Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Man Enough to Care

I recognized at an early age that the masculine roles being offered me were nothing I was interested in. As a boy I was allowed to be feel angry or horny but not much else. Sadness and empathy were for faggots. Showing the world you gave a shit about anyone or anything was verboten. My friends and I at school spent our time picking on each other and the weak. The roles the older generation had-stoic provider-seemed to leave them helpless when left alone and on a path to be dead by 65. By the time I was in Jr. high I was demanding that my mother teach me how to cook. When I was 17 I decided I needed to move to San Francisco. Though I wasn’t gay, I figured any city full of queers would have space for a wimpy dude who didn’t know the first thing about sports and was more interested in hanging out with girls than dudes. 

Most of my male role models growing up were punks who challenged traditional male roles while providing a trajectory for a redefined and more functional masculinity. Ian MacKaye, who was tough yet sensitive, criticizing the sexist macho thug culture while presenting an image of self-reliance and take-no-shit-ness. Joe Strummer whose lyrics showed an empathy for the underdog, and who managed to embody 50s cool without the sexist trappings of that image. The Subhumans, Crass, 7 Seconds, and Operation Ivy, who all wrote songs that challenged traditional male roles. Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Hole, X, even the Go-Gos and Blondie, who all modeled strong female figures. Even Jawbreaker and Green Day, who were sensitive but cool guys who managed to attract cute girls to their shows and show that punk didn’t have to be about macho aggression.

Last week I downloaded an old 7 Seconds song called "Man Enough to Care." It’s from their New Wind album, which is when they were moving away from melodic hardcore and trying to be U2. (Before you laugh, remember that this was when U2 were an alternative band, and one of the reasons Minor Threat broke up is because half the band wanted to be U2 as well - just listen to “Salad Days”). New Wind isn’t an amazing album, but it has some great songs including “Man Enough to Care.” It’s a little punk, a little Bob Dylan, and details the way in which boys are indoctrinated to not have feelings.

Daddy always told you, do it like a man
Never get too friendly,
Some won't understand
'Cause boys don't crave affection,
Boys ain't got no fear
But did they ever show you how to shut those feelings on then off again

The tear-jerker for me is the end of the song, where it talks about how this cycle continues:

Handshake show you're friendly, but don't get caught,
You gotta fight to prove you're not afraid
Fuck just to prove you're not,
And all your life you play this game and it goes on and on and on and on
Now you've grown into a man, proud as hell to be,
It's now your turn to raise a son, don't let him be one
And you can teach him all the things you were taught yourself

And now you gotta hide yourself, hide yourself away,
Show you care and you might show the world that you're only gay,
Crying is for babies, for boys is it a sin,
To be a caring, sharing, loving, human one”

That song is 30 years old, but it still rings true today. Even in the liberal Bay Area I hear parents tell their young sons not to cry, or that pink is for girls, or any number of things that reinforce the idea that they have to suppress emotion and focus on being physical. I hear it in the rap songs I listen to that call anyone that isn’t out making illegitimate children they aren’t going to support or killing other young men of color a faggot. And I saw it in the toxic and confused misogyny that led to the murder of seven people in Isla Vista this weekend. (I’m not reprinting that fuckers name. He’s got too much attention already. Fuck him.)

Another punk song that helped me define my conception of masculinity is Crass’s “Big M.A.N.” It’s a more caustic and polemic take on the traditional male role of violent, stupid, womanizing wife-beater. Maybe an overgeneralization, but I’ve always loved the lines:

“If you're a man, you'd better act like one,
Develop your muscles, use your prick like a gun.
Fuck anything that moves, but never pay the price,
Steal, fuck, slaughter, that's their advice.
Are you man enough? Ask the posters on the walls,
Have you got what it takes? Guts and balls?
Keep your myth of manhood, it's been going on too long,
A history of slaughter is the proof that it is wrong.”

Finally there is Operation Ivy’s “Here We Go Again,” which was the most direct call to action in terms of redefining masculinity:

Analyzed the world I was born into
But I could never understand
Knew I never wanted to grow up if that meant being a "man"
Dominating strict competition is the meaning of our lives
Stomping on the weak keeps us the winner of the battle in our minds
Tensions in our lives that are destroying our minds
Unite themselves together to make our consciousness blind
Conditioned to self-interest with emotions locked away
If that's what they call normal I'd rather be insane
Relax yourself from giving what you want to do with your life
Ease up from giving up things like control of your own mind
If you never ask any question
Then you're never gonna get no answer
Always be wondering what do you want
While you keep getting older faster
Here we go again
Another test of manhood just when you thought you'd won
The more we keep competing
The more the battle has just begun

Of all the things that music, and especially punk music, gave me, one of the most important was the knowledge that there could be another definition of what it meant to be a man that didn't fit in with the stereotype. Fathers, don't raise your babies to grow up to be assholes. Let them know that real men aren't violent. Real men don't intimidate. Real men have feelings. Real men don't rape. Real men treat their mothers, sisters, coworkers, girlfriends, wives, and the women they are trying to pick up with respect. Which means like human beings. It's not actually that hard.

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