Today I found myself lazily browsing the remains of the 2010 calendar selection at Borders Books. 50 percent off; can't pass that up! As I perused the shelves, I found myself drawn to a calendar based on the title alone: The Year of Manliness. I picked it up and analyzed the samples of the illustrations found inside. It's certainly amusing to say the least, but it also struck the feminist chord in me. This is simply one calendar amongst the many, but these extreme displays of what we consider masculine (and feminine) are oftentimes problematic and as a collective are extremely influential to what shape us and pigeonhole us into the roles of man and woman. Here's a few haphazard iphone pics. Sorry about the glare.
I am particularly taken aback by the phrase "Get Punched in the Face Daily," found on the backside of the calendar. Although meant to be funny I'm sure, the linkage of masculinity with muscles and violence bothers me. I know that it's nothing new, but here lies a perfect example of the notion that to be considered a real man means that one must maintain an aggressive persona at all times. We see the same tired theme play out in television, film, and even in the historical tellings of countless wars.
These ideas also serve as a reinforcement of the stereotype of the gay male as overly feminine. The discrimination against gays in the military through "Don't Ask, don't tell" serves as a real life example of these influences at work. To openly admit to a sexual preference that moves beyond the heterosexual standard means to abandon your masculinity and lose any credibility as an effective member of the US military. This has an effect on women in the military as well, where although becoming more acceptable for females to serve, women are not taken as seriously and are also likely to face sexual harassment and oftentimes sexual assault. Lesbians in the military throw another wrench in the traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity. Once again, by openly admitting to a sexual preference other than heterosexuality, lesbians in the military are victim to discrimination on multiple levels. To pass as a woman by traditional standards, one must adopt a passive demeanor and should be attracted to a man sexually. Lesbians frequently find themselves stereotyped as masculine, and on top of that do not engage in sexual relations with men. It's a classic double bind. No matter what she does, as a queer woman, she will find herself unacceptable by the constraints of traditional gender roles.
So here's my point, this comic, over the top portrayal of extreme masculinity speaks volumes of what society believes, be it a small piece in the gigantic puzzle of ideas surrounding gender and sexuality. We internalize these pictures and words and they shape our lives daily. They shape the notion that a woman must remain hairless ("you aren't hairy enough for this tome of manliness"). They shape the identities of young boys who learn that to prove themselves, they must do it with violence. They shape the discriminatory policies towards the GLBTQ community, in the military and beyond. This chance encounter with a random calendar reminds me just how important it is to become aware of and move beyond these old standards.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Keep the spirit alive in 2010!