Tuesday, February 10, 2015


 Masculinity and masculinities are a complex topic weaving cultural expectations and perceived modes of behavior by those who have male bodies with questions of presentation and gender norms versus those in human and societal behavior and what better way to approach the study of masculinity than by discussing King Dork by Frank Portman in the framework of multiple masculinities, because a single, culturally codified descriptor of masculinity isn't working out so well for Tom Henderson, who's a Holden Caulfield-esque anti-hero from the '80s in this bildungsroman that inexplicably tries to date itself to 2000 in the end for reasons that might have to do with publishability, but ignore that, it's from the '80s, back when a kid could wear a trench coat, carry around Soldier of Fortune, and talk about guns all the time and nobody would bat an eyelash. Tom echoes Holden's whines about the power structure and phoniness, with the caveat that Tom also whines about Holden because in his world, Catcher in the Rye is perpetually assigned by sensitive English teacher whom Catcher inspired to be teachers of high school English. Tom, thankfully, doesn't talk too much like Holden or the whole book would be a tedious imitation of a stunning original, and King Dork is also more plot-heavy than Catcher, by which I mean that it has a plot, because Tom finds his dead dad's copy of Catcher in a box, and it's marked up with code, and he's also in a band, solving the mystery of his dad's death, receiving inexplicable blow jobs, and being physically attacked by bullies on a weekly basis. When I was at high school, people didn't fellate other people at random, or maybe they did and I didn't know about it; either male/author fantasy takes over the book, or where being in a band WORKS. On the other point, about frequently sustaining sustained physical attacks, I must refer to our next book, Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School by C.J. Pascoe. This is one of the ones Curt was getting rid of it and one of the tiny number of books Curt owns that aren't about Britain, British country houses, architecture, British architecture, other country houses, other regional architecture, art, jewelry, biographies of British royals, biographies of British commoners, books by Curt's sister, books by my mom, and books on historic retail emporiums, the impetus of which is Curt's professional need to respond to Mr. Selfridge on PBS. Curt tried to put Dude, You're a Fag in the laundry room but I snagged it and I'm glad I did. Written in 2007, the only positive about more modern masculinity in high school is that sustained physical attacks are no longer common. Kids are more likely to throw things, or punch once; popular kids can't drag the gender non-normative or otherwise lower ranking into the bathroom and kick the shit out of them anymore. Progress! Excepting that, presentations of masculinity in high school are deeply alarming and tightly controlled. "Dude, you're a fag," and similar comments are repeated endlessly in Ms. Pascoe's impressive year of field research at a California high school. Masculinity is strictly policed by all participants in these social rituals as a set of sexualized dominant behaviors that must be maintained. Every misstep or especially gender deviation is "gay" or "you're a fag." Boys wrestle girls 'til they shriek, harass everyone and Ms. Pascoe, and engage in highly ritualized sexual banter. Ms. Pascoe records one conversation where a boy asks her if she's ever had her "walls ripped," an act these boys often boast of which is also physically impossible. Ms. Pascoe deflects the question and asks the boy how it makes him feel when he's done that, to which he becomes somewhat remorseful for something he can't possibly have done. Boys encourage each other to regard the feminine with comic aberrance. The positioning of male dominance and heteronormativity are reinforced by the teachers and administration through casual statements and ritualized public events like the Mr. Cougar Competition and homecoming. Ms. Pascoe takes time to discuss the out lesbian who was elected homecoming queen based on popularity and force of personality, as well as the "basketball girls" a loud group of hip-hop identified ninth graders who avoid the traditionally feminine appearance and second-tier status of most of the girls in this school by sheer energy and apathy, by which I mean that all they do is run around yell. Ms. Pascoe also gives time to the more self-aware gender-aware girls in the Gay-Straight Alliance, whose overt political stance, in contrast to the homecoming winner and the basketball girls, earns them censure by the administration for stepping outside of gender norms.

Of course, young men who are presented with a single idiom of highly sexualized masculinity grow up, and hopefully learn that man cannot live on a single idiom of highly sexualized masculinity alone. StrengthsBasedLeadership by Tom Rathman subverts the notion of a single leadership model in a thoroughly limp-wristed yet effective way. Basically, the point of SBL is that you are not Abraham Lincoln. Nor are you Sun Tzu, Geronimo, Lee Iacoca, or any other great man of history/business about whom you have read a book encouraging you to emulate. You are you, and you should not try to be Abraham Lincoln, but you should acknowledge your own strengths and build a team of others with a diversity of strengths, which is what Abraham Lincoln did, but you're still not Abraham Lincoln. That's the main point, but how to fill the other two hundred pages? Actually, the salient point of the Strengths franchise is not the book but the internet personality quiz at the end of the book. The book itself is just padding. Nicole wouldn't let me buy one of my other textbooks because she said it was too dumb to own and she tried to prevent me from purchasing SBL,but I explained that I needed to deflower the book of its unique internet quiz access code and must therefore own it. The test itself is meh. It presents you with paired statements like, "I like to give thoughtful gifts./ I buy everyone soap and gift cards," and you choose which statement reflects you and how strongly you agree with each statement. But then you have statements like, "I am thrifty./ I am generous." Whaaat? I'm obnoxiously thrifty but I give people my damn blood. Those are not contradictory. "I love my family./ I like to learn new things." Eh? "I am outgoing./ I eat puppies." Help. My strengths are Input, Intuition, Adaptability, Strategic, and, and Learner. The first thing you'll notice about my strengths is that only some of them are adjectives, which reflects SBL's reading level. The explanation for my strength of Intuition defined "assuage" and "glean" for me. Those aren't big words. I hope I'm not too smart to earn an MBA because I would like to earn more than these low assuages I earn in the retail sector. What? The paragraphs in SBL had gaps between them. Books for first graders don't leave gaps between the paragraphs. But it does make SBL look proper book length, when the reading bit is a paltry 100 pages that's mostly the biographies of four questionable executives who were willing to talk to the authors. Secondly, my strengths mean I'm bookish. That's the personality quiz equivalent of telling me that I have brown hair. The best part of the book are the paragraphs explaining how to leverage your strengths and that I am a palm tree; basically, people will come to me for information because I gather it. So, strengths found, expectations of a single masculinity destroyed, we continue on our journey to that ultimate beacon of healthy masculinity, His Grace, His Excellency, The Duke of Ankh; His Excellency Sir Samuel Vimes. This is another Discworld book, from later in the series than where I think I am, although it directly precedes Monstrous Regiment. Pratchett is fantastic, a bit over 400 pages but no senseless riffing, just a lot of long, thoughtful, persuasive passages about the nature of justice. And it works. Samuel Vimes is catapulted back in time thirty years from the anniversary of the Glorious Revolution of the 25th of May in a major temporal shattering, along with a serial killer. Picked up after curfew, Vimes is jailed for the night and convinces the Night Watch commander that he is John Keel, the newly arrived policeman from Pseudopolis who taught young Sam Vimes character and is now dead because of the serial killer. Young Sam is what Sir Samuel doesn't remember of a wet behind the ears little twerp who joined up for the pay and the meals and he idolizes John Keel. Vimes must play Keel's part through the days of spring when Ankh-Morpork rises up to throw off the shackles of a mad patrician and a secret police that's now hired the serial killer. The important thing, though, is that honor and justice make better men of us all.

Next up: Girl books.