Conversation between Jeffrey Lebowski and Jeffrey Lebowski:
“What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?…Is it being prepared to do
the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn't that what makes a man?
“Hmmm... Sure, that and a pair of testicles.”
Last Sunday, my second favorite TV show, Mad Men, came back on the air. (Those who know me already know what my
number one is.) Whenever this
occurs, the media and the viewers get a little crazy with the Mad Men tie-ins that take the shape of
cocktail specials, parody commercials, theme parties, and books. Yes, there are books and classes
devoted to the themes of Mad Men,
though the most compelling idea to come from them that I’ve seen (and I’ve not
been looking) has to do with the way the show traces the evolution of 50s
norms into 60s reality. The times
they did-a change, and the show does a fantastic job of illustrating all of
Of course, many watch the show for the clothes and, I
imagine, to peak into a world where a guy could still sexually harass a woman with
I admit that I watched all of the last two seasons of the
show prior to the start of this most recent semester. I wanted to go into the classroom with a bit of Don Draper’s
attitude. The classroom is mine and I am in charge, or so I chanted. If a student acts up or fails to hand
in assignments on time, I’ll get Draper on their ass. They will be dealt with just as Draper deals with his
underlings, and they will fear and respect me.
The idea that I model my ideal self as a teacher (or,
apparently, disciplinarian) after a fictional character is somewhat
outlandish. Nevertheless, this is
how many of us go through our days: reinforcing norms and performing our gender
roles. Don Draper is a masculine
symbol, not merely for his incredible looks (those belong to John Hamm,
actually) but for his attitude.
When he tells a client off, the client second-guesses himself. He rules the conference room. He commands respect. He takes no shit.
John Hamm, by the way, used to be a teacher. I wonder how Draper he was?
In this very classroom where I fail to emulate Don Draper, I
do discuss an essay by Gary Soto called “To Be a Man”. The reader makes an assumption about
the contents just from reading the title.
One imagines Soto will deconstruct masculine behavior and make a comment
about the unfortunate men who adhere to socially mandated expectations. Surely the conclusion will be that men
ought to adopt a more compassionate persona that allows them to be in touch
with their feelings, this being as much of an affectation as the
hyper-masculine, machismo drooling troglodyte.
Actually, Soto’s essay deals with his vision of what it
means to be a man, or his vision when he was a young boy. He saw his father barely conscious in
his chair in front of the TV after a long day of hard work, a beer at his side
and not a word leaving his mouth.
This image of defeat compelled Soto to decide that being a man looked
like too much work, so he decided to become a hobo, that being the only other option. The essay ends with a bit about
Soto’s life as an adult: steeped in academia, he watches men at faculty cocktail
parties acting distinctly unmanly.
This is the opposite of the blue collar laborer. The difference
being huge to Soto, the other men are oblivious to the dichotomy as they laugh it up at the cheese plate.
But is there simply this dichotomy, this pair of mutually
exclusive possibilities? Can a man
be both the soft, pampered elitist and the hard drinking worker? Are we doomed to be only
mouth-breathing lugs or touchy-feely types? Must we choose between asshole and Alan Alda?
I reject all this.
At least I wish I did.
In a perfect world, I would be John Wayne reading poetry, drinking beer and eating brie.
As I was conducting all sorts of business yesterday, I
somehow (yeah, right) stumbled onto my Rate
Your Professor rating. A
whopping two entries were found, both agreeing that I am “chill,” whatever the
fuck that means. Cassandra
interprets this to mean that I do not come off as an uptight, inflexible
authoritarian there to torture the luckless students. Rather, I am laid back and, thus, approachable, able to get
my students to relax and pay attention, contribute, engage. I hope this is true, but my reading of
these seemingly positive evaluations is that I take it too easy on these
students and ought to assign a lot more work. Fuck chill: I ought to be Don Draper. Draper is cool, but not chill.
Cassandra has said more than once that she is glad I do not
care about sports. There’s no way
she could endure the sports lover’s bullshit refrain: “I just want to see what
the score is.”
My lack of sports love marks me, in someone’s eyes I’m sure,
as less than manly. Men like
sports. Men also eat meat,
preferably steak. Men drink
beer. Well, one out of three ain’t
(By the way: that Cassandra, the finest of all women, has
opted to share her life with me is evidence that one need not be a sports lover
to be a happy man. Still, I
experience the inverse of the male-female sports plight when it’s World Cup time.)
Of course, not all men eat steak, drink beer, and love
sports. Some of us eat tofu, drink
whiskey, and love books. And some of us act less like men and more like boys. And some like sex with men and not with women. Some think John Wayne was a lousy actor and terrible
archetype (not me, of course).
Some get no excitement whatsoever from fast cars. Some of us can barely change a light
bulb much less the oil in our cars.
Some of us sit up worrying not about our careers but about the nightmare of
being alone in an unforgiving universe.
Some of us would sooner eat glass than have children.
Some of us, if we were crazy enough to have kids, would be
fucked if they were male children, as we wouldn’t want to throw a football
around with them. We would
certainly experience some odd cosmic humor in the form of a little boy who
loved NASCAR, baseball, and the rodeo.
We'd dread little league games. We’d have so little to say to that child, so little in common. We’d cook them their tofu based dishes
and read them some Yeats poems only to get laughed at, derided, wounded. We’d anxiously wait for the day when
that male child grew into a male adult, age eighteen we’d hope, and left the
house for good. We’d endure some
awkward Thanksgivings and painful Christmases and find excuses not to
converse. We’d grow old and see
our lives mocked in the form of our child. We’d convince ourselves that we did a good job, the best we
could, and maybe make jokes about the lack of interest our child took in our
interests, children being their own little autonomous beings after all—you
can’t make them love what you love, you just have to love them, even if you
don’t like them and they don’t like you.
