A New York Liberty Blog

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Essay Thursday - Threats to Masculinity

(Sorry if this is a bit rambling. I didn't have a lot of time to outline or re-write, and this it's over 2500 words. If one doesn't buy into the idea that there are men-and-women, men-and-men, women-and-men, and women-and-women conflicts in this society, then stop right here and come back tomorrow.)

Threats to Masculinity: The Fear Inherent in the WNBA

Why is it that so many men feel the need to deride the WNBA? It’s a different game, with different players, and different rules. It’s not as if the league is taking anything away from them. The NBA is still around, the game of basketball hasn’t changed, Kobe doesn’t have to wear a dress. There is nothing that the Women’s League does that directly (or indirectly, for that matter) damages the Men’s League, teams in the men’s league, beer prices, or television. Why, then? Why do so many men find something innately disgusting in the league? Answering that question is going to require the writer to get psychological and use a lot of abstract and indirect connections, but bear with me. I think that this all stems from some subconscious fear that many men feel when confronted by women in positions of power.

These positions of power are at a premium in the human race. In most conflicts around the world, power is at the root of the problem, with one side wanting more, and the opposition wanting to maintain control. Rwanda, Sudan, Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, and more countries and countries than can be counted are involved right now in struggles for dominance. Power is what controls the world and almost all economies, and when there’s a feeling of inequity or ingratitude, there’s going to be a fight.

If this is true, then men, as controllers of most of the world, are vulnerable to take-over, not just from women (we’ll get to that later), but also from other men. When a man feels threatened about his position in a social hierarchy (family, work, sports, etc.), it becomes a personal attack on the position of control that he either has or believes he has. As a man becomes more and more powerful (as a husband, a business leader, or anything else), there become more and more opportunities for conflict. A person likes to feel in control, but many men feel that control is essential to life. This is where the commoditization of hormones comes in.

Testosterone has become the ultimate commodity of the 21st century. If one can control the most basic way that a man feels worth (in the case of the 2007-circa American Man, his masculinity), then one can control the man. Buy the car, get the girl, enhance your penis, support your Football team, throw money at gadgets. If you don’t, you’re not a real man. It’s because you’re a fag and you didn’t deserve it in the first place. Or maybe, if you don’t want to believe that it’s your fault, it’s because the woman is a dyke (because women should be subservient to a man’s needs). The hierarchy must be maintained, not just for the man, personally, but for all men. Men MUST succeed, or else there is something wrong with them. They become something else; an Outsider, a homosexual, something. Something NOT masculine. Not necessarily feminine, but definitely not Guy.

This works in tandem for roles for women. Women should be subservient, helpful, perky, sexy, and intelligent (without outshining the guy in anyway). A woman should make less money than her boyfriend/husband and should serve him hand and foot. Women in positions of power emasculate the Modern Man because it implies that he has not Conquered yet. The woman is not His, not under His control. She is ahead (which is worse than a man up against another man, because at least then, a man can pretend that there were external forces present). In women, our culture hasn’t propounded the idea of masculinity to insult and reassure oneself of one’s worth. She’s doing this because she’s fighting against the man’s sense of worth. So, the only “logical” conclusion is that if the man is indeed a Man at all, he fucked up.

And let’s not even get into sex. A man never wants his mother, daughter, or sister viewed by ANYONE in a sexual context, but it’s okay for him to view OTHER mothers, daughters, and sisters as sex-slaves. Why? Because there is a sense of ownership involved with sex (at the very least, in Western culture). Marry a woman, and she’s Yours. Fuck a woman, and she’s another Notch on the Belt. Men don’t want the people they care about anywhere near this context (and why should they?) but they don’t make the logical step that it is thus morally indefensible for them to treat women in a dehumanizing manner. Thus, there is a duplicity when it comes to a man’s thought process involving women: saints and sluts, and never the twain shall meet. This is not to say that men and women shouldn’t be sexy or sexual (or saintly); rather, let’s come clean about sexual and societal roles rather than play into some game that hurts everyone.

