MANHOOD: Five "Feminine" Hobbies for Men: The Genderization of Activities
Mythbusters was probably one of the dopest shows of the previous decade. Any episode that I caught of that Discovery channel gem, even if it was in the middle of an episode, always caught my attention to the end, and my very heart broke when I heard the announcement of its cancellation. It sure does spark of a flame in your brain, doesn’t it? One doesn’t even realize just how curious about something he’s never wondered about before until he stumbles across it on television, catered to our visual brains as a mystery-machine designed to explicitly extract results. For me, busting tangible myths is almost as fun as busting ghosts, and busting ghosts is almost as fun as busting societal myths.
As a bachelors of sociology, these are some of the quests I was designed to embark upon in an otherwise invisible context, problems I was conditioned for years to think about in a world that often tries to cover them up. Social psychology might have been my favorite course that semester, the unique crossroads of two liberal sciences that hardly anybody takes seriously nowadays. Sociological journals and DSM IV manuals are often pushed aside and deemed as--how does Han Solo put it, mumbo-jumbo--to explain and validate issues that have little relevance or even tangible evidence of their own existence. There is, however, simply too much accuracy in the findings of both sciences to ignore and not allow ourselves an opportunity to advance our intelligence and enhance our sociological imagination by using their tools to grow.
We all understand what societal norms are, and are familiar with the funny faces people make when we behave outside of those norms. “How did you bomb the algebra test? I thought all Asians were good at math!” “What do you mean, you can’t dance? You’re black!” “What kind of wife doesn’t enjoy cooking?” Those faces. Society, like history, is not rigid but quite fluid, and the frustrations of social constructions like gender consistently begrudgingly co-exist with solutionless inaction. A great place to start reconditioning ourselves to reinvent the concepts of manliness and manhood--upholding the healthy and becoming aware of the toxic--is to look at some “feminine” hobbies that are actually excellent and beneficial pastimes for men to enjoy.
Five in particular have been so saturated in gender that even today many men are emasculated for engaging in them. Today’s standards for men are still dangerously bordering blatantly on racism, flirtily on anti-feminism, and subtly on eugenics, obsessed with perfection and even more on societal acceptance. It ultimately harms both men, women, and especially young men; one day we can break that by taking babysteps today. Little things. For this list, the myth here is that these are hobbies strictly for women; the truth is that, they are not. Enjoy!
“Perhaps one of the most powerful manly images in America is that of the yeoman farmer--he’s the self-reliant man who cultivates his own land to provide for his and his family’s needs.”
Interesting, isn’t it, how we (especially as men) are nurtured into maintaining the masculinity of hunting, and the femininity of gardening, when their similarities are both evident and insightful. It’s self-sufficiency, family provision, and engaging in a type of oneness with the Earth. Perhaps that sentence would be more masculine if only I had swapped out the words “oneness” for “spirit”, and “the Earth” for “the wild”, though again...we are basically talking about two fruits of the same bowl. Obviously these are not identical activities, but are conceptually similar in their end-goals: finding a place of peace, and putting food on the table. Of course, one does not need guns to garden, so gender has that in its favor. But since my wife can handle a pistol better than I can, either that means I’m a sissy, or maybe this blog has some validity.
There is plenty of disadvantage to be had, however, for a man to avoid learning gardening, or a woman hunting, simply out of societal expectation of gender behaviors or fear of the often-invisible consequences of falling left of playing traditional roles in the home. Fresh air and sunlight has never emasculated any grown man or young boy, nor has learning the skills of planting seeds, perpetuating their growth into plants, and eating the vegetables from the very crop a man grew on his own, bypassing the unnecessary guessing game of all the grocery-store pesticides and artificial elements that plague the intrinsic narrative of raw veggies (and we all know store-bought “organic” doesn’t always mean, well, “organic”). Both the masculinity and femininity of gardening ought to be celebrated and encouraged among both genders as a socially acceptable activity, not solely fitting for one gender and silly for the other, because the benefits are mind-blowingly supportive of gender equality.
