Thursday, May 23, 2013

The relative fragility of masculine identity

I have a theory. Readers can see what they think of it. Let it be known that this is just conjecture.

My theory is developed partly in response to the fact that blowhard feminist types, including male egalitarians, will sometimes bring up the fact that some girls are tomboys and nonetheless turn out just fine and use this to defend raising boys "gender-neutral," encouraging them to play with dolls and imitate Mommy, and the like.

It seems to me that the problem with this reasoning is that there is a major asymmetry between the situation of little girls who do or want to do stereotypically masculine things and little boys who are encouraged to be effeminate. The bottom line is that it seems that tomboyishness in a girl is less likely under natural circumstances (an important caveat) to translate into gender confusion in an adult woman than effeminacy (by which I don't mean simply not being athletic) in a boy.

Now, I hasten to emphasize that "under natural circumstances." If a tomboyish girl is surrounded by perverts and their enablers who teach her that many people just "are" lesbians and who encourage her to think that this is what her tomboyishness means, then that may be what happens. But absent this, she may just run around like a little hoyden in her youth, maybe get into swimming or become a triathlete when she's older, and nonetheless get married and be quite feminine. Ideologically she might or might not be a feminist. That's not so much what I'm getting at. I'm rather trying to say that tomboyishness in a girl doesn't have much of a natural tendency to turn into actual lesbianism, transgenderism, or general psychological gender confusion.

If, on the other hand, a little boy doesn't bond with an older man who is a mentor or father-figure, if he's raised too much in the company of women, if his mother stifles him, and especially if he's encouraged to think of himself in distinctively feminine ways--e.g., to imitate mothering behavior in his play or to wear female clothing--this can spell big trouble for his gender identity as he gets older.

These are all, of course, outrageously anecdotal generalizations, but they seem to me to have truth in them.

Why this apparent asymmetry?

Here's where my theory really gets wild: My theory is that this asymmetry arises in part from the fact that what we think of as distinctively masculine activities are in many cases the epitome of human activities. For example, training one's body and being in good shape, keeping animals or training animals, having dominion over nature, being sharp and analytical with one's mind, or even engaging in intelligent and trained fighting against evildoers. These are all things that are done or, in the case of fighting, can be done in an especially human way that represents mankind. Therefore, it is to some extent understandable that girls want to engage in them, to make up stories in which they are a boyish hero riding a horse and smiting bad guys, for example, or to construct a beautiful argument or win a glorious chess game.

The truly distinctively feminine activities are, by contrast, more narrow in scope and in a sense more characteristic of what mankind shares with the animals. Here I'm thinking especially of bearing and nurturing children.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with a man's being a good father, helping his wife with the baby, and spending time with his children. In fact, that is all extremely important. Mankind has been designed by God to have one of the most long-term father relationships of any creature in nature. But fathering is not mothering, and the instinct to mother-love is to a very large extent shared across the spectrum of mammals and even birds. Of course this isn't in any way to deny that human mothers have anything distinctively human about them. It's just that, on my theory, for a man to try to behave like a woman and a mother and especially for a boy to try to behave like a girl is for him to mess himself up in some fundamental way, whereas the same does not seem to be always true for a woman who tries to "argue like a man" or a girl who tries to "play with the boys." It seems that the female is more resilient to that kind of role-playing than the male, and this might have something to do with the fact that in many ways a girl role-playing at being masculine can be doing something uplifting and something that reflects admiration of distinctively human characteristics whereas a boy role-playing at being feminine is doing something that degrades his identity.

This also seems related to the fact that a girl can wear pants without necessarily being masculinized while a boy cannot wear a dress (and no, I don't mean a Scottish kilt) without being feminized. No doubt I have traditionalist friends who will disagree with me about the first conjunct of the previous sentence, but by observation I think it is obviously true.

I don't have this all very well-worked-out, as you can see. There will be lots of counterexamples to anything of this kind that is overgeneralized. For example, a woman trying to act like a man (or like her concept of a man) in a management position is going to end up inevitably being an odious bully, which is degrading to all concerned.

I will be interested to see what thoughtful ("thoughtful" here means among other things "not known or obvious members of the manosphere") readers think about these odd thoughts.


William Luse said...

Seems "generally" reasonable to me. I would normally except the more militaristic pursuits, but girls who like to smite bad guys at least have Joan of Arc for a model. It's not unusual that a woman would be willing to fight to protect the innocent, but very unusual that a man would want to bear children.

Most tomboys I have known were delightfully feminine even during masculine role play, but I have never known an effeminate boy who made a good tomgirl.

Lydia McGrew said...

A friend pointed out to me in this connection that girls who like to do tough things with the boys eventually just get left behind or treated as a second-class member of the team, because the boys become bigger and tougher, and that solves the problem naturally. That is, of course, if the boys are allowed to do that of course. Nowadays we have all sorts of artificial ways of "integrating" boys and girls unnaturally after the boys have physically outpaced the girls, as in the military.

"Most tomboys I have known were delightfully feminine even during masculine role play, but I have never known an effeminate boy who made a good tomgirl."

Precisely. I don't know if any theoretical explanation will do justice to this fact, but it's just a datum that has to be dealt with. Unfortunately, die-hard egalitarians don't like to admit such asymmetries.

Lydia McGrew said...

It also makes a difference whether we are talking about a girl of ten or a young woman of twenty. If the girl of ten is imagining being some sort of swash-buckling hero, she still is in a pretty good position (if not surrounded by committed feminist idiots) to understand that this doesn't translate literally into life goals or some serious aspect of her personal identity. If she's twenty and entering the military, that's a whole 'nother ball game.

