Saturday, February 11, 2012

Roland Martin's tweet leads to discussions of "masculinity" in our culture

The New York Times Saturday has an op-ed on p. 21, “Real Men and Pink Suits”, about the (CNN) Roland Martin (Super Bowl) Twitter controversy, link here

He discusses society’s notion of the requirements for manhood. He uses some ironic, unaffordable metaphors. “We have shaved the idea of manhood down to an unrealistic definition that few can fit it in with the whole of whom they are”, and later, quoting a 2001 piece already cited by GLAAD, “a boy who does not measure up to dominant prescriptions of masculinity is ‘likely to be punished by his peers in ways that seek to strip him of his mantle of masculinity.’”  Remember how Joseph Nicolosi wrote "Masculinity is an achievement" in his 2002 anti-gay book whose title need not be repeated here. 

I have the impression that many men find “meaning” in the rules that tribal societies develop so that they can survive in a hostile world. (The whole world of the Exodus and the return to the homelands comes to mind.)  It isn’t just that one makes a choice and takes responsibility for the results of choices (like babies).  One owes others allegiances anyway, that certainly are inherently unequal, not even always complementary, and certainly invite upward affiliation.  No wonder many men feel they are “entitled” to sex without consequences;  whatever others make them do, they will have to deal with anyway.

I think that professional sports gives us a useful paradigm for thinking about diversity. Compare professional football (NFL) to Major League Baseball and baseball in general.  In baseball, the home team has a lot of leeway in setting up the outfield fences to the abilities of its players. (The Washington Nationals have "pitcher's park", with fences more distant than usual.)   Not so in football (or soccer, so much the rage in Europe and South America).  There is a basic set of “rules” for everybody (which instant replay has turned to precision, as in the last Super Bowl with a particularly critical sideline pass catch by one of the Giants), but in baseball there is also a zone where individual competitors can create their own sub-universes and invite others to compete in it.  I remember this as a boy (in the late 1950s) when we played “back yard baseball” (softball or whiffleball); the host got to make a lot of the rules.  Sometimes the host could shine in his own world.  I took advantage of this, and sometimes other boys whined when they “lost” in my back yard.

A similar idea exists in chess, despite the rigidity and determinism of the game.  In practice, the player with the Black pieces (who moves second) has a lot more say over the character of the game than White.  This matters in practical tournament play.

The irony of the last name of the New York Times op-ed piece is itself an accidental irony. The author is Charles M. Blow.

 Picture (first): a model toy stadium, 1956.  We actually had a board game played with aluminum foil wads. 

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