Last week we delved into Coming of Age in Samoa, and now we’ll deal with its repercussions.
As a casual glance around would inform you, much of the discussion of masculinity that goes on in this day and age is roughly “why don’t we just…change it? After all, there’s nothing inherent about it, it’s all just social constructs, right?”
As was discussed in the last article, Mead and Boas were two of the biggest propagators of this train of thought. But the question remains, what is the link? How did Margaret Mead’s theories go from a popular anthropological text to one of the foundational documents of the crappiness of modern life?
That’s a trick question, because no one in the “powers that be” will ever refer to Margaret Mead–and that’s because Coming of Age in Samoa is not DIRECTLY responsible for the zeitgeist. However, it influenced other books, and those books were themselves highly influential. And thus, lost in the murky depths of history, we can see where Mead’s influence was found.
Allow me to introduce you to Robert Brannon. Have you heard of him? No? Perhaps you know him as the founder of the National Organization of Men Against Sexism–one of the earliest male feminist organizations?
Still not ringing a bell?
The designer of a scale of “endorsement of masculine social norms?”
Okay, before you completely lose interest, let me say that, most importantly, he wrote a book called The 49 Percent Majority. This might be the most important book you haven’t heard of.
In this book, Bobbo actually sets up a pretty good framework of what masculinity is in America, but purely for the reason that it would become a strawman he could take down.
He defines “American masculinity” as four pillars: “Give ’em Hell” (an aura of being a man of action and bravery), “no sissy stuff” (the stigmatization of stereotypically female qualities including vulnerability), being a big wheel (high status, success, etc.), and being a sturdy oak (related to “give ’em hell,” but it’s more along the lines of confidence and being reliable and strong).
That theme percolates throughout The 49 Percent Majority, a book published in 1976. Pay a lot of attention to what I say about it, because when feminists (male and female) discuss what masculinity is, I guarantee you that NOTHING they say is really any different from what Robert Brannon said over 40 years ago.
Oh, I’m not joking. Leave the computer right now and go get this book. It’s not a book that’s genuinely good, but I believe in “keeping your friends close and your enemies closer,” as they say, and a major part of that is knowing how the enemy thinks. Once you have this book, you will be able to understand literally every feminist argument against masculinity there is.
In the book, Brannon discusses the concept of social roles, “A pattern of behavior in a given situation that an individual is expected and encouraged/trained to perform.” While I would never say that there are no social roles at all, he implies that the concept of masculinity is a mere “social role” of Western society.
If you read my anthropology columns or watch my anthro videos, you already know that far from being merely an American construct, these four things are largely universal throughout men in all cultures. I could cite the work of UC Santa Barbara anthropologist Donald Brown and his book Human Universals on how definitions of “masculinity” are almost identical in all cultures…but rather than that, I’ll just ask the reader if there’s a single culture on Earth where men are encouraged to be weak, cowardly, stupid, lazy, and unreliable. That’s a rhetorical question–of course there’s no culture that does that.
Now it’s worth pointing out that Brannon got the idea of masculinity being a mere “social role” that men wear, that can be changed as easy as putting on a hat from none other than Margaret Mead’s Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies! He repeatedly cites Mead’s work throughout The 49 Percent Majority.
And from that link comes a much, much longer chain: When I said that Brannon’s work is the most influential feminist tract nobody has heard of, I wasn’t being facetious. A quick Google search for “Robert Brannon Masculinity” will reveal more than 200 books and academic journals citing his work.
Going beyond direct references, much of the “original” writing on masculinity is, essentially, just a rehashing of Brannon’s list. A few years back, Michael Kimmel wrote Guyland about the eternal adolescence of American men–it presented a list very similar to Brannon’s, and it also sets up a cartoon version of masculinity that he could easily “disprove”–in short it claimed that masculinity was keeping these men in arrested development.
And considering that Michael Kimmel is still considered a huge authority on masculinity–in the purely academic sense, of course–that ensures that his writing, and thus by extension, Brannon and Mead’s, will live on for years to come. As long as there continues to be a deluge of books portraying masculinity as an inherent negative, portraying sexuality as an utterly malleable spectrum, and portraying women as equally capable of masculine gender roles (you know, those masculine gender roles that are bad for men but suddenly become positive for some reason when women take them on)–then get ready for sexual relations, and sex itself, in the West to continue to be terrible for both men AND women, and whatever other alphabet soup sexualities are made up.
It’s understandable that Brannon and Kimmel would want this upheaval. After all, they pretty blatantly admit that they themselves were failures when attempting to be traditionally masculine, and thus lashed out in a fury of Oedipal rage at less inadequate men. If they couldn’t be masculine, then society itself should be turned upside down so that the mean kids on the playground won’t push their faces in the mud and give them wedgies anymore.
So…yeah, in conclusion, the reason that sex seems so dysfunctional these days is exactly what you think it is–a group of effeminate men and headstrong women, nursing severe resentment and ressentiment towards their fathers, pushed their ideas of how the world SHOULD be, which validated the theories and resentments of other sexually dysfunctional individuals. It just so happened that, for reasons that I still don’t entirely understand, these people managed to get themselves into positions of power, and push this nonsense upon the rest of us.
As the examples of myself, Donald Brown, and Napoleon Chagnon show, actual science debunks this wishful thinking, but it’s still going to be a long, long battle for this to become the conventional wisdom.