10/21/13

The Masculine Marketing Formula

I am a vegan. This means I don’t eat animals or any food that’s obtained from animals. It also means I don’t use any items made with animal products or items tested on animals, as much as possible. I say that because it is an ongoing process of learning what exactly contains animal products. I was quite surprised to learn that many beers and wines contain stomach acids obtained from animals to assist the fermentation process and that black tattoo ink uses animal bone char (For a great vegan tattoo shop check out Scapegoat Tattoo in Portland, Oregon).

Now I haven’t always been a vegan. For most of my life, minus the last 3 years, I followed the Standard American Diet. As I have said elsewhere, though, our complicity cannot prevent our current ability to critique. In order to change ourselves, we will, by definition, have to contradict our former actions. What I want to discuss here is not veganism specifically, but rather the pressures that keep many of us from even entertaining the idea, as it’s a process I went through myself. We’ve all heard it before…

 “Real Men Eat Meat”

What men eat is strongly connected with ideas of manhood. The power of masculinity is so strong, the choices, if we can even call them that, that we make about food many times are made based more on the worry of “not being a man” over other concerns such as taste, health or ethics. This restriction, this pressure, this narrow box put upon us by the cultural demands of masculinity restricts our individual freedom, reducing our ability to choose.

Its important to realize how strong this pressure is. You may be shaking your head, saying, “no, you are completely free to eat how you wish. There is no law against it one way or the other. Nobody is physically forcing you to eat meat.” When we speak and think like this, we miss how strong family, culture, gender, and society pressure actually is. When fathers forbid their sons from even trying a meat-less hot dog at a family bar-b-que, when commercials market products based on ideas of manliness, or when reasons given for not wanting a particular thing is that it’s ‘chic food,’ we don’t have freedom of choice, rather we have a tyranny of manhood. This Burger King commercial is a good example:

It has all the aspects mentioned above as is made even worse by the fact that it is a remake of the song, I am Woman, by Helen Reddy from 1972, which focuses on women empowerment and became an anthem of the women’s movement.

Eating animals has become another way for achieving this narrow standard of masculinity, the making of men by requiring constant swagger, shows of aggression, and “manning up.” Putting animals on our plates becomes another way to wear that “Tough Guise,” the constant performance of manhood driven by the never-ending fear of being thought less than a man. In the current set-up of masculinity, being a man is not something you are, but is always in danger of being taken away.  This is not a positive identity, but an identity defined by anxiety.

If the standard for which food men consume is based on the amount of violence that went into getting it onto the plate (“The bloodier the better.”), what does that tell us about the notion of manhood we are being given? It certainly makes comments related to rape and sexual violence such as, “he treated me like a piece of meat,” have even more significance. A manhood that requires continual displays of violence, aggression, and dominance, as we see in the eating of animals, is one that contributes to an epidemic of seeing women as things, sexual violence, and rape. It’s not the food itself; it’s the motivations behind it. All too often eating animals and sex are linked, like in this commercial from Carl’s Jr.

A preoccupation with food and its relation to manhood shows how tenuous, how fragile, the current idea of masculinity really is. Having a plate of food without some kind of dead animal on it is enough to call one’s manhood into question. When we take a step back, the insanity of it becomes extremely visible. Once we break out of the restrictive, pre-given standards of masculinity, only then can we begin to have the discussion about what we should or should not be eating and why. As it currently stands the all-encompassing pull of manhood prevents us from freely choosing, and it’s not just the animals that are harmed.

 

10/9/13

The Case Against the P-Word

“When you men get home and face an anti-war protester, look him in the eyes and shake his hand. Then, wink at his girlfriend, because she knows she’s dating a pussy.”

I have seen this quotation a number of times online, and while it is usually attached to a picture of retired Marine Corps General James N. Mattis, I have been unable to find any actual, proper citation linking it to him directly. However, the more important point is not whether he said it or not, but the comment itself, the meaning behind it, and the fact that many look up to and agree with the message behind the statement.

What is this statement saying? And more importantly what are the words in this sentence doing? Let’s break it down a little…

The term ‘pussy’ has become so common that we probably never even think about it when we use it. It has even lost the label of being a swear or curse word. But we must not forget from where this word comes. We have so associated the term ‘pussy’ with being cowardly and weak that we forget who have pussies, namely women. So, what is really being said in the above statement is that the anti-war protester is a woman. The anti-war protester is not simply a coward, he has been made into a woman. The comment is not just labeling soldiers and anti-war protesters, with statements like the above one, we are defining men and women.

