…sort of. He starts out talking about how he’s not exactly the manliest man, and enlisted some outside help to get in touch with his Y chromosome.
To stem the tide, I had lunch with Norah Vincent, a former L.A. Times columnist who spent more than a year undercover as a man for her new book, “Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey Into Manhood and Back Again.” One of the tips she apparently failed to pick up from my gender was to not use so many words.
Still, if anyone knew how to butch someone up, it was Vincent. So I took her to lunch in New York and asked for some advice.
Right away, Vincent, a 5-foot-10 lesbian, noticed that my handshake was neither strong nor assertive. Also, my eyes were too gentle. “That’s a sign of weakness. That will not get you women,” she said. “Make your eyes harder. When you look at people, think mean thoughts.” She was making the last part easy.
Women, apparently, like men who look at them and think mean thoughts.
Now, before anyone jumps on me for being “humorless,” obviously Stein’s column is funny. I laughed. And I can’t even attack Norah Vincent for pointing Stein in the direction of stereotypical manhood. What I found interesting is how much truth there is in her assertions and suggestions. What does it mean when male-ness is defined as insensitive, controlling, entitled and cruel? Doesn’t that hurt men?
File this one, then, under “feminism is good for men, too.”
Vincent suggested that I take some vocal training to lower my voice, as she did for her book. “It’s not the timbre but the intonation. You’re a questioner. You don’t have the sense that you know exactly what you’re talking about.” Apparently, I talk like a Canadian.
She’s right. A few months ago, I Googled an article on some blog about how my voice on the radio is the voice of a “neuter … educated and acculturated out of … any gender at all.”
Apparently, I’m not sure of myself, which makes me unmanly. Also, it seems to cause me to Google myself a lot.
To fix this, Vincent suggested that I “project more authority. More ego. Less emotional accessibility. Don’t be available for elaboration. Give them a very terse answer. Become a little more autistic.” What I needed to do was bark orders. Like for the omelet with ratatouille and goat cheese I was ordering for lunch.
Questioning is for girls. Answering is for men.
Lack of emotional accessibility is another “masculine” virtue, apparently. A good man is a rock who doesn’t let other people get close to him. He makes demands and expects people to listen. He is rude.
Even the way I sat was completely wrong. I kind of crossed my legs. This horrified her.
“Maybe Brad Pitt could sit like that,” she said. “But Brad Pitt could wear a pearl necklace and get away with it.” She suggested that I spread my legs as far apart as possible, which didn’t sound very manly until she explained it: “Take up more space than you should because you’re entitled to it.”
She couldn’t be more right on. I take the subway every day, and watching how people interact is incredibly interesting. Men sit down and they spread their legs wide. Women sit, and try and take up as little space as possible. Next time you ride public transportation, take a look around.
The truth is, I don’t mind being a little neutered. Gender is so primary in our society that we spend all this effort exaggerating our sex — hair, makeup, boob jobs, weight-lifting, sitting through NCAA games. And now that technology and societal changes have created a sea of liminal characters in the way of transsexuals, cross-dressers and gays, the rest of us are even more desperate to assert the purity of our chromosomes.
But I don’t like myself when I fall into the easy, learned patterns of masculinity. I don’t like that I’ve learned not to cry, that I get real quiet during fights, that I always have to be in charge, that I judge women first by how they look. And if questioning all of that has made me undesirably sexless, I can live with that. Plus it will keep anyone from cheating with me.
Now, I may not be the best person to speak on this issue, since apparently I like “neutered” guys (although I think that term is ridiculous). I like men who dress well. I like men who enjoy good food and good wine, and who can have interesting, engaging conversations where they aren’t afraid to take personal risks and emote a little bit. I like men who will get up at 5am to ride a bus to DC with me to attend the March for Women’s Lives — and who bring their own sign. I like men who aren’t embarassed to go out to a swanky lounge and order a ridiculous pink drink. I like men who don’t feel like they have to put up a masculine front in order to impress me, and who don’t believe that being mean is the way to my heart (it ain’t).
I’m only one example, and personal anecdotes may be meaningless. My point, though, is that hyper-masculine performance isn’t the universal way to get chicks (indeed, behaving any particular way with the purpose of “getting chicks” probably isn’t the best way to get chicks). My secondary point is that gender essentialism and expectations of performed masculinity and femininity are harmful to men and women alike. Additionally, people have varying preferences, and the idea that exaggerated gendered behavior is always more attractive to the opposite sex is quite plainly untrue. If it were, more straight women would be swooning over Jean Claude Van Damme than, say, Hugh Grant. And given that I’m not exactly the poster girl for femininity (was it the fart jokes, or the discussion of exploding diarrhea?), I would be looking at quite a lonely life if this was a world where we were only attracted to manly man and womanly women.