The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal - Meditations on Masculinity
Meditations on Masculinity|
This is how my wife is different than I am: When she lived in Fairbanks, Gini took her car into the shop. The mechanic came out, shaking his head as he wiped grease off of his hands with a rag.
“Now, do you know what a carburetor is, little lady?” he asked.
“I do,” Gini said. “And I know this car doesn’t have one.”
There was an embarrassed silence as the mechanic looked down at his feet.
“Give me my keys,” she said. “I’m taking the car to another shop. And if you’re lucky, I might not tell the Better Business Bureau.”
Now, would that mechanic have done that to me? Probably not. He would have assumed that I was competent, simply because I was a male. As a result of dorkery like this, a lot of women think that being a guy is all upside – the constant assumption that hey, you’re in the club, you know what you’re doing is a wonderful thing.
But if you’re a technical ignoramus like me, it has its downsides.
Thing is, every traditional “guy” guy in the world does assume that I know how to use power tools…. But I don’t. And what few people talk about is that constant drain on your self-esteem when it’s constantly expected of you that you know how to use this stuff, and you have no clue.
Because for me, it’s about the car breaking down at a friend’s party.
If that happens, we can’t just call a tow truck – no, I’m called over with all the other men to take a look at the car, to pop the trunk or hood or whatever and peer inside and fix this shit. I’m supposed to know.
I feel like a fraud. But everyone at the party (especially the other guys) is looking at me, urging me silently with expectant glances that I have to help, and I don’t want them to know that I’m really that stupid – they’d think less of me. And I can probably fake this. So I go out to the car with everyone else.
They open the hood. The engine is, well, an engine. It’s got lots of parts and belts, and I have no idea what any of them do when the car is running, let alone what a broken one would look like. I start pawing through my scant knowledge of cars to find something worthwhile to say – because if I can just suggest one thing that someone should look at, then I can shut up and not have to say anything else. I’ll have successfully passed as a man for another day.
But I don’t see anything. The guys are peering into the car, poking at wires experimentally, and it occurs to me that maybe they don’t know either, that it’s all some kind of weird shell game.
That doesn’t work, though, because there’s always one guy who does know. He’s the ringleader, the real male, and we’re all frantically trying to gain his respect, because as The Guy who knows this stuff, he’s automatically above us on the social totem pole in this situation.
And if he’d just fix the fucking thing I’d be happy, but this isn’t about fixing it – it’s about bonding. Though he probably knows, he’s asking people their opinions, going, “You think it’s the serpentine belt?” This is an opportunity for men to be men, and I don’t want to have anything to do with it, but I also don’t want to reveal that honestly, I’m not fit to be here… Because if I’m not fit to be here, there’s a part of me that thinks I’m not fit to be anywhere.
Maybe I’ll learn something, I think. Even though I’ve done this at least a dozen times before and I’ve never come away with anything I remembered.
“It might be the belt,” someone says. “Check that.” And I have no idea how to do it, and feel a wash of gratitude when someone reaches in for me and checks it.
But someone mentioned spark plugs, and that sounds good. That’s something with electricity, I think. “It’s probably the spark plugs.”
But someone shakes their head. “It can’t be the spark plugs,” they say, incredulous. “The car turned over. It stopped a few seconds after that. It has to be the…”
I blush. I’ve been caught out. And realistically, I should just slink away from the circle, like some kid hit in the face at dodgeball, but that’d mean giving up my entire maleness. So I sit there shamefaced while real men do the work.
Now, is it that bad for everyone? Of course not, and I’m not claiming that it is, so you can eschew the usual, "Well, I'm a man and I don't...." Obviously, my own issues are coming into play here, and I’m writing slightly floridly to get the point across. It’s not like I spend my days weeping inside my closet, longing for the Drill Saw Faerie to take me away.
But there’s a reason that Fight Club resonated so firmly – a lot of men don’t feel like men, simply because they’re not good with their hands. Their entire self-worth is lessened by this lack of a skill.
If Tyler Durden knew how to change a faucet, he wouldn’t have to punch people in the face.
Having that assumption of you constantly is a drag. I know women who get irritated because it’s assumed they know all about dress sizes and makeup and heels, and they don’t. But at least with that shit, they can shrug it off and go, “Well, it’s a useless skill, anyway.”
But the kinds of skills assumed of us are worthy skills. Realistically, I should know how to build a house. It’d save me money, and it’d be useful when the apocalypse came.
And it makes me feel inferior a lot of the time. There are a lot of guys who make me feel like a stupid, foot-shufflin’ kid, simply because they radiate that tool-using monkey confidence and I don’t.
