Event: “Who the Bloody Hell Are We?”—The Sentimental Bloke at the Wheeler Centre.

I was so looking forward to “So Who the Bloody Hell Are We?: The Sentimental Bloke”, held on Monday night at the Wheeler Centre, which I attended with my staunchly feminist friend Laura (who has written for The Scarlett Woman here, and whom I’ve written abouthere) and staunchly MRA friend Andrew (who has also guest posted here and here).

I was rudely disappointed.

I expected the panel to delve into the masculinity crisis facing Australian men today by addressing such issues as rape culture in sport, domestic violence, metrosexuality and parenting. Well, three out of four ain’t bad.

I’m not the only one who felt that way, as Andrew Frank writes:

“I’ve got two words for you: Sarah Palin”—Dr. Anne Summers, AO.

I didn’t get it. Based on the participation rates of the laughter that followed, I don’t think half the audience did either.

Using a right wing American female politician to attempt to illustrate that there are no gender issues related to  men that hunt in contemporary Australia, only cultural ones, is using a form of logic that I can’t understand. But then again, she claims to be a feminist.

The setting was The Wheeler Centre, and the discussion loosely titled, “So Who the Bloody Hell Are We?: The Sentimental Bloke”. The presenter: Michael Cathcart. The panel was comprised of Craig Reucassel, founding editor of The Chaser newspaper and ABC television personality, Craig Sherborne, memoirist, poet and playwright, and Dr. Anne Summers AO, “best-selling author, journalist, and thought leader”. About that last one: I am worried.

Initially, the discussion promised to focus upon being a man, as individuals and as an ideal, in contemporary Australian society. This would include several aspects of particular relevance, such as parenting, the workplace, and various social settings. It would also examine the evolution of the ideals of masculinity, over the 20th century to the present. I was sadly disappointed.

After being egged on by Scarlett and Laura to “man up” [Scarlett Woman note: I say that sarcastically; I strongly disagree with “man-up” as motivation to be courageous.], I decided to ask the question that plagued me from the start, and gets under my skin from time to time. My question went something like this:

“I am a very passionate hunter. I do it because I love it, not because I need to feel manlier. This is something for which I am socially criticized, in a manner that suggests I use it as a method of compensation for feelings of being emasculated. Do any of you perceive any distinction between the social pressures placed on men of decades past to be the stiff-upper-lipped, emotionally suppressed and distant figure, and the social pressures contemporary Australian men are subject to in terms of being ‘metrosexual’ or the ‘Sensitive New Age Guy’?”

I missed Sherborne’s reaction, but Reucassel mocked hunting as an activity for the royal family {unbeknownst to him, I also fence!). Dr Anne Summers, screwed up her face and said, “Between being a SNAG and hunting?” in as condescending a tone as you can imagine.

It was asked that the microphone be returned to me. Reucassel asked me how I started hunting. I replied that it came to me through my Dad, and my Dad’s Dad. I then turned my attention to Summers again and stated that the hunting’s relevance here rested in the fact that according to my friends, hunting and masculinity were, for the distant father figure, and are, now, according to my friends, inextricably intertwined. It is the quintessential example of men today not conforming to the metrosexual, SNAG criteria.

Reucassel then said that the idea of hunting abhors him; that It is definitely an antiquated recreation, but it takes bravery to pursue in light of contemporary attitudes and if I want to, then more power to me. I respect his viewpoint. I would never force someone to hunt who didn’t want to, and he reflects my right to be autonomous in deciding where I get my food. But he missed the vital issue: is there a difference between my social pressure not to hunt and the social pressure on men from decades past to be emotionally restrained?

Insert Summers’ initial right-winged impression here, to which I didn’t get another chance to respond.

Sarah Palin hunts. I think Summers was trying to say that dealing with the bad rap that being a hunter carries is not specifically a male problem. And in that single fact, she is correct. So therefore, the issue faced here by hunters is not gendered, but cultural. However, to go so far as to imply that because Palin hunts, the social criticism of male Australian hunters—or indeed other men who engage in traditionally masculine recreational activities—does not warrant discussion is a fallacy. I believe that is what she intended to say. And soon after it became apparent from the comments of Cathcart and Sherborne that they believed she had jumped on the “cultural, not gendered” tack as well. However, because I did not warrant a detailed response, evidenced in hindsight by her curt reply and insulting tone, we cannot be sure. Perhaps she meant to say that Palin is an idiot, and therefore, all hunters are. But I shall continue through with the interpretation that Laura helped me conclude.