We’d tell ourselves all of this but we’d of course feel like
We’d look in the mirror one day and see the giant pussy
Speaking of pussy: while walking my dog, a Chihuahua, down the cruel streets of Rogers Park, I got fucked with by some real men. They were in a large vehicle, a truck of some sort, the kind of thing men drive. As they drove past me, one yelled: "SHOW US YOUR PUSSY, SIR!"
My dog, while big for his breed, is still a little guy. Perhaps I look unmanly escorting him while he sniffs the ground and lifts a leg. Even more so while he is clad in a sweater. But I don't give a fuck. I love that dog. He's the closest I'll ever come to having a child. He is my child, goddamnit. And what the fuck do I care if some assholes in a gas guzzler feel the need to reaffirm their wayward definition of masculinity at my expense? I should feel only pity for these pricks.
So while I don't care if nurturing a small makes me seem, to some, unmasculine, I nevertheless retorted in a regrettable fashion; as the car drove away, I yelled: "What would you do with my pussy, faggot?"
Masculine habits are hard to break.
I was fortunate (?) enough to attend a high school where there were no
girls in sight. Catholic school,
they called it. Apparently
Catholics, like some Muslims, think females are too distracting for us boys. Thus, the women were sheltered from us and taken
across the street to the girl’s version of our Purgatory. We matriculated without any real
women around, just the ones in our heads.
But once a year the school would gather us into the gym for
a pep rally. It was during this
time that our raging hormones and stupid aggression would find release. We screamed for our football team. Me too. My lack of interest in school sports didn’t matter—I was
being given an outlet for all the frustration that besets the average
teen. I was chubby, not terribly
bright, goofy looking, unpopular, angry, awkward, clumsy, and not very
masculine. But I could scream and
stomp and act every bit the macho asshole without fear of reprisal. It was great.
In our collective action, we dumb boys felt like men, never
more than during senior year, the year that ruined pep
rallies for the rest of the school, or so I have been
told. You see, during that last
pep rally we took shit too far.
Part of it was the fault of some of my classmates, especially the one who threw firecrackers
under the bleachers, but a lot of the fault rests on the shoulders of the faculty
and staff who gathered us together, encouraged us to behave like savages, and
then, stupidly, ushered in some of those girls from across the street. And they dressed them up like
cheerleaders, a sight I had not seen save for a few bad teen movies. In these bad teen movies, the
cheerleaders were almost always sluts. By the twisted groupthink of a young male psyche, these cheerleaders
must also have been sluts, which is what we called sexually adventurous girls we
pretended to know. Regardless, the
sight of these girls, sluts or otherwise, was enough to amp up the
aggression. And then the lights went
If memory serves, they wanted to show us a film and killed
the lights just as the projector failed.
The result: two minutes of darkness. In this short time I was knocked from my seat, my tie was
removed, someone elbowed me, a weak but effective punch was landed, I got
kicked and shoved. When the lights
came up, I was at two rows below where I had been sitting, mildly wounded and
really fucking excited.
This is perhaps the ultimate moment of my life’s
masculinity, in the unrefined troglodyte sense. Stupid, violent, pointless, exhilarating. That’s what being a guy is all about!
Cassandra tells me that I cannot effectively explore the
masculine identity without discussing my relationship with the men of my
childhood, the role models, the ones who shaped me. I answer: I cannot effectively explore masculinity, period.
I’ve heard Thanksgiving called “man’s day” as it essentially
involves men watching football and drinking beer during the many hours it
takes the women to cook a large meal.
And this is one of the most popular holidays in America, rivaling
Christmas. What does this tell
Recently I watched a silly, fluffy little documentary on this subject
called Mansome, directed by the
annoying little prick, Morgan Spurlock.
It attempts to deconstruct masculinity but falls really fucking
short. This is in keeping with all
of Spurlock’s work. He doesn’t
bite off more than he can chew; he just bites and spits it out.
One thing in Mansome that
did strike me as interesting: there is a whole competitive circuit dedicated to
facial hair growing. An active
competitor named Jack Passion, a dude with a Rip Van Winkle beard who has won
some awards and carved out a bit of relative fame, stated (and I’m
paraphrasing) that his beard is a symbol of his man’s hair while the hair on
his head, cut very short, represents his boyhood look. This struck me as worth considering. The two sides of his male life— as a boy
and as a man—find representation on his head, detailing the journey from youth
While it is handy to look at a long beard and view it the
way one would the rings of a cut tree, it certainly does nothing to demonstrate the
maturation one hopes a dude Passion’s age would have. And this is not to say that Jack Passion is a big child—I don’t
know the guy, though he is pretty douchy in the film. Still, if only there were a way to actually see the emotional
I've been lax on shaving these days, though I can't get a beard anywhere near normal length, not to mention the absurd length of Passion's. I shave less because I am lazy and because Cassandra seems to like it. But I am lazy. And this is not manly. Men do things. They work with their hands. They have ongoing projects, usually physical ones. And they shave.
Shaving is a masculine ritual. When I first started shaving I went electric. That proved ineffective and so I switched to the razor and foam. At the time, I asked a lot of men about their preferred method. The answers revealed two aspects of stupid masculinity. Those who preferred the electric razor did so because they like toys. Men tend to dig gadgets, however impractical. Others, the ones who still used the lather and razor, said they liked the tradition of the old style shave. Some even went so far as to use a straight razor. Men keep traditions alive, however antiquated.
We're so dumb.