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Confusion in the Tao of Gender

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Written by Basil on 09/4/2006 9:09 PM. Filed under:

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Recently, I read a quote from the usually adorable Keira Knightly that really burned me up. I read it in a magazine in the hairdresser’s. I’ve since decided, in a completely unrelated fashion, to purchase a WAHL and just buzz my head down to nothing once a week. Quoth Keira:

How are American men and British men different? “U.K. guys – well, the ones that I know – don’t take as much stock in their appearance,” says Keira Knightley in a new interview. “Ask an American guy what his beauty regime is, and he’ll tell you. Ask a Brit, and he’ll say, ‘Er … Guinness?’ I like that.”

I have been meaning to rant about this a little since I read it nearly a month or so ago, but I was reminded just now when reading a review of In Her Shoes by Frederica Mathewes-Green, whom I unfortunately missed when I attended her Antiochian Archdiocese parish in Baltimore a few weeks ago. She notes the masculinity of the male lead:

One last plus to this movie: the guy who eventually wins Rose’s heart turns out to be a much more interesting character than we’d have a right to expect from this kind of breezy, busy movie. According to the recent Leo Burnett Man Study, half of America’s men feel that their role in society is unclear. Do women want them dolled by remedial “Queer Eye” personal groomers? Or do they want a plaid-shirted, stubbly “Earl”? There’s uncharted distance between fop and caveman, metrosexual and retrosexual, yet that’s where most men live. In “In Her Shoes,” Simon (Mark Feuerstein) hits a mark in the middle that is surprisingly appealing, and the character holds his own on-screen despite the big-name ladies’ firepower. Simon has the listening skills women crave and expert culinary taste, yet his guy creds are vindicated by enthusiastic basketball fandom (though perhaps it’s too much to have him actually giving advice to the Sixers’ teammates, while they nod as insight dawns). Most of all, he’s in charge. When he and Rose begin to go horizontal, she nervously clicks off the lamp; he turns it on again. After a pause, she once again tries to hide her flaws in darkness; he looks at her firmly as he once again lights the lamp. What women want in men, even more than plucked eyebrows, is manly confidence. In a realm where examples are so scarce that half of the male population is confused, Simon is illuminating.

(The full review talks about the rest of the movie, of course: Frederica Mathewes-Green on National Review Online: Red-Hat District)

Now, perhaps Mother Frederica has spoken about what follows in one of her many essays on gender and sexuality (separate and distinct concepts, to be sure) released under the title Gender: Men, women, sex, and feminism. I don’t know; surely someone has, but I can’t cite it.

I’ve been thinking: masculinity and feminity complement one another, like yin and yang in the Tao. They are, or should be, balanced. The last century has seen a movement wherein that balance has been completely upset in a movement to secure equal rights and privileges for one part of this equation. Should we be surprised that the other part is confused?

Women have been told to act more masculine in order to liberate themselves; confusion about gender is only the beginning. The balance is beginning to right itself: Men are acting feminine. Indeterminate gender is becoming more acceptable socially.

Sometimes, I hear the lament, “Where have all the good men gone?” Perhaps the question should be reversed to find the answer.

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4 Responses to “Confusion in the Tao of Gender”

  1. Theodora Says:

    Perhaps the balance needed to be upset because it wasn’t a balance, it was an unstable equilibrium. I imagine that decades from now, the pendulum might swing toward the middle again. Keira’s comment seems, to me, to be indicative of the swing back toward the middle.

    And, well, men being concerned about their looks is actually nothing new at all. Consider King Louis and his high-heeled shoes.

  2. Basil Says:

    King Louis — now there’s a shining example of manhood.

    I think “equilibrium” expresses the idea of yin and yang far better than balance. However, I used yin and yang precisely because I think equilibrium is what has been upset, and the current confusion in both males and females about sexuality and gender is a result of the yin and yang trying to come to a new equilibrium.

    I think the idea of the pendulum swing relies too much on Hegelian metaphysics. Recall that, in Hegel’s worldview, thesis is followed by antithesis which leads to synthesis. So, if the pendulum is swinging back from the excesses of questioning sexuality and gender, it will not swing back to a state of equilibrium, but to the opposite extreme before it returns to center, only to continue swinging to a new extreme. Besides being uncomfortable with this as a model for metaphysics — ie, “how the world really is” — I tremble to think what a swing to the opposite extreme will mean for the truly positive gains for women in the past several decades. I would much prefer a more ancient concept: that of Aristotle’s via media as the truly good path between two extremes, one which must be rationally chosen and willed.

    I hope we can reach a truly good equilibrium without swinging from one extreme to another.

  3. Theodora Says:

    Basil, as a simple soil scientist, I don’t know Hegel from a banana and I know little more about Aristotle. However, if Hegel’s theory explains how the world seems to work, it doesn’t matter if we don’t like it. Aristotle seems to be engaging in wishful thinking; it would be *wonderful* if we could all sit down and think about the truly good path between two extremes and rationally choose it, but in practice, well, we generally don’t. We do what seems right at the time, which tends to be what benefits us the most at the time. We change when what benefits one group harms another group so much that the harmed group revolts. Eventually the new thing seems right and we can’t imagine how it must have been when that group was being harmed.

    I also think there was no golden age of equilibrium in gender identity, when all the good women had good men and vice versa, and when men treated women well and vice versa, that we can look back to and say Ah! That was it! Let’s have that again! Every single age and culture has had to work this out for themselves, and the “balance” is always iffy. At the very least, getting educated so that we don’t have to take cues from the media which gave us metrosexuals, retrosexuals, bitches, hos, and Martha Stewart as role models — the extremes — seems to help.

    I know, I seem to be changing my tune here, but that’s because I dashed off my previous message without much thought actually, sorry about that.

  4. James Says:

    Of course when you say ” Frederica Mathewes-Green says …” I tend to tune out and wonder what’s going on the world of college football. Anything she has to say on anything, but especially gender — as she seems to be trying to undo all of her feminism of the past — I tend to ignore. And maybe feminism isn’t all bad. Gasp!