All Peggy’s Men

Pandagon has been doing Mad Men Mondays, which is how I got into watching that show. And OMFG, is it ever an awesome show. But lately it feels like the Mad Men Monday threads don’t address the stuff that goes thru my mind when I watch the show, so I think I’m going to occasionally blog about it too. And I’m going to start with Sunday’s episode, because it was one of the best ones so far. It was called “The Suitcase”, because superficially it was about trying to create an ad for Samsonite suitcases (and because all the characters in the episode unload fucktons of “baggage” on each other), but it might as well have been titled “All Peggy’s Men”, since it revolved around her, and three men with which she had three different kinds of relationships: her bland-ass, family-picked fiance who doesn’t have his own internet page and whose name I don’t remember; Duck, her former lover, who is still (literally) insanely in love with her and who is a relapsed alcoholic; and her boss Don Draper, a slightly stereotypical “asshole with a heart of gold” who is recently divorced, lonely, and as a result on his best way to become an alcoholic, as well, and who has throughout the show been sort of a mentor to Peggy.

The episode takes place on Peggy’s birthday, and the three guys manage to show themselves from their least pleasant sides: her fiance invites her whole family (with whom she doesn’t get along well at all) to what was supposed to be a romantic candle-light dinner as a “surprise”, then throws a fit over her having to work late, and they actually break up; Duck starts out ok, by sending her flowers and a gift which is the offer to become a partner in an ad agency he wants to create, except then it turns out that he’s drunk, doesn’t really have the funding for this, and actually got his ass fired from his previous job. And then he shows up at her work, sobbing about how he can’t go on without her, but ending up calling her a whore when he thinks she slept with her boss. Draper himself comes off least bad of the three, and that’s saying a lot considering he starts out by taking her apart for an ad idea he didn’t like, and then making her work late (probably because he’s lonely and dealing with a fuckton of emotional issues in that episode especially), and then getting drunk and throwing up. But at least he doesn’t insult her, apologizes for fucking up her birthday after finding out it was her birthday, buying her for food and drinks for that, and actually having a halfway sane, caring personal conversation with her (while the other dudes made their relationships with her mostly about themselves).

Anyway, somewhere halfway through this episode there’s a scene shortly after the break-up (by phone) with the lame fiance who doesn’t really know shit about her, when she drags her boss to the bathroom where he proceeds to throw up a lot, and her ex-lover shows up to make a scene. At that point, Peggy gets this really weird expression on her face… and for a moment I got this impression that if this were me in that situation, I’d be thinking that if this was my choice of men, becoming a spinster/crazy catlady would suddenly seem far more appealing. As a matter of fact, almost none of the men in the show make very good husbands: if they’re not lying, cheating, divorcing-for-a-younger-model assholes, they’re paternalistic and condescending.

So there you have it… patriarchy makes men unappealing.

Toxic Masculinity (Part One)

This was supposed to be a single post, but then that sex conversation broke out on Pharyngula’s Endless Thread, and issues from that kept invading this as I was writing it. Since it was all rather tangential to my point here, I cut those bits out and will make a separate post about toxic masculinity and sex some other day. This post is about toxic masculinity and environmentalism.

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Toxic Masculinity is one of those “patriarchy hurts men, too” things; the “patriarchy” part is the part where men are better than women; the “hurts men” part is where having your dangly bits between your legs rather than on your chest is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a man. For that, you must under all circumstances and at all times avoid accumulating women-points by doing or saying things that are considered feminine; best is to do the opposite of “feminine”, which of course then would be “masculine”, and gives you man-points.

Now, what precisely is considered feminine (and therefore having its opposite considered masculine) is almost completely arbitrary, but it’s one hell of a long list. It starts at such relatively harmless things as peeing while sitting down, but it also includes things that have real consequences to men (hence the “hurts men, too” part), like the weird belief that going to the doctor is “girly” unless you’re bleeding to death (and even then, you’d probably get extra man-points if you just sew your wound shut with spiderwire), so men miss out on a lot of preventive care because it’s not manly, and they end up suffering health consequences. This goes double for mental health; men are still more likely than women to commit suicide, and toxic masculinity is a main reason for that.

Toxic Masculinity has other, broader effects as well. Something I hadn’t much considered before, but am starting to notice more because it touches on issues I find important, is that it affects how far and how fast progressive changes to society can be advanced. Toxic masculinity seems always at the forefront of every imaginable backlash to progressive politics, most obviously of course in terms of women’s and LGBT rights (because they clash with the very basis of patriarchal thinking). But it also clashes with efforts to become more environmentally sustainable.

I’ve recently read this article from my free monthly trial of Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture (because I’m dirt-poor, and can’t afford subscriptions to these kinds of things :-p ) about meat consumption and masculinity. It talks about three commercials (this and this, and a third one I couldn’t find on youtube) which show manhood attacked by “chickfood”, i.e. small portions, veggies, tofu, et cetera. “Chickfood” stands in contrast to “manfood”, which in the first commercial are giant slabs of red meat, and in the second one it’s a ginormous, fatty burger. Now, why precisely healthy food is chickfood I don’t know (it’s probably some weird hunter-gatherer pretension where meat=manly, greenery=womanly), but it being “chickfood” means men must avoid it in order to avoid turning into girly-men. Now, the first problem is simply that this manly food is unhealthy, so being forced by the rules of toxic masculinity to eat it or else turn into a girl is already bad for men, on an individual level. On a societal level though, this also means that shifting away from highly processed foods, giant slabs of red meat and other highly inefficient forms of food threatens toxic masculinity, and as such is being actively hindered by this “eating less meat will turn you into a girl” peer-pressure/backlash. At the same time, the words “sustainable” and “organic”, and “vegetarian” are considered essential chickfood labels. And god forbid you actually go to a farmer’s market! On a Saturday morning, when every self-respecting manly man is recovering from a proper hangover!

And the same goes for transportation: the humvee AKA Hummer is most “manly” vehicle; a Honda Civic or a Toyota Prius already makes you pretty girly; a bicycle turns you immediately into a “bike fag”. And for saving electricity (what sort of man doesn’t have a ginormous entertainment center?! or wears a sweater, like that girly-man Carter?!), and for recycling, and for recreation (ATVs are manlier than biking and hiking), and for a whole bunch of other things.

So, the big question is: how do you move forward in creating a healthier, more sustainable society when men are being told that doing so will make their penis fall off?

Toxic Masculinity (part two)