The logic of the statement seems to go like this: The war protester is made to seem like a woman, and no man wants to be a woman, thus if you want to be a man, you should be a soldier. And if you are already a soldier, you can feel good about the fact that you are, in fact, a man. So, what’s the problem? Isn’t courage, bravery, and a willingness to fight all good qualities and ones any man should be striving for?

When I was in the infantry, many of my fellow soldiers were unsure about the value of the particular war we were in or were simply indifferent to the rightness or wrongness of the conflict. But somehow, someone from the outside speaking out against the war is seen and felt as a threat. Why is this so? We should all be war protesters. It should be difficult to take the country to war and every one of us, if it is needed, should be reluctant. And that doesn’t make us weak; it makes us involved, conscious citizens, the very strength of a democracy.

We need to stop using the insult ‘pussy’ to describe people. If boys are growing up learning that being a ‘pussy,’ a woman, is bad, then we are teaching boys and men to not value women. By trying to make sure boys become “men” by making sure they don’t turn out to be women, we are not creating good human beings. We are hurting women and harming men. We all are worse off.

10/4/13

Welcome to The Critical Veteran

TRIGGER WARNING – DISCUSSIONS OF RAPE, ABUSE, AND BULLYING

“I’m gonna make him a man.”

“You don’t want to be a pussy, do you?”

“What are you a fag?”

We have all heard these before at some point, and most of us have dismissed it as part of the normal way we talk to each other in society. We probably never even think about statements, where they came from, what they mean, or most importantly, what these phrases are doing when we use them. Words have effects. Christopher Kilmartin, professor of psychology, tells us: “The worst insult you can give to a boy is that ‘you run like, act like, look like, dance like, throw like a girl.’ So when we tell little boys that being like a girl diminishes you, what kind of attitude are we building? We are teaching them to disrespect women.” This abusive push for manhood hurts both women and men, to the point where here in the United States, “being a man” means a constant anxiety about achieving and defending one’s manhood, a manhood that is defined by aggression and violence. Man up! Be Tough!

Both men and women experience the negative effects of the violent standard of masculinity. Women (and some men) suffer through sexual harassment, sexism, economic inequality, and rape, among many other things. Men suffer by being denied the freedom to be a full human being. This constant pressure to ‘Man Up’ prevents feeling and showing emotions and forces men to follow a strict script of what is acceptable.

One of the most dangerous aspects of the requirement placed on men to defend and prove their manliness is the constant show of strength, power, and aggression, which limits critical reflection. Admitting that you may not have the answer is not allowed. Anyone that questions the accepted standard of masculinity gets labeled as unmanly, a pussy, a fag. For masculinity to thrive, it must crush any negative criticism, keeping men imprisoned with anxiety to either follow or be thrown out of the “boy’s club.”  This is anti-human and anti-freedom.

I wish to challenge this anti-critical masculinity, and The Critical Veteran is this challenge. A little bit about me; I was an infantry paratrooper at the 82nd Airborne Division. I have served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I have been a high school and middle school teacher. I have been a bartender. I have been uncertain about choices. I have been certain. I have been a bad boyfriend. I have been a good boyfriend. I have been to strip clubs and watched porn. I have enjoyed firing a gun. I have questioned the 2nd Amendment. I am not perfect. I strive for understanding.

An important point right from the outset is realizing that I am not above the pressures and influences of our culture, which strongly pushes to divide and label genders. Many of the jokes, words, activities, and practices investigated here, I have participated in at one time or another. However, our complicity cannot cripple our current ability to critique. Like addiction, no change can be made until we admit there is a problem and come to terms with the fact that we are not above the problem. I write from the position of a human being situated within a culture that constantly pushes masculinity. This space, this blog, is a vehicle for me to explore my own understanding of masculinity and its effect on me as a person. My hope is that by peering into my process, the act of questioning masculinity, instead of just trying to achieve and defend it, will become easier for others. The process of “becoming a happy human being” should be a free and unrestricted journey, not a pre-scripted, oppressive one.

Welcome to The Critical Veteran.