Recently I was at the gym and, leafing through magazines as I sometimes do, was intrigued by a headline on Details magazine that asked, “Are You Becoming The Man Your Mother Divorced?” I thought it might be somewhat of a cautionary tale, providing information or a service to men who have worked hard to get to where they are and, at some point, became men that they never intended to be.
When I teach college level human sexuality classes, it’s common for men to write papers about how they want to be a certain type of man: often, they describe wanting to be men who are well-liked by other men, successful in their jobs, respected in their communities and – very importantly – kind to, and liked by, women. The straight guys want to be loved by one particular woman one day – sometimes they’ve already met her, usually they are pining for an imagined person they hope to one day meet.
The Details article, then, seemed right up my alley – except that when I found the actual article, it was actually titled “Welcome Back, Asshole”. And as I read along, I realized there wasn’t much of a service to men at all in it. And if it was entertainment value, then it wasn’t entertainment value for the type of men I usually admire.
The article seemed to suggest that men – who it claimed didn’t benefit from some of the same thrusts of power that women got thanks to the women’s movement – were now finding that they needed ways to fight back and regain their masculinity. Unfortunately, most suggestions at becoming more masculine/manly were about having affairs, going to sex massage parlors without telling one’s wife, going to strip clubs while on business trips, drinking while the girlfriend looks away, or volunteering to go to the grocery store to get away from one’s wife.
Then there were the accompanying photos: a Mr Potato Head character trying to tip a stripper from ankle height, and then having sex with a Barbie doll (bent over; it’s worth noting that this article was part of “The Power Issue” with Tom Cruise on the cover). But the image that bothered me so much that I whipped out my iPhone for a picture, in case I couldn’t find it online, was one of the Mr Potato Head doll having just blown his load all over Barbie’s naked plastic vulva. Trust me, writing this down feels enormously ridiculous, but is this truly the best that Details, a long lead magazine with time and skills and talent enough to do better, could put out?
If men need to feel masculine, is depicting the money shot on a little girl’s toy the only way to go? Are all these ideas for affairs and sex parlors the way that men become more manly? I hope not. For balance, why not talk to thoughtful men about their ideas about masculinity and somehow incorporate it into a Details-style story. Surely, readers want more?
Many of the men I know and admire are just as happy as women to have feminine and masculine stereotypes challenged. The Mad Men examples used in the Details article weren’t, in my opinion, well done considering how many people get that everyone was pretty much trapped in them – Salvadore was trapped in not being able to explore intimacy with men, Betty was trapped waiting all day at home, Don Draper was trapped in muliple work and personal ways, and so on.
In checking out Feministing, I see that perhaps this article is par for the Details course considering past images that illustrate naked women as trash and articles that ask whether it’s okay for men to “demand” anal sex.
What I would hope is that more of us could figure out how to help people become the people they want to become rather than regress to an envisioned stereotype. And I’d hope that we could be respectful of both genders in the process. That can’t possibly be too much to ask.
To read a scholarly – and quite interesting – take on sex as a problematics means of establishing one’s masculinity or femininity, check out Dr. John Bancroft’s terrific book Human Sexuality and Its Problems, 3rd edition, which I am currently in the midst of reading.