By Tatiana von Tauber
Society places a lot of pressure on men. Feminist pieces like one by Katherine M. Franke at Columbia Law School add to it. Franke analyzes a recent New York Times article Still on the Job by Making Only Half as Much by Louis Uchittele. In a nutshell, Bryan Lawlor was a captain and current economic times made him a co-pilot. Lawlor’s pay was cut in half and now his wife makes more money. He takes care of the kids more often and had to give up the power marker of masculinity, a motorcycle he finally bought as a gift for himself. As a result, Lawlor feels he’s downgraded not only in pilot status but masculinity as well. A guy works hard, has a family and achieves success and then the economy goes bust. Franke kicks him while he’s down.
Franke’s piece is completely insensitive to the fact that men have feelings and blatantly devalues the mere thought of masculinity with such a sarcastic tone, the reader is left baffled at Franke’s nerve:
He can’t walk through the airport wearing the captain’s hat anymore – it “made me feel in command, and capable and powerful.” It’s hard not to laugh out loud at the unwitting (really?) reference to the well-known trope of the “hat” as penis-fetish and hatless-ness as a sign of castration. But just in case you missed the subtle implications of Lawlor’s downgrade to his masculinity, Uchitele connects the dots for you: Lawlor underwent a vasectomy shortly after his “downgrade” because he could no longer afford his former potency.
Franke missed the humanist piece with a reality slant: a successful American Dream love story gone bust. Where’s Franke’s heart? Lawlor had a sense of accomplishment as a captain vs. a co-pilot, a personal self-empowerment boost each time he wore his uniform. What’s wrong with that? I get a self-empowerment boost each time I wear fantastic high heels and a dress. And the audacity to compare this to impotence is merely penis envy.
Lawlor and his marriage are stressed and in the ways that he felt empowered as a man, breadwinner, husband, father, son and co-worker were snatched away unexpectedly. However, these roles are what define him. He is a man and his masculinity and how he projects, interprets or feels about it is a personal realm of definition Franke blatantly attacked with total disregard to the emotional struggles such a downgrade brings and Uchitele’s attempt to author that.
I somehow thought we were beyond this kind of reporting, reporting that is really loosely-veiled melancholia for the loss of a never-realized ideal of a particular form of masculinity.
With a piece that clearly doesn’t get the full picture of masculinity, Franke has little to stand on to throw out such slashing judgment about a man who simply wants to provide well for his family and feels crushed he doesn’t feel as empowered by the things which helped define his manhood and drove him further for himself and his family. As Marc Randazza adds:
Males are acutely aware of the fact that they are, biologically speaking, irrelevant after the orgasm. Men, on the other hand, believe that they have to take care of their family long thereafter. This guy places the weight of his wife, his kids, and his parents on his shoulders. And, he proudly carries them there. That’s what a man does. Should men push themselves like that? Maybe not. This particular man’s interpretation of his masculinity is being in charge, and taking care of his family, and having a few toys that remind him that he not only made it past the finish line, but he did it with a few paces to spare.
And why not? Don’t men deserve it? Mine does. Mine works in a job he hates and one that’s considered a health hazard for his spinal injuries obtained while serving in the US military so that I can make the choice to stay at home with our children and give them a home, one neither one of us had because our mothers worked. He gives me freedom to educate myself and to be better. I do all the laundry and he pays all this bills. I go crazy at home with kids all day and he goes crazy at work with government morons all day. Our pains, struggles, and daily frustrations are equal in intensity. Only our perception is different but difference often times is a strength in healthy relationships.
The future of feminism transcends the troubled and worn stepping stones we still stand on, where the fem is the ego projecting her image of as good or better than. Questions a feminist should ask are: Do I seek gender equality or do I seek empowerment by regaining that what I and my fellow sisters have lost? Do I wish to truly project into the future or do I wish to keep fixing the past that cannot be undone? Do I know what gender equality means, feels, looks or performs like? When so, look at it again. Gender equality has many sides.
Women have proven themselves and yet there are feminists who still obtain pleasure exposing the weakness of men and insult the very qualities that make a man. Masculinity is sexy and vulnerability humanizing. Franke’s snide remarks are a slap to any value a man may have, specifically one who tries. Franke clearly has no vision for the future of feminism.