I can't think of anything parallel to "girl of ten likes to envisage herself as boy-like swash-buckling hero" that is comparably healthy for a boy of ten.

Sage McLaughlin said...

A couple of quasi-Freudian, stream-of-consciousness thoughts:

It can best be summed up in the crude formulation I once heard in a classroom conversation: "Women are nature, men are culture." Masculinity is in an important sense a divergence or an abstraction from nature. Femininity involves the magnetism of the hearth, and it involves things we have essentially in common, whereas to be male is to be not female. Camille Paglia (who I know is not one of us) is a sometimes sharp observer of sexual difference; she refers to the long shadow of our mothers from which we all emerge.

The difference is imprinted on us physically as we all know, but the fragility of masculine identity is actually in the character of that very physical imprint. In practically every society or culture on earth, there is some kind of male "rite of passage" in which older men formally accept a boy into manhood. Why, though? Because sexual maturity in a boy does not come with some obvious physical sign as it does in the case of a girl whose body has ripened to sexual maturity. Belonging to an extra-familial community of men engaged in masculine pursuits is essential.

This formal emergence from childhood (wherein a boy may accompany his mother into the ladies' restroom) continues into adulthood (wherein a man sets time, space, and activities quite apart from the more elemental, primal environment that is the nuclear family). Again, that family life always exists under the shadow of the awesome feminine power of creation, or subcreation. Women, being tethered by nature to this realm, feel its gravitational pull but are not threatened by it, experiencing it as the fulfilment of their being, from which they may at whiles venture out without fear. A woman may think herself good or bad in her role as wife and mother; but that she is fully feminine is a matter of physical reality unconnected to outside accomplishment, status, or what have you--even those without children receive a regular reminder, as it were. Men must arrange this affirmation for themselves. It is possible for them to fail at the task.

So, it is critical for men that masculine activities be clearly demarcated, and activities which become coed very rapidly lose that designation and their purpose become wholly otherwise than they originally were.

Lydia McGrew said...

Someone else mentioned to me the matter of a girl's obvious signs of femininity at puberty, in particular the beginning of her monthly cycle. I guess a boy's voice changing and his getting a beard aren't very much in comparison.

This is why girls who, horribly, are being encouraged to believe that they "really are boys" are also apparently horrified by menarche. I have heard about an interview with one such girl who was talking about how upsetting it is because she's "really a boy." Hence the push to give younger and younger children who believe themselves to be the opposite sex drugs to prevent their passing through puberty. Those with the agenda want to be sure their confusion is cemented in place as much as possible.

It's interesting that I said that many of the activities more "masculine" girls want to engage in are harmless because they are human--such as goofing off with play swords, riding horses, or being math or chess nerds. Yet you're pointing out, Sage, the "what we have in common" nature of femininity. I think the two perspectives are compatible, though, because that "what we have in common" aspect of femininity is that sort of nature-earth aspect.

steve said...

There's a difference between girls who are naturally tomboys, where that's spontaneous, where no one is coaching them to be that way, and raising boys to be like girls or girls to be like boys (or some gender neutral compromise).

Lydia McGrew said...

I agree with you, Steve.

What I was trying to do, which is very difficult, in the main post was to set aside some of the self-evident pathologies of our society and to ask myself something like, "When, why, and how should _normal_ parents be concerned about their child's sexual identity, and why does there seem to be an asymmetry there between boys and girls?"

Another aspect of this is that I actually think girls are more resilient as far as retaining their sexual identity in the face of a certain amount of ideology. I'm not talking here about raising a girl to _be_ a boy or raising her to be a lesbian but just about clueless parents who may spout nonsense about "not wanting their daughter to be tied to female gender roles" and such. I think the girl may end up a feminist but not a lesbian nor thinking that she is "really a man" nor anything like that, whereas similarly clueless parents would be likely to harm a boy a lot more. Now, if I'm right about that, the question is why? What is it about boys that their masculinity needs to be more deliberately affirmed, modeled, and guided for it to develop properly?

Similarly, why should it be more of a concern to a normal, traditional mother if her son spontaneously wants to wear a dress than if her daughter spontaneously wants to wear pants. I think (hopefully) we can all agree that _that_ is so, but why?

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Just reading this morning about Adam and Eve:
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27

God deliberately created male and female. Let us keep reminding ourselves of this truth. It was His perfect design from the beginning. The Creator God created man first and then He subsequently fashioned the woman from man's rib. And woman was created for the man, not vice-versa.

God gave the man authority and rulership and the woman was to be helper to the man.

Sin however, ruined God's original design. Confusion of all of these aspects is now the case. The woman would attempt to rule over the man. Adam seems to have been usurped by Eve, and gave in to her suggestion to eat the fruit. So woman instead of being helper rebels, tries to usurp or otherwise lead the man astray. he gives in, instead of leading in love and standing on the truth. As our society has abandoned God and His truth, one by one each of these creation mandates is being denied and then jettisoned.

Is it because man was created first that his role is so very crucial and fundamental that when his role is confused or abandoned, he has trouble regaining ground. Whereas the woman, having been created from the man, is more flexible and able to be more or less feminine as the situation warrants?

It is truly heartbreaking and alarming to see these trends; to watch as our society is being deconstructed and destroyed by lies. The truth has fallen in the streets! Isaiah 59:14

Our people seem in a stupor and when you try to warn them, they largely ignore you or think you're a nutjob.