If we accept the premise of Summers, any criticism of my masculinity with hunting as evidence is blatantly flawed. Speaking regarding men in contemporary society, Summers has decided that the social reality is… wrong? Because a number of women engage in hunting, including the prominent Palin, they must be subject to exactly the same social criticisms that the men who engage in this statistically dominated male activity, right? If we accept this, Summers did not respond to me, as she intended. She responded to those that undermine the masculinity of Australian male hunters. Undermining my “masculinity in the metrosexual sense” because I hunt is wrong because women hunt, too. Unfortunately for her, your average person that rips on a hunter seems unaware of the tradition that hunting is a male thing. By the way: I hate that tradition. I really, really do.

On that count, any person seeking a discourse regarding being a man in contemporary Australia rather than trying to fulfill a feminist agenda would disagree. It’s like saying because both men and women are in the police force they obviously have precisely the same experience—I would have loved to get her started on that one pertaining to rape cases. If the topic for the evening had been, “The Sentimental Bloke and the Empowered Woman: Being a Man, Or a Woman, in Contemporary Society”, then perhaps it would have been a valid vein of thought. But could anyone really think that her premise was not flimsy and tenuous? She, too, missed the point: attempting to discern the differences and similarities of social pressure on males not to hunt and the social pressure on men from decades past to be emotionally restrained.

Discussion that followed pigeonholed me into the “shooter” stereotype as if I wasn’t even there. I won’t forget for a long time the sneer in her voice: “He’s a shooter”. I despise hoons that are hunters according to external perception, blazing through the bush with a beer in one hand and a gun in the other. Summers was perfectly willing to condemn me using a stereotype to which I do not conform. This after using a prominent female American politician, a single example, to attempt to nullify two gendered stereotypes and the resulting social pressures of two different eras that I wished to contrast. Yeah, that woman totally understood the topic for the evening. She is sooo smart! And yes, I’m bitter I didn’t get to verbally tear her to shreds.

The presenter, in my opinion, then made an awful mistake. Cathcart asked the panel, “Have any of you killed a mammal, and eaten it?” I think this was asked with the goal of illustrating the cultural differences between the contemporary and past societies in which hunters and men have existed. This wandered further still from the vital issue, as whether or not someone has killed an animal they have eaten and whether or not hunting is ethical does not address the relevant gendered issues. Reucassel said no, and then admitted to being a meat eater which, he realised, weakened his argument. Sherborne said yes, and told stories of how he grew up on a farm. Summers said no, and her admission to being a meat eater was accompanied with a bowed head.

In order to further display her tight grasp on the issues that were, but should not have been at hand, I remember Sherborne raising the following issue, when asked if he himself has ever hunted:

Sherborne: “Is fishing hunting?”

Summers: “No.”

Cathcart: “Why not?”

Summers: “I don’t know”

Cathcart ended that portion of the discussion with, “Well, I don’t know if we answered your question, but they certainly had fun ridiculing you”.

Subsequent audience questions referred to mine. They tried again to get at my “underlying question.” As far as I could tell, no such luck. My spirits were buoyed somewhat as I exited the room, as I heard the word hunting on the lips of four or five people, was complimented by a few others, and heard several chide the panel’s incorrect interpretation and inadequate response to my questioning. Walking down the street five minutes later I fortuitously heard an elderly couple discussing the exact same issue, and they could not have approved of my thoughts more.

Perhaps my motivation to have written all this down rests in the fact that I wanted answers—validation—and I didn’t get any. I am a hunter. I am also a kind, caring and sensitive man, who fully acknowledges the depths of his emotion wherever possible. I even have passing interests in skin care from time to time. The people on the stage were supposed to confirm my belief that pressures on me to be the latter (SNAG) are directly related to pressures not to be the former (strong, silent and conventionally “masculine”), and that the same situation with different polarities existed for men decades ago. Or, they were supposed to admonish this point of view, and provide me with enlightenment such that I could embrace my modern masculinity as the sensitive young man and the hunter with no sense of conflict.