If you can use a circular saw, mentally, I think of you as superior to me. No matter what you’re like on every other level, on that one arena you lord it over me, simply because you’re living up to your societally-expected role and I’m not.
The obvious rejoinder would be to say “Fuck it” to society… And believe me, I do. If it was really important to me, I could have taken hardware classes and learned how to do this stuff by now. I’m not caving in…
…But this isn’t about my conscious brain. It’s about the subconscious undercurrents built into me by the society I live in. Externally, I can go, “That’s ridiculous. It doesn’t mean anything.” But that doesn’t stop the little twinge I get every time I see someone with a tape measure and hear the little voice whisper, you can’t do that, what’s wrong with you?
While I can try to redefine maleness internally, it’s hard to swim upstream against society. And American society says that capital-“M” men can fight and fix things. I can do neither.
Then there’s the other tack, as championed by Xiphias, which is that I should just admit my ignorance and say, “No, I don’t know, why don’t you tell me?” And I will do that sometimes, one on one. But it’s humiliating to be the sole dork in a group full of men who all know better than you do – even if you suspect the others are just as clueless.
And then there’s the mechanic. Most of the time the assumptions come is when I’m dealing with folks who are fixing up my stuff. And the furnace technician assumes I not only know what he’s talking about but that I want to hear more, which is why he’s dragging me down to the basement for a boring ten-minute monologue on the internals of venters.
I think about cutting him off. But then I go, “Well, what happens when it becomes apparent you don’t know this stuff?” And I think of Gini’s car mechanic, and how the assumed ignorance she encountered would have gotten me ripped the hell off.
So I shut up. And quietly wish that I was more of a man.
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)|| |
ya. Me too.
While I understand the intent behind your words, could you please perhaps find a different turn of phrase to use to express them? Some of us spent our formative years in rural Alabama, and rather enjoyed the experience.
I am at least as "useless" a man as you (I don't know shit about carpentry, but I can kind of paint I guess?), but this honestly doesn't happen to me. Admitedly, I'm openly in touch with my feminine side (for lack of a better idiom) and there's a woman in my group of regular friends that I willingly bow to when it comes to man things, but then again, she is a mechanic.
I nod along when I get the man speeches about cars or whatever, but I shrug it off somehow. I get where you're comming from, because of course there are people that make me feel like I'm less of a person, but it never really comes off as an issue of manliness.
Although, as somebody who doesn't watch sports and is involved in a university department that is apparently obsessed with baseball, the assumption that I know who the hell these players are comes up a lot, and bonding with my fellow historians/students almost always involves me sitting in silence for a at least a bit.
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 04:32 pm (UTC)|| |
I catch... well, not flak exactly... but a lot of misunderstanding, because I understand this mindset so perfectly. I'm very good at small carpentry projects, putting any piece of furniture together, and small household repairs. I can look at things and sort of tell, intuitively, how they go together. I take a great deal of pride in this.
But it's like a kind of theft when I take over these kind of projects, even when my boyfriend is mechanically hopeless. I've been pouted at a few times, and it's started some fights. The best compromise I've found thus far is to date people who are really good at electronics and setting up stereos and entertainment systems (I can do that too, but it's not something I gravitate toward). "You install the DVD player, hon. While I quietly put together the entertainment unit... now where's my ratchet set..."
(I'm passionately fond of my ratchet set.)
You're damned right it's hard to swim upstream. I get indulgent laughter... not for being bad at stuff, but for being GOOD at it. The unspoken (and occasionally spoken) question is, why would I want to do this?
Well, duh. For exactly the same reason you want to be able to: it's useful. It's a really great feeling to look at something you did, realize exactly what function it has fulfilled, and know that it'll come in handy again sometime. It's validating. Like being able to cook, or to hustle (a highly underrated skill which I almost completely lack).
Anyway, come the apocalypse, I'll likely become some big beefy asshole's property anyway, valued only for the sum of my body parts. ;) It's not good to think of such things. I'm lucky to live in the world we've got right now. I can live alone and put together my own bookshelves.
As a woman, I would consider any man absolutely 100% male if he merely had the confidence to sit back and be proud of me for the things I can do. It's rare that I've had that.
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)|| |
Come the apocalypse, I'm either staying on my suburban homestead or we're bugging out to northern Maine where we can hide behind my father-in-law, the big wiry asshole with the guns (echoing your wording only, I adore my FiL, gun-totin' Republican though he might be).
I like building stuff too, and I'm fairly good at it. I'm Chaotic, though, and my husband is Lawful, so he always ends up doing the building, because my way of doing things drives him nuts, and he owns the tools. He wants measurements and plans for building things, you see, whereas I just start whomping things together.
