(This article appears on GenY news website 5why . For more Kat James articles visit 5why.com.au).
You know him. Gazza. Dave-o. Johnno. Fitzy. Barrel-chested, hairy-pitted, big-pored, beer swilling ‘ultra-man’: oozing masculinity from the soles of his clay-caked Steelblue boots to the crown of his thick, plaster-dusted head. He loves the NRL, knows how to gut a fish, cracks a stubby in the crook of his elbow and cracks a fat over that chick from The Fast and the Furious; you know, the one with the big tits. He doesn’t go to the doctor unless his arm’s falling off. He thinks white wine tastes like cat’s piss. He can get you a free scratch tattoo, set up a backyard slip and slide for the sprogs, change your oil and drive you to Cairns with only one pit stop.
Indulging in your masculinity, making a lifestyle of it, has been a national Australian pastime since long before Federation.
Australian men surf, fight, drink, spit, rev their engines, light things on fire, abuse the police, throw their votes and char lamb on Sundays.
I’m sure you’ve heard, however, that the Sensitive New-Age Guy has driven out the Aussie yobbo. The Australian man is sporting a quiff and a waist-trimming parka vest, sitting down to The Only Way is Essex with a glass of Pinot Noir and his three gay besties, filling in online personality tests and comparing compatibility data online to find his lady love rather than ‘getting his end in’ with Shazza up against the car port at a house party.
From my experience of men lately, I tend to agree that the Australian man has had a reality check, and he’s softened up his touch a little. But the power, brutality, cockiness and cleverness required to play that old game of asserting your masculinity has changed only so subtly. Dave-o, or David, still wants you to know he’s a man, but he’s showing you in new and arguably more powerful ways. He’s not so overt now, because you know that game and you won’t stand for it, and neither will your legion of meddling girlfriends. He’s changed the rules. In this way the unhealthy side of his masculinity has never been so dangerous.
I was aware of my exhusband’s masculinity from the moment we met, and it was intoxicating in a primal sort of way. It was the classic young woman’s bad boy complex. Big arms, rough hands and broad shoulders, a tough-guy swagger, skill with saws and ropes and knives, the ability to drink his friends under the table and still come off best in a street brawl. He once came home from a pub scuffle with a three-inch long gash in his forearm from a flick knife, and despite my best efforts to convince him to go to the hospital, he poured house-hold disinfectant into the wound to cleanse it and bound it with electrical tape. He was the only man I’ve ever known who could get straight out of the shower and still stink. He conquered a room and made sure everyone knew it with his hacking, ear-splitting laugh. He simply wouldn’t be told what to do. Particularly by women. His disdain for authority leaked into managers, security guards, life guards, traffic wardens. Female police officers didn’t so much as warrant his glance.
Needless to say I’ve avoided the classic ultra-masculine archetype like the plague on the dating scene in Sydney, but I’ve noticed a curious similarity between how Captain Bonehead made me feel and how the sensitive new agers I’ve been dating do.
Cameron, style guru and office jock, theatre buff and wine enthusiast, had a particular habit that used to make my skin crawl, and I’ve since realised it was his very own adaptation on the doctrine of the Aussie bloke. He didn’t have a car, so I always provided mine. Everywhere we went, he would pick on my driving. You’re going too slow. You’re braking too much. You’re going the long way. You’ve got your blinker on too early. I asked Cameron how many car accidents he’d ever been in. He told me three. I asked him if he wanted to know how many I’d ever been in. That shut him up. I’ve never been in a car accident. Not so much as a scrape.
But it wasn’t about my driving; it was about my car.
If I was going to be the one in the relationship who owned a car, who drove us around, who would force him to sit idly by in the passenger seat like Miss Daisy, I was going to have my confidence in my abilities shot down at every available opportunity. It was about dominating the experience, being King of the Car even without being behind the wheel. I dumped him for it.
I earned more than Mitchell, and I worked far less. Hey, if you’re going to be at university full time for seven years with a 6.5 GPA average and four university degrees, that’s kinda the goal. Because I moved home after my separation and had no debt and plenty of cash to splash, I was happy to chip in for a coffee date here and a dinner there. My usual arrangement is to take turns. As a new-ager, Mitchell of course allowed this. It was very 21st Century, he said. Impressive. But underneath that flashy smile Mitchell didn’t like what my job, my money and my free time said about his achievements as a self-sufficient male. So he trampled all over my confidence about it. Get a real job, he would joke. Having an afternoon snooze, are you? When you grow up and work nine-to-five, you’ll understand why I get so cranky on a Monday morning. Wow. He was actually shocked when I canned his ass.
The danger I mentioned earlier, I think, is when masculinity in your relationship becomes so potent that it cages you within your traditional feminine role and excludes you from the respect generations of women have earned in their hard work toward equality. I’m not saying a man can’t joke about my driving. Maybe I drive slow. But one harmless elbow-nudge about my driving ability when we get into and when we get out of the car every day for a week begins to edge into discomfort. Everybody knows I’m addicted to nanna naps. I’m not ashamed of it. But I’ve worked hard for what I have and I don’t deserve less respect because I don’t work conventional hours. Especially when I’m earning more money than you. Jerk.
I think the most hurtful thing about this new, covert style of machismo is when it’s used to bolster that feeling of power and strength by breaking hearts. After two weeks of bright, sunny, lovely dating, Mick, who’d assured me he was serious about finding someone to have a relationship with and dating one girl at a time, dumped me because another chick was coming back into town from Johannesburg and he wanted to be free to spread his seed around. When I called bullshit on his ‘It’s not you, it’s me / I don’t really know what I want right now / I need space to construct my identity’ new age babble, he admitted that this was the case. Mick’s major appeal for me had been his hearty humour at other men’s obsession with masculinity. In the end, Mick was just playing the same game with a lot more smoke and mirrors.
It was a real shame, because I liked that guy.
If I have a moral about this, I suppose it’s that I’d like you to be more aware of the effects of your partners’ huff and puff and what causes it, what it does to you, whether something about you has to suffer in silence so that his masculinity can thrive. It might be simple as having control over your finances. A special chair that’s only his that no one else can sit in. That silly manly rivalry that gets him into brawls with his friends. It might be as simple as a harmless joke that takes the piss out of you in front of your friends at a party, a tiny chip off your self-esteem that reminds you that you’re the lady, that he’s stronger and smarter than you, that it’s his job to lead you and yours to follow. Keep an eye on it, that’s all. It’s not always as obvious as Gazza would like you to think.