But they didn’t. Aspects of life difficult for the contemporary sentimental bloke didn’t exist for every sentimental bloke. Consequently they were considered circumstantial and did not warrant discussion. Or difficulties that didn’t apply only for men, as women suffered similarly, meant that they did not warrant discussion. Or difficulties founded in culture were dealt with in a manner that suggested their gendered implications were irrelevant. Honestly, the only issue duly treated, was the evolution of male parents who now change nappies and push prams, juxtaposed against past male parents who would only pace outside the birthing room then work to support the child, occasionally throwing in a life lesson. Everything else was glossed over in a cursory fashion, played way, way down, or even straight out denied, suggesting that none of the panel members were prepared to really get their hands dirty and discuss issues that contemporary Australian men deal with in defining who and what we are. After all, even though the title of the event was “So Who the Bloody Hell Are We?: The Sentimental Bloke” it just wouldn’t be fair to deal with the impact issues have on men when they also effect women, would it?

Related: How to Make a Woman Fall in Love with You, Glee Style.

Double Standards.

On Stripping.

Unfinished Business at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Images via The Wheeler Centre, Indie Posted.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

“Christina Aguilera: Always the Second Fiddle.”

I don’t believe in New Years resolutions anymore, namely because I could never realise mine. But I like Rachel Hills’ idea of writing an obituary for the year passed. In this case, her 2008 in review.

HuffPo on the absence of modern technology in modern literature:

“The average fictional character is either so thoroughly disinterested in email, social media, and text messages he never thinks of it, or else hastily mentions electronic communications in the past tense. Sure, characters in fiction may own smart phones, but few have the urge to compulsively play with the device while waiting to meet a friend or catch a flight. This ever-present anachronism has made it so that almost all literary fiction is science fiction, a thought experiment as to what life might be like if we weren’t so absorbed in our iPhones but instead watched and listened to the world around us at a moment’s rest.”

Girl with a Satchel ponders the price of a pretty picture.

“Caring for Your Introvert” is one of the best articles I’ve read all year (and considering it was written in 2003, that’s saying something). Here, an excerpt:

“With their endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts also dominate social life, so they tend to set expectations. In our extrovertist society, being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of happiness, confidence, leadership. Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathic. ‘People person’ is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like ‘guarded’, ‘loner’, ‘reserved’, ‘taciturn’, ‘self-contained’, ‘private’—narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality. Female introverts, I suspect, must suffer especially. In certain circles, particularly in the Midwest, a man can still sometimes get away with being what they used to call a strong and silent type; introverted women, lacking that alternative, are even more likely than men to be perceived as timid, withdrawn, haughty.

“The worst of it is that extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts’ Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say ‘I’m an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.’”

Furthermore, The Los Angeles Times notes that despite the introverted minority, television doesn’t reflect their existence very well. (Does television reflect anything very well?):

“Watch Seinfeld or Friends or Sex & the City or Community or Men of a Certain Age—the list is endless—and you’ll see people who not only are never ever alone but people whose relationships are basically smooth, painless, uninhibited and deeply, deeply intimate—the kind of friendships we may have had in college but that most of us can only dream about now. How many adults do you know who manage to hang out with their friends every single day for hour after hour?”

On that, Gossip Girl is notorious for misrepresenting reality. While she knows I love her, GG often makes me feel guilty about the clothes I’m not wearing, the sex I’m not having, and the events I’m not going to. Apparently, it’s not true to the books, either.

Check out The Washington City Paper for their musings on masculinity over the past decade, with a special focus on boy bands, metrosexuals, hipsters and guidos, à la Jersey Shore.

Gwyneth Paltrow: You either love her or hate her. I hated her with a passion until I saw her on Glee, in which she came across as carefree, cool and sexy and made her a tiny bit more relatable to the general populus who don’t subscribe to her Goop musings. Mia Freedman writes hilariously on this conundrum, with a focus on a related article from Salon.

Also at MamaMia, “17 Arguments Against Gay MarriageAnd Why They’re Bullocks” is brilliant.

Tangled will be the last fairytale Disney releases in a while.

Can you still be a feminist and dress in a bra top? (Of course you can; stay tuned for more on this next week.) Or espouse archaic notions of heterosexual relations, for that matter?