Oh well, it beats my ex-husband, who viewed my being far more competent than he was at anything mechanical as an affront to his masculinity. I'm not more competent than Adam (he's a mechanical engineer), I just love building stuff.
It's tough, IMO, being a girl who likes building stuff, just like it's tough being a boy who doesn't. My brother got all the cool building toys, I just got yelled at for playing with them. :/
I never get asked why I would want to, though, or if I do, I forget instantly cos it's such a silly question. Isn't it obvious why I'd want to? This is fun. What is there in the entire world that is more fun than making things? (Yeah, my college degree? Totally wasted. Shoulda gone to Vo-Tech, but middle-class girls don't do that.)
Which is not to say that Ferret is defective for thinking something else is more fun. I am capable, on a very basic level, of programming computers, but I hate it. I know lots of people think that's fun, but I can't see the attraction. Lots of people love baked beans. I hate 'em. It takes all kinds.
Gini should have reported them. Fuckers.
As for the womanly skills, fashion/style is not useless. Well-dressed people tend to make more money, get more respect, etc. And when it comes to fashion, I feel fairly clueless. In fact, I hate shopping. But everyone assumes that, due to my having a vagina, I must LOOOOOVE shopping and have an eye for what goes with what.
There's also the assumption that having ovaries will make me the chef in any heterosexual relationship. I hate cooking. On my own, I will microwave my Progresso soup and that works just fine for dinner, assuming it's not a bag-of-popcorn and some ice cream sort of evening. I've bought countless cookbooks and kitchen gadgets, believing that there was some secret, something I haven't yet discovered about the joy of cooking. Because as a woman, I'm "supposed" to provide meals.
Trust me - stupid gender stereotypes go both ways.
I have had people assume I love to shop, and when I tell them that I, in fact, LOATHE shopping, they will actually tell me I'm wrong. "No, you don't. You love to shop!"
No. I assure you, there's a million things I'd rather be doing than shopping. But clearly I must be lying....
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 04:33 pm (UTC)|| |
I guess my knowledge about heels and make up is useless huh? I'm assuming you didn't mean to be completely dismissive about such things. ;)
I wonder why it's the mechanic and the carpenter that mean MANLINESS! to you, and not some other archetype. Doctor, farmer even.
I believe I said why. Nobody expects me to diagnose a heart disease at a party, or asks me about the best solutions for Wheat Blight.
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC)|| |
I've never been particularly shy about copping to my ignorance in traditionally male pursuits, but then I've never felt much in the way of pressure either. Occasionally someone will assume I must watch sports, though that has as much to do with having two local major league teams as anything else.
I certainly see the negative assumptions about women, but I've never really picked up on a corresponding assumption of competence in men. Mechanics may not try something quite as blatant as the example you cite, but they'll certainly push system flushes that have dubious benefit, top shelf parts at full MSRP, unnecessary repairs and so forth. At least in my experience they still assume you're a sucker, but are more careful about maintaining plausible deniability in case you aren't.
The most valuable thing I ever learned about engines is this: Suck, Squeeze, Bang, Blow.
(intake, compression, combustion and exhaust). If an engine isn't working, it's not doing one of those things correctly. If one of those isn't a problem, and a belt is slipping, you'll hear a squealing noise.
Those five facts have saved me dollars at the mechanic.
|Date:||November 12th, 2008 07:18 am (UTC)|| |
thanks for that. <3 i love the mnemonic device!
The one thing you don't touch on here, my friend, is how one goes about becoming a man. Even the guys who seem almost omniscient and omnipotent in areas mechanical haven't always had that skill. They had to learn it somewhere and somehow. There's also a difference between knowing how something should get done and being able to do it well. I've got a couple of local contractors on my list of people I'd never recommend and would be tempted to find in a darkened parking lot for that very reason.
The other thing to keep in mind is that most of those guys would be doing the same foot-shuffling, red-faced, eyes-downcast pose if something went wrong with one of their computers. Believe me, it feels just as bad having someone trying to work on your computer and not having any clue about what they're talking about, because men are supposed to be able to fix....STUFF!
Part of what I'm coming to understand being a man includes is accepting one's limitations. I'm not great with cars. I can do only basic home repair stuff. That's cool. I can at least also do basic computer repair, and studying martial arts for awhile got me to the point I can break/smash things pretty well. I also get to learn, and I'm good with that. Someone's always going to know more than me, and that means there's much opportunity for me to keep growing....which is easiest when I'm OK with who and where I am now.
