Monday, June 28, 2010

I wear no pants

If you haven't checked out Manvertised yet, you really should. Very thoughtful analysis of the role that anxious masculinity plays in many modern advertisements. While browsing the blog, I came across a couple of interesting commercials.

The ad betrays an ambivalence rarely seen in advertising. It's hard not to like the jovial singers, whose pastoral setting, non-conventionally ideal body types, and lack of pants symbolize a freedom unconcerned with social constraints. Yet this freedom is not attained by alienation; solidarity abounds in the well-coordinated chorus, whose performance betrays little lack of skill. This kind of unburdened freedom is the sort of brand association one would expect a company would want to instill, yet after giving us this positive portrait, Dockers tells us it's time to grow up and "wear the pants." The gendered implications of the phrase are obvious. It's not difficult to find advertisements that would paint this freedom as the masculine ideal, away from the feminizing influence of domestic life. Dockers instead sees domestic life as a masculine proving ground, with unfortunate implications. One must "wear the pants" in a relationship, obviously impossible in the presumably chaste bro love of our chorus. In order to attain masculinity, then, a man must abandon his egalitarian friendships in pursuit of dominating romance.

Our singers are not merely liberated from the mundane concerns of domestic life but also from the rigorous gender policing and gender anxiety that would make them strive to "wear the pants." Choirs complete with well-practiced harmony aren't considered the most masculine thing in the world, but our singers seem unperturbed that their sexuality might be called into question by putting so much time into perfecting their singing. Their dress, even setting aside their lack of pants, either subverts traditional expressions of masculinity or eschews them altogether; one man wears a slightly feminine sweater, another a soiled button-down one would expect to see on a person in a cubicle.

Our proud singers are simultaneously enviable and laughable, and their appeal is perhaps meant to redound upon us. Their crude facsimile of freedom can seem, and is meant to seem, childish, and finding them appealing is supposed to be shameful. Yet their pride and solidarity might reflect a deeper ambivalence. It's not difficult to find frustration with the feminizing influence of middle class life, but this is the first time I've seen that expressed alongside a frustration with gender policing. While we're ultimately meant to reject the freedom fantasy as childish, Dockers might be hitting something real here- a frustration with the impossible demands of masculinity in modern society.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stay awhile, and listen

In an otherwise superb post on gender policing and masculine behavior, the proprietor of Danny's Corner tosses in something not so respectful of women's (or anyone's) autonomy:

Want a man to perform a sex act that he would normally not do? Tell him to man up and don't be scared to slap and choke her if she says she wants him to.

The problem Renee addresses here is real, and his point that men as well as women can feel pressured by gender policing into unwanted sex acts is well taken. But seriously, "if she says she wants him to?" How much respect can you have for your partner if you seriously think in those terms? How intelligent can you think they are if you privilege your understanding of them over their own? What hope is there for honest communication if you toss aside what your partner is telling you point blank?

Underlying the whole sentiment is an incredulity that anyone could find such sexually enjoyable; if they claim they want it, they are either lying to please their partner or in the grip of a false consciousness brought about by endemic sexism. One would have hoped that the visibility of other queer sexualities would lead people to conceive of sexualities that exist outside the norm, but that unfortunately doesn't seem to be the case.

I sincerely doubt that Danny would disregard someone's testimony about his or her sexual desires if they fell into a normative rubric. Most progressives may have laudably incorporated those in the GLBT community into that rubric, but the perils of the framework persist. Straights will have their testimony about their experiences believed; queers just might, if their audience is sufficiently informed and kind; but if you're not on the radar, your words are viewed with suspicion, and must be vetted by the normative gatekeepers to determine its truth.

And people tell me vanilla privilege doesn't exist.

Look, I've no desire to start up another round of the Oppression Olympics. Lord knows I've experienced frustration when people haven't believed me when I'm talking about my own sexuality. But the fact that at least some people are inclined to believe me when I tell them I like boys, girls, and everything inbetween instead of relentlessly psychoanalyzing me and trying to figure out whether I have an ulterior motive for saying so makes the world just a bit easier for this queer. When they haven't been inclined to believe me- when homophobes start citing daddy issues or biphobes tell me bisexuals don't really exist, is when my life starts to get complicated. Can't we extend this courtesy to all sexual minorities?

Monday, June 21, 2010


A week ago, I came downstairs from watching the first match of the Netherlands-Denmark game to find my father comatose on the couch. An hour later, he was pronounced dead at Arlington Medical Center.

I wanted to post the eulogy I wrote on here, because I would not be writing this blog without his example.

If my computer is to be believed, I first put fingers to keyboard on this speech on December 9th, 2009. "Father.RTF" was never supposed to be a eulogy. The truth is I'm not sure my dad ever appreciated how remarkable a person he was, though those of us who knew him well could never forget it. I had hoped to show him how much love and respect we all had for him, and how much he meant to us. If all had gone as planned, I would have told him all this tomorrow, as we were polishing off the dessert course of our father's day dinner.

I'll never get to say this to him, but I hope it can be a fitting tribute.

I could spend an hour detailing my father's virtues: his temperance and self-control, his frugality, his wisdom, his single-mindedness in pursuing a healthy lifestyle on behalf of his family. But the virtue that defined his life was the greatest of the seven, according to Corinthians: love.

I'm on shaky rhetorical ground, attempting a defense of love. Not merely the most cynical among us view the word, at least, with suspicion. It's hard not to, when it's the subject of a thousand hackneyed after-school specials and a million tin-eared novels. But anyone who knew my father knows that love is not merely a dead writ or cliche. Love was anything but a platitude to him.

There are a million things every one of us does to dehumanize the people around us. Most of us only have room in our moral universe for the hundred or so of our closest friends and family, and perhaps for those like them. Beyond that, the benefit of the doubt becomes hard to muster. The rude shopkeeper is vicious, not frazzled after working double-shifts through the night; the thief is naturally evil, not attempting to provide for his family. Dad refused to believe the former narratives, because he refused to believe that there was a person he couldn't find something admirable about. He believed there was no such thing as human debris, and his moral universe was large enough to compass the world. Mom once made the comment that nothing that his kids could do could really get him angry; he was always ready with a word at our defense. It was true, but we were far from the only ones who got that treatment. It pained him to think anything but the best of anyone, because he loved everyone.

I consider myself immensely blessed to have so many wonderful and remarkable people, accomplished and loving, in my life. In my brief time on this planet I have met activists and artists, scientists and senators. For three blissful years I have lived in the most caring community that I could imagine, and of course, I have known the love of a wonderful family. Yet I have never known a finer human being than my father. And I doubt I ever will.