Based on all the dumb shit I've been told about how men allegedly are and women allegedly are, I've concluded the following: Being masculine is apparently just like being a proud lion, it is an intrinsically superior gift of strength and wisdom bestowed on men by the universe that women must stroke and honor (or else). But it is also a zero sum game, so if a woman does even one thing deemed too proud lion-y for her gender, she can instantly take away her lion man's masculinity mojo, rendering him the worst thing in the world a man can be: Less Effective.
This is the weird contradiction of sexist thinking: One the one hand, the entire universe's job basically seems like it's to be a fluffer for the male ego. On the other hand, why? Because women have some dark witchy ability to steal male power (and take their baby)? If it's so easy to steal the power away, why haven't we just taken it? And if women were as naturally inferior and nonthreatening as we have been led to believe, wouldn't we need way less supervision? One thing is for sure: Wherever there is female progress, there are cries of BUT YOU'RE EMASCULATING ME directly behind it.
Take a recent piece on Slate, where Amanda Hess writes about a thing that ran on Vulture/NYMag from a male producer claiming women "virtually control" cable TV. So it follows that the success comes with a price: It's that these "alpha females" emasculate their husbands on the daily. As Hess makes clear, in spite of some real progress in the industry, women, with just 26 percent of key gigs from the 2012-2103 season of cable/network TV, emphatically do not control cable. Moreover, anyone who sees those stats as control is clearly uneasy with even a smidge of barely gotten gender parity.
But what stays with me here is this recurring narrative about gender where every little jump ahead women make is viewed on some level as a threat to the time-honored institution of dudeness. In the original piece, for instance, in order to be an "alpha female," you only need reach levels of achievement any reasonable person would consider awesome in a dude, like wanting success or nabbing a high-paying job. But zoom out and put these achievements next to a man who didn't get his universe-issued success, and well, you may as well be kicking a (smirking) stiletto directly into his (wincing) ballsack. (Even better is when commenters on the piece offer advice: "These women should be attracted to submissive men. Their lives would be easier and they would be taken care of in a way that they're used to." Yes, because the only solution is to pair dominant with submissive. It's just what makes sense! Cool gender timez.)
Curious, I looked around for more examples of how to accomplish this piece-of-cake emasculating every one is doing lately and found this super true and not terribly misogynistic at all list. Turns out it is mad easy to break a dude's masculinity spirit and rule the world. If this stuff is actually reliable, we should have a female president by next week in spite of how that would violate laws about how elections and stuff work.
All we gotta do is:
Get a Good Job
Step one to putting a dent in the universe of lion pride is being paid well by a company who values you. Just imagine how your husband would feel.
Make a Salary So Much as $1 More
Step two is to out-earn him, stripping away from him the only thing he knows how to feel good for because the culture has totally poisoned his idea of self-esteem and that is your job to tiptoe around forever and never trigger at great personal cost to yourself.
According to repository of lion pride, AskMen, all you have to do to chip away at the mansion of lion pride you're lucky to be living in is step 3: offer up your "pearls of wisdom" when they are not needed (hint: they are never needed). Having an opinion to a guy is like saying "I know something," and worse, it's like saying "I know something and I think I should say it out loud." Even worse, it's saying "I know something, I think I should say it out loud, and I think that is ok." Wrong wrong wrong. (And emasculating!)
Offer Help in Any Way (Especially in Public)
Men don't need help — especially not from women. So step four: Offer it! As we've already tried to tell you, opening a guy's door is basically a ceremonial bat to the balls before surgically removing them. Alternately, did you know that when you offer a man your girly car (electric blue Renault Clio with fluffy pink seat covers) to drive because his is in the shop, you're just doing it so women won't check him out, which destroys his ability to feel like hot shit? Make him walk. Nothing is more masculine than a guy walking because his car is in the shop. Oh and if you really want to insult him, adjust his tie before he goes into a big meeting, so you can instantly transform him into a schoolboy on the playground getting his PB and J with the cwusts cut off.
Make Him Do Things Only You Like
Step 5 (Oprah voice): Shoppppinnnngggggggg! When a man has to sit and watch a woman shop (ladies still be shoppin'), all the other women know it's because he's a dog on a leash.
Win at Anything He Likes Doing
Glurg, glurg, glurg.
Ask His Opinion But Still Do It How You Think It Should Be Done
Apparently if a dude is asked to speak his wisdom, and then that wisdom is not followed, the mountain of lion pride begins to crumble. Step 7: Don't do it, whatever it was.
Refuse to Guess What He Won't Tell You
Step 8: Apparently if a dude never talks about his feelings you are still supposed to know he has them, guess what they are, figure them out, and nurture or respond to them even if you have no idea whether they exist or to what extent — and remember, he never even has to acknowledge them. And when you don't do this whole charade, it's mad shitty.
Tell Him to Be the Thing He Always Says He Is
In numerous pieces online about how simple it apparently is to crush the male ego like an empty beer can, they bring up one thing over and over (step 9): Even though a certain kind of dude is way into being a dude and will cite that often as to why he doesn't need to put up with any of the above, if you even think about mentioning how dudely he isn't, you have stabbed an ice pick into the heart of the proud lion. Step back and behold the potency you have maimed.
Okay, the Serious Part:
I don't think anyone should be emasculating anyone (because I literally don't get it — if someone can do that to you so easily, perhaps the foundation upon which you've built your identity is more harmful than helpful?), much less yelling at a dude to "be a man already!" — to me this is part of the whole problem. But I suspect this happens in relationships where "being a man" is cited often as an essential identity in every choice and in the power balance of the relationship. Where being a man and a woman is some huge part of how things are decided and felt. Where these terrible scripts for how to act "because you're a man or woman" leave us all feeling less connected and we try to make sense of differences through this script instead of putting aside the mask of gender and just hashing out what we need from each other.
To be clear: Gender identity is not inherently bad in the slightest — liking even popularly held notions about what it means to be a man or a woman can be enormously satisfying and complementary. But each of us must arrive at these identities in ways that are healthy and well-adjusted for us. And by using these identities to pit men and women as oppositional, we muddy that potential harmony both within ourselves and with others. One of them involves two equal deliberate players speaking sentences out loud, and the other places women forever in service to men as caretakers of this delicate male ego. Funny, then, that there is no real equivalent word in the popular lore for a man reducing a woman's femininity by simply being awesome in the world.
Image by the incomparable Jim Cooke.