Life Beyond the ‘Act Like a Man Box’

I read this article on performative masculinity by Charlie Glickman several months ago, and have been meaning to respond to it here ever since. To summarize, it discusses the attributes and activities commonly ascribed to a ‘real man’; these make up the ‘act like a man box’, shown below.

Tall Strong Muscular
25-45 years old Able-bodied Heterosexual
Cisgender Competitive Dominant
Cop Firefighter Mechanic
Lawyer Business Man CEO
Caretaker Competent Leader
Drinks Watches & plays sports Play poker with his buddies
Doesn’t show emotions other than anger, excitement Stoic Violent
Always wants sex Has lots of sexual partners Sex is about scoring
Has a big penis Gets hard when he wants Stays hard
Gives his partner an orgasm (or multiple orgasms) Ejaculates when he wants to Sex is focused on intercourse, blow jobs (receiving), possible anal (giving)

It goes on to discuss how when men are not these things they are often called names that fit into one of three categories: gay, female or loser. In Glickman’s words:

I think that says pretty interesting things about homophobia and sexism. The way I think of it, those are the bricks that make up the Box and shame is the mortar that holds it together.

I’ve seen the way that the box hurts men, and I want to play my part in ushering in a new world wherein the box no longer exists. Submissive men automatically find themselves outside of the box, and have to decide whether to acknowledge that and accept it or to try all the more to be in the box in other ways. I would recommend the former. However, as Glickman notes in a follow-up article, to reject everything inside of the box actually reinforces its existence. He notes:

I think that the challenge is to figure out which ingredients of masculinity feed you and which hold you back. To decide which parts support you and which ones can you prune away. We don’t need to reject everything that’s in the Box, we need to reject the Box itself. And then we need to figure out which of the pieces are worth keeping and which ones we can get rid of.

I have really admired my slave for doing just that. It’s actually one of the things that attracted me to him in the first place. When we met for the first time at a local munch, Edward was wearing a suit with a corset over his shirt. That was the physical aspect that initially drew my attention, and was followed up with his words. He mentioned to a group of acquaintances that he knew he wasn’t gay because he’d had sex with enough men to tell it wasn’t for him. Granted, this was a kinky audience, but the kink scene is not without homophobia. I liked that he didn’t show any shame when revealing aspects of himself that did not conform to being a ‘real man’.

As we’ve lived together and grown more intimate, I’ve seen that this isn’t just some tactic to attract dominant women. Edward doesn’t see being feminine or stereotypically homosexual as a negative thing, and this permeates his thoughts and actions. He has his toenails painted on a regular basis and helps me pick out shoes. He cries in movies. He expresses his emotions. He isn’t humiliated when I make him carry my purse. He’ll go out wearing makeup and tight-fitting or revealing clothing with pride. He ejaculates when I want him to. He takes my cock in his ass. He would have sex with another man to please me. He gives a lot more head than he receives. He knows that his cock isn’t necessary for us to have satisfying sex.

However, there are certain stereotypically masculine traits that he has that he also embraces; ones that he doesn’t have to perform. He likes being able to provide for himself and those he loves. As long as this is not coming from a place of wanting to control those around you, this is fine. In his case, he’s not trying to control me. Instead, he wants me to be able to help others and do what I love without having to worry about how much I’m making. We’ve discussed the fact that, since this is the case, I shouldn’t be the one who’s always expected make sacrifices in the career arena just because he makes more money. We’re aware of the power imbalance that can be introduced into a relationship this way and try to work against it. Edward has managed to embrace his masculine qualities that work for him and come naturally to him (assertiveness, being a good provider, having lots of sex partners etc.), while rejecting those that don’t (hiding his emotions, not being his fabulous self).

There’s no one way to live without the box; we all have to pick and choose what feels authentic. However, I wanted to give our example to show that a man can still be successful (with whatever definition of that he wants to adopt) and loved when he lives beyond it. Edward doesn’t hide who he is from his coworkers or friends. He’s no less sexy to me because he sometimes cries. He’s a beautiful complex entity and I love him for his diverse qualities, not in spite of them.

If you’re someone who’s wondering how to move beyond the ‘act like a man box’, I would read Glickman’s article on the subject. Here are his basic instructions, but for more explanation, you’ll have to read up:

1) Let go of the idea of gender being an either/or.

2) Find other people who are engaging in this work.

3) Learn how to identify and process your feelings.

4) Examine your internalized homophobia, sexism, and transphobia.

5) Learn new ways of being sexual.

Good luck! Please share your own experiences of the ‘act like a man box’ and moving beyond it in the comments.

Posted on June 30, 2012, in academic, case study, discussion and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Glickman is a favorite of mine. Edward needs a like button after this post…

  1. Pingback: The intersection of performative masculinity/femininity and dominance/submission « Delving into Deviance

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