Doctor Science Knows

Monday, November 05, 2007

Gay-hatin' and Subtractive Masculinity

Fred Clark at Slacktivist has been asked to put in another post on the sources and support of the Gay-hatin' Gospel.. My comments got to be a bit long:

I'm surprised, Fred, because I think you're overlooking the point, again.

A big part of the issue is gender roles. And that means that a big part of the issue is *women*. Even though (as several people have pointed out) 99% of the vitriol & repugnance is directed against gay men specifically and anal sex even more specifically, I think the thing which is being talked about without being named is *women*.

Same-sex marriage is in fact a threat to traditional heterosexual marriage, because SSM is obviously between equals. Anal sex is a deep threat to masculinity because it involves a man -- a full human being, just like the default "me" of patriarchal society -- being penetrated. And if human beings (=men) can be penetrated and not scorned, then maybe the people who are traditionally penetrated (=women) ... are human beings.

The idea that women might be human beings threatens J. Matt Barber profoundly, because the view of masculinity that has developed over the past century (I'm not sure about earlier) is subtractive. That is, a Man is defined as someone who is Not A Woman. This worked OK when men could do a lot of things women can't. But if women can be smart, then men must be stupid; if women can be moral, men must be evil; if women love beauty, men must love ugliness. You can see this all too clearly in the link Brel found in Part.5: creativity itself (long a male prerogative) has become suspect.

And at the end, Barber and his ilk are faced with the horrific consequences of their subtractive masculinity: if women are human beings, men ... cease to exist. He's reacting like he's facing an existential threat because he *is* facing one: he's standing what used to be a glorious castle but which turned out to be a pile of sand, slipping away into the tide. His idea of masculinity is part of his *self*, and eroding the one is eroding the other.
(continued on next rock)

One of the best illustrations of how subtractive masculinity works is in a old, not all that good science fiction story, "The Last Man" (written by Wallace West in 1929, anthologized in The Pocket Book of Science Fiction). My copy seems to have disappeared (or crumbled into dust), but IIRC the narrator talks about how women's energy and ambition couldn't be suppressed forever, and they moved into one field after another until all that was left for men to consider important were sports and war. And then war became unthinkable, and women got into sports, and then all the men just died out, useless (our hero is a throwback in a zoo).

Subtractive masculinity isn't confined to the evangelical Right in America, by any means. After the 2004 election, religion journalist Jeff Sharlet admitted what he'd been reluctant to say before: that homophobia is the true unifying factor for strongly religious Americans of every stripe. The stresses currently in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality are largely coming from churches in the Southern Hemisphere, based in societies that don't have all that much in common with the US Bible Belt. But they *do* still face stresses from changing gender roles, just as traditional Muslim societies do, too.

Amanda has a post up at Pandagon about the anthology Choice and about how too many men react:

abuse and control is less an obsession for a lot of men and more the natural result of thinking of women as functional objects in your life. Like if she starts behaving in ways that are inconvenient (like getting pregnant or trying to prevent pregnancy), then it’s appropriate to treat her like a malfunctioning appliance. ...

... Anything outside of functional use is considered irrelevant at best, an infringement on functionality at worst. Not that all men are like this, by any stretch, but this way of viewing women as objects is endemic and honest men will admit that even if they resist it, they get messages that it’s an appropriate way to view women.
But with a subtractive model of masculinity, men *have* to think this way -- because if women are not objects, then there's no humanity left for men.

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  • Came to this late in the day but I really like the argument. Haven't heard it put like this before.

    By Blogger c, at 6:59 AM  

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