However, people who defy these roles in society threaten the current cultural “stability” that has arisen from this hierarchy. If men refuse to buy huge American cars, the economy suffers. If men don’t try to buy things to appeal to women, the economy suffers. If men don’t buy tons of stuff to show their support for the INSERT FOOTBALL TEAM NAME, the economy suffers. Buy, consume, become Awesome, and then, maybe, you’ll be viewed as a man (this is the case for women, too, but it works in a different, though complimentary [not in the good sense], way). According to pop-culture, men are supposed to be stupid, smart, in control, out of control, good-looking, fat, lazy, productive, rich, broke, and cool. No wonder we’re all confused; we’re told to go every which way but lose. Our consumer culture has driven men to ever-expanding needs to prove their masculinity. Money runs the world, unfortunately, and men need to buy things to keep this country going, and what better way to get them out off their asses then putting the fear of Homosexuality in them.

Is it a coincidence that sports became huge money as television began marketing sex? I don’t think so. Sports are the ultimate testament to a man’s worth, because even if all else is loss, being able to physically beat another man at something can prove something, deep down. And being beaten takes the opposite effect: men lose something essential to their being, that animalistic hunger that can drive a person to feed, procreate, and succeed.

So, what’s it mean to be beaten by a woman, then? Not just in the actual physical sense of losing in a basketball game, but in the psychological sense of when a woman succeeds in those primeval events known as sport? The man loses, even if he only takes sports semi-seriously. The WNBA stands as a reminder that women DON’T need men to succeed, that they can function on their own, thank you, and that if a Storm, Liberty, or Fever (etc.) player were to challenge a man in a one-on-one game, the outcome would be pre-determined in such a way that it would be embarrassing to actually go through with the contest. Denial is a powerful thing, but unless a man is completely deluded, there is no way he can bring himself to think that he could win in such a contest (unless he is himself a professional athlete).

Now, one might ask, if this is all true, then why don’t OTHER female sports or leagues get as much ragging as the WNBA? They do receive some, it’s true, but the simple answer is “visibility”. There are not enough competitive male softball players to be intimidated by the women playing that sport. Most men find gymnastics as a whole either repugnant or amazing, without splitting those athletes into gender-specific collections: in other words, if a man likes gymnastics, then it is unlikely that he will only like male gymnasts (an argument can be made that if a man is secure in himself enough to admit that he likes gymnastic events in this culture, that he is secure enough to concede female accomplishments in the sport).

Basketball, however, is a huge part of American culture. Most men play it at some point in their lives, and I find it hard to find a guy who doesn’t have at least a passing interest in the sport (unlike Baseball, Football, or Hockey, which many actively loathe). For serious competitors who fail at achieving their dreams, for serious spectators who live and die with their team(s), and for men who play basketball casually, the WNBA serves as a constant reminder that there are women out there who at a level of athleticism that most men can ever dream of. It can be intimidating to a man’s stature.

“Women? Beating men? Impossible. Any man can beat any woman at any sport at any time!”

Well, not so much. I have no problem admitting that these women are superior to me, mostly because I don’t find conflict in my sexuality with women in superior roles, but also because I don’t actively like basketball enough to need to feel that my testosterone is being threatened. I’m a man as much as the next guy, and if my manhood was seriously attacked in a certain way, I am not sure how I would handle it. Usually I just brush it off, but it hurts. Why? Culture. Men are on top, women are on bottom, and if you’re not on top of something, then you’re a woman. Even men who see the charade of sexual roles for what it is can become attached to the cycle, sometimes. Imagine, then, what certain men feel like with the WNBA staring at them? These men are attached to their self-image as the uber-man (the complete opposite of the ubermensch, from Nietzsche) that anything even remotely insulting or degrading to their position is viewed as an attack. The WNBA attempts to put women in a superior position. Therefore, the WNBA is attacking a man’s masculinity.

The worst part is that this Over-Masculinity can’t be fought, at least, not in the traditional sense. If a woman attacks people for their explicit or complicit roles in this hierarchy, then she’s branded Outsider – Lesbian, Feminist, Out-There – simply because she is attacking. Women don’t attack (or defend); they Are. If a man attacks people for the same thing, then he too is labeled Outsider, as well – Faggot, Moron, Woman. A man is supposed to be happy that he is on top; if he threatens that order, then he obviously isn’y a man. Direct opposition to this Testosterone Problem only pushes Society more deeply into the hands of the Y Chromosome bandits (called so in that they have hijacked ideas of nobler or grander ideas of masculinity for their own purposes), because people who are Outsiders or Low in this hierarchy are not even worthy of attention. Dealing with the problem head on only entrenches those fighting on the other side. Pushing and shoving only deepens the divide. Fear will continue to drive the problem, and things will not change.

