NPR vs. Masculinity

In our culture’s present moment of confusion about many basic things, you may well have been wondering what “masculinity” means.  Well, have no fear, NPR is here to give you the lowdown on how to properly think of this topic in 2023 in a podcast from their series LifeKit, which magnanimously offers the benighted populace invaluable “tools to help you get it together.”

Here are just a few of the scintillating bits of wisdom dispensed by the (self-proclaimed) cultural experts at LifeKit:

  • Everyone’s [i.e., men are] afraid to be themselves.” Alas, there is no discussion of just how many men were consulted to demonstrate how generalizable this belief is, but such information too often gets in the way of brusque overgeneralizations. Anecdotally, I don’t know a single man who would agree that he is afraid to be himself, but given that to a man they believe… well, that they are men and that, contrary to the insinuation in the NPR podcast, there isn’t anything particularly problematic or complicated about that making that realization, perhaps their fear of being themselves is so deep they don’t even know they have it?
  • Masculinity is about men policing each other about how they’re failing at being real.” I admit I don’t know precisely what this means, but my incomprehension is perhaps an indication that I’m one of those doing the policing, or being policed, or both.
  • Masculinity is… a performance.” Of course it is! Everything is a performance! An important basic rule of Brave New World!
  • Maybe somebody calls you out for ‘mansplaining’ in the office… try to check yourself… apologize and keep it movin’.” Yes, it’s always best just to apologize immediately when you’ve been mansplaining, and, even better, to also promptly anti-mansplain, that is, give a lengthy dissertation on why men are wrong about nearly all things. But not too lengthy, as otherwise you’ll just be mansplaining in your anti-mansplaining.
  • Start small. List out your values or journal about them, practice being more present to notice the discrepancies… me-work like this requires some bravery.” But wait a second. Isn’t “bravery” one of the main characteristics of the icky traditional definition of masculinity that we’re trying to get away from? Maybe, though, talking about writing in your journal as an act of “bravery” is itself a good Woke subversion of the traditional meaning of that word. After all, the terrible human costs of papercuts and dropping your journal on your foot and the fear engendered just by thinking about these awful things and their potential manifestation should not be unjustly minimized. Plus, who knows? Perhaps your journal is sitting a foot away from an adult Nile crocodile or a pile of radioactive waste or something, in which case you’ll definitely need your gender-nonspecific SuperHero/ine cape to write in it.
  • We aren’t suggesting you take your kids out of football or stop watching UFC or playing Call of Duty, but it is important to acknowledge that… there is a culture of violence among men.” No word from LifeKit on where the “culture of violence” among men might have come from, given that we find evidence of e.g., greater male participation in violence in every single human society about which we know anything. Of course, we do know that it cannot possibly have anything to do with a biological sex difference, because that might suggest that not everything is performance…
  • We’re [Boys are] not given the total range of emotions that a human should have, right? You oftentimes see parents telling boys, ‘You shouldn’t cry,’” right?…So when you scrape your knee, instead of crying, you get angry, right?” The merely fact-interested might wonder what data show that this claim is consistent with the actual upbringing of boys, but perhaps the speaker’s claim is intended to be based on feelings rather than facts. And who’s to say that the one is a more sound basic for reasoning than the other? It’s also nice to see that the speaker -- who is apparently male, though of course we want to be careful about possibly performing a possibly catastrophic act of misgendering -- has taken on board the decidedly non-masculine characteristic of annoyingly turning every sentence into a question with a concluding “right?” in the manner that is generally a strong indicator that the speaker is a left-of-center upper middle-class educated professional woman.

It is affirming as well to see that NPR hasn’t left it solely to merely biological males to sort out masculinity and has included the voice of at least one transman, that is, a biological female, in the conversation. Perhaps we can expect another podcast in the future on femininity in which we get insights from some transwomen on their experience of that topic too. Surely no conversation on either topic can be left only to individuals who’ve inhabited the requisite identity positions for their entire lives.

Similarly, what discussion of the experience of being tall would be fully complete without the insights of at least a few people under 5’7” who firmly believe themselves, in their heart of hearts, to be 6’10” NBA power forwards? Or how can we properly consider how the highly intelligent conceive of their identities unless we include some with IQs at the population median who nonetheless have always considered themselves to be just as smart as anybody else, by golly? 

It’s all performance, after all!

Image: NPR

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