There was never a time in my life where I considered reading as a hobby to be exclusively a woman’s expertise. I personally enjoy reading, and I don’t feel feminized because I do. Admittedly, it’s pretty difficult to commit to lifelong learning without ever learning how to do it leisurely. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, and that’s perfectly fine too. Though most Hollywood films would market the hobby of reading books almost solely to women, the truth is that libraries, cafes, and bookstores countrywide are filled with young men reading young adult novels with strong male protagonists (i.e. The Maze Runner) and westernized publications of Japanese manga (i.e. the highly-recommended series Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin), while older men are reading physical newspapers and re-engaging their hobbies with magazines geared toward them. Exposing oneself to the the finest fuel of adroitness and connecting with the greatest of literary minds--and their thoughts, philosophies, and personalities--are characteristics of an assuredly intelligent man.
Another issue with reading in regards to gender is really what we read, and why. Books are marketed towards women and others to men, still others to children and even others based on their sexual identities, religions, or occupations. A blog mentioned earlier, Art of Manliness is certainly becoming one of my favorite blogs and podcasts, and I highly recommend it as a guide and inspiration for both the serious and humorous walks of manhood. Coming across their 100 Books Every Man Should Read, I felt empowered and validated as I strolled down the list. I didn’t see my favorite book, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brian, but Brave New World? Oh yeah, I have that on my shelf. The Bible? That’s on the shelf. The Illiad and The Oddesey? Boom. Hatchet? Locked down years ago. You could guess my shock and embarrassment to find that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was also on this list. Shock because, well, isn’t Pride like the girliest tale ever written? Embarrassment because, yeah, that one is also on my shelf. And it’s not my wife’s.
I bought it to impress a girl I was dating at the time who had a personal obsession with the author and the context of her stories. I read it by myself, enjoyed it, and never got rid of it. A few years, a college degree, and one beautiful wife later, it’s still on my shelf. Why? Because I discovered that Jane Austen has the deadpan dry humor of post-2000 Bill Murray and the sarcastic wit of “A Year in the Life”-era Lorelai Gilmore. She’s more of an observationist than a sickly romantic and tends to hide her genius from us men who otherwise wouldn’t give her pages a serious reading, nor her film adaptations a serious listen (which is much more important than watching).
I admit, it’s difficult to get past the movie’s marketing schemes that promote stereotypical images of teary-eyed women’s book-club meetings regarding Austen’s fairy-tale endings. But it take it from me--heck, take it from an article straight from Art of Manliness called Why Every Man Should Read Jane Austen--reading is fine. Sometimes we don’t read to escape reality and pretend we are the characters in the books we’ve opened. No, I don’t want to be Elizabeth Bennet. Or Darcy. Sometimes we just need to laugh, relate, or learn. No matter what books you decide to pick up as men, I’m sure that feeling emasculated for your reading choices shouldn’t be an acceptable practice. If you read, enjoy it.
Also, yes. That was a Gilmore Girls reference. Get over it.
3) Taking extra care of our appearance
I can hear it now. What is it that women call men who get their eyebrows waxed, wear nothing but button ups and somehow find the time to post all of it Instagram?
Metrosexual. The term has all of the stereotypical external implications of being homosexual, without being homosexual. It’s usually said as a joke, often times derogatorily to spite or emasculate straight men who aren’t rugged enough to go a day without a hot shower, or those who appear too scared to rip their clothes up or play in the dirt “with the boys”. An earring in each ear, fashion glasses and a haircut every other Tuesday. We’re not supposed to do these things.
Once upon a time, they called that being dapper; debonair; polished. Taking daily showers, looking sharp for the sake of looking sharp. I mean there is such a thing as caring too much about one’s own appearance for any man or woman, but that not caring enough is a definitive trait of modern-day masculinity seems a bit extreme just to prove one’s own heterosexuality. When is the last time you watched Quantum of Solace (2008)? Everytime I watch that movie, I want to equality engage on some rogue adventure to avenge a lost loved one, and then immediately go to the nearest Banana Republic and purchase some new attire. I dare someone to call James Bond a metrosexual as an insult.
