be because they are genuinely appropriate to the situation, not because they are “men’s tasks.” This process is likely to be uncomfortable to navigate for both men and women: men have to resist manifesting the conspiracy, and women have to resist supporting men who manifest the conspiracy.

But once this sticky process has been completed, things begin to get interesting. Do you remember what it was like to be very young and contemplate what you were going to do with your life? A doctor, astronaut, or explorer? There was an extraordinary horizon of possibilities available to you back then. Much of the grief we feel as we become older is a direct result of those horizons becoming ever more distant, of becoming increasingly resigned to the inevitable “reality” of how things have turned out for us. But exposing the masculinity conspiracy puts us back in touch with that past potential. We may still be stuck shuffling bits of paper for a living, but we get to renegotiate who we are as people, and to be energized by the knowledge that the best is yet to come.

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Written by Joseph Gelfer

December 14, 2010 at 3:37 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Everything you’ve said in this section resonates so deeply. Thank you for writing this.

    Anonymous

    July 11, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    • Thanks for reading, as it prevents me from just talking to myself 🙂

      Joseph

      July 11, 2013 at 12:25 pm

  2. I understand Gray led a monkish celibate life for years, then married Barbara DeAngelis, then divorced.

    True?

    I also hear now David DeAngelo finally married a rather androgynous-looking woman whom he’d rate about a “4.” She says he only had 2 serious relationships in his life. Others say he was known for renting hookers, too. Does he mention that in his “oeuvres”? You know, that rich men can get sex if they are also semi-handsome?

    How are either of these men role models for males looking to lead fulfilling lives? It seems DeAngelo (aka Eben Pagan) is a money-a-holic, not content with making $20+ million per YEAR. What demons dog him? What was his childhood like that he seems to lead such an obsessive, one-dimensional life?

    And Gray? He seems interested mostly in making money and being deemed an “expert.”

    Their successes certainly indicate a lot of lonely people fill our world.

    Still, there is something sleazy and manipulative about their marketing. DeAngelo’s sales pitch is fear-based, assuring fearful men that his “killer” tactics GUARANTEE success with “women.” Of course, he never admits his own limited success-rate. Nor does he confess that women attracted to liars will have to be continually and continuously deceived. Nor does he admit that his Alpha male is, in fact, terrified that expressing human feelings means the end of “relationships.” Ergo, such men become “intimate” with women they view as enemies. It’s like becoming “best buddies” with guys you can’t trust.

    If a man seeks relationships with women who need robotic, unexpressive males, what kind of “always -on-guard” relationship is that? It’s like patronizing restaurants that chronically get written up for serving toxic food.

    How sad that millions of starving men buy cook books from such “chefs”– boyos who can’t cook and lack taste buds (but ARE great marketers in the way con men must be).

    Shlomo Shunn

    November 3, 2011 at 4:19 am

  3. “men have to resist manifesting the conspiracy, and women have to resist supporting men who manifest the conspiracy.”

    I’d also add that anyone involved in media or art–from movie producing, acting, advertising, marketing, etc.–as well as anyone who works with children is also culpable of perpetuating the conspiracy and in a position where they can resist or provide alternatives. I enjoy the blog Sociological Images for this–they give lots of examples of the conspiracy (and related conspiracies) in images found in various media.

    I really enjoyed this chapter Joseph, as David DeAngelo aka Eben Pagan is a particularly noxious character worthy of deconstructing, IMHO.

    Duff

    March 11, 2011 at 7:57 am

    • Yes, those allegedly creative domains you refer to are dreadful for perpetuating the conspiracy. Check out the movie Old Joy for a good alternative.

      Joseph

      March 11, 2011 at 8:09 am

  4. Good conclusion. It comes down to practicality. I visited friends recently. She began making twice as much with her design business than him being a paralegal. Someone had to take care of the kids, so it was logically him. And it works well. Oddly the women’s movement has been about women gaining rights and power to work and equal rights while the men’s movement has been refusing all the roles previously assigned to women and to the detriment of themselves and others. It pays to be flexible, open. – Both were involved in MKP & woman within and rejected it for similar reasons as I did, and as they put it “Grandiocity interferes with sobriety, rigidity interferes with thriving in the world.”

    Matthew

    February 19, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    • I’ll get more into this in the “money” chapter, but I suspect I will be accused once more of anti-capitalist bias: women seem to have won “rights” to be further co-opted into the capitalist machine. I think the “people’s movement” will be about the right of both men and women not to be so consumable in the workplace, period.

      Joseph

      February 20, 2011 at 6:44 am


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