When people act all incredulous that I have things to say on an almost-daily basis about dating and relationships, I’ve taken to gently reminding them how many of their conversations center on the topic.
Generally, the answer to this question is: most of them. I’d argue that basically all of us, to one degree or another, are obsessed with romantic love. We are consumed with it. Tell me I’m wrong.
I tend to think of women as being more open about this. Or, at least, engaging in more frequent discussion on the subject. The male friendships I know, on the other hand, run the gamut from constant, ongoing boys’ night chatter to waiting six months to tell one another they have a girlfriend.
The two guys I was out with last night definitely occupy the former end of this range. Especially, it would seem, when in the company of someone they suspect might post their thoughts online. Beer may have helped.
Anyhow. At one point, I steered the conversation toward masculinity–a concept about which there’s been a lot of pop cultural talk about lately, most of it stemming from the new Noah Baumbach/Ben Stiller movie, Greenberg.
Specifically, this idea of a “masculinity crisis”: that the traditional mode of establishing masculinity in our culture–being the financial provider, namely–has been so diminished that men these days still grapple with how to assert their manliness.
We talked about things like strength and dominance, and how those things matter both socially and sexually.
And then one of them asked me what I thought about how women demonstrate their femininity.
I was fairly stumped: feminine is not a word I frequently use to describe myself, or many women I know. And I wasn’t sure how I’d define it. (Eventually, we turned to the dictionary app on my iPhone: “having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness.”)
We all began to muse that perhaps femininity is more elusive than masculinity–and that it may be defined in more negative terms, in opposition to masculinity: not strong, not dominant.
And then one of them sagely uttered a one-word answer. This word, I must tell you, was “grooming.” He explained that women, in our culture as he sees it, are basically not considered feminine unless they primp themselves.
The other looked on in what appeared to be bafflement and vague disagreement.
And then he said: “You know what I wish I didn’t care about, but I do? Body hair.”
Basically, our efforts to define what is feminine and what is masculine devolved into a conversation about what men and women find, respectively, attractive.
This is not breaking news. The semi-interesting revelation is how deeply these stereotypes apply. That even men who would seem to be deeply in touch with their “feminine side,” who have firmly progressive values and who might even call themselves feminists, are not immune to the most crude iteration of cultural laws of attraction.
And it works the other way too: us women who consider ourselves liberated and enlightened and un-beholden to archetypal mass media messages–all of us really just want to be thrown against a wall and dominated.
Is this a bad thing? It definitely has negative connotations. And certainly, there is something oppressive about a culture that asks women to pay so much attention to physical maintenance and men to behave as barberically as possible.
I’d like to think that acknowledging the problem is the first step to fixing it. But, as is often the case, there appears to be a lot of work in between.