I’m prone to believe that the genderization of doing the laundry, ironing one’s own clothes, and doing one’s best to look as physically attractive as possible for one’s own benefit stems from the foundational ideas of gender roles, i.e. women garden, men hunt; women jog, men run, etc. In a traditional American family unit, behaviors just as much as tasks were designated to the rigidity of our biological sex. This could explain why the stereotype of the super-slob male college student is still so prevalent today, the image of a womanless man who can’t seem to level up in his organizational skills, remember to brush his teeth each morning, or even find a pair of matching socks underneath a sprawl of dirty laundry because he is womanless. Thankfully, even as a half-truth, this is more of a remediable “symptom” of maleness than a representative variable of “manhood”.
Besides all else, a man should want to be an example for his children and younger men how to be self-sufficient in the little things. There’s no better way than to lead by example.
Blogging has rich feminine connotations, in the same way artistic practices like painting and knitting do, perhaps as pastimes and as outlets for emotional build-up and catalyzing nurturing community. We’re currently in living in the American Blogging Boom: according to blog publishing statistics at Sysomos, approximately 29% of all bloggers are located in the United States, quadruple the amount in the United Kingdom, the second-most populated first world country in the world.
Most women who blog from home, attempting to monetize their publications as a primary stream of revenue, would classify themselves as “entrepreneurs”, not writers or hobbyists. Men, on the other hand, would probably be embarrassed to answer the question of their occupation with, “Well, I stay at home and blog!”. Especially when we only have other have other men to answer to. Men who would look down on us for not having the white-collar office jobs or the dangerous blue-collar work most urbanites overlook. Men who would never consider writing as a valid occupation for any self-respecting male seaming with testosterone.
Truth is, staggeringly, the gender gap between men and women who blog is practically closed. Sysmos states that 49.1% of all bloggers identify as male, and 50.1% identify as women. Writing is a very beneficial hobby that produces an outlet to express one’s thoughts, challenge one’s creativity, and establishes a desire to expand one’s vocabulary (one study from 2009 conducted at the University of Nottingham provides insight into a female’s attraction toward males with an organically large vocabularies). Blogging is simply a medium for what isn’t even a gender-specific activity to begin with; as important as reading, as crucial as art itself. A man who writes and blogs is a man who is quite sure of himself. In a world of gender-specific judgement and cruel emasculation, there are few things better and peaceful than being sure of oneself.
Considering the extreme femininity of this hobby, I wouldn’t be so shocked to discover that you’ve completely dismissed this article at this point. Truth still remains, though: various online and print sources site men as having invented knitting, or at least dominated the craft in Europe during the Middle Ages. It’s been said that sailors and fishermen utilized the practice to perpetuate warmth in the form of sweaters, which kept the working men from illness, as well as for nets for fishermen which granted easier access to larger amounts of fish which, again, is food on the family’s table--manly provision.
The exigencies of the art call for precision, concentration, tastefulness and patience. If those are exclusively effeminate traits, then good fathers, archers, and painters all over the globe might as well give up their masculinity now. I personally have never knitted in my life, but I would never question a man’s manliness because of it. For every firefighter and rock climber, there is a knitter and a potter, none of who should be ashamed of their occupation or have their masculinity called in question. But it’s what we do, right? The question is, why?
This article opens up a dialog for men and women to rethink the expectations of manliness, rites of passage into manhood, and false ideas about the negativity of “effeminate” labels for activities and behaviors. It would be of great benefit for boys approaching manhood and for men currently living it to not live according to the standards of those around them, but of the standards of their own families, their own Bible, and their own traditions. What do you do for fun? Does that hobby somehow define your gender? Let me know what you think!