“The Ongoing, Albeit Amusing, Battle to Save Bristol” on Dancing with the Stars:

“‘This seems like a case of the rich, popular cheerleaders looking like they’ve sucked on a lemon when they learn that the poor girl in school, the one in the home-made clothes and religious family, gets elected Prom Queen.’

“I’ve rarely seen such a clean-cut example of the conservative tendency to say up is down and black is white. Or, more precisely, to bemoan how oppressed white, rich, and highly privileged people are.

“… But Bristol Palin hasn’t really done squat. She is literally famous for having a baby at an inopportune time. And now she continues to get promoted over more talented people than her because she was born into the right family… Bristol Palin is a hero to wingnut America because she’s a great example of rewarding someone for being born into privilege instead of on their merits.

“… I just find it extremely funny that the wingnutteria is backing someone with no talent on a show with no real importance to stick it to liberals who by and large don’t really care, and they’re doing so because they’re intoxicated by privilege and kind of wish they had a monarchy, but they’re pretending that they’re doing it because they want to see the oppressed rise above. I suppose after Dancing with the Stars is done, they should start sticking it to the liberals by defending poor, oppressed Paris Hilton, who is definitely the weird girl with handmade clothes that is picked on by cheerleaders.”

Mel Gibson and the curse of the “Sexiest Man Alive” tag.

On Stieg Larsson and the “disturbing”, “torturous” patriarchy of his Millennium trilogy.

Women are funny, too.

Men on Chapel Street.

Even though I live quite close to Chapel Street in Melbourne, I try to avoid going there as it is not my scene at all.

The other night I ventured as far down as I’ve been in years, to Lucky Coq, on High Street, for drinks with a friend.

The outing reminded me of the last time I’d been that far down, which was back in 2008 for a uni project. Odd, I know, but stay with me.

One of my final units was a media subject entitled Men & Masculinities. I was hesitant to take on the course, but it was my final year and I’d already done all the good ones. Aside from my inept teacher, the unit was really fun, and some of the topics I studied have influenced me to this day.

The reason my study group and I trekked to Chapel Street was to examine the different types of masculinities we observed there. With the National Institute of Circus Arts and the multitude of gyms and boutiques located there, I was expecting to see a lot of buff, fashionable men concerned with their appearance. In short, I expected to see the “metrosexual” in his natural habitat.

After a bit of rummaging through my hard drive, and a quick Google search, I managed to find the articlean interview with Professor of English, Sociology & Women’s Studies at the University of California, Toby Miller, by Jenny Burton and Jinna Tayby which I used to establish some theories about men on Chapel Street.

Keep in mind that these observations were collected two years ago, and I have tried to keep my notes as close to the originals as possible (present day annotations in italics). A lot of the subject matter discussed then has entered our current vernacular; or at least, the vernacular of this here blog, and the ones I frequently read.

Metrosexuality.

“… The phenomenon of the new man, which tends to annex beauty to the wider theoretical works of fashion, with grooming making fleeting, untheorised appearances.”

That’s not so true anymore, as fashion and grooming are becoming as equally important to men who want to look good and take pride in their appearance. Even something as simple as shaving is classed as grooming, and most men we observed on Chapel Street were clean shaven, or at least were doing something different with their facial hair (such as “designer stubble” and goatees instead of a full beard). [Had it been November when the study was done, perhaps I would have seen some mo’s out there?]

“Is the metrosexual a middle- rather than working-class phenomenon?”

I think typically the metrosexual is viewed as upper- to middle-class, and we certainly did see men of these demographics whom you could call metrosexual. However, the working class (tradies, construction workers) could also be seen as metrosexual, because even though they were engaged in manual labour and had “hard” bodies [muscly; evidence of working out], they were still well-groomed and took pride in their appearance.

“Taking pleasure in one’s body, nurturing it, caring for it, protecting it from the elements and so on kind of loosens those old bonds of conventional masculinity, which forbade these behaviours for men and made them taboo.”

The theory here is that men taking pleasure in their bodies and wanting to look physically attractive, for example by going to the gym, is taboo. Do the men we see going to the gym look ashamed of, thereby succumbing to the taboo, or proud of, their hard or soft bodies? (Hard bodies at the gym; soft bodies in certain subcultures like emo, punk, grunge etc.) I wasn’t expecting to see men ashamed of their bodies, especially in a trendy, affluent place like Chapel Street. However, older, out of shape men were a bit more self-conscious than their younger, better-looking counterparts because they tended to look at the ground when they were walking and didn’t make eye contact as much as the more confident men.