Thus, the change must come from within. If people want this to change, then there needs to be a massive overhaul in how men (and women) think of themselves. A person does not need to be in a struggle against anyone to succeed. One can accept one’s own accomplishments for what they are and NOT hold them up against society’s expectations. It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to be easy, but if men and women decide that they don’t want to buy into this whole regime anymore, then it’s important for them to learn from others (and themselves at the same time) that they don’t have to.

People who want change, then, need to educate, not battle. Don’t fight the system; move beyond it. Stop supporting organizations that involve themselves in such practices. Discuss with others, see where compromise is a possibility, and open other people’s eyes. As Gandhi said, create in yourself the change that you wish to see in the world. If you are happy in that position, then other people – unsatisfied with the current climate – will begin to take notice and shift. Write, talk, be, support.

All of this is easier said than done, for sure, but if one makes a concerned effort to simply give up and not support the hierarchy anymore, then pretty soon, over-masculinity, like polygyny and racism, will decay to the point that it will become obvious to any sensible human being that supporting it is vile and ignoring it reprehensible. With fewer and fewer buying into the ideology, the stalwarts of that mode of thought will be marooned in webs of their own creation, while those who profit on the idea will move on to more cost-effective ventures. The Testosterone Problem will not die – few bad ideas ever do – but it will be pushed to the fringes to suffer in obscurity while the rest of society moves on to something more productive. I would hesitate to say that this is inevitable, for it’s a powerful force in our culture today and if history teaches one thing, it’s that powerful opinions last much longer than the people who carry them. However, I will say that if humanity is going to continue on some kind of evolutionary/spiritual path, this kind of system cannot be in place. It is too corrupt, too one-sided, and too illogical to bear repeated rational explorations. Eventually, things will change. Whether for the better or worse is up to debate, but it will change.

So, finally, in answer to the question, men fear the WNBA because it subconsciously insults their masculinity. How do we change this? By shifting these paradigms that is more productive for women’s sports (in this instance), but also for women in general. If men continue to degrade the WNBA as inferior, and women continue to be complicit in this argument, then nothing will change. The WNBA will fail and join the long list of dead women’s-leagues. People will look at the league and say “You see? Women can’t play sports. If they could, this league would have survived.” Statements like that will be ignorant of the true facts, but when has the truth ever gotten in the way of opinion? The WNBA is a sign, then, and a challenge. If it falls, then it’s a step-back for women. If it succeeds, and people can successfully get people interested in women as something other than sex-objects, then it will be a sign of better things to come.

(This doesn’t even begin to touch on why some women hate the WNBA. As a guy, I feel I have some basis for comment on the psyche of my sex. But speaking for women? I’m not going to touch that with a ten-foot pole.)


Rebecca said...

Unfortunately, I think a lot of the reasons why women hate the WNBA are the same as why men hate the WNBA: we're out of our place, we're uppity, we're trying to be men because we do things that men do, we're threatening the comfortable niche these women have found. Never mind that we're not forcing them to be something they're not, we're providing a chance for their daughters to be something else, something that might be better, and kids can't be better than their parents.

Amazing how many people think they win in this system, innit?

Me said...

It's a dirty shame. Seriously. Why is it that the success of others makes so many feel inept? Well, whatever. Let the haters hate. All the more for us.

petrel said...

I'm reminded of a comment by Bill James regarding the lack of acceptance of sabrmetrics - advanced baseball statistics - by the baseball hierarchy.

"If we are doomed to be outsiders, then let us take this role and use it to our best advantage."

That's my conclusion about the WNBA. You don't make the WNBA successful (if it can be in such a constrictive American social system) by trying to market to people who are dead set against the WNBA succeeding for the same reasons that you've written so eloquently about. Logic isn't important to those people anyway; rational argument won't reach them.

Rather, you market the WNBA to people who are already outsiders, you make it an "outside thing", with a spirit, a drive, and a concept different from any of the other concepts currently existing in sports.

Let the Bill Simmonses and Norman Chads and Debbie Schlussels sing to the self selected choir. But also let the world know that there's a different sort of thing going on, a different choir that sings different music with a different rhythm. If you're the kind of person who wants to make the world sing the same old sad song its always sung, then we're not listening. And if you want to sing along with the WNBA well...grab a songbook. There's always a place in our choir.

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