Be the man you are, my friend. :)
I'll add to what he said that, since Reagan broke the unions, the guys you think of as "real men" are usually grindingly poor. For one thing, poor people are more highly motivated to learn these skills; they have to keep their cars running, and have no choice but to do their own repairs. (CAFE standards have been disastrous for poor people; modern high-efficiency cars have almost no user-serviceable parts. When a friend's car broke down in my driveway and she asked me to look at it, I was dubious ... until I saw that it was a 1969 model, which meant that it actually had simple mechanical parts.) But also, people who spent their time learning those skills instead of the ones you spent your time learning have found an economy that pays reasonably well for what you learned, but pays somewhere between jack and squat for what they learned.
If you need to get over your lack of knowledge when it comes to cars, buy an old car and make the mechanic who fixes it every time it breaks down explain everything, then take a half an hour to learn how to check and change fluids and filters. After about three months, you'll be The Man for most of your friends.
You're absolutely right about the 'pop the hood and bond' moments though; no one really expects the car to get fixed. We're just securing our manhood by knowing that the clicking noise you're hearing isn't bad spark plugs, it's probably something wrong between the battery and the solenoid coil
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)|| |
I'm not a man, clearly, but I really do understand what you're saying here. I have struggled for years to build friendships with women because I'm not "womanly" in the same sort of societal expectations way that you're not "manly." The intern at work will come down to talk to me and I am flummoxed by most every topic she brings up.
I have spent the last few years trying -really- hard to be friendly with women, even though I constantly feel like I'm not "one of them" and I have nothing to say of any interest or pertinence.
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)|| |
Ooof. BTDT, and no answers whatsoever. I try, but there is something vast and all-pervasive I am missing. I swear, if it weren't for the fact that I have kids and a husband, I'd never be able to talk to women outside of fandom at all.
(here via friendsfriends procrastination*
Of course, the flip side is either getting patronised or being at the receiving end of vague resentment when, as a woman, it turns out I can tile and build things and lay floors and the like. Hell, I've even had a kid pass comment cause I checked my own oil!
I hate how we've still got these stereotypes and anyone that doesn't fit them gets sideway glances. I can't restore old sash windows by the power of genetics, so why should you know about mechanics just cause you;ve got a Y chromosome?
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 05:12 pm (UTC)|| |
Some "woman" skills are useful though even if fashion is pretty much not (especially post-apocalyptic). Things like knitting, sewing and cooking are actually useful but don't turn up in "public" much.
The thing that happens to women over a certain age at the more polite sort of party is *babies* - people ask you to hold them and people who are close to you might even ask you to feed or change one, certainly people talk about their baby-related issues even when the baby is not there... now me, I know very little about babies and am not exactly interested in them so... (baby raising is of course enormously useful, I just suck at it).
I had not even seen your comment when I left mine, two below. It's the equivalent of the car thing. And it's horrifying for someone like me who can't abide that sort of thing.
As I'm starting down the barrel of near single-handedly cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 7 people, I protest the idea that women are not expect to know useful things.
I have no idea what I'm doing, but as the oldest female who isn't retired, it kind fell to me.
There's all kind of household-running, child-rearing, food-preparing, garment-fixing things women are expected to know. Which is not to undersell what you're talking about, but I'd have more sympathy if you weren't so dismissive.
Which is not to undersell what you're talking about, but I'd have more sympathy if you weren't so dismissive.
He's not dismissing it. He's focusing on his personal perspective, this particular aspect of the issue. That he isn't concerned, in this essay, with our female experiences, isn't to dismiss them.
You are occasionally expected to gather importantly around cars and say Things Of Importance, despite a complete lack of that knowledge.
I occasionally get expected to do the same with babies. I'm expected to know how to hold/feed/burp/change one just because I have a vagina. And more, I am expected to want to know/do these things. And am considered a freak if I back slowly away, murmuring something about my doctor telling me that my skin condition might be contagious.
Please, please give me the car. It can't throw up on me.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who will visibly pale at the idea of holding a baby/changing it's diaper, etc.
And I've had people try to convince me that I will eventually WANT to have children. HA!
I do understand, mainly because I have the opposite problem. See, I'm not much of a girly-girl. I'd much rather spend time with the guys at the hardware store than go shoe shopping..
The hardware store is much more interesting. You can buy things there to build your own shoes.
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC)|| |
i think maybe 90, 95 percent of young men today can't operate a circular saw. Not only that, they can't cook rice and beans, they can't draw up a will.
What's that heinlein quote?
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
that's it. that's 21 things. most guys can pitch manure and that's about it.
You know how people say the great depression #2 is coming? It ain't the great depression. It's the "I can't afford a flat screen and have to move in with my mom" depression. Our standard of living is SO HIGH compared to decades previously that people like you can live without knowing anything about a car.