“Given all the effort women make to look okay, it seems only fair that men should have to go through something approximating to that level.”

As we expected, there weren’t really any significantly out of shape, badly-groomed or badly-dressed people on Chapel Street. The women took great pride in their appearance, both in their body shapes as well as how they dressed and groomed themselves. This was echoed in the male population, who all were well-dressed, mostly in shape, and well-groomed. In that respect, it could be seen that men are taking a leaf out of the females species’ book.

“… I think it’s [metro sexuality] pretty peculiar to Australia.”

The typical Australian man is seen as a “blokey bloke” in footy shorts and a bluey, doing manual labour and playing sport recreationally. The younger generation of Australian men are challenging this stereotype by being well-dressed, well-groomed and having more unconventional jobs (according to the stereotype) like consulting, fashion, etc. There wasn’t a typical “blokey bloke” that I saw on Chapel Street; even the construction workers, who have the most “Australian” occupation, weren’t physically reflective of the stereotype. In terms of metrosexuality being unique to Australia, it’s true in that a lot of younger men are taking care of themselves, but false in the way that Australia isn’t the only country that has metrosexuals: the US does with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the abundance of men in the media who take pride in their appearance and endorse beauty and fashion products, like George Clooney endorsing watches, and Matthew Fox from Lost is the face of a new L’Oreal beauty range for men. I’m not so sure about the UK, because on one hand you’ve got really metrosexual men like Hugh Grant and Jude Law, but on the other there are quite scruffy men like Rhys Ifans, who was engaged to Sienna Miller, and the downright disgusting, like Pete Doherty.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

“… One way to analyse Queer Eye [for the Straight Guy] is as a professionalisation of queerness; a form of management consultancy for conventional masculinity.”

This can be seen in some of the shops on Chapel Street (and Church Street). We saw gyms and health food stores selling protein shakes, etc. in clusters, as well as a beauty salon specifically for men on Church Street.

“… Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is actually about re-asserting, re-solidifying very conventional masculinity.”

Because it separates the “queer” guys, who are fashionable, neat, well groomed, from the “straight” guys, who are messy, unkempt, in need of “styling” by the “queer” guys. Men on Chapel Street challenged this idea. You could speculate about which men were straight and which men were gay, but the stereotypically “straight” ones weren’t messy or “blokey”. There were a lot of business men who needed to look tidy and well-groomed for their jobs, but there were also construction workers whom you would think were typically very masculine and therefore untidy, but even they were taking pride in their appearance, both in terms of their physically hard bodies as well as their grooming.

Sport.

“… While it’s still about toughness, sport is equally about beauty, with the NFL now marketing its players as sex symbols.”

While there weren’t really any “sports” men on Chapel Street (apart from the circus/dance performers), the masculinities we observed were as much about being physically attractive to attract a mate as they were about looking tough and hard-bodied.

Eating Disorders.

“… Clearly there are big problems with eating disorders and performance enhancing drugs amongst men… These are partly narcissistic, psychological worries to do with an image to the outside world in general… Male beauty consciousness is primarily a marketing creation… Do men use toiletries and cosmetics because advertising tells them to?”

There were a lot of advertisements on Chapel Street that would support this notion, specifically the ad in the window of a gym/health food store that promotes an unachievable body type for most men. There weren’t as many hard bodies as we expected to see, however the ones that we did see in no way reflected the extreme ideal that that specific advertisement promoted. The men who worked in fashion stores on Chapel Street succumbed to the ideal that that specific store promoted.

“… Eating disorders, insecurity about looks and image, men now being oppressed by the ‘beauty trap’ and so on, but for me this doesn’t allow for the possibility that this may also be a good thing for individual men and conventional masculinity, allowing men to indulge in some self nurture.”

The men on Chapel Street who were well-groomed obviously took pride in their appearance, and weren’t ashamed of the fact that they looked after themselves. The majority of men looked healthy, which therefore supports the claim that male grooming and “metrosexuality” (men taking care of themselves) is a good thing.

Related: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” Episode.

Elsewhere: [Media Culture] Metrosexuality: What’s Happening to Masculinity?

[MamaMia] Male Models: Inside Their Straaaange World.