It used to be, back in the day, someone like you would have two choices. choice #1: dont own a car. choice #2: know how to fix it. Cause it was too expensive to take it to the mechanic everytime it broke.
Heinlein got a little too specific in one instance: butcher a hog. Really, that could be substituted with "kill and dress your own food," whether it's a hog, deer, chicken, cattle or fish. The idea is to be self-sufficient. That's tough in today's American society because of that high standard of living, but I'd say that most of us are at least capable of learning how to perform each of these tasks thanks to those high standards of living: the Information Age has provided us with the blueprints. It then mainly becomes a matter of time, inclination and need.
So, I'm a man (dangly bits and everything!).
I can build a house (well, frame it and drywall it, anyhow. I'm better at cabinetry)
I can hunt and kill an animal with or without modern weaponry.
I can win a fight in a bar.
I can barbecue.
If, however, there was a car that didn't turn over? I'd shrug my shoulders and say "I dunno, man. Is there gas in it?"
I know there are mystical things called sparkplugs, and fuel injectors (although my motorcycle no longer has either), but I couldn't tell you one from an O2 sensor.
Also, I have, on demand, make cupcakes, generally been the meal preparer for my household, darned socks, hemmed a pair of pants, and served tea to a teddybear.
In my opinion (Worth the money it's printed on), one of the aspects of Manliness that was taught to me by the Archetypal Man (read: My father) was that, when a REAL MAN doesn't know something? He asks someone who does know what they're doing for help. Or at least advice.
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC)|| |
Icon props for discussion appropriateness.
As you know, I'm like you in that I don't know that stuff. I mean, I have some understanding of how engines operate, but not how all the bits go together. Nor how to fix it. There could be a 454 hemi-cam double-drilled Johnson rod at fault, for all I know.
But where I'm not like you is that I'm not at all ashamed to admit the ignorance, even in a group of guys. I just don't care how it makes me look to not know what "hemi" means, which means I'm pretty much impervious to humiliation on those grounds. Anyone who'd deride me for ignorance isn't worth knowing. We're all ignorant of many things. Embrace it and the truth of it shall set ye free.
Humiliation comes in when I try to act like I know what I'm doing, and quickly reveal that I don't. So I avoid that.
Of course, in cases where I can't, I just tell them I'll need some ball bearings, 3-in-1 oil and gauze pads, and about ten quarts of antifreeze. Then I get the hell out.
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 05:52 pm (UTC)|| |
Grow a pair of balls and stop caring about society's perceptions of you.
Grow a pair of balls, and at least name yourself.
Anonymity is for cowards. Stand behind your opinions.
Years ago when we were newly married and had our very first car, we took it in to one of those name-brand places to take advantage of a discount oil change.
The mechanic came out looking worried and called my husband in to the garage and had him stand there while the mechanic waggled one of the front tires. "See that? Your ball joints are worn. They need to be replaced. It's dangerous to leave them that way."
My husband came back and reported this to me, mechanic in tow. Needless to say, I had been left sitting in the waiting room while all the Man Talk about Car Repairs had been going on.
Now, at that point I knew only enough about cars to change a tire, and certainly nothing about ball joints. But I did know that we had absolutely no money for anything like that, and I said so. We'd just have to drive around on those worn ball joints a while longer, I said. The mechanic was most unhappy about this and made all kinds of dire predictions. "Well, an empty wallet beats a ball joint inspection any day," said I.
I think it was about a year later when we heard this company had been busted for pulling that ball-joint scam. Needless to say, we never did go get those ball joints.
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC)|| |
So you're saying that you hate it when the mechanic busts your ball... joints?
|Date:||November 11th, 2008 06:11 pm (UTC)|| |
The sad part is that some types of experience you can never catch up on. In many ways, car repair is getting too specialized for most people to do. It almost requires $100,000.00 of equipment just to get started. Learning about it was something you did 15 - 20 years ago, or you can't do it. Computers are another aspect of the same thing. If you learned it during the 1980's, you can do hardware troubleshooting, because you had to. If you learned computers after 2000, being able to troubleshoot just the OS is a hugely frustrating experience.
Start focusing on the things that you did learn. You spent your pre-teen and early teen years doing something. I learned computers and SF. I can talk to people (geeks) for hours at a SF convention about various authors and their work. Anything I learned about things like cars was because if I didn't fix it, it wouldn't get fixed. I can barely talk with a mechanic. I am curious enough to listen to what they are saying, even if most of it is only comprehended at the most basic level.
You contribute something to the group. Take joy from that. Even if it is only how to help people have a good time. Do